G. J. Brown: Long Before I Fell, prequel to FALLING Sunday, Jul 3 2016 

From time to time, Auntie M likes to mix things up a bit so her readers won’t get bored with straight book reviews. Today she’s thrilled to welcome Gordon Brown, whose new book FALLING is out in the US through Down & Out Books. Gordon is a great lad and crime fiction promotor extraordinaire, who helped start Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, Bloody Scotland. Today, he’s here with the prequel to his book as a treat for Auntie M’s readers:

Long Before I Fell

The room is designed to put the occupant in a state of mild panic. There are two comfortable but incongruous armchairs, sitting opposite each other. Both have signs of wear and tear—blue leather, fading to holes on the armrests.

The floor is wooden, real wood not fake laminate, with decades of use and abuse. It was once shining dark oak reclaimed from an old house but years of neglect have transmuted it into stained, warped planks separated by gaps packed with dust, dirt and crap. There are no windows and the only door is locked. The walls are magnolia, fresh, as if someone had started to think about selling the place. The ceiling is bare concrete with a small light fitting above the door. The bulb is fifty percent less powerful than it needs to be.

Below the light and above the door sits a small, scabby grey grill. The slats are furred from years of non-cleaning. A small hiss hints at some form of air movement from inside. It’s not air conditioning; the temperature in here is high enough to keep food warm before serving.

I’m sitting in a Marks and Spencer’s charcoal grey suit. It’s a few seasons past its best but in my trade the cash margins do not warrant new suits very often. My shoes are twice re-heeled rejects bought from TK Maxx. I’ve never heard of the brand printed on the insole but that means it’ll be well known to those with thicker wallets. My shirt is staining under my armpits as the lurid green that so appealed when I saw it for a fiver in the charity shop a few months ago is excelling as a sweat highlighting colour. I’m nervous enough without advertising the fact so graphically—so my jacket is staying on.

I’m sitting with a small briefcase clutched in both hands. I’ve had the case since I graduated from University. A present from an old girlfriend. The lining inside is ripped in several places but its outward distressed state is cool in certain quarters.

The briefcase contains one stapled sheaf of papers. They are my hope and my support. That is if, and if is small word for a large prayer, they stand up to scrutiny. There are five sheets, each one hand written and each one signed. There’s a lot riding on them.

I play with the lock on the front of the bag. Broken and without a key it stays shut with the aid of a small piece of cardboard.

The handle of the door turns and in walks a man I’ve never seen before. I stand up, my briefcase clasped to my chest. ‘Hello, I’m…’

‘Charles Wiggs. I know.’ The visitor ignores my outstretched hand. He’s dressed to heighten the rooms menace quotient. Black suit, black waistcoat, black tie, black shoes, white shirt and dark glasses. I’m thinking Matrix here. He’s clean shaven with a cropped hairstyle that looks DIY. Nose hair crowds both nasal passages, at odds with the neatness of the rest of him. He’s a little under six feet tall, wiry but with a beer gut that the suit is cut to try and hide.

‘So, Mr Wiggs, let’s get down to business.’ He perches on the edge of one of the chairs as if he’s expecting this to be a short meeting. ‘You’re here for a specific purpose and I’m short on time.’

There’s not much to say to that. This is the latest step in a six-month journey that started with a rather innocuous letter from a firm called Retip asking me to give them a call.

Nasal Hair, for want of a better name since he did not introduce himself, has an iPad in one hand. He’s doing that sweeping thing with it. He looks at me. ‘Two years and struck off as an accountant.’

He returns to the iPad and waits for a reply. I’m not sure whether this is a threat, an offer or the name of a new movie. I play dumb; I’m good at that.

‘How would you cope with two years and struck off as an accountant?’ This time he doesn’t lift his eyes from the screen.

‘Two years of what?’

He does the fingers opening wide trick on the iPad. ‘Jail.’

‘Really?’

‘What about four years and a fine?’

Okay, so this is some new game. I fire back. ‘I’ll raise you six years, a larger fine and a weekend in a country house hotel.’

Nasal Hair lowers the iPad. It looks like it hurts for him to do so. ‘Mr Wiggs, you do realise why you’re here? Flippancy is not something I would advise at this stage.’

I thought myself good at this. After so long in the profession I know how the game is played. Every step so far had been by the book. His tone was making me wonder if I’d missed something. ‘Mr…’ He doesn’t offer a name so I keep going. ‘Look, what’s with the jail thing?’

He lifts the iPad up and fiddles with it again. I wonder if he’s checking me on Google? I Googled myself once and found a single reference to me joining Cheedle, Baker and Nudge. It was below a reference to a guy called Charles Wiggs who had been arrested for exposing himself on the beach near Santa Monica.

The sound of a cat meowing slips from Nasal Hair’s machine. He gives it his full attention and I think I’ve been demoted to a level that lies beneath checking new emails. The cat kicks in again and I’m forced to sit back and wait while he catches up on shit.

‘So do we have a deal?’ He half drops the iPad to his side. Not quite wanting to go the full hog and lay it down.

‘We haven’t discussed any deal, and by the way, you owe an apology to Sarah.’

‘I told you, Mr Wiggs…’

‘Sarah is very important to our company. Do you know her? Sarah Gilmore. Nice lady. In her sixties, not quite sure how well into her sixties but looking good on it. She does some bookkeeping for us. Has a cat, sounds a little like your email alert. A tom. She had it done a few years ago. A bit late in my opinion. Story goes it’s the father to half the cat population in the area. Then again you can’t blame him. A bit fat now though. Anyway Sarah is a sensitive lady and takes things very personally.’

‘We met Miss Gilmore and others.’

‘I know.’

Sarah had been scared to death by the meeting. They can have a go at me. They can have a go at the others—we’ve all been around long enough to take it. But Sarah? That’s below the belt, even if you were wearing your belt round your ankles. I’d almost considered not coming. I lean forward. ‘Lawyer.’

‘Sorry?’

‘I’ll need a lawyer if we are looking at a deal.’

‘Why?’

‘To hold his hand and listen to my mum’s old 78’s.’

‘Funny. Accept our deal and then we can get down to the brass tacks.’

‘What deal?’ I struggle not to swear. There are times in my life when I meet people and wonder if it is me or is it them. I learned long ago that no one ever thinks it’s them. Except me. I think it’s me all the time. Does that make sense? No. Let me explain.

In this world you need someone to blame for all the shit that goes down, and in my experience, no one ever thinks it’s them at fault. So I figure why shouldn’t it be me. Why not? It makes life easier when you take the blame for things. ‘Who ate the last biscuit?’ ‘Who left the toilet seat up?’ ‘Who was supposed to lock the door last night?’ Take the blame and move on. It just helps the world run bit smoother. Except not now. It’s okay to be thought of as the ‘never closes the toilet seat man.’ The consequences for that are minimal. The consequences of getting this wrong are a little more serious. ‘Excuse me but who are you?’ I feel I should ask.

‘So do you want the deal?’

‘What deal?’ I’m sounding like a stuck record.

He shakes his head and stands up. His perfect black suit falls back into place. A tiny spot of dirt, sprung from the floorboards has landed on his shoe. He examines it, raises his foot and flicks at the offending fleck. Satisfied that all is right with his apparel he knocks on the door and is let out.

I’m left to stew in the rising heat. No doubt a temperature selected by hired psychologists to maximise the discomfort for a person. I’ll expect the white noise, water boarding and stress position in due course.

The entrance of someone new catches me by surprise. The theme is black again. This time black skirt, jacket, high heels, stockings and a white blouse. ‘Hi. I’m here to get your signature.’

‘You are?’

‘It will formalize our deal.’

‘We have a deal? And when did I agree to this?’

‘Just now. My associate just told me.’

‘He did? And you are?’

‘Are you happy with an electronic signature or would you prefer to use pen and paper.’

She’s in her early-forties, hair tied tight and a lack of make-up that doesn’t detract from her looks. She doesn’t need the stuff. I’ll call her No Make-up for the moment. ‘Look, who are you?’

‘Electronic then?’

‘No.’

No Make-up tilts her head a little. ‘No, what?’

‘No to anything. No to signing—electronic or paper. No to being here. No to coming here in the first place. No to this room. I mean, in this day and age, who holds interviews in a room like this. All in all the answer is no.’

‘So you don’t want the deal?’

‘What deal? We haven’t discussed a deal. There’s no deal. If you want a deal, tell me what deal you want. I have signed testimonials to our work in this bag. Do you want to see them? Will that help?’

‘We won’t make this offer again.’

‘What offer?’ This time I know it’s not me. It’s definitely them. It’s so them that if you opened the Oxford English Dictionary up at the word ‘them’ there wouldn’t be a written description lying there—instead there would be two small, passport size pictures of Nasal Hair and No Make-up. That’s how them, they are. ‘Look I’m not sure how this is supposed to work.’

‘Is your middle name Tyber?’

My head grinds to a halt as my brain stalls. ‘Sorry?’

‘Tyber. Is you middle name Tyber?’

‘What? I mean what? I mean…’ Shit I don’t know what I mean.

‘I had a boyfriend once that was called Tyber.’

‘Congratulations. And this is relevant how?’

‘If you were on your own in the desert and had run out of water, how long do you think you would last before you drank your own pee?’

I check that today is still Tuesday and that I’m still on the planet. I then check the room to make sure that someone else hasn’t snuck in and is now No Make-up’s new target.

I stand up, still clutching the bag.

No Make-up moves to cut me off. The door opens and Nasal Hair comes back in. He stands behind No Make-up. ‘Did he sign?’

She shakes her head. ‘He won’t even tell me if he’d drink his own pee.’

‘Did you tell him about your boyfriend?’

‘Yes.’

‘The snake?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Should I?’

‘Do you think it’ll help?’

‘Maybe.’ He turns to me. ‘Mr Wiggs, how long is a snake?’

I have no idea what to do here. I can’t think of anything to say other than. ‘I think I want out of here.’

Nasal Hair stands firm. ‘A rough guess will do?’

‘What is wrong with you people? Let me out right now.’

‘Any guess and you can go.’

‘And I can go?’

‘And you can go.’

‘Shit. Twenty feet.’

No Make-up smiles. ‘Good answer.’

Nasal Hair is smirking. ‘One of the best. Now can I have the testimonials you talked about.’

At first it doesn’t register that he’s talking about the papers in my briefcase. He holds out his hand. ‘Good answer by the way.’

I surprise myself by extracting the papers and handing them over. He takes them. ‘We’ll be fifteen minutes. It’s hot in here. We’ll get you a cold drink.’

With that they exit and I stand like a lemon.

True to their words they’re back in quarter of an hour, cold Coke in Nasal Hair’s hand. ‘Sorry to have kept you. We’ve kept the papers. I’m assuming you have copies. Everything looks in order. Oh sorry, do you not like Coke?’

I realise he is offering the can to me. He pulls it away and shakes my hand. ‘So I think we can close this one.’

No Make-up nods. ‘After the snake answer I think we can say that we’ve found who we need.’ She turns to me. ‘You’re free to go.’

Half my head wants to spit out a rant. The other half tells me to get the fuck out of there. I walk towards the door and it opens.

‘Oh, Mr Wiggs.’ I stop and turn at Nasal Hair’s voice.

‘Next time it’ll be a lot easier if you remember the snake answer up front.’

The door closes behind me. I’m in a normal corridor with normal windows looking onto normal offices on either side. I’m not in some displaced world and I hear the sound of laughter from behind the door.

The man who opened the door for me hands me a piece of paper. ‘This way, sir.’ He gestures along the corridor.

I’m guided to the exit and take the lift to the ground floor. I step into the freshest air I have breathed in a long time.

I look at the piece of paper in my hand and open it. In neat Times New Roman it reads. ‘Thank you for your application. We are pleased to say that we are going to appoint Cheedle, Baker and Nudge as our accountants.’

It’s signed: ‘Simon Malmon, Managing Director and Karen Lewis, HR Director, Retip’

It wasn’t usually my job to interview new clients. I’m too low down on the pecking order but my boss had made a big deal of winning the account. How this was my opportunity to shine. It’s why I had been so nervous. Cheedle, Baker and Nudge isn’t in a position to turn down business at the moment. Retip might be run by some oddballs but if we only dealt with the sensible business people we would be bankrupt. I’d done my job and with a bit of luck they might give Retip to one of the new boys to look after.

I decide I need some caffeine. As I cross the road I look up at the forty story high building I’ve just left. I can’t tell which is their office and I don’t care. We’ve won the business, I’ll get a pat on the back, maybe a small bonus, and anyway, how much trouble could they be? The answer to that question was more than I could have ever imagined.

About G. J. Brown

G. J. Brown lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK, the U.S.A. and Spain. He’s married with two children. Gordon once quit his job in London to fly across the Atlantic to be with his future wife. He has also delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business called Brain Juice and floated a high tech company on the London Stock Exchange.

He almost had a toy launched by a major toy company, has an MBA, loves music, is a DJ on local radio, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final.

Gordon has been writing since his teens and has four books published–his latest, Meltdown, being the second in the Craig McIntyre series.

Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland—Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.

Leigh Russell: DI Geraldine Steel Sunday, Jan 26 2014 

Leigh Russell’s Geraldine Steel series is finally available in the US, in paper back on Amazon.com and now through the Witness Impulse series as ebooks. Jeffrey Deaver calls the debut of the series: “A stylish top-of-the-line crime tale” and readers on both sides of the pond are quick to agree.

These are intricately plotted crime novels that  find readers quickly flipping pages as the stories race along, and all in the psychological style of Ruth Rendell or Frances Fyfield. Steel is likeable and human, with her own ghosts that haunt her, and her insecurities and errors in relationships feel realistically drawn.

First in the series is Cut Short, which introduces Geraldine and her complicated background as she starts a new job in Kent.  cut-short

Relocating near the small village of Woolmarsh, Steel fully expects her life to take a quiet turn. Still smarting from the end of a six-year relationship to a man who couldn’t handle her commitment to her work, Steel moves into a new flat and prepares to turn a page and start a new chapter. Her flat on a pretty tree-lined street promises to become a haven at the end of her work day for the mobile Murder Investigation Team based in southeast England.

Steel is still unpacking boxes when the call comes to attend the Incident Room being set up in Woolmarsh, a lucky break for Steel for it means she can stay at home instead of traveling to a different site. She’s introduced to her new colleagues, and the DCI she’ll be working with, Kathryn Gordon, a tough but fair detective.

The body of 22 yr-old Angela Waters has been found by children with their nanny, partially hidden in the leaves and shrubs of a nearby park. The crime scene has been compromised by the children, the nanny, and a variety of small animals that have been at the corpse in the day and night she’s lain there.

This is the first of a series of murders by a sick mind preying on young woman. In an interesting twist, several chapters are from the killer’s point of view, so the reader has a very different feel for the motives behind what Steel and her team think is a typical serial murderer.

A great start to an interesting series, with Steel finding her footing in a new environment amongst a new team who may or may not be watching out for her. And of course, one very sick killer who may just get away with murder unless Steel can figure out the culprit.

road-closed-coverRoad Closed finds Steel and her team called in after a gas explosion takes the life of a man in his home. Was this a case of arson or that of a desperate woman trapped in a hasty marriage finding a way to end it?

In the midst of the new case, Steel’s affair with a young man seems to waffle. Is that on her end or his? And what of the grieving widow Sophie? Was her husband’s death the result of a pair of bumbling burglars or did he die at her own hand?

An old woman falls down the stairs during a burglary. Or was she pushed? And are these incidents in any way related?

These are some of the questions facing Steel and her team as they try to pick apart what is real and what is not in this second outing that starts with the death of Steel’s mother.

At the funeral, she is forced to face the ambivalence she felt toward her mother as her older sister’s mourning takes its toll. With her small family reduced to just her sister Celia and her husband and their daughter, Steel ponders what it means to have felt throughout her life as an outsider in her own family. the answer will shock her and rock her very core.

But that answer opens up even more for Steel, and will be almost as difficult as Steel’s investigation. With her team not solidly behind her, Steel has to decide if a witness to the previous crimes who dies in a hit-and-run accident is part of the larger picture or just an untimely coincidence.

Book Three continues with Dead End, the most disturbing case Steel will have to date. The trail will lead to York and back as her team struggles to find a killer9781DeadEnd just as Steel seems to heat things up with the handsome pathologist, Paul Hilliard.

Abigail Kirby is a determined woman, pushing her way to a new position as headmistress at a private school, uprooting her two teenagers from their schools and homes, despite the crumbling state of her marriage. Young Ben seems to have settled in well to his new school, but 14 yr-old Lucy is socially awkward and on the verge of an eating disorder. Plus, she’s furious with her father for having a relationship outside his broken marriage.

Then Abigail’s corpse is found and as horrible as the fact of murder seems, it takes a decided turn for the worse at the postmortem when it’s discovered her tongue had been cut out while she dying. Could her husband have decided to take the easy way out to have the relationship he wants?

As Steel’s team gets their investigation underway, a second corpse is found, that of a potential witness, who has been blinded. Then Lucy runs away from home to find her new internet friend, the only person who seems to understand her.

Meanwhile, Steel’s DS, Ian Peterson, is having his own troubles at home. He’s gained Steel’s trust, but then goes off on his own to follow a tangent in the investigation.

Steel soon finds herself on the receiving end of a surprising twist as the climax builds to a swift conclusion that will jeopardize her own life.

These complex procedurals are tightly written and the new change in store for Steel at the end of this novel promises to keep the series from becoming formulaic or stale.

Death BedBook Four follows Steel’s relocation to London in Death Bed. After a surprise discovery about her personal life, which has affected her deeply, she’s forced to tell her sister that she’s received a transfer she’s hoped for: to the Met to work as Detective Inspector on their Murder Squad in London.

Another move for Steel, this time to Islington, with more boxes and new people to meet and fit in with, and this time she’s also fighting what she perceives as their idea that she’s a country bumpkin who won’t be able to handle the hectic pace of the Hendon Squad.

Her new DS is a woman, an adjustment for both of them, but that becomes the least of the two women’s problems when a young black woman is found murdered in North London. Showing signs of severe abuse, dehydration and marks of being held with chains, the discovery is quickly followed by a second body in similar circumstances.

Worried about calls of racism against black women, the team realizes the two murders are connected, especially when it’s found that two teeth are missing from both women. But their individual circumstances are clearly different. So what is the reason this killer has taken them? Is this his idea of a trophy?

In the midst of their investigation, chapters show the victims chained in the attic of their captor, and the chilling account of his rationale for doing what he believes to be a spiritual purpose, adding to the highly unusual “collection” that readers will find a haunting premise.

This is the darkest of the series, and probes the mind of a sociopath who only sees what he needs for his own purposes. It will be up to Steel to put the pieces together to unmask a canny and highly unusual murderer.

This gritty addition to the series delivers a powerful wallop. There are two more in the series with Steel in London that will be reviewed this spring when they are released by Witness Impulse here, along with an interview with the charming Russell. Stay tuned for more with DI Geraldine Steel from Leigh Russell.

Lee Lofland

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Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews