Eva Jordan reviews… Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong: The adventures of Constable Mavis Upton (Mavis Upton Book 1) by Gina Kirkham @GinaGeeJay

 

Eva reviews... Handcuffs, Truncheon

This is the story of Mavis Upton, mother, daughter, friend to many, and of course, as the title suggests, police officer. And what a jolly, sometimes sensitive, but for the most part, politically incorrect, hilarious rollercoaster ride of a read it is.

The story begins in 2008 and opens with main protagonist, Mavis, in hot pursuit of burglar Billy ‘The Mog’ Benson, so called because of his renowned catlike agility. Having followed him up onto the somewhat decrepit rooftop of the local scrapyard, Mavis finds herself perilously swinging from a rusty old girder after the roof has given way. Dangling from the rafters with nothing between her and the jagged scrapheap of metal 35 feet below, the breeze whistling through her combat pants making her wish she’d worn thermal knickers instead of a polyester thong, and her life hanging in the balance, Mavis introduces herself.

“I am Mavis Upton. Constable 1261 Mavis Upton to be precise. Ace police driver and apprehender of naughty people; lover of crisps (any flavour); hater of big knickers, which if I survive this I’ll tell you about later; daughter to Mrs Josie Upton, sister to Connie and Michael and Mum to a rather headstrong young lady called Ella…”

Surviving her somewhat precarious predicament, Mavis then takes us back in time – to 1988 to be exact, where it all begins. Mavis, a thirty-something single mother of young daughter Ella, has an epiphany and decides to follow a lifelong ambition to join the police. Narrated in the first person throughout, the reader is then taken on a riveting, laugh out loud journey of the highs and lows of constable Mavis Upton, from basic training, to rookie, and eventually to somewhat older and wiser veteran.

Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong is a light-hearted, easy to read comedy about life. There are some sad, very poignant moments weaved among the high jinks and hilarity, which the author writes with great pathos and sensitivity (I dare anyone not to be moved by the scene that awaits Mavis after a desperate call from a 5 year old, or indeed the ending of the book), but on the whole this is a humorous observation of this thing called life and the many characters that shape it. Mavis comes across as a very real, very warm, if somewhat accident-prone individual; her courage and kindness often reflected in the deeds and actions of those closest to her. I loved the endearing, maternal devotion between Mavis and her daughter, and Mavis and her mother, which simply oozed mother-daughter love, and although some of the jokes and one-liners of her biscuit dunking male work colleagues might raise a few eyebrows these days, it very much reflects the humour of the era the book is set in. A jolly, feel-good read and one I highly recommend.

 

Publisher: Urbane Publications Limited (18 May 2017)

Print Length: 320 pages

Available to purchase from Amazon

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Eva Jordan reviews… Where the Wild Winds Blow by the Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Eva Jordan reviews - Where the Wild Winds Blow - the Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Recently, a member of a local writing group approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing a book they had put together and published. Honoured, I said I’d love to.

Where the Wild Winds Blow is an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems and memoirs contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. I have to say; I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I will admit I was pleasantly surprised. Informative, thought-provoking, and at times, enjoyably humorous, it was a real pleasure to read.

At just over 400 pages long it is quite a dense book, but for me, it is not a book that should be devoured all at once, but rather savoured, slowly. Neither does it need to be read sequentially, but rather picked up and flicked through until something piques your curiosity or catches your eye, be that poem, short story or one of the more factual pieces. There’s certainly a wide variety to choose from. I loved the black humour of Jan Cunningham’s somewhat morally bankrupt character in The Mitherers. Then there was Stephen Oliver’s curious tale of Peter Lewis, which recants the story of a modest, seemingly level headed man who lives in constant terror for his life thanks to the same monthly reoccurring nightmare.

Val Chapman’s Amos, concerning a 92-year-old chimney sweep that has won a national writing competition, was hilarious. Largely unimpressed with the pomp and flowing champagne at the award ceremony, Amos is far more concerned about how he can get his hands on a pint of Guinness. Some of the poems, which reflect the bleak beauty of the fens, are eloquent and evocative, while others are witty and amusing. Plus, if you’re looking to brush up on your local history of the fens there’s Philip’s Cumberland’s aptly titled, The Fens (very briefly), packed with lots of interesting facts including several notable historic individuals, like Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell, and their links to the area.

Where the Wild Winds Blow is a veritable box of delights and makes for great reading. The writing is impressive, especially as, noted in the acknowledgements, many of the contributors started their writing projects later in life. A lovely anthology, it would make a thoughtful gift for someone with an interest in the fens or just the book lover in your life, and one I highly recommend.

You can find out more about the Whittlesey Wordsmiths here and buy a copy of the book here, and here.

Eva Jordan reviews… Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister‏

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Cleverly written, Anything You Do Say is the first Gillian McAllister book I’ve read, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Described as a Sliding Doors psychological thriller, the story starts with Joanna, the main protagonist, committing a criminal offense, albeit accidentally, at which point the story splits into two; one called Reveal, the other, Conceal.

Set during the present day, both stories, told in the first person, centre on Joanna Oliva, a young woman living in London with her husband, Reuben. The story begins with Joanna on a night out with best friend Laura. They are in a bar and leave when a man, who has been harassing Joanna, unsettles them. Once outside, and away from the bar, Joanna and Laura call it a night, say their respective goodbyes and head home in different directions. Joanna hears someone walking behind her. Too afraid to look she is convinced she is being followed. She spots a flash of red at the top of a set of stairs on a towpath, which confirms her suspicions. Her pursuer is wearing the same red trainers worn by the man who earlier, in the bar, had been harassing her. In her panic, Joanna spins round and pushes “his body, firmly, squarely, the hardest I’ve ever pushed anything in my life” down the concrete stairs, and this is where the story splits.

We then follow Joanna’s journey where in one story she reveals what has happened, and in the other, she conceals what she has done. As expected, both choices have huge ramifications, which impact on both her life and that of friends and loved ones. Joanna is one of life’s procrastinators, who, unlike her husband Reuben, prefers to avoid her problems—“He’s (Reuben) never done denial. Not like I have… He confronts issues head on… Calmly, not hysterically, not the way I eventually tackle things I’ve been avoiding for years.” However, due to her actions, Joanne is forced to face up to herself and what she has done—in both stories.

Gripping, pacy, and well written, Anything You Do Say glides easily between the two parallel timeframes with no awkward repetition. I was totally invested in the characters and particularly enjoyed the exploration of the ‘what ifs ’ in each story, as well as the diverse responses and differing attitudes to Joanna’s behaviour by those closest to her. Well worth a read, and one I really recommend.  

Eva Jordan reviews… The Silent Christmas by M.J. Lee

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Thanks to a cousin who has been researching our family tree, I recently discovered I had a Great-Great uncle who served in the trenches during WWl. He joined at the start of the war as a volunteer in 1914, and just one year later, aged twenty-one, he was dead, killed in action, his body never recovered but is commemorated on the Menin Wall in Ypres, Belgium. How apt then, I should stumble upon Martin Lee’s recently released novella, The Silent Christmas, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, which can also be read as a stand-alone.

Set in both the present day and the WWI trenches, the story centres on the informal football match believed to have taken place between the English and German soldiers during a brief truce on Christmas Day 1914. The first chapter takes us straight to the trenches on December 21st in Belgium, capturing the conditions and possible mindset of some soldiers, ‘He lay on his back on the hard ground and dreamt of England; picnicking on the grass in front of the bandstand, straw hat tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun… A shadow crossed his face and he felt a tap against his foot. ‘Time to get up, Tom, we’re moving forward… The men began packing up… As they did so, a solitary shell from a German whizz-bang whistled overhead, landing one hundred yards past the farm. None of the men moved or even ducked; each one carried on preparing to move forward as if nothing had happened.’ We then move forward to the present day and discover Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, asked, just days before Christmas, if she can help shed light on the mystery of several items, namely a label, a silver button and a lump of leather, found in a chest in the attic of her client. Ms Sinclair, who says, ‘Our role as genealogists is to use our research to bring these lost people, the vanished people of our family, back to life,’ agrees, and the mystery begins to unravel.

Written in the third person throughout, The Silent Christmas is a fictional tale exploring the actual events that took place during December 1914, later called the ‘Christmas Truce.’ A real “feel good” story handled with great care and respect, full of hope and love, that is both well written and researched. And, as 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice it is also particularly poignant.

You can find The Silent Christmas on Amazon 

Writer Martin Lee

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Eva Jordan reviews… Corrupted by Simon Michael

 

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Corrupted, the latest book by fellow Urbane published author Simon Michael, is the fourth in a series of noir gangster crime thrillers concerning criminal barrister Charles Holborne. However, although part of a series there is just enough back-story for it to read perfectly well as a standalone. Set in London’s swinging sixties, the author mixes historical fact with fiction, making Corruption a story that sees its fictional barrister, Charles Holborne QC, drawn into the real-life investigation of a sex ring scandal that involved the Kray twins and some very powerful but corrupt politicians. The author’s note reads, ‘This is not a true crime novel, but the historical facts upon which it is based did actually occur.’

Written in close third person, Charles, the flawed main protagonist, narrates throughout and the story itself unfolds during several crucial months of 1964, namely Friday 26th June–Monday 24th August. Charles, a Jewish East Ender doing well for himself, building his reputation as a brilliant murder trial lawyer, is living with his partner Sally. On the surface all looks well, however, Charles is clearly at odds with himself. ‘An East Ender, born and bred on the wrong side of town, the wrong side of the track and the wrong side of the law, Charles has muscled his way into the Establishment by becoming a war hero, barrister… His acquaintances include Oxbridge graduates with country seats, titles and racehorses; they also include boxers, burglars and con artists. He no longer quite fits in anywhere, and everywhere feels like the wrong place.’

Charles is asked to help a young lad called Teddy who has been arrested and accused of murder. Charles agrees to take the case on and in doing so takes the reader on a magical mystery tour of 1960s London including the music, fashion and haircuts of the time. The author also gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of Fleet Street during the sixties, sprinkled with sporadic but fascinating historical facts like the time Charles takes a run past Jack Straw’s Castle–the pub and reputed favourite haunt of Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker. However, at the heart of this story is a dark, uncomfortable tale about power, corruption and sexual abuse. Pacey, but often sombre and heartbreaking, it also includes great dialogue and some extremely well-written courtroom drama. A thrilling page-turner and one I highly recommend.

Eva Jordan reviews… Over My Shoulder by Patricia Dixon

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This is the first book I’ve read by this particular author and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Over My Shoulder is no holds barred look at the physical, mental and emotional effects of a controlling, abusive relationship. A dark psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat racing through the final pages.

Set in Manchester, written in the first person, the story is narrated retrospectively through the voice of Freya, the main protagonist. Freya takes us back to where it all began, as a young woman in her twenties during the 1990s. I didn’t particularly warm to Freya, to begin with. It wasn’t that I disliked her as such, but first impressions painted a picture of someone shallow, materialistic, more concerned about her looks and labels, easily impressed by those who could afford the finer things in life.

However, I quickly realised my initial judgment was somewhat harsh. I also remembered what it was like to be a young woman at the start of my own adult life, all the angst, uncertainty and possibilities that lay ahead, the need to forge my own identity and yet at the same time the need to assimilate, to somehow fit in.

So in that sense, the author got Freya’s character bang on because she also demonstrated just how vulnerable young people are, how prone to manipulation they can be and therefore, despite coming from a loving and caring family, what a prime target for dangerous, and controlling individuals like Kane, they can be. Kane is the antagonist in this tale, a real anti-hero, the very epitome of evil, although, as with all good storytelling, the reader is not privy to the depths of Kane’s depravity until much further into the story.

Over My Shoulder is a dark tale of domestic abuse and the far-reaching, destructive effects such a relationship can have on the victim and their loved ones. Well written with a sympathetic understanding of a difficult subject matter, it is a rollercoaster of a read that also delves into the murky underworld of criminals and sexual predators. Gripping, hard-hitting, it is not a read for the faint hearted but it is one that will find you taking a sharp intake of breath towards the conclusion and will also, perhaps, at times, like me, find you looking over your shoulder.

You can purchase Over My Shoulder on Amazon

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Eva Jordan reviews… Before The Fall by Juliet West

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A great war.
A powerful love.
An impossible choice.

A tale of forbidden love, Before The Fall is beautiful, poignant and heartbreakingly sad. Set in London’s East End during the First World War, this is a fictional tale based on true events.

Hannah Loxwood is the struggling young mother of two children, namely 4-year-old Alice and 2-year-old Teddy. Her husband, George, one of many young men who has voluntarily enlisted to fight in the Great War, is across the channel, fighting. To help make ends meet, Hannah and her children move into the home of her older sister, Jen, and brother in law, Alec, and to help pay her way Hannah takes a job offer in a local café. There, she meets Mr Blake, Daniel, a welder. “This man, he’s not like your average docker. He’s well built all right, strong like you have to be, but there’s something unusual about him. A word comes to my mind – elegant – and I tell myself not to be so daft. It isn’t a word I’ve thought of before, let alone said.” Hannah quickly realises she is drawn to the quietly intriguing Daniel in a way she neither expected nor anticipated. The feeling, as it turns out, is mutual. “All the single girls in London and he has to fall for a soldiers wife … beautiful, odd, vulnerable.” Nonetheless, Hannah is a married woman; social norms must be observed at all times. Hence Hannah and Daniel must do their level best to suppress any thoughts or feelings that go beyond friendship. However, as the war rages on, Hannah finds herself wondering if her husband will ever return home again – and if indeed she actually wants him to.

Well researched, full of fascinating historical details, including police statements, newspaper reports and witness statements, Before The Fall is a brilliantly crafted, superbly written novel. The characters are well rounded and believable, especially Hannah, written in the first person – whom I became highly invested in – and Daniel, written in the third person. The author’s prose is wonderfully captivating and highly evocative – I could see the smog, smell the river, feel the hunger, and sense the desperation. However, although set amongst the fear and uncertainty of war-torn London, this is not a war story but rather a mesmerising, realistic, and haunting tale of love. It is also a story about the plight of women, their sad indictment and the difficulties they faced if caught challenging a ruthless wartime society. A sensitive, powerful, must-read.