#BookReview Gallowstree Lane (Collins and Griffiths #3) by Kate London @CorvusBooks

Gallowstree LaneAbout the Book

Please don’t let me die. Please don’t. The final words of teenager Spencer Cardoso as he bleeds out on a London street, his life cut short in a single moment of rage.

Detective Inspector Kieran Shaw’s not interested in the infantry. Shaw likes the proper criminals, the ones who can plan things.  For two years he’s been painstakingly building evidence against an organized network, the Eardsley Bluds. Operation Perseus is about to make its arrests.

So when a low-level Bluds member is stabbed to death on Gallowstree Lane, Shaw’s priority is to protect his operation. An investigation into one of London’s tit-for-tat killings can’t be allowed to derail Perseus and let the master criminals go free.

But there’s a witness to the murder, fifteen-year-old Ryan Kennedy. Already caught up in Perseus and with the Bluds, Ryan’s got his own demons and his own ideas about what’s important. As loyalties collide and priorities clash, a chain of events is triggered that draws in Shaw’s old adversary DI Sarah Collins and threatens everyone with a connection to Gallowstree Lane…

Format: Hardcover (368 pages)         Publisher: Corvus
Publication date: 7th February 2019 Genre: Crime

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My Review

I haven’t read either of the previous two books in the series – Post Mortem and Death Message – but Gallowstree Lane worked perfectly well as a standalone, although when I get the chance I’d like to go back and read the first two.

Given the series title, I assumed (Sarah) Collins and (Lizzie) Griffiths were a team but in fact it turns out their paths have crossed only briefly in the course of previous cases. However, through different routes they find themselves both involved in finding the murderer of Spencer Cardoso: Sarah as Senior Investigating Officer on the case and Lizzie through the arrest of Spencer’s friend, Ryan, for a seemingly unrelated crime. The trail leads to a gang leader who is the subject of a major organized crime investigation led by Detective Inspector Kieran Shaw.

The book provides a vivid picture of gang culture and how young men, often from deprived backgrounds, can be drawn into drugs, petty crime and violence by manipulative individuals, with often tragic outcomes. Sadly, the latter can just become one more statistic, or a brief mention in a newspaper. As Sarah observes, ‘The specifics of the dead boys did not generally capture the public’s imagination. These were, in the main one-act dramas and not very good ones either; no complication, no twist to make them interesting, no learning for the persons involved.’ In some respects, Detective Inspector Shaw shares this view but only because he is single-mindedly focused on the major operation he is running. ‘His business was to catch the proper bad guys.’

I think it shows the skill of the author to make Ryan, the witness to the murder of his friend, in any way a sympathetic character. He’s a young man traumatised by what he saw and plagued with guilt for running away.  He finds himself in a situation he can’t control and is pitifully loyal to those who view him in reality as no more than a useful tool in their criminal enterprises.

The book contains meticulous detail about police procedure, no doubt gleaned from the author’s time in the Metropolitan Police Service: the extensive paperwork, the often repetitive tasks, the painstaking attention to detail, the frustration when progress is slow, the black humour, and the adrenaline rush of the sudden breakthrough when ‘the trance of assessment and action that every police officer learns’ takes over. I liked the way the book shows the impact of the role on officers’ personal lives, whether that’s the long shifts, the unsocial hours or the traumatic scenes that linger long in the memory. And, as the story progresses we see just how much of a multi-disciplinary effort an investigation can be and what impact the use of modern technology can make (although it may make you more on the look out for CCTV cameras as you stroll down your local street).

I thought Gallowstree Lane was a cracking police procedural. It kept me hooked until the final pages and I’m only sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it.

My thanks to Corvus for my review copy via Readers First. Gallowstree Lane is the final book in my 20 Books of Summer 2021. Phew, made it!

In three words: Gritty, compelling, authentic

Try something similar: Payback (DI Charley Mann #1) by R.C. Bridgestock

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Kate London 1 credit Tim FlachAbout the Author

Kate joined the Metropolitan Police Service in 2006. She finished her career working as part of a Major Investigation Team on the Metropolitan Police Service’s Homicide Command. She now writes full time. (Photo credit: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview The Unfortunate Englishman (Joe Wilderness #2) by John Lawton @groveatlantic

The Unfortunate EnglishmanAbout the Book

Berlin, 1963. East End-Londoner turned spy Joe Wilderness has had better days. He is sitting in a West Berlin jail, arrested for shooting someone he thought was about to kill him. His old boss, Lieutenant Burne-Jones of MI6, comes to Berlin to free him, but only under the condition that he rejoin British Intelligence. The knowledge that Wilderness gained of Berlin’s underworld while working the black market just after World War II will prove useful to Queen and country now that the city has become the epicenter of the Cold War, dividing the world in two with its wall.

On the other side of the Iron Curtain, another MI6 man, Geoffrey Masefield, is ruing the day he first agreed to be a spy. In the beginning, it had all seemed so simple, so glamorous: the international travel, the top secret files, the vodka, the women. . . . But now Masefield is stuck in Lubyanka, the KGB’s Moscow prison, waiting for a lifeline from his former employer. Meanwhile, over in England, a Russian spy is pining for his homeland. Having lived as Bernard Forbes Campbell Alleyn for years and taken a wife and had two daughters under that alias, he’s now been exposed as KGB Captain Leonid Liubimov. Arrested for treason and then for espionage, he is in prison at Wormwood Scrubs, London. The only ticket out for these two men is a spy exchange.

Posted back to Berlin, Wilderness is to oversee the exchange of Masefield and Liubimov, but his black market nous hasn’t diminished. There’s money to be made and ten thousand bottles of fine Bordeaux that Wilderness hasn’t forgotten about.

Format: Hardcover (368 pages)   Publisher: Grove Press
Publication date: 5th May 2016  Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Unfortunate Englishman is the second book in the author’s Joe Wilderness series, the follow-up to Then We Take Berlin. I listened to the audiobook version of that in 2020 and you can read my review here. I was fortunate enough to win a copy of the third book in the series, Hammer To Fall, from Readers First last year so I thought it was about time I read its predecessor (a copy of which I spotted in my local Oxfam bookshop).

The book’s opening chapter continues directly on from the final scene in Then We Take Berlin. Once more Joe Holderness (known to his friends as Wilderness) is in a scrape and on course to get a tongue lashing from his wife Judy, if and when he gets home. (By the way, I love Judy. She always knows when Joe’s up to something nefarious, dangerous, or both.)

Then it’s back to 1945 and the story of how a KGB agent managed to assume the identity of another man, Bernard Alleyn, and live undiscovered for nearly fifteen years, all the time passing secrets back to the Soviet Union until he is unmasked.

Moving forward to 1960, Wilderness is involved in recruiting business man and metallurgy expert Geoffrey Masefield to travel to the Soviet Union as part of a trade delegation in the hope of discovering information about the Soviets missile capability. The storyline is reminiscent of the case of Greville Wynne, arrested as a spy and sentenced to eight years in a Soviet prison. (His experiences have recently been dramatized – with quite a lot of artistic licence – in the film The Courier, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.) Wilderness disappears from the picture in this part of the book, the focus instead on Masefield’s time in Moscow. Masefield is rather the innocent abroad, fulfilling his boyhood dream of becoming spy yet a little disappointed that it’s not quite like in the James Bond books. He’s rather easy prey for the KGB who know exactly how to take advantage of a man’s weaknesses.

There’s a brief trip back in time to Berlin in 1947 to discover more about those ten thousand bottles of Bordeaux before the book picks up where it started, with Burne-Jones rescuing Wilderness from a Berlin jail in 1963. After a few frustrating years shuffling paperwork, Wilderness is ordered to return to Berlin to oversee the spy exchange.  As you might expect, not everything goes to plan, especially when Wilderness encounters two old sparring partners from the past plus the woman who, for a brief time, captured his heart. Perhaps he should have heeded the advice of his friend Eddie: “Joe, Berlin has been a disaster area for you. It’s marked on the map with a big black cross and a sign saying ‘here be dragons’.”

Although written five years ago, the book seems surprisingly up-to-date. Proving nothing much changes, the failure of the Americans and British to anticipate the construction of the Berlin wall cutting off West Berlin is described as a ‘failure of intelligence’. Where have we heard that recently? And no doubt Burne-Jones’s observation that ‘it is far better to say nothing and appear ignorant than to admit we knew and appear futile’ still applies as well.

I loved the brief appearance by a character from the author’s other series and also how the title of the book could be interpreted in a number of ways.  Is ‘the unfortunate Englishman’ Alleyn, separated from his family and languishing in a British jail, Masefield, the inept spy captured by the Soviets, or even Wilderness, more at home in the field than behind a desk?

The author clearly has a love of short chapters – The Unfortunate Englishman has 171! – but it’s a classy, perfectly paced spy thriller with great period atmosphere and a plot which is a satisfying blend of the personal and the political. I can’t wait to pluck Hammer To Fall off my bookshelf and get stuck in.

The Unfortunate Englishman is book 19 of my 20 Books of Summer 2021. Nearly there!

In three words: Gripping, pacy, action-packed

Try something similar: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré

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John LawtonAbout the Author

John Lawton worked for Channel 4 for many years. He is the author of Then We Take Berlin, the first in the Joe Wilderness series. He has also written seven novels in his Troy series, the standalone novel, Sweet Sunday, a couple of short stories, and the occasional essay. He writes very slowly and almost on the hoof in the USA or Italy, but professes to be a resident of a tiny village in the Derbyshire Peak District. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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