BLOG TOUR (part 2) – Without Trace – Simon Booker


Now, Simon kindly agreed to write an article for my review on his work in prisons, and how he felt that helped both inspire him and give him a sense of realism when it came to the prison scenes in his superb debut, Without Trace. (They even let him out afterwards!) Myself, being a bit of a flibbertigibbet, completely forgot to put it on the page containing my review. So here it is, and it makes for an interesting read:


My debut crime novel Without Trace is the first in a series of psychological thrillers featuring Morgan Vine, an investigative journalist who specialises in miscarriages of justice. The story opens in HMP Dungeness, where Morgan runs a reading group for prisoners. The group includes her old flame, Danny Kilcannon, convicted, on dubious evidence, of murdering his teenage stepdaughter. Morgan devoutly believes him to be innocent and has spent years campaigning for an appeal. But when Danny is finally released, and her own 18 year-old daughter goes missing under mysterious circumstances, Morgan is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her childhood sweetheart. Is he a wronged innocent or a ruthless killer?

Although HMP Dungeness is drawn from my imagination, I have an insider’s knowledge of prison life – the sights, the sounds, the smells – invaluable insight gleaned not because of any misdemeanour but through years of running reading groups for prisoners. Most recently, I’ve been volunteering as a facilitator in restorative justice (RJ). This involves paying regular visits to HMP Brixton in London as part of a criminal justice programme focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders through a process of reconciliation with victims and the community at large.

I can’t discuss individual cases but let’s take Mister X, a burglar whose victims are terrified to be in their own home, a result of having been burgled while they slept. During the RJ process, a trained volunteer like myself will meet with Mister X and then with his victims, often several times, in order to establish that both sides are willing to come face to face in a bid to put the past behind them. The victims get to tell Mister X about the devastating effect his actions have had on their lives, and to receive an apology for the harm caused. Crucially, they have an opportunity to be ‘heard’ – something generally denied them during the criminal justice process – and to demythologise the person who has caused such distress. Meanwhile, Mister X gets to explain what drove him to commit a criminal act and to put a face to those he has harmed, thus fostering a sense of empathy, something he may previously have lacked.

To some, the process sounds too ‘touchy-feely’ but it takes courage on both sides and, if handled correctly and sensitively, there can be benefits for all concerned.

Restorative Justice has been shown to have a dramatically beneficial effect on re-offending rates. Offenders who are willing to take responsibility for their actions and come face-to-face with the people they have harmed are less likely to lapse back into a life of crime.

Like Morgan Vine, the heroine of Without Trace, I like to think even repeat offenders are capable of change, that redemption is always possible, and I prefer to believe the best of people, to give them the benefit of the doubt,

But when Morgan’s own daughter disappears and the finger of suspicion points firmly in the direction of her old flame, her faith is sorely tested. Is she right to trust the love of her life? Or has she helped to release a ruthless killer back into the world?

I’d like to thank Simon greatly for taking the time to write this – and apologise to him for not putting it up on the day of the review! My review, in case you didn’t see it, does immediately precede this. I hope you all found Simon’s input as interesting as I did – any comments are, as ever, greatly appreciated. Do you think Restorative Justice could make a criminal think twice about committing more crimes?

BLOG TOUR – The Invisible Guardian – Dolores Redondo

While I organise my review, because both myself and Mr C have a nasty flu which came on us over the weekend, I will give you a special treat in the form of an excerpt from The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo. (It’s awful both of you being ill at the same time; you should be allowed to take it in turns so one can play the nurse!)

Product Details

BLURB: A killer at large in a remote Basque Country valley , a detective to rival Clarice Starling, myth versus reality, masterful storytelling – the Spanish bestseller that has taken Europe by storm.

The naked body of a teenage girl is found on the banks of the River Baztán. Less than 24 hours after this discovery, a link is made to the murder of another girl the month before. Is this the work of a ritualistic killer or of the Invisible Guardian, the Basajaun, a creature of Basque mythology?
30-year-old Inspector Amaia Salazar heads an investigation which will take her back to Elizondo, the village in the heart of Basque country where she was born, and to which she had hoped never to return. A place of mists, rain and forests. A place of unresolved conflicts, of a dark secret that scarred her childhood and which will come back to torment her.
Torn between the rational, procedural part of her job and local myths and superstitions, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose in a region steeped in the history of the Spanish Inquisition.

About the Author: Dolores Redondo was born in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1969. She studied Law and Gastronomy. She began writing short stories and children’s stories and in 2009 published her first novel, The Privileges of the Angel. 

The Invisible Guardian, first volume of the Baztán Trilogy, was published in Spain in 2013, with rights sold in thirty languages, and has sold over 100,000 copies. The second novel in the trilogy, The Legacy of the Bones, went straight into the Spanish bestseller lists at number one. 

Dolores currently lives and writes in the Ribera Navarra.


Ainhoa Elizasu was the second victim of the basajaun, although the press were yet to coin that name for him. That came later, when it emerged that animal hairs, scraps of skin and unidentifiable tracks had been found around the bodies, along with evidence of some kind of macabre purification rite. With their torn clothes, their private parts shaved and their upturned hands, the bodies of those girls, almost still children, seemed to have been marked by a malign force, as old as the Earth.

Inspector Amaia Salazar always followed the same routine when she was called to a crime scene in the middle of the night. She would switch off the alarm clock so it wouldn’t disturb James in the morning, pile up her clothes and, with her mobile balanced on top of them, go very slowly downstairs to the kitchen. She would drink a milky coffee while she dressed, leave a note for her husband and get in the car. Then she would drive, her mind blank except for the white noise that always filled her head when she woke up before dawn.

These remnants of an interrupted night of insomnia stayed with her all the way to the crime scene, even though it was over an hour’s drive from Pamplona. She took a curve in the road too sharply and the squealing of the tyres made her realise how distracted she was. After that she made herself pay attention to the motorway as it wound its way upwards, deep into the dense forest surrounding Elizondo. Five minutes later, she pulled over next to a police sign, where she recognised Dr Jorge San Martín’s sports car and Judge Estébanez’s off-roader. Amaia got out, walked round to the back of her car and fished out a pair of wellingtons. She sat on the edge of the boot to pull them on while Deputy Inspector Jonan Etxaide and Inspector Montes joined her.

‘It’s not looking good, chief, the victim’s a young girl,’ Jonan consulted his notes, ‘twelve or thirteen years old. When she didn’t arrive home by eleven last night, her parents contacted the police.’

‘A bit early to report her missing,’ observed Amaia.

‘True. It looks like she rang her older brother on his mobile at about ten past eight to tell him she’d missed the bus from Arizkun.’

‘And her brother waited until eleven before saying anything?’

‘You know how it is, “Aita and Ama will kill me. Please don’t tell them. I’m going to see if any of my friends’ parents will give me a lift.” So he kept quiet and played on his PlayStation. At eleven, when he realised his sister still hadn’t arrived home and his mother was starting to get hysterical, he told them Ainhoa had called. The parents went down to the station in Elizondo and insisted something must have happened to their daughter. She wasn’t answering her mobile and they’d already spoken to all her friends. A patrol found her. The officers spotted her shoes at the side of the road as they were coming round the bend.’ Jonan shone his torch towards the edge of the tarmac where a pair of black patent high heeled shoes glistened, perfectly aligned. Amaia leaned over to look at them.

‘They look like they’ve been arranged like this. Has anyone touched them?’ she asked. Jonan checked his notes again. The young deputy inspector’s efficiency was a god-send in cases as difficult as this one was shaping up to be.

‘No, that’s how they found them, side by side and pointing towards the road.’

‘Tell the crime scene technicians to come and check the lining of the shoes when they’ve finished what they’re doing. Whoever arranged them like that will have had to touch the inside as well as the outside.’

Inspector Montes, who had stood silently staring at the ends of his Italian designer loafers until this point, looked up abruptly as if he had just awoken from a deep sleep.

‘Salazar,’ he acknowledged her in a murmur, then walked off towards the edge of the road without waiting for her.

Amaia frowned in bewilderment and turned back to Jonan.

‘What’s up with him?’

‘I don’t know, chief, but we came in the same car from Pamplona and he didn’t open his mouth once. I think he might have had a drink or two.’

Amaia thought so too. Inspector Montes had slipped into a downward spiral since his divorce, and not just in terms of his recent penchant for Italian shoes and colourful ties. He had been particularly distracted during the last few weeks, cold and inscrutable, absorbed in his own little world, almost reluctant to engage with the people around him.

‘Where’s the girl?’

‘By the river. You have to go down that slope,’ said Jonan, pointing towards it apologetically, as if it were somehow his fault that the body was down there.

As Amaia made her way down the incline, worn out of the rock by the river over the millennia, she could see the floodlights and police tape that marked the area where the officers were working in the distance. Judge Estébanez stood to one side, talking in a low voice with the court clerk and shooting sideways glances to where the body lay. Two photographers from the forensics team were moving around it, raining down flashes from every angle, and a technician from the Navarra Institute of Forensic Medicine was kneeling beside it, apparently taking the temperature of the liver.

Amaia was pleased to see that everyone present was respecting the entry point that the first officers on the scene had established. Even so, as always, it seemed to her that there were just too many people. It was almost absurd, and it may have been something to do with her Catholic upbringing, but whenever she had to deal with a corpse, she always felt a pressing need for that sense of intimacy and devotion she experienced in a cemetery. It seemed as though this was violated by the distant and impersonal professional presence of the people moving around the body. It was the sole subject of a murderer’s work of art, but it lay there mute and silenced, its innate horror disregarded.

I hope this intrigued you enough you’ll return for my review – right now I’m going to dose myself up with Lemsip!

BLOG TOUR – The American – Nadia Dalbuono

BLURB: The second Leone Scamarcio thriller.

As autumn sets in, the queues outside the soup kitchens of Rome are lengthening, and the people are taking to the piazzas, increasingly frustrated by the deepening economic crisis.

When Detective Leone Scamarcio is called to an apparent suicide on the Ponte Sant’Angelo, a stone’s throw from Vatican City, the dead man’s expensive suit suggests yet another businessman fallen on hard times. But Scamarcio is immediately troubled by similarities with the 1982 murder of Roberto Calvi, dubbed ‘God’s Banker’ because of his work for the Vatican Bank.

When, days later, a cardinal with links to the bank is killed, and the CIA send a couple of heavies to warn him off the case, Scamarcio knows he’s onto something big.

As disturbing connections between 9/11, America’s dirty wars, Vatican corruption, the Mafia, and Italy’s violence against its own people begin to emerge, Scamarcio is forced to deal with responsibilities far above his pay grade – in this tightly plotted mystery full of political intrigue.

The follow-up to The Few, this is another case which sees our lone wolf detective, Leone Scamarcio, take on a case which, this time, leads him even deeper into the political arena, where conspiracies are everywhere, murder is seen as the simplest way to solve an inconvenience (mass murder, in some cases), nearly everyone can be bought (“silver or lead”, as the narcotraficantes put it), you don’t know who you can trust, and nearly everyone has an agenda. Par for the course in Italy, and perfect material for a novel for those who like their crime fiction flavoured with intrigue and politics; lies and skullduggery – a police procedural-cum-spy-cum-mafia novel is the best way I can describe it. The first two are my favourite genres of crime fiction, so you won’t be surprised when I say I absolutely loved it!

Leone works his cases alone, reporting directly and confidentially to his superior, Garramone. His father was a mafioso, and for that reason he is one of the most vetted police officers in Rome. I get the impression choosing the career he did was a “f*** you” to his father and a way of proving you can make an honest living in Italy – although with the economic situation, it’s getting harder and harder for your Average Joe. Also, due to the urgency required to find a missing child alive in the first novel, The Few, which I’ll be reviewing shortly, Leone had to call in help from his father’s old lieutenant, Piocosta – a favour which he was warned would have to be returned.

This novel begins with a man found hanging from the Ponte Sant’Angelo Bridge, which faces the Vatican City. It’s almost a replica of the death of Roberto Calvi, “God’s Banker” – those of you old enough to remember will recall he was found hanging from London’s Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. A second autopsy ordered by his family showed he couldn’t have killed himself, due to the lack of rust that would’ve been on his shoes had he climbed up, and the fact his fingerprints were not on the building rubble found in his pockets to weigh him down. He’d also just bankrupted the Banco Ambrosiano, which was essentially owned by the Vatican Bank, and lost millions in mafia money he’d been laundering. Shortly after the man is found hanging in Italy, news comes from the Vatican that a Cardinal called Abbiati has been stabbed and is dead. Obviously the Rome police have no powers within the Vatican, and are hearing little about the murder, but it seems unlikely to be a coincidence.

Scamarcio has some contacts from his time studying in the States, and one of them has a source who identifies the Bridge corpse as a Simeon Carter, who worked for the CIA. However, the Americans are already over sniffing around, demanding the corpse be handed over. When the Italian authorities refuse, they somehow take him from the morgue, and send a fake ID and autopsy report, saying he was an internationally wanted criminal for counterfeiting, had a string of aliases, and had committed suicide.

In between updates on Scamarcio’s investigation, Carter’s history is revealed. He worked in countries the Americans saw as being in danger of being taken over by Communist rule. Obviously this is something the Catholic Church do not want, so together with the Americans, they fund bombings and murders which are blamed on Communist factions, thus turning sympathy back towards the middle ground or right wing, and securing the church’s position in these countries, going back as far as helping to drive the Sandinistas out of Nicaragua, and funnelling money to Poland and Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement, an attempt to establish a trade union in a Communist country. Italy in the 1980s was in a poor economic state, and many were sympathetic to Communism, so Carter got involved in a series of large scale bombings there, as well as many other countries, with hundreds of innocent victims. However, he ensures that fingers are pointed to organisations with Communist sympathies.

Eventually, with all the pressure from the US, Scamarcio is told by Garramone to drop the case – after all, they don’t even have a corpse, and the US are not enemies you want to make. Being the stubborn man he is, though, he asks for leave and secretly heads to America to see what he can discover about Simeon Carter there, through his wife and his old friend’s source. But of course he gets to a stage where he knows far too much to for him to be left alone, and attempts are made on his girlfriend Aurelia’s life, as well as his own.

Please don’t think this book is all dry, political history – it’s very far from that indeed. It’s incredibly fast moving, with lots of action, double-crossing, and danger. Scamarcio is very attractive, and is very much a man who prefers to work alone, brooding over cases and only confiding in his boss Garramone – and even then, he only tells him so much. Towards the very end of the novel there is one of these really sublime twists you never see coming in crime fiction. And Italy, with its corruption, North/South divide, and the sense that you never really get to see the full picture or hear the full story, is a perfect setting for the Leone Scamarcio series – at least, I hope it’s to be a series. There’s also the problem that by now Leone owes his father’s old lieutenant, Piocosta, several favours – despite being told to stay away from him. Plotted as tight a drum, and with various other smaller threads to the novel, Nadia Dalbuono looks very much like being the name to watch when it comes to political intrigue. I’ll be very surprised if I read a more engrossing or cleverly written book this year.

My thanks to Scribe for my review copy.