#WickedGame Blog Tour – Guest Post: Losing a Friend by Matt Johnson

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Today it’s my pleasure to welcome Matt Johnson to the CTG blog. Matt served as a solider and Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years. Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. Hidden wounds took there toll and in 1999 Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While undergoing treatment, he was encouraged to write about his career and his experiences. One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to pull these notes together into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect. His novel, Wicked Game, was the result. 

Losing a Friend by Matt Johnson:

The 17th of April this year sees the 32nd anniversary of one of the worst days I have ever experienced. It was the day when a friend and colleague was shot and killed. Three decades later, despite the identity of the killer being known, he remains a free man.

On 17th April 1984, I was a 27-year-old advanced car driver working in central London in a police traffic car.

On 17th April 1984, WPC Yvonne Fletcher was a 25-year-old officer on the Vice Squad at West End Central Police Station. My wife at that time served on this same squad. Yvonne was one of her best mates and part of our circle of friends.

Yvonne had been at a house-warming party at my home a few weeks before this fateful day. My lasting memory is of seeing her sitting at the bottom of the stairs in my house, looking relaxed and chatting with friends.

At 10.18 am Yvonne was among a small contingent of officers supervising a demonstration outside the Libyan Peoples Bureau in St James Square, London. Her fiancé was among the officers with her. Yvonne had her back to the Bureau.

Without warning, someone in the Libyan Bureau fired a Sterling submachine gun into the group of protesters and police officers. Eleven people were hit by bullets, including Yvonne.

An ambulance was quickly sent to the scene and my patrol car was sent to escort the ambulance to the Westminster Hospital.

Anyone who has worked in central London will know just how quickly a major incident can cause the streets to become blocked. Main roads rapidly snarl up and the side streets and rat runs that the taxis and locals use soon follow. Gridlock is the result.

Getting the ambulance to the hospital proved to be a nightmare. We were forced to drive onto pavements and, on several occasions, we had to get out of the car to get vehicles moved so we could get through. At that time we were aware that the casualty was a police officer, but we did not know whom.

I remember that the ambulance overtook the police car just before we reached the hospital. We had to get out of the car to clear traffic from a junction and the crew seized the opportunity to make progress and get through. When we pulled in behind the ambulance, Yvonne had already been taken into the emergency area. I remember seeing the fantastic efforts and the work that was being put in by the nursing staff to help her. They couldn’t have tried harder.

Yvonne died from her wounds one hour later. She had been shot in the back and abdomen.

After escorting the ambulance, my car was sent to help with the traffic chaos that followed the start of the resulting siege.

I went home that afternoon and switched on the six o’clock news. It was only then that my former wife and I learned that the murdered officer was our friend.

The following day, I was assigned as a driver to the SAS team that had been brought in and stationed at a nearby RAF base. My job was to run the lads around – in short I was a gofer and taxi driver. I made frequent trips to the infamous ‘blue screen’ that was built to block the view into the square and I was present on the night that something amazing happened.

Yvonne’s hat and four other officers’ helmets were left lying in the square during the siege of the embassy. Images of them were shown repeatedly in the British media. They came to represent something quite iconic – a symbol of unarmed police officers who had been attacked so ruthlessly.

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What happened was that a PC, acting completely on his own, ran into the square and snatched Yvonne’s hat. There were shouts of ‘get back, get back’ from the firearms officers, but the unarmed PC was determined and fast. As he returned to the blue screen, he was bundled away by a senior officer and a firearms officer. I never did find out what happened to the PC but I suspect he got into trouble.

Fact is, what he did was a reckless thing to do. It is quite possible that the hat may have been playing a part in the hostage negotiations that were going on behind the scenes. We will never know. But what I can tell you is how much that PC’s actions lifted the spirits of people like me, who were sitting watching while the ‘powers that be’ seemed to be doing very little. Grabbing Yvonne’s hat from under the noses of the terrorists stuck two fingers up to them and told them what we thought of them.

To that anonymous PC, I say thanks.

The ‘Peoples Bureau’ was surrounded by armed police for eleven days, in one of the longest police sieges in London’s history. Meanwhile, in Libya, Colonel Gaddafi claimed that the embassy was under attack from British forces, and Libyan soldiers surrounded the British Embassy in Tripoli.

No satisfactory conclusion was reached in the UK, and following the taking of six hostages in Tripoli, the occupiers of the Bureau were allowed to fly out of the UK. The Tripoli hostages were not released for several months, ironically almost on the exact day that the memorial to Yvonne Fletcher was unveiled.

In July 2012 Andrew Gilligan of The Sunday Telegraph received reliable reports that Salah Eddin Khalifa, a pro-Gaddafi student, fired the fatal shot. Unlike a previous suspect named as the killer, Mr Khalifa is known to be alive and may, one day, be arrested. He is currently living in Cairo, a city to which he moved as the Gaddafi regime crumbled.

Yvonne’s death is still the only murder of a British cop on UK soil to remain unsolved. But, we haven’t forgotten. We will never forget.

***

Wicked Game – the novel shaped by Matt Johnson’s experiences as a soldier and in the police – is published by Orenda Books.

Here’s the blurb: “2001. Age is catching up with Robert Finlay, a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London. He’s looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family. But fate has other plans.  Finlay’s deeply traumatic, carefully concealed past is about to return to haunt him. A policeman is killed by a bomb blast, and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both of the murdered men were former Army colleagues from Finlay’s own SAS regiment, and in a series of explosive events, it becomes clear that he is not the ordinary man that his colleagues, friends and new family think he is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse – a wicked game – in which Finlay is the target, forced to test his long-buried skills in a fight against a determined and unidentified enemy.”

You can buy Wicked Game from Waterstones here or Amazon here

Find out more about Matt Johnson at www.orendabooks.co.uk and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Johnson_UK and be sure to check out all the other stops along his blog tour:

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CTG Reviews: MAKE ME by Lee Child

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What the blurb says: “Jack Reacher has no place to go, and all the time in the world to get there, so a remote railroad stop on the prairie with the curious name of Mother’s Rest seems perfect for an aimless one-day stopover. He expects to find a lonely pioneer tombstone in a sea of nearly-ripe wheat … but instead there is a woman waiting for a missing colleague, a cryptic note about two hundred deaths, and a small town full of silent, watchful people. Reacher’s one-day stopover becomes an open-ended quest … into the heart of darkness.”

As you’ll know if you’re a regular follower of the CTG blog, I’m a big Jack Reacher fan. Make Me is the twentieth book in this iconic series and so what can fans of the series (and readers new to it) expect from this latest book …

Well, it’s classic Reacher, as you’d expect. He’s picked Mother’s Rest as a place to visit because he’s curious about the name of the town and in finding out the history behind it. But Mother’s Rest has far greater secrets hidden within it, as Reacher is soon to discover.

On the railroad platform he meets Ex-FBI Special Agent, Michelle Chang. She’s looking for her colleague – a fellow investigator who’s gone missing while looking into a hobby case. Her data has led her to Mother’s Rest, but the trail has gone cold.

While the residents of Mother’s Rest seem initially friendly, Reacher starts to suspect that he’s being followed and checked up on. When he tests his theory he’s proved right. Suspicious, he decides to help Michelle Chang find her colleague.

With little more to go on than a scrap of paper with a phone number and a reference to two hundred deaths, Reacher and Chang dig deeper to try to find Chang’s colleague and the client that got him interested in the case. And as they get closer to the truth, and the people that want it to stay hidden, the stakes and the danger ramps up higher and higher.

As ever, this latest book in the series is a thrilling read; rapid-paced and packed with action it follows Chang and Reacher’s investigation as they hunt for the truth and overcome the (many) challenges in their way.

Fans of the series will, I think, find the Chang and Reacher relationship an interesting one. Reacher, ever the loner, seems to develop a stronger bond with Chang than with some of the other women who’ve come into (and out of) his life in the past. It’s a physical thing, sure, but he seems to be having thoughts about a future for their relationship after the immediate puzzle is solved and the danger past. Is Reacher ready to settle down? It’s an interesting question – but you’ll have to read the book to see how things turn out [no spoilers here – sorry!].

MAKE ME is out in paperback today. It’s an absolute must-read for Jack Reacher fans, and for fans of the thriller genre, from a writer at the very top of their game.

To find out more about Lee Child and the Jack Reacher series hop over to www.leechild.com and follow Team Reacher on Twitter @LeeChildReacher

You can buy MAKE ME from Waterstones here or from Amazon here

 

CTG Reviews: MAESTRA by L. S. Hilton

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What the blurb says: “Judith Rashleigh works as an assistant in a prestigious London auction house but her dreams of breaking into the art world have been gradually dulled by the blunt forces of snobbery and corruption. To make ends meet she moonlights as a hostess in one of the West End’s less salubrious bars – although her work there pales against her activities on nights off.

When she stumbles across a conspiracy at her auction house, she ends up in a battle for her life. Alone and in danger, from the French Riviera, to Rome and Paris, all Judith has to rely on is her consummate ability to fake it amongst the rich and famous …”

This book has been compared to The Talented Mr Ripley and Gone Girl, and although I can see echoes of these books in the style of MAESTRA it doesn’t follow an established path, but rather beats its own rather original way into the genre.

Judith is not an especially likable character, but she certainly is interesting. When she discovers some shady practices going on in the auction house she works at, and gets fired for refusing to overlook them, she sees her carefully constructed life on the edge of the wealthiest social circles start to crumble. But when a client at the hostess bar she moonlights at offers her a weekend away, she starts to see potential for clawing her way back in. Things don’t go as planned though, and a chain of events are set in motion that transform Judith from a scheming social climber to a cold blooded murderer who will do whatever it takes, to whomever it takes, to get what she wants.

What I liked about this story is the unpredictable nature of the main character. She’s ruthless and cold bloodied, yet loyal and fiercely attached to any true friends she has. She’s also driven and smart – a flawless chameleon with a flair for reinvention – and takes risks so big and dramatic that it has you holding your breath.

Well written and fast paced, and with a scandalous peep into the world of art dealing and a liberal amount of sex, MAESTRA is a fun and enjoyable read.

 

MAESTRA is out now. To buy the book from Waterstones click here, or to buy it from Amazon click here

CTG’s Friday Sneaky Peep: KILL ME AGAIN by Rachel Abbott

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Today I’m delighted to be featuring an extract of best selling crime writer Rachel Abbott’s latest book – KILL ME AGAIN. 

What the blurb says: “KILL ME AGAIN follows solicitor Maggie Taylor, who returns from work to find her husband gone without a trace, leaving her two young children abandoned in their remote home. When a body is found bearing a striking resemblance to Maggie and her son reveals that his father may have known the dead woman, Maggie starts to fear that she may be the killer’s next intended victim and her husband could be involved in something he can no longer control. Quickly embroiled in a 12-year-old cold case, ritualistic style murders, and a fantasy-killing site on the dark web, Maggie finds herself investigating the one person she thought she really knew …”

 

KILL ME AGAIN: An extract

12 years ago – May 7th

Sonia Beecham almost didn’t recognise the eyes staring back at her in the mirror. They were still pale blue, of course, but the pupils were slightly dilated with excitement, and the eyelashes were tinted with grey mascara – an unusual indulgence, but she wanted to look her best because today was special. In fact Sonia thought it was her best day since starting at Manchester University six months previously. She had always found it difficult to make friends, and the eagerness on her parents’ faces when she came home each night was painful to watch as they waited to hear whether she had met new people. She knew it was out of love for her, but they didn’t understand the pressure it put her under.

She was shy. Painfully, embarrassingly shy. If anybody spoke to her, she blushed bright red. It was an instant reaction, and one that made her turn away. Never in her wildest dreams could she imagine starting a conversation with anybody. She would rather stick her head in a vat of boiling oil, if the truth were known.

She had heard her parents talking once, a few years ago. They wanted to know what they had done wrong – why their daughter had grown up the way she had. So now she had that guilt to bear as well. If only she could make some friends so they would know they had done nothing – nothing, that is, except love her and shelter her from anything and everything that would be considered by most people to be a normal experience.

Now, though, things were changing. Her mum had been so concerned that she’d persuaded Sonia’s father to stump up for some counselling. Sonia had been horrified. The idea of sitting in a chair telling a complete stranger how embarrassed she was to open her mouth in company made her legs go weak. She had resisted for months, but after Christmas not only had her mum arranged the counselling sessions, she had insisted on going with Sonia for the first few meetings to be sure that Sonia was over her initial embarrassment and was happy to carry on alone.

Sonia had hated it to start with, but gradually her counsellor had given her some tools to help build her confidence. The best of these was the name of a website designed for people like her. She had heard of chat rooms but never been in one. Within a month she had realised that she had plenty to say as long as she could keep it anonymous and nobody could see her face. The best of it was, people wanted to listen. She didn’t have her own computer to access the site, but there were plenty she could use at the university, and that was better because nobody would know what she was doing. If she had had a personal computer at home her mother would forever have been looking over her shoulder.

What she hadn’t told a soul – because he had asked her not to – was that she had met somebody online who was as crippled with shyness as she was. He had told her he was surprised he could even type without stuttering, and that had made her laugh. That was his issue, the burden he had to bear. He couldn’t get a whole sentence out without this dreadful stammer halting him in his tracks. They had been talking online now for a couple of weeks, and he said that he thought he might possibly be able to speak to her. They had agreed that if she went red, or if he stuttered, it wouldn’t matter. They were both in the same boat. And tonight she was meeting him for the first time.

She had lied to her parents. She had never done that before, but Sonia had known what her mum would say: ‘Bring him home, first, love. Let me and your dad meet him – do it properly.’ Her mother didn’t seem to have any concept of how things were done now. Not that Sonia wanted to behave like some of the girls on campus, but having to be vetted before he could even go for a drink with her was a sure way to frighten a man off – especially one as shy as Sam.

Sam was a good name. Solid-sounding, reassuring. He had said it wasn’t a good idea to meet anywhere too public. Having other people around was sure to make them clam up and not be natural with each other. So she was going to meet him in a little park just off the Bridgewater Canal towpath. He said it would be okay there, because there would be people on the other side of the canal at the cafés and bars, but nobody would be able to hear if they made complete fools of themselves.

Sam had even told her which tram to get and where to get off. She had followed his instructions to the letter. The walk along the canal was fine to start with. It was quite pretty, and she thought it was wonderful the way places like this were being brought back to life. But as she walked further on it all changed. There was a lot of redevelopment of old mills, their blank windows facing onto the canal. There were no cafés and bars. And no people.

Sonia hurried along the towpath, ducking to walk through a long, low tunnel. She was nearly at the meeting place. As she neared the end of the tunnel, a tall figure stepped out onto the path and for a moment Sonia felt a jolt of fear, but he gave her a little wave so she carried on walking. She knew who he was. He was taller than she expected, and as she got closer, she could see him smiling at her.

‘Hi, Sonia,’ he said. ‘I’m Sam.’

He didn’t stutter once.

 

To find out more about Rachel Abbott and her books hop on over to her website here and follow her on Twitter @RachelAbbott

You can buy KILL ME AGAIN from Amazon here

 

CTG Reviews: THE TURNING TIDE by Brooke Magnanti

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What the blurb says: “Erykah Macdonald has a nice life – the kind of life you’re meant to want. But on her twentieth wedding anniversary, she’s about to cross a line. Several hundred miles away in the shallow waters of a Hebridean island, a body is found. It’s been in the water long enough to make identification tricky but it’s clear this is no accidental death. Erykah knows she’s about to make a choice you can’t reverse – but she’s lived with secrets most of her life – she thinks she’s ready. The trouble is, there are far worse secrets than her own about to emerge. From the gurney of a morgue in the Highlands, to the media circus of the national press, and from the seemingly calm suburbs of London to the powerplays in Westminster, a net is tightening. And those that find themselves caught are willing to kill to get out with reputations intact. Erykah must work out what she’s capable of if she’s going to keep her head above water – she must leave behind her comfortable life and start breaking rules. She knows she should be scared … but sometimes, stepping over the line is the first step to freedom …”

Erykah Macdonald has spent over twenty years hiding from her past. She wears the right clothes, says the right things, and moves in the right social circles to hide in plain sight; but it isn’t enough. Her outwardly perfect life, and outwardly perfect husband, are not at all what they seem. Erykah feels trapped and has plans to break free, but on the day she decides to put her plan into action something unexpected happens, plunging her into a dangerous world of fraud, politics and murder.

What’s great about Erykah is that whereas a lot of people would have given up in the terrifying situation she finds herself in, she decides to use it as an opportunity. Smart and determined, she sets out to discover exactly what her husband has got them caught up in. As she digs further, she finds connections between her situation, the dead body washed up on a Hebridean island, and a wider political agenda.

Erykah is a great female anti-hero – she’s resourceful, determined and dynamic, and I couldn’t help but root for her.

Fast paced, with some fabulously witty observations, this is a gripping first thriller from Brooke Magnanti. Gritty and well researched, it touches on the 24 hour news culture, the trend around hounding and ‘outing’ people on social media and, through a vibrant cast of characters, explores just how far people will go to get what they want.

Packed with conspiracy, intrigue and political shenanigans THE TURNING TIDE is a cracking read and perfect for thriller fans.

 

THE TURNING TIDE is out now. You can buy it from Waterstones here and from Amazon here

To find out more about Brooke Magnanti hop on over to her website at www.brookemagnanti.com and follow her on Twitter @belledejour_uk 

 

CTG Reviews: VIRAL by Helen Fitzgerald

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What the blurb says: “Leah and her adopted sister Su are almost the same age – but have always been opposites. Leah is wild and often angry, whereas Su is successful and swotty. When they go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their exam results, it is Leah that their mother worries about – but it’s Su who doesn’t come home.

Su is on the run, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing multiple sex acts in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Their mother Ruth, a successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? What role has Leah played in all this? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her daughter? And can Ruth bring Su back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?”

This book has one hell of an opening line. It demands the reader’s attention, and once it has it, it keeps it, as the revelations just keep on coming throughout this fabulously twisty-turny thriller.

What I especially enjoyed about this book was the complex relationships between the characters. Leah and Su used to be close when they were little, but as they’ve grown into teenagers they’ve grown apart, with Leah becoming increasingly more hostile towards her adopted sister. At the same time, Ruth’s relationship with Leah has disintegrated and she feels a stronger bond with Su. When Su disappears, all these emotions reach boiling point, threatening to rip the family apart. Ruth is determined to get Su back at any cost – whether it’s to her job, her family or both.

Ruth devises a plan to find Su. She pulls strings, uses her police and court contacts to find out what she can, and tasks family members with tracking Su both online and in Magaluf. But as things go from bad to worse, and Ruth’s plan doesn’t play out the way she’d intended, and it appears that Su may have ideas of her own about what she wants to happen next.

This is a story where good people take bad decisions and where all actions have consequences, some of which reach much wider and are far more devastating than they could ever have imagined.

It’s a story about love, loss, simmering resentment and grief. It’s about needing to find who you are, what’s important to you, and carving out your own place in the world.

It’s also one hell of a rollercoaster ride thriller!

 

 

[With thanks to Faber for my copy of VIRAL]

Guest Post by crime writer SJI Holliday: The Long and Short of It

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Today I’m handing over the reins at CTG HQ to my fabulous crime writer pal, SJI Holliday.

Over to you, Susi …

I’ve always been a big fan of short stories, writing hundreds of them before finally completing my first novel. There are pros and cons of starting with short stories when you’re beginning your new life as a writer. They help you edit, and stop you from overwriting – when a piece has word count of 1000, 2000, 3000 words, you can’t afford to waste them – you need the whole story to be told in that space so there’s no room for flabby prose. Also, entering competitions gets you used to dealing with deadlines, and the publications that ask for things to be sent in specific formats, gets you ready or working with an editor. Sort of. On the downside, when the longest thing you’ve written is 5000 words, a novel of 75k or more can be daunting. It took me a while to make the transition, and now, sadly, I have less time to write shorts, and I while I used to be brimming with ideas for short, snappy pieces, now I think of all my ideas as novels…

Anyway, the last proper short story I wrote was the one I sent to the very first CWA Margery Allingham comp in 2014 – quite a big deal, with a huge cash prize and the winner announced at CrimeFest. The brief was to write to Margery’s specification…

The Mystery remains box-shaped, at once a prison and a refuge. Its four walls are, roughly, a Crime, a Mystery, an Enquiry and a Conclusion with an Element of Satisfaction in it.’

My first novel, Black Wood, was out on submission, and I wasn’t ready to write another one yet, so I wrote a story about what my main character, Sergeant Davie Gray, got up to after the book ended… before he got embroiled in the next one. I sent him on holiday to Brighton for a week in the sun… some much needed relaxation after the terrible events that had recently befallen his home town. Only it didn’t work out like that. He barely had time to breathe in some refreshing sea air when before he got mixed up in a murder case that he could really do without. It was originally titled ‘Home from Home’ and it was shortlisted in the completion – an achievement I am still very proud of. It’s very hard to get noticed in the short story world, so if you write them, keep going – you’ll get there.

So I thought that now was a good time to release the story into the world – to whet your appetite before Willow Walk comes out in May. Poor Davie. I do make life hard for him. Wrack Line is a subscriber only short story – you give me your email, I send it to you on 18th March – along with an exclusive preview of Willow Walk. That’s it. Oh, and if you’re not sure what a ‘wrack line’ is – you’ll find out in the story…

Click here to sign up to receive the short story and preview – I don’t send out many newsletters, but when I do, they include book giveaways and lots of other cool bookish things – chocolate, notebooks, signed postcards… even jewellery! I’ll soon be announcing a draw for a signed copy of Willow Walk too…

 

Be sure to sign up for Susi’s newsletter because, trust me, you’ll not want to miss the chance to read Wrack Line. Sign up for it here – http://eepurl.com/beHpez

You can find out more about Susi and her books by hopping over to her website at http://www.sjiholliday.com/ following her on Twitter @SJIHolliday, and checking out her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SjiHolliday/

To buy Black Wood from Amazon click here – http://amzn.to/1nCxIuV

To pre-order Willow Walk click here – http://amzn.to/1nCxQL9 (pre-order for kindle will appear on 18th March)