Having already read and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power (my favourite book back of 2014), along with several other of this author’s books, I was delighted to see that he had written a sequel, Darkly Wood II.
As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer/blogger, and a valued contributor to the Indie Author Support and Discussion Fb group. Further information on Max Power and his writing can be found at the following social media below and via other links at the end of this blog post … and speaking of blog sites, when you’ve finished all the author’s novels, and are eagerly awaiting the next (I’ve still one more book to go), his blog site provides an equally entertaining collection of his other writings to fill the gap.
On YouTube – Max Power
On Fb – @maxpowerbooks
On Twitter – @maxpowerbooks1
Darkly Wood II – Available in both eBook & print editions …
This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first-time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award-winning author Max Power. Heart-stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming …
The woman who never wore shoes
By Max Power
Having read and enjoyed the author’s first book in this series I was looking forward to reading the sequel. I must confess I had some doubts that it simply wouldn’t have the same impact second time around given that some of the mystery of Darkly Wood would already have been revealed to readers of the first book.
I’m happy to say that Darkly Wood II is every bit as creepy and mysterious, and even better than Book One; Max Power doesn’t just write stories, he literally sculptures every word and sentence with the consummate skill of a Michael Angelo, bringing to life the image in the reader’s mind like the subtle brush strokes of the classical artist adding that indefinable something extra that creates a masterpiece.
Like its prequel, Darkly Wood II embodies many different themes i.e. bloody and horrific murder, tragic romance, unrequited love, mysterious disappearances, the paranormal, and a host of others. Likewise, the format is similar to the first book in that it reads much like a book of short stories, all tied together by the central theme of the mysterious Darkly Wood. This time, however, there is more of a central character and story in the form of the ‘evil personified’ Wormhole, a man (or monster?) every bit as mysterious as Darkly Wood itself, anchoring everything together in a more coherent manner.
Readers of the first book will immediately see that that events have in their way come full circle, with two new generations of characters following on from Book One. Holly Coppertop, the granddaughter of Daisy May from the first book, having read the mysterious Tales of Darkly Wood finds herself similarly trapped and imperilled by it. Can Daisy May draw on her own experience and nightmares of that place to save her granddaughter and her daughter, Rose? And will she have to sacrifice herself to do so? But apart from this one nod to a chronological timeline, Darkly Wood, its characters and their stories, all appear to exist in their own particular corner of time and space, detached from the real world.
The many twists and turns here are only matched by the equally rich array of fascinating characters. Who could not be intrigued to know the background and stories of the other equally enigmatically named cast? Charlie Callous Colson, Blenerhorn Mastiff Wormhole, Matthew Squelby, and Cathecus Flincher are but a few of the new characters to wet the appetite. And lastly, there’s Darkly Wood’s strange metamorphosis of two of them into the ‘beast boy’ Woody twins?
Whilst this book is hardly lacking in blood and gore, its strength, readability, and sheer enjoyment stem from the author’s unrivalled ability to weave a complex array of gruesome and creepy tales and folklore into something far greater than the sum of its parts – it’s like the stories of Hansel and Gretel have been given an Edgar Allan Poe make-over to form one super sublime myriad of horror.
A must-read for any fan of the classical and psychological horror genres. Can’t wait to for book three in this captivating series!
See also my review below for the first book in the Darkly Wood series …
By Max Power
This is a book that embodies horror, romance, and the paranormal in a way I’ve rarely seen. With a good opening narrative, right from the start the author conjures up an atmospheric sense of creepiness and the macabre reminiscent of a latter-day Edgar Allan Poe or Dennis Wheatley, so much so that one can almost imagine Christopher Lee or Vincent Price playing the part of one of the characters, particularly that of Lord Terrence Darkly.
Initially we learn of the mystery and horror of Darkly Wood by way of the central character, Daisy May Coppertop, reading through a copy of a book of tales about Darkly Wood – a book within a book so to speak but at that point that’s all they are, just stories, but certainly nothing to be alarmed about, at least not yet.
What starts off as Daisy and Benjamin, intrigued by the apparent sight of a strange looking boy in the distance, taking a seemingly innocent and pleasant walk along the edge of a nearby woodland soon turns into a dark and fear filled battle not just to escape its clutches but simply to survive. Faced with ever-increasing danger and a sense of time running out for them, the bond between Daisy, and Benjamin, her new found friend from the local village, grows into something much more than simple friendship or first love.
The writing technique is both clever and imaginative, using descriptive narrative to set the tone and atmosphere early on, using the opportunity to inform the reader of many nuggets of information that come into play later in the book, gradually introducing just the right balance of dialogue and action. The numerous but short chapters make for a very readable style of writing, and by way of the different tales of the book within the book, the author keeps the story alive and fresh throughout. In books such as this the author often requires the reader’s implicit consent to suspend their disbelief, but here the reader is left in no doubt whatsoever as to the mystery and horror of the wood; in one of the chapters the author cleverly demonstrates the ‘other worldliness’ of the wood when in one particular tale, someone trying to find their way out of the wood tries using their field craft skills to escape only to find all the laws of nature and physics don’t seem to apply in the heart of Darkly Wood. As the story progresses the seemingly unrelated tales of the wood draw closer to form an intricate pattern; surprises and shocks keep the reader entranced, drawing you in just as Daisy and Benjamin are drawn further and further into Darkly Wood. Filled with twists and turns and new revelations at every juncture, an amazing and diverse array of characters, and a conclusion as eerie and unexpected as anyone could imagine, this is definitely one of my favourite reads of 2014.
Please visit Max Power’s Amazon Author page for more info about all the author’s work …
Max Power on the IASD … click pic below for link …
Glenn McGoldrick is another author I discovered via twitter when he posted a link to one of his free short stories, Breaking Spirits. Never one to pass up an opportunity to discover another short story writer, and for free, I downloaded said story. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed it, I saw he had two more free shorts on offer. They too proved equally enjoyable – I shall definitely be purchasing and reviewing his other stories in the near future …
Glenn McGoldrick is from the North East of England, and where he still calls home. English was his favourite lesson during his school days and always enjoyed writing stories.
Then he grew up (kind of) and worked in Casinos for twenty years, spending fifteen of those years travelling on cruise ships and got to see plenty of great places!
He has been writing dark short stories for five years and has a number of books on Amazon.
He is an avid reader, particularly enjoying James Lee Burke, Robert B Parker and Lawrence Block. When not busy writing, he enjoys music, movies, beach walks and beer.
The following three stories are all FREE to download on Amazon!!!
A Dark Teeside short story
Despite its short length, a hell of a lot happens in this story. The author doesn’t waste time with flowery description or unnecessary scene setting, every sentence and indeed every word is used to maximum effect to drive the story forward to its perfect ending. It’s a simple story and it’s easy to see the general direction it’s going quite early on but that doesn’t diminish its impact one iota as you get the feeling the author wants you to see the whole picture right from the start.
An absolutely super little story. With such a short story it’s difficult to say much without spoiling it but suffice to say, within the space of just 13 pages there’s murder, revenge, karma and even an add sort of feel-good factor to it. Will definitely be checking out more of this author’s work!
A Dark Teeside short story
As in the last story I read by this author, the scene-setting and characterisation are among the best I’ve read; Glenn McGoldrick uses every word to perfection, placing the reader firmly at the centre of events. Once again, its impossible to say too much here without giving too much away, other than how thoroughly enjoyable it was. Despite reading a lot of short ‘twist in the tale’ type stories, I must admit I couldn’t really guess where this one was going, and even at its conclusion, the ending is incredibly subtle.
In the story, we see a snapshot of the life of a somewhat unlikeable, rather pathetic young man – a man making no effort to get a job, a failed relationship behind him with hints of something more sinister than the usual reasons for break-ups, and a thief to boot. As I’ve said, the ending is very subtle, not the usual ‘wow, I didn’t see that coming’ sort I’ve come to expect, and yet, it made me think about the different directions this story could take were it to continue … another fine and intriguing effort.
A Dark Teeside short story
Another super short but captivating little tale. The author’s clever use of imagery i.e. the ‘three dead flies’ for the missing years, was a touch of genius, bringing home the cold reality of the unfolding story. The thoughts and reflections of the past, memories captured in old photos, and a host of other nice little touches make you believe in the characters. Unlike the author’s other stories I’ve read to date, there’s no what I would call a ‘twist in the tale’ here. If anything, the ending what could be read as the start of a new chapter or a glimmer of hope at the end of a sad tale? Almost like leaving a longer story hanging in mid-air, again leaving it to the reader’s imagination as to how it might progress … So pleased I’ve discovered this series of super stories!
See here for Glenn McGoldrick’s Amazon Author page for all his other collected works
Flash Fiction short story no:7 (only 93 more to go). This will probably be the last one for a week or so while I catch up on some long overdue book reviews. Happy reading, writing, reviewing, and blogging. Whatever your passion, enjoy …
If you’re enjoying these flash fiction stories, for some even shorter 100-word microfiction from different authors, see link below:
Anna Dawson listened to the reading of the verdict. The words not guilty would ring in her ears for the rest of her life.
The man who had raped and killed her daughter was about to walk free from court. She didn’t blame the jury, the police, or prosecution for that matter; it had been slim enough evidence to start with. And with such a convincing alibi they weren’t left with much choice but to let the monster walk. It was hard to argue with the sworn testimony of over thirty people, each one of whom was willing to testify that Harry Tilsley was hundreds of miles away drinking with friends when her daughter, Jackie, met her death.
Harry Tilsley flashed a smile at her before showing a thumbs-up gesture to the jury, almost like a mock ‘thanks.’ He knew Anna was in court. The wry smile and gesturing were all directed at her, a reminder that his money made him virtually untouchable.
“Hello. Mr Jacobs, it’s Anna Dawson here,” Anna said.
“Write down the following directions. Do exactly as I tell you, and I will meet with you in three days,” the voice at the other end of the phone answered. There were no polite formalities, not so much as a hello or goodbye from the voice, just the lengthy instructions followed by the crackle of the line going dead.
She followed the directions and instructions to the letter. It was an odd place to meet, she thought. Still, it was better that than the cliché flash of headlights in a deserted underground carpark.
Mr Jacobs was not at all like she expected. Actually, she hadn’t known quite what to expect, except that with his gangster fedora and cigar, and the whole seedy smoke-filled nightclub in a less than respectable part of the city, this wasn’t it. The entire place, the people, it was like a jaunt back in time to a Sam Spade movie – she wouldn’t have been surprised to see Humphry Bogart walk through the door with his trademark raincoat turned up at the collar. The man that did join her though wasn’t that far off the mark.
“You’re the man who arranged Harry Tilsley’s alibi,” were the first words out of Anna’s mouth when Mr Jacobs approached to join her at the table she had been instructed to sit.
Mr Jacobs nodded his agreement with her statement. If Anna had been expecting denials, excuses, or justification, she was going to be disappointed.
“But I understand you’re not here to recriminate with me, so, to business then,” Mr Jacobs continued.
“No, I’m not. I want to employ your services. I don’t have the same money as Harry Tilsley, but I’ve raised a sizeable amount, and I’m willing to work for you to make up any shortfall,” Anna replied, handing him a note with the figure she had raised. He looked at it and mouthed a barely perceptible smile. Mr Jacobs passed it back to her, nodding his agreement of its acceptability.
Anna no longer hated Mr Jacobs and his organisation for what they had done. Had Harry Tilsley not employed their services, yes, he would have gone to prison. But would he have got the punishment he deserved, that was another matter. With his money, he would probably have got the charge reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Any actual prison time would have been in some cushy minimum security place, and likely for no more than a few months.
This was better, she thought, much better indeed!
Anna made Harry suffer. Surprisingly, she opted not to kill him. Leaving him as ‘half a man’ was much more satisfying. It wasn’t all bad for Harry though; with modern medicine and advanced surgery, there was every likelihood of being able to reconstruct some sort of artificial penile tube for urination. And perhaps those little rubber implants to at least give Harry the illusion of him still possessing his balls might be a comfort too. Looks wise though, he was left with a face not even his own mother could ever love again despite all the reconstructive surgery his money could buy.
Anna now owed Mr Jacobs her lifelong loyalty should he decide to act on her offer to work for him. It was a small price to pay, she thought.
Naturally, as the mother of the girl Harry Tilsley had been accused of raping and murdering, Anna was the authorities’ first port of call in their investigations. They quickly dismissed her as a suspect though; she was still too distraught from Harry Tilsley having been proved innocent at his trial to barely think straight, in their opinion. And when they checked her alibi, Anna Dawson was found to be hundreds of miles away drinking in a seedy smoke-filled bar, drowning her sorrows with friends – over thirty people were willing to testify to that.
Flash Fiction story no:5. This one comes in at a shade over the 900-word mark. Just another 95 more stories to go till I reach the magic 100 figure for publication.
House Sitting Surprise
Henry Abbot had grown tired of the local louts shouting abuse at him, throwing rubbish in his garden, even trying to break in a couple of times. Mostly it didn’t bother him. He was a sturdy old boy, but he wasn’t getting any younger. He needed a holiday, just to get away for awhile, he thought.
Dutch and Jonesy were two of Henry’s training recruits from his time as a Colour Sergeant in the army. That was a long time ago, and they had long since matured into two of the toughest squaddies ever to grace a drill square. In Henry’s eyes though, they were still his lads, and he was looking forward to seeing them again.
In ‘his lads’ eyes, he was still the NCO they would walk over hot coals for to hell and back.
Mick and Gazza were always on the lookout for a night’s grafting, though not an honest night’s one like driving a taxi or manning the local 24-hr gas station. Their idea of a night’s work was to go out and rob someone. A ‘good’ night’s work was not getting caught. Their usual victims were the frail and elderly, those who wouldn’t be able or likely to put up much of a fight should the two robbing scumbags be discovered mid thieving.
“Hey, Mick, that house on the corner opposite the post box, I just been past it, and it looks like they’ve left one of the downstairs back windows open.”
“That’s that old boy from Rozzerman street’s house, the old git with his polished shoes and the regimental blazer.”
“Yeah, that’s right. I remember a few years back him telling me to quieten down when I was yelling at some old girl. I’ll give the old bastard ‘quieten down,’ see if I don’t.”
“So, what’s this about an open window?”
“Yeah, back kitchen window by the looks of it. There’s no lights on, and his car’s not there. He might have fucked off somewhere for the weekend.
“And left an empty house and an open window … nice!”
“I think we might have company,” Dutch silently mouthed the words to his mate.
Jonesy nodded his agreement. They both silently sidled up either side of the connecting door between the dining room and the kitchen, waiting for the two intruders to come through.
A moment later, the door opened. Mick and Gazza crept quietly into the dining room; they may have possessed the practised stealth of seasoned burglars, but they were rank amateurs compared to Dutch and Jonesy.
It was the last ‘creeping’ either of them would ever do again. The only sound they might have heard in those last few moments of life was their own or each other’s muffled screams through constricted airways. Both Dutch and Jonesy had big powerful hands, easily strong enough to squeeze the life out of the two robbing scrotes in Henry’s house.
Dutch and Jonesy would have preferred the quick and immediate method of a knife thrust just below the heart or for a few extra minutes of painful gasping for breath drowning in their own blood, a strike to the lungs. But they had Henry’s recently cleaned carpets and new sofa to think of, it just wouldn’t do to go messing up Henry’s front room when they’d promised faithfully to look after his house while he visited family abroad.
Between them, they soon had the two intruders sliced and diced and ready for disposal, and all without a trace of DNA evidence to show the two scumbag burglars had ever been near the house.
“They might be a couple of thieving bastards, but they’re young and healthy; all them mineral-rich nutrients in them would have done wonders for the Sarge’s garden,” Jonesy remarked.
When he wasn’t soldiering, Jonesy was quite the environmentalist – and yes, he was also the camp comedian among his comrades, and no, being dead now, the two intrusive burglars could hardly still be called healthy.
“Can we save the jokes, till later, eh?” Dutch replied, a slight tone of reprimand in his voice given the seriousness of the matter, “and no, we’re not burying them in Henry’s garden. We’ll stick to the woods we reccied earlier.”
“How was yer holiday, Sarge?” Jonesy asked, greeting Henry on his return.
“And the family, hope they were good?” Dutch added.
“Had a smashing time thanks, lads. And yep, the family were all good too. Them grandkids of mine are shooting up fast, I tell you,” Henry replied, adding: “And thanks too for stopping over and looking after my place. I know it meant giving up some of your leave so anytime there’s anything I can do for you, you’ve just to ask.”
“Was a pleasure, Sarge, “ Dutch said.
“What he said,” Jonesy agreed, waving a thumb at his mate.
“And those two louts I told you about, you had no grief from them, did you? I was sure they’d break in if they saw my car was gone and the lights out,” Henry said.
“No trouble at all. We kept the downstairs lights on most of the time, so they knew there were people in,” Dutch lied.
“I heard that they’d had some grief of their own with some rival scumbags elsewhere. Maybe you won’t have any more trouble with them if that’s the case,” Jonesy lied too.
“But you can always give us both a call if anyone else bothers you,” Dutch said.
“Cheers lads. Now let’s all go inside and have us a few beers.”
Another of my Welsh Wednesday Writing reviews of Welsh authors, this time a collection of short stories by Welsh author, Stuart Kear, a life-long resident of the Rhondda Valley. I first discovered Stuart’s stories via the Tonypandy Writer’s Group’s multi-author collection of short stories and poetry, which featured two of Stuart’s stories. Having been impressed with both contributions I checked to see if the author had anything published elsewhere, and so discovered this awesome collection of short stories here …
Click on book cover thumbnail below for Amazon purchase link …
Short, Long And Tall Stories
All the stories here have a Welsh theme, and in most cases specific to the Welsh valleys; now when I say a ‘Welsh theme,’ I don’t just mean that the author simply mentions Wales in passing or has perhaps given each story a Welsh character – in most cases, the Welsh setting, being Welsh, or having grown up in the valleys is an integral part of the meaning of each story.
This is quite a substantial body of varied stories, thirteen in total. Among the stories, the author tackles a variety of topics including bereavement and how close relatives deal with loss in their own very different ways, tragedy in the coal mining pits, plots of murder mixed up with irony and poetic justice, and even an incredulously funny flash fiction piece in ‘The Letter,’ – as simple a premise as you could imagine but a guaranteed ear to ear smile for the reader.
Some of the stories are more a reflection of the human condition and are simply satisfying to read for their own sake without the need for any clever or surprise conclusions. Others though are quite definitely of the ‘twist in the tale’ type, often blended with a deliciously wicked element of humour, and I have to say, Stuart Kear has demonstrated a real talent for that type of story.
My favourite story? – I’m torn between ‘The Look, ‘ a brutal tale of murder and poetic justice with a little touch of black humour, and ‘The Departure,’ another relatively simple story but having the impact of being hit right between the eyes with a claw hammer! Others that also caught my particular attention – ‘The Accident’ and the ‘The dig at the Station Hotel.’
If I had but two tiny criticisms it would be that I would have preferred a more ‘Wales’ orientated cover as the one here puts me more in mind of a major city than the Welsh Valleys. Secondly, given how many people like to read on their Kindles, tablets, and phones etc it would be nice if this collection were more widely available as an eBook too as these stories really do merit the widest possible readership! Apart from that, an absolutely superb clever and entertaining collection of stories. No hesitation in rating it a thoroughly well-deserved 5 stars!
About the author …
Born in 1945, Stuart Kear, was born and raised in the Welsh Valleys, having also lived and worked there all his life. With three children and two grandchildren, Stuart Kear was recently widowed and it is to the memory of his late wife of 47 years he dedicated the above short story collection.
In addition to his love of books and language, Stuart Kear’s other interests are photography, walking, quizzes, snooker, and of course, writing.
This is the first murder mystery novel I’ve read in a long time, so many thanks to Diana J. Febry for reintroducing me to this neglected genre for me. Reading Diana’s novel, Bells On Her Toes, reminded me just how important a good plot is, and how giving the reader something to think about is to the reader’s enjoyement. Diana J. Febry is the author of five novels, and in her own words, her mysteries combine eccentric rural characters, village politics and as many teists and turns as a country lane. As well as being an author, she is an active book reviewer and contributor to several online writing groups.
Diana J. Febry was born near Bristol and educated at Oxford Brookes University. She continues to live near Bristol with her husband and two teenage children. When not writing she spends her time roaming the countryside with her dog and horses.
Further links to Diana J. Febry’s writing can be found at:
Bells On Her toes
By Diana J. Febry
(Available from Amazon as an eBook)
Set against the murky backdrop of the world of race horse training, Diana J Febry has produced a real murder mystery and detective whodunit (and why), filled with twists and turns and lots of deliciously deceptive red herrings to keep the reader guessing and trying to fathom who the murderer is. Given the setting, it inevitably gives rise to comparison with Dick Francis, but having read both I would say this book owes more to the influence of say a modern day Agatha Christie – I could easily picture this book as one of those very English murder mysteries dramas although this is definitely more Morse than Frost. With her background and knowledge, Diana J Febry has used the horse racing and training world to give the story a character and feel all of its own but without immersing the reader too deeply in it; likewise with the investigative and police procedural elements, she has concentrated on telling a story rather than trying to impress the reader with her knowledge of the former.
The story starts off predictably enough with the discovery of dead body (with a gunshot wound) in the barn of a country estate, but others are soon to follow. As the Detective duo DCI Peter Hatherall and DC Fiona Williams start their investigations we are introduced to a wide and esoteric cast of characters. With each new character new theories arise regarding the initial murder, some more probable than others and some wildly speculative, though if I had but one small criticism in this area it would be that I think some of the theories and speculation alluded to by the locals was just a tad too off the mark and slightly out of sync with the overall feel of the story, taking it slightly into the realms of a thriller at times.
Due to the plot driven nature of murder mystery stories, I don’t want to allude to too many specific elements of the plot for fear of spoiling it any way, but what I can say is that this is a well-crafted literary jigsaw encompassing lost and past love, possibe offiicial shady goings on involving the environment, and official cover ups to name but a few, all inviting the reader to reach premature conclusions as the author sends the reader in several different directions with the different lines of enquiry.
Given the number of characters I was impressed with how well they were developed and how that development was incorporated into the overall story. The subplots were cleverly weaved into the wider story to give them relevance rather than being used simply to add extra pages. The dialogue between the two lead detectives and the rest of the characters was realistic, driving the story forward when necessary while at other times giving the reader time to pause and speculate as to which way the story is going, which for me is one of the enjoyments of reading this type of book. I also liked the fact that the relationship between the two detectives wasn’t without its problems, and I enjoyed watching how it developed with just the merest hint at a possible romance. Although this is the first of this author’s books I’ve read, I know from reading the blurbs of her other novels that this isn’t the last we’re destined to see of DCI Peter Hatherall and DI Fiona Williams I’m pleased to say. I would rate this in the region of 4.5 to 4.7, and since that’s way closer to 5 than 4, it gets a five star rating from me.
Diana J. Febry’s current titles: Click on thumbnails for Amazon links
Larry Flynn by Max Power is another title that came to my attention via facebook, twitter, and the growing number of positive reviews it has quickly accumulated. Having already enjoyed and reviewed Darkly Wood by Max Power I had no hesitation in adding this new one to my reading list.
Max Power has written several books including Darkly Wood, Bad Blood, and Little Big Boy. Originally from Dublin he currently resides in Maynooth in Kildare Ireland with his family, and following the huge success of Darkly Wood, is currently working on its sequel.
As well as being an author, Max Power is a prolific book reviewer, blogger, and regular contributor to a number of Indie Author Support Fb groups, Goodreads, and other assorted social media, and is fast establishing himself as major name in Indie publishing.
Further information on Max Power and links to his writing can be found at:
By Max Power
(Available in eBook and paperback from Amazon)
Larry Flynn isn’t your usual doddering old fella but one harbouring a hidden past filled with tragedy, drama, and secrets of epic proportions. He certainly isn’t a nice old man; in fact he comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable and heartless bitter old man without a single redeeming virtue to his name – whether this is due to circumstances, the fact that he’s slowly dying and knows it or simply his nature is for the reader to discover and decide for themselves, but what they will also discover along the way is a cleverly constructed story that starts off in a sedate but intriguing way, hinting at a horrific progression.
Quite early on the author makes it clear that Larry Flynn has a hidden and sinister agenda, and one in which a pretty young girl plays a major part, giving rise to all sorts of gory speculation, but as anyone who has read any of Max Power’s books before will know, it’s never wise to jump to any obvious conclusions. Set in Dublin, much of the narrative and dialogue pays homage to the locality, utilising some of the local dialect to give a real feel for the characters and place, but keeping the balance just right so as not to distract or confuse any readers not familiar with the Irish accent or terminology. The dialogue is authentic, switching effortlessly between the characters to give each their own distinctive voice, bringing each of them to life with every word, thought and action. There are some lengthy narratives at times, but expertly interwoven into the dialogue and action sequences, providing the framework for the unfolding story.
In its simplest terms, this is a story of one old man’s obsessional need for revenge, and he’s prepared to go to any lengths to get it. When a young girl provides the opportunity for Larry to put his plans into action, things quickly escalate beyond his control, que the arrival of host of other characters he hadn’t allowed for: a ruthless Dublin crime boss, some nasty associates of the crime boss even more objectionable than Larry Flynn himself, a couple of equally ruthless US security special forces, and the US ambassador. What emerges is a story spanning the past seventy years; a conspiracy involving the Catholic Church, a soldier who knows too much, a shady high ranking Nazi, the smuggling of a Nazi fortune, and the Fuhrer himself – these may sound like the typical ingredients of a thriller but without giving too much away, those elements really are just the surface of this intriguing story of political ambition, murder, rape, kidnap, and a determination to safeguard a terrible secret. Another fine piece of writing from Max Power.
Further titles by Max Power: click on thumbnails for Amazon links –
This is a story I was prompted to read after having
read and enjoyed one of Amber Hawkins’ short stories featured on her blog, http://ambersalley.wordpress.com/.
Max’s Mayhem, by Amber Hawkins (Available on amazon Kindle)
This is a novel that most definitely falls in the Crime and Detective genre. Although set in the present day, this is very much a good old fashioned detective story and reads very much like a Ray Chandler or Sam Spade novel; if it weren’t for the occasional references to modern technology, the reader could almost imagine themselves in a period 1930’s murder investigation. It’s the classic story of an old school detective teamed up with a tenacious young female reporter, determined to get to the bottom of the of the seemingly motiveless murder of a high class call girl: Throw in a Senate Governor, a jealous wife, and a mysterious killer lurking in the background, and you have all the ingredients of a an engaging and fast-paced ‘who and why they did it story.’ There are a number of sub-plots and unexpected turns that slowly and cleverly fall into place to form the overall story. The ending was not what I was expecting, and is suggestive that this might well be just the first in a longer series of such stories.
If I had but one tiny criticism it would be that I do think there is just the slightest over reliance on semi-colons in the first half of the story, but again, I say that based on my own reading and writing preferences, and I suspect other readers may well disagree with me on this.
Despite not being a dedicated fan of ‘classic’ detective novels, I did find this story to be well written, enjoyable and entertaining. One of the things I don’t usually enjoy with some detective novels is when the author tries to impress with almost Sherlock Holmes levels of analysis and clues that would take a super computer to figure out. In ‘Max’s Mayhem’, Amber Hawkins manages to get the balance more or less just right to intrigue and hold the reader’s interest without drowning them in procedural detail, relying instead on the detective’s and the reporter’s respective instincts and experience to move the story forward.
At sixty two pages, this is more a novella than a full length novel, but packed within those pages is a story that fans of the murder, crime, and detective genres will really enjoy.
When we think of murder and those who commit it, it’s common to think of a man, someone brutal and evil looking, calculating and without remorse, or sometimes someone consumed by jealousy or thoughts of revenge or greed perhaps. On those rare occasions when the murderer is a woman, again we conjure up an image of someone hard and evil looking, like those now infamous pictures of the likes of the British child murderer, Myra Hindley, or the American serial killer, Aileen Wuornos. The truth is, there is no look or image for a murder, they look just like you and me, and everyone else…
Sweet Old Lady…
Elspith Eliza Harrington and her husband had moved to the quaint little village not long after the advent of the internet. With so many different sources of entertainment available, work for an aging actress of the stage had become harder and harder to come by, and Elspith was not one to take second-rate roles in the smaller theatres…
Life in the village was pleasant. Elspith and Mr Harrington had settled in well, especially that nice Mr Harrington, who had been born and raised not more than a few miles away. The villagers were so proud that a local lad had made a name for himself; he had enthralled the locals with tales of the theatre, and best of all had brought fresh life to the local ‘amateur dramatics’ group.
She was by far the more famous of the two, but Elspith was a Londoner, it might take longer for her to gain their acceptance, or so Elspith thought and hoped.To the villagers they were just a normal couple. In private, things were very different…
Elspith had been an actress in her younger years; it’s what had attracted Mr Harrington to her in the first place. He was the casting director at the Strand Theatre, and she became his latest, and as time would show, greatest discovery. She wasn’t his only discovery though; he auditioned many chorus girls, always willing to provide a helping hand to the careers of the many young girls dreaming of theatrical stardom, and his wandering hands and roving eye were always more than willing. For Elspith though, time had made her his prisoner, his cash cow, and his possession. Many of her friends and admirers had urged her to leave the old bastard. One particular admirer, Charlie, a charming but brutal East London gangster, had even offered to have Mr Harrington entombed in the foundations of his new house. Years later she regretted not taking him up on his offer, especially when Mr Harrington’s extra-marital affairs gradually became common knowledge throughout the business; Eliza didn’t like that; he would have to go when the opportunity arose. That took much longer than Elspith would have liked, thirty years longer in fact….
“I wish you’d let me drive the car as well, it would make life so much easier for me.” Elspith said.
“I’ve said no. Everywhere in the village is within walking distance for you.” Mr Harrington replied.
“I know that, but I just mean so that I can go a bit further, see some of the countryside, it seems a shame to be surrounded by so much beauty and not be able to see more of it.”
“You haven’t driven in years; it would cost too much to add you on the insurance.”
“And whose fault is that if you never let me drive in the first place? As for the insurance, it is my money we’re living off after all.”
Mr Harrington didn’t reply. He just looked at her. Elspith could sense his resentment, and immediately regretted saying anything. It wasn’t that she was sad at having maybe hurt his feelings, he didn’t have any, but she knew he would be even more unbearable now for the next few days, deliberately making her life even more of a misery in a multitude of different ways.
Elspith missed her old life. Her days of stardom were long behind her, but it would have been nice to lend her experience to the local amateur dramatics group like her husband, but Mr Harrington would have none of it. She knew the locals would have liked her to participate more, and resented her for not doing so, thinking she believed herself to be ‘far too grand’ for them, a belief she knew her husband encouraged on the quiet.
As time passed the locals treated her with more and more indifference, while affording Mr Harrington the adulation he never had in the theatre; it was his revenge, she thought, for remaining in the shadow of her public success for all their years in the theatre together.
Over the years the villager’s indifference gradually turned to thinly disguised scorn. If Elspith and Mr Harrington were visiting one of the village shops, he would be greeted with a friendly smile and social chit chat, she with little more than begrudging nods. He was invited to numerous social gatherings, often related to his involvement with the ‘am-dram’ group; she remained at home, left to her own devices. It was during those times Elspith thought about and plotted an end to her situation, waiting for just the right opportunity to put her plans into action…
It was that time of year again, the summer charity fete. Mr Harrington was rehearsing another of his awful period dramas. Against her husband’s wishes, Elspith had volunteered to run one of the food stalls. Such generosity with her time and effort had not been warmly accepted, but anything that reduced the workload of the village fete committee was never refused, no matter how unpopular the source of the offer.They had a committee for just about anything – jam making, the church roof, even what colour the bus-stop benches should be. Elspith had learned to despise the small and narrow-minded extent of village life.
Mr Harrington did nothing to support her, choosing instead to belittle her efforts at every opportunity…
“I don’t see why you’re doing this. It’s just a village charity fete, not one of your grand star studded fund-raising events, can’t you just do as I ask for once and not try and hog the limelight?”
“I’ve always done as you asked, or more like what you’ve told me to do. I’m bored not having anything to do – you won’t let me play a part in any of the amateur dramatics, you won’t let me drive, I’m practically your servant and prisoner. Why are you so against me taking an active role in village life?”
“Because you’re not one of us, you’re just a chorus girl who got lucky, and that was thanks to me. Why can’t you be grateful for the life you have and not try to be the centre of attention? This is a village, not the starring role in a west-end production.”
Elspith already knew that’s how he thought of her. Despite it being her money that had bought them their lovely house and provided the income for their comfortable life, he regarded her success as his own and therefore the money too. And why shouldn’t he, he often thought, he had given Elspith her first big break in the business – her hard work and talent were incidental…
With Mr Harrington out of the way at rehearsals, Elspith was busy with her baking: fancy tea cakes, sausage rolls, savories, chocolate cookies, all manner of delicacies to tempt the appetite. She was a bit behind, having had to wait for various ingredients that were hard to come by – her old friend Charlie had been most helpful in that department. He’d long since retired from his ‘other activities’ so was glad to be of help, ‘just like old times’ he’d remarked when she made the unusual request.
All those days spent alone while Mr Harrington had been at rehearsals, out with friends, and socialising had given her all the time she needed. She now knew more about the countryside and all it had to offer than most of the locals; she was amazed at how many of the local plants, fruits, berries, and the such like were actually quite dangerous. She also knew as much about the villagers: Mrs Collins for example, the chairwoman of the local ‘am-dram’ group, had a severe allergy to nuts, while that equally obnoxious sister of hers had an intolerance for penicillin. Daisy Morgan, the church organist, was diabetic, while Jack Miles, the postman, had a heart condition for which he took a blood thinner to help his circulation.
The selection of culinary delights Elspith had produced was impressive. Even Mr Harrington had to begrudgingly concede she had done well before leaving for his early morning walk. How smug he would have been had he known the truth, that Elspith had secretly gotten her old friend Charlie to deliver in food from Royal food suppliers, Fortnum and Mason.
Elspith allowed herself a rare moment of reflection of how good life might have been in the village. The doorbell interrupted her thoughts…
“Oh, hello Charlie, I’m so pleased you could make it.”
“Eliza my darling, anything for you babes.” Elspith laughed out loud; only Charlie ever called her by her middle name or ‘babes.’ She knew she was far too old now for such endearments as the latter but she appreciated the flattery.
“I know, but thank you anyway.” She replied, smiling, and gave him a theatrical kiss on both cheeks.
“So Eliza, are you sure about all this?”
“After thirty years, never more so.”
“That’s my girl. I’ll be off then before he gets back, but I’ll be hovering around in the background to keep an eye on things.”
The fete was going well. The locals and a fair number of visitors had turned out in force. Elspith stood in dutiful attendance at her food stall, one of several but by far the most popular – it was difficult for the others to compete with the professional products of the Royal food suppliers:
“Really, Elspith, these look delicious,” said Mrs Collins, looking over the pastries in the middle of Elspith’s display.
“Thank you Mrs Collins, one does one’s best…”
“Oh please, call me Margaret; you’ve obviously worked so hard.” Elspith forced a weak smile in acknowledgement.
If only Mrs Collins had known just how true that was, about how much work had really gone into her efforts; not just the baking and cooking, but the planning and the preparation, thirty years’ worth, and it wasn’t simply to earn Elspith the accolade of calling Mrs Collins by her first name.
“I’ll take one, please, no need to wrap it.”
“My pleasure… And please, I’ve got a couple more already wrapped for you later, my little thank you for all your theatrical efforts with my husband.” It was Mrs Collins’ turn to force a smile, not quite sure of Elspith’s meaning…
“Yes, you’ll enjoy these, they’re a particular favourite of mine too,” Elspith assured her next customer, Daisy Morgan, “and I think I may have made too many of the sugar free butter candies so if you stop by towards the day’s end I’m sure they’ll be plenty left if you want some to take home?”
“That really is most kind of you. I have to be so careful with my diet.”
“Yes I know, but I had so many friends in the theatre, particularly the dancers, who had to maintain their figures for their work that I learned of all sorts of ingenious delicacies they came up with. I can give you the recipe for them if you would like?”
“I’d like that very much. We must be sure of seeing more of each other from now on.”
“Yes. And I’d like that very much, bye for now.”
“These honey filled scones taste great Mrs Harrington, I’ll take four.” It was no wonder Jack Miles had a heart problem and struggled to get the post delivered on time. Elspith knew he wouldn’t share a single one of them with his wife.
“Four it is Mr Miles. And here’s an extra two, free of charge for when you get home.”
“Hmmm,” said Jack, “I’ll enjoy them later. I can’t remember the last time I tasted honey this thick and succulent. How did you make it like this?” Elspith looked at him with her sweetest smile. It was best all round that she didn’t answer that question, at least not truthfully…
“So, how’s it going Eliza? Selling lots?” Asked Charlie.
“I should say, but I think that’s more to do with the quality of the Fortnum and Mason suppliers than my selling skills. This lot are getting the very best the world’s chefs have to offer for less than the price the local bakers would charge.”
“Hmm,” Charlie muttered, and then adding, “well just you be careful you don’t get them mixed up. You said yourself some of the villagers were alright to you.”
“No need to worry. I’m not one of the Borgias, you know. I’ve been most careful.”
“And you’ve sold to everyone you wanted to then?”
“Yes, to every one of them, it couldn’t have gone better if I had planned every last detail.”
“But you did,” Charlie laughed.
“Ha! So I did!” Snapped back Elspith with a huge mischievous grin…
It had been a busy but enjoyable day. Elspith’s catering efforts had gone down a treat. For the first time in years, the villagers had been really nice to Elspith. But it was all too little and too late…
Later that night, Margaret Collins went into anaphylactic shock, the result of something she ate, though exactly what couldn’t be identified.
Two days later both Daisy Morgan and Elizabeth Collins died in strange circumstances: Daisy from an extreme diabetic attack brought on by elevated blood-sugar levels and Elizabeth from some sort of penicillin induced heart attack.
A food source was suspected in both cases, but like with Margaret Collins, what particular food or where from was a mystery.
The mystery deepened further when the following day, Jack Miles died from a sudden and massive heart attack. Traces off an anti-clotting agent were later found in the autopsy, the very last thing you would expect to find in someone taking a blood thinning agent for clogged arteries.
And who could have foretold of Mr Harrington’s suicide? No one had suspected anything going on between him and Margaret Collins. He must have loved Margaret very much to be so distraught to kill himself when he heard of her death…
Poor Elspith, people thought. The village had finally warmed to her…
“Not guilty!” The verdict of the month long trial was greeted by cheers and knowing nods of approval from the public gallery. The friends and admirers of the defendant had left little room for the usual assortment of morbidly curious onlookers.
Elspith Eliza Harrington allowed herself a wry smile as she listened to the Judge telling her she was free to go. She made a pretence of trying to adjust her hearing aid, forcing the judge to repeat himself. There was nothing wrong with her hearing but it amused her to do so…
The verdict had never really been in doubt; the evidence was flimsy and circumstantial at best. And even if it had been stronger, without absolute proof or a full confession, who would have believed that the frail looking sweet old lady standing in the dock could really have been responsible for multiple deaths in a quiet country village?
A court usher assisted Elspith descend the three short steps from the dock, not that she needed any help; truth be known, she was fit as a fiddle and with a razor sharp mind to match, but the frail, slightly confused persona had served her well so why abandon it just yet?
Only two people in the court weren’t fully taken in by Elspith’s performance: Judge Billingsgate, who had frequently indicated his disbelief by way of repeated interruptions of the defence; prolonged fiddling with his silver rimmed glasses as he pulled them midway down his nose to peer over betrayed his scepticism as surely as standing up and calling her a liar. And then there was Inspector Musgrove, the officer in charge of the investigations that had brought them all to this point…
It was sheer bad luck for Elspith that Inspector Henry Musgrove had been at the village fete that day otherwise the whole affair might never have come to court. What clinched his suspicions was seeing Charlie at the fete too. You see, Henry Musgrove hadn’t always been a country copper. Twenty years previously he’d led the task-force assigned to gathering the proof to convict Charlie Hawton – unsuccessfully.
There was nothing to connect Charlie with the unexplained deaths but it was obvious he knew, and was fond of Elspith Eliza Harrington.
In his mind, wherever Charlie was there was a crime waiting to be solved- if he couldn’t prove Charlie was responsible it would have to be the dotty old woman instead. He simply hadn’t counted on the ‘dotty old woman’s’ theatrical skills – the jury never stood a chance…
Charlie gave the inspector a cheeky wink from the gallery before proceeding to greet his ‘now’ fiancée, his beloved Eliza.
Accepting Charlie’s marriage proposal was a small price to pay for the opportunity of one last great performance…
Murder, the deliberate taking of another human life, is quite possibly the most heinous of crimes a human being can commit. There can never be a real justification for it, can there? But are there cases where it might be understood, identified, and even sympathized with? You decide…
How quickly life can change. Peter Miller had a beautiful wife and two adorable kids. What he didn’t have was a job, money to pay the bills, and hope for the future. Like everyone else on the run-down estate where they lived, he dreamed of how things might be: fancy holidays, a new car, and a better life for his family. All that stood in his way were six little numbers, the right numbers on the right ticket. It was the same dream fifteen million other lottery ticket buyers had. Dreams just didn’t come true for families like the Millers…
“For god’s sake Pete,” screamed Jill, his wife,”there’s barely enough electric left on the meter to get us through the week, we’re out of milk, behind with the rent, and you’re still wasting money on bloody lottery tickets!”
Peter turned away, knowing she was right, too ashamed to meet her angry tear-filled eyes. Neither of them had the energy to pursue the arguement further.
Peter Miller continued to dream. He needed his dreams to cope with going through the motions of applying for jobs he wouldn’t get. Each new morning brought the usual letters of rejection from those who had bothered to reply. The bin was full of such letters. The bills and final demands couldn’t be disposed of so easily; they were put in a draw.
Saturday night came round. Peter Miller would have liked to drop the kids off at their gran’s and take his wife out for a night out. But where to? With no money, no car, not even bus fare? Another night in front of the TV then. Peter Miller slumped into an armchair, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable disappointment of the lottery results. Jill no longer had enough fight in her to be remotely interested; the cost of their lottery ticket would have bought them two pints of milk.
Peter switched TV channels to hear the results. They never saw the other channel appear. Without warning, the the TV and the lights went dark and quiet.
“Well, that’s just soddin’ great!” Jill said.”
“I’ll go and operate the emergency supply,” he replied, lifting himself up. Like most of the other residents on the estate, their electric supply was a ‘pay as you go’ meter. You paid in advance for the electric you used. And when it was used up, the lights went out. The only safeguard was the emergency supply button; five pounds of emergency credit to allow the customer to restore their electric supply until the customer could get to a local shop to buy more credit for the key that updated the meter balance. Two minutes later the lights came back on, and the TV sprang back to life. They had missed the lottery results. It seemed unimportant. What was important was that it was another week away before they got the next unemployment cheque – the measly five pounds emergency credit wouldn’t stretch another week…
The days passed. Life continued for the Millers. With a little economy they might just make the electric last til the end of the week; more blankets instead of central heating, strict rationing of the house lights, and the kids would have to forego using their X boxes for the rest of the week – they would cope, somehow. The Millers were used to coping, to making do..
The Wednesday edition of the Hackney Gazette dropped through the letterbox, the local freebie paper. It made a change from the bills and job rejection letter. It was filled with local news and an ever decreasing number of job adverts. The news was mostly bad, and the jobs beyond his qualifications and skills. It did feature the lottery results as well though…
“This can’t be fucking right? – Jill!” It was Peter’s turn to scream her name. Jill assumed it was another bill, and continued her washing up.
“Jill! He screamed again, “Jill, for fucks sake, leave that and get in here will you.” This time she took notice. It wasn’t like him to swear like that, not at her.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” there was worry and concern in here voice.
“Wrong? Nothing, at least I don’t think so – here, take a look…” He replied, thrusting the local paper into her hands, “look at the numbers, they’re our numbers, the ones we do every week.. We’ve fucking won!!!” She took the paper., not really taking in what he was saying. The winning lottery numbers certainly looked familiar, but it had been so long since she had been the one to buy the tickets that she couldn’t be sure, still not believing it…
“I’m telling you Jill, those are our numbers!” He didn’t bother to wait for her reaction before racing upstairs to retrieve the lottery ticket. Jill raced after him, paper still in hand. They stared at the numbers screaming out at them from the now crumpled page of the Gazette and compared them to those on the ticket. They were the same! They turned to look at one another, their eyes met. This time the tears were joyful. No words needed saying at that moment – the empty fridge, the electric running out, their damp cold flat – none of it mattered now, they were going to be rich…
The morning’s weather was as cold and wet as it could be, but for the Millers it was the brightest they’d ever known. They’d been too excited the previous night to actually ring the lottery company to claim their winnings. With shaking hands Peter Miller dialed the contact number to verify their ticket.
“Hello, is that the claims line?” He asked, his voice shaking in sync with his hands.
“Yes, this is the Camelot claims line, can I help you?”
“Yes, I think we may have won this week’s jackpot, we’ve checked the numbers and everything.”
“That’s good. If you could just read the numbers on the ticket for me then please?”
“Sure: seven, eleven, twenty four, thirty two, thirty nine, sixteen, and bonus ball is eight”
“Yes, those are the correct numbers. Now, could you just read the ticket verification code in the bottom left-hand corner.”
“Two, one, four, nine, six.”
“Thank you, if you could just hold on a moment please… Just having a bit of trouble getting the verification, nothing to worry about, the system’s a bit slow at the moment.”
“That’s okay, I can hold…”
“Errm, can I take your details please? The system’s down at the moment so we’ll need to get back to you later today, or if that’s not possible could I you call back later?”
Peter Miller gave the claims assistant his name and number and agreed that they would speak again later to confirm his claim just as soon as the ‘system’ was up and running again…
“They said we’ve got the correct numbers, but their verification machine is down at the moment so we need to call back later for final confirmation, or something like that. Other than that, everything’s okay.”
“Oh that’s so great, I’m so sorry for snapping at you, oh god, I’m so happy!”
“Me too, love. Now let’s start planning…”
Over the next couple of hours, the two of them made all the sorts of plans you would expect of a money-strapped young couple who had just won the lottery: what sort of house and car they would buy, where they would move to, a world cruise, who they were going to help, everything they could dream of. Life was going to be so great for them from now on.
Three hours later…
“Hello, is that Peter Miller?”
“Yes, that’s right”
“This is John Salford, from Camelot. You spoke to one of my colleagues earlier in respect of a claim. I’m afraid there’s a problem…”
“A problem? I don’t understand, I mean, the numbers are right, I’ve checked and re-checked them a dozen times..”
“Yes they are, but the ticket verification code you provided, it’s invalid. According to our records it’s registered to a ticket issuing machine that was stolen from a retail outlet three years ago… Sorry, are you still there Mr Miller?”
Peter Miller was having trouble following what was being said, he just wasn’t taking it in. He’d bought a ticket from his local newsagents, how could it not be valid? The man in the shop had even paid him for previous little wins, the odd tenner or so, it just wasn’t making sense to him…
“I’m afraid I’m going to need details of exactly when and where you bought your ticket so we can pass this matter onto the police and our fraudulent claims department Mr Miller.”
“What? You think I’m making a false claim, I bought the fucking ticket in a shop for God-sake, this is all bollox..”
“Yes, I understand. No one’s accusing you of making a false claim, but we believe a wider fraud may have been committed in which you are a victim Mr Miller.”
Arnold Simms, proprietor of the Dalston Road HappyShopper newsagents and tobacconist, was charged with multiple counts of defrauding the Camelot Lottery company. Over a three year period he had pocketed over thirty thousand pounds from the sale of invalid lottery tickets by way of a stolen lottery ticket machine. To perpetuate the fraud, he had paid out numerous small wins to maintain the illusion of selling valid tickets, working on the assumption that the odds of a customer having a really big win were too long to worry about. He intended to plead not guilty on the grounds on that he had bought the said stolen machine in good faith. Due to his previous good character he was granted bail and allowed to continue trading. He was never brought to trial…
Peter Miller was originally charged with the murder of Arnold Simms, having walked into the HappyShopper newsagents in broad daylight and shot him twice through the chest. When the police arrived, Peter Miller was sitting on the floor of the shop with the gun lying beside him, muttering and crying. At his trial the jury refused to convict him of murder, opting instead for the alternative of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. He was released after serving three years of a five year sentence…
Was it murder? Should he have been released so soon? Put yourself in Peter Miller’s position. How would you have reacted to having all your hopes and dreams come true, only for them to be destroyed in a single moment? What might you have done?