It was meant to be your daughter’s first sleepover. Now it’s an abduction.
Lucia Blix went home from school for a playdate with her new friend Josie. Later that evening, her mother Elisa dropped her overnight things round and shared a glass of wine with Josie’s mother. Then she kissed her little girl goodnight and drove home.
That was the last time she saw her daughter.
The next morning, when Lucia’s dad arrived to pick her up, the house was empty. No furniture, no family, no Lucia.
In Playdate, Alex Dahl puts a microscope on a seemingly average, seemingly happy family plunged into a life-altering situation.
Who has taken their daughter, and why?
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. Elisa is a bit reluctant to let her young daughter go to a friend’s house after school for a ‘play date’ but because she can see how excited Lucia is, how well she gets on with her friend and the friendliness of her mother she agrees. But her world falls apart when there is no sign of the house being lived in the day after when her husband goes to collect his daughter.
What makes this novel so original is the lack of storyline involving the police investigation. Instead the novel concerns Elisa trying to come to terms with Lucia’s disappearance, Lucia, confused, frightened and not knowing what to believe, Jacqueline, abductor, understandably damaged, Marcus, a man who is in an open prison for reasons unknown and Selma, a journalist who is determined to find out what what happened.
The narrative switched between them all constantly throughout but it was very easy to follow. And with the chapters being so short I found it difficult to put aside. Waiting to see what would happen next to the character concerned.
It is one of those novels where the reader is aware of what happened fairly early on but not why. The reason is revealed in the latter half of the novel, but I had decided a lot earlier that I wasn’t that keen on Elisa. I struggled to know why until the very end but I was glad that my gut instinct was a correct one.
Whilst my favourite character by a long was Selma, simply for her determination and her care of Medusa her cat I had a lot of empathy for Jacqueline. I know her actions were wrong but I could understand why she did what she did.
Playdate is one of the more original crime novels that I have read this year. A fascinating storyline and I also enjoyed the descriptions of the countries in which the novel takes place.
Pablo Escobar was the most notorious drug lord the world has ever seen. He became one of the ten richest men on the planet and controlled 80 per cent of the global cocaine trade before he was shot dead in 1993.
This is the long-awaited autobiography of his eldest son, Roberto Sendoya Escobar.
His story opens with two helicopter gunships, filled with heavily armed Colombian Special forces personnel led by an MI6 agent, flying into a small village on the outskirts of Bogota in Colombia. The secret mission to recover a stolen cash hoard, culminates in a bloody shoot-out with a group of young Pablo Escobar’s violent gangsters. Several of the men escape, including the young Escobar.
As the dust settles in the house, only a little baby is left alive. His distressing cries can be heard as his young mother lies dead beside him. That baby is the author, Roberto Sendoya Escobar. In a bizarre twist of fate, the top MI6 agent who led the mission, takes pity on the child and, eventually, ends up adopting him.
Over the years, during his rise to prominence as the most powerful drug lord the world has ever known, Pablo Escobar tries, repeatedly, to kidnap his son. Flanked by his trusty bodyguards, the child, unaware of his true identity, is allowed regular meetings with Escobar and it becomes apparent that the British government is working covertly with the gangster in an attempt to control the money laundering and drug trades.
Life becomes so dangerous, however, that the author is packed off from the family mansion in Bogota to an English public school. Many years later in England, as Roberto’s adopted father lies dying in hospital, he hands his son a coded piece of paper which, he says, reveals the secret hiding place of the ‘Escobar Missing millions’ the world has been searching for!
The code is published in this book for the first time.
CHAPTER 1: THE SECRET MISSION
Facatativá, Colombia, late October 1965
The two helicopters appeared with the rising sun.
Each spanking new US Bell UH-1 ‘Huey’ was armed with two M134 miniguns capable of preset firing rates of 2,000 rpm, each linked to four thousand rounds of ammunition. They were also equipped with two M75 40-mm grenade-rocket launchers, both fed from a three-hundred-round magazine.
Aboard each were six newly trained Colombian special forces personnel. Sitting in the front passenger seat of the leading chopper was the man in charge. Pat Witcomb, a tall, powerful-looking Englishman, looked as incongruous as the two aircraft flying low over an otherwise peaceful countryside. They were three thousand metres above sea level, yet only five hundred metres above the ground. Pat could scarcely believe he was leading this mission. Before he joined De La Rue, a respectable banknote printer and security company established in London in the nineteenth century, he had barely set foot in a helicopter. Since then, the operations with which he had been tasked had grown increasingly dangerous. Almost of all of his training had been on the job itself.
He had swiftly discovered that Colombia was a violent country. Recently, one of his armoured cars had been blown up, killing two security guards and injuring others. This was one of the worst incidents to affect De La Rue, which had been tasked with securely printing Colombia’s currency and transporting it safely around the country. The vehicle had been destroyed in the course of making a delivery and the incident had major ramifications for the firm. It wasn’t just a question of the money that was stolen – although it wasn’t an insignificant sum, running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars – but the message it sent out. The various gangs jockeying for power and influence would believe they could attack De La Rue with impunity and, by extension, they were hitting the heart of Colombia’s economy itself. There had to be a firm response and once the firm received intelligence about the gang’s whereabouts they were determined to strike back.
The pilot, sitting beside Pat, pointed to a cluster of dwellings on the hillside ahead. Pat compared the sight before him with the aerial photographs provided. He nodded. They were here. He glanced at the soldiers manning the machine gun and rocket launchers in the doorway and back to the other gunners in the second helicopter. He turned to the men behind, whose excited chatter had been constant since they left the country’s capital city, Bogotá, and gave a thumbs-up. They clocked Pat’s signal and as one fell silent, clutching their weapons in anticipation. Before they had set off Pat had thought the set-up he was commanding would be a sledgehammer cracking a nut and, as he looked again at the sleepy village ahead, his view was only confirmed. His targets wouldn’t know what hit them.
‘Hawk Two, this is Hawk One, over,’ Pat said in clipped tones over the radio.
‘Hawk One, Hawk Two, over,’ came the accented response from his counterpart in the aircraft behind, a stocky man with a heavily pockmarked face. This was Manuel Noriega, then just an officer with the Panamanian military, but even at that point extremely ambitious. Seconded to the intelligence efforts in Colombia, he had been a useful ally to Pat in the shadowy meeting place where state business and private enterprise shared a common interest. Now Noriega seemed to be relishing joining in on the action.
‘Hawk Two, we have visual on the target. Prepare to attack.’
‘Roger Hawk One. Out.’
They dropped to a hundred and fifty feet and Pat gestured towards a small clearing ahead of the first house, radioing his intention to Noriega, who he always referred to by his codename ‘JB’, a reference to his favourite whiskey brand, Justerini & Brooks. His eyes fixed on a rundown house with a single, small door to the street. Movement in the house next door caught his eye. Two shabbily dressed men appeared. He could see the terror on their faces as they scurried back inside.
The blast from the rotors kicked up a cloud of dust. As the choppers touched down, the soldiers jumped from the side and headed straight for the house. They only got a few yards when the two men reappeared in the doorway, this time with assault rifles. But before they had even cocked their weapons a round of gunfire from the advancing troops floored them. More gunfire followed, as a face at a window was greeted with an avalanche of bullets.
‘So much for minimal casualties,’ Pat shouted to JB above the roar of the blades, as they took in the action, standing to the rear and flanked by two, blue-uniformed, close protection officers, or bodyguards.
JB shrugged. ‘I told you, if they want a war, they’ll get one.’
The soldiers split up into groups, some heading to the rear of the target property, others charging through the front door, while other units tackled neighbouring buildings. Gunfire resounded.
Pat respected his enemy as he looked around. They had chosen an unlikely hideout. Yet the response from the gang told him without a doubt that their intelligence had been perfect. It might look like a backwater – unremarkable farmer country – but this was one harvest worth fighting for
The shortlist for the 16th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has been announced, taking the reader on an international crime spree from New York to Calcutta, London to Lagos via Glasgow and the Australian outback.
Chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy, the titles in contention for this most prestigious of prize’s – which feature five Theakston award alumni and one debut novelist – showcase exceptional variety and originality, including spy espionage, historical crime, gallows humour, outback noir and serial killing siblings.
The news coincides with updated lockdown reading research from Nielsen Book showing that the genre is continuing to soar in popularity, a trend led by younger readers and men. Alongside an increase in the overall number of crime and thriller novels in the bestseller charts, even more people are turning to the genre in lockdown, particularly younger readers (18-44). Of the three quarters saying that their fiction interests have changed, 26% say that crime and thriller has become their genre of choice.
Marking a meteoric rise since being selected by Val McDermid as a spotlight author in the 2019 Festival’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel,Oyinkan Braithwaite remains in pursuit of the coveted trophy with the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer. Based in Nigeria, Braithwaite is the only debut author remaining, and one of the youngest ever to be shortlisted. Inspired by the black widow spider, Braithwaite turns the crime genre on its head with a darkly comic exploration of sibling rivalry, exploring society’s feelings towards beauty and perfection.
The remaining five authors on the shortlist are all previous contenders hoping 2020 is their year to claim the trophy. The legendary Mick Herron, likened to John Le Carré, has picked up a fifth nomination with Joe Country, the latest in his espionage masterclass Slough House. A former legal editor, Herron’s commute from Oxford to London led to the creation of this much-lauded series, which is currently being adapted for television with Gary Oldman taking on the iconic role of Jackson Lamb.
Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for the title withSmoke & Ashes, described by The Times as one of the best crime novels since 1945. Accountant turned bestseller, Mukherjee was shortlisted in 2018 for the first book in the Wyndham & Banerjee series set in Raj-era India, The Rising Man. Smoke & Ashes – the third instalment – is set in 1921 in Calcutta, where Mukherjee’s parents grew up and where he spent six weeks each year during his childhood.
Authors making it through to the shortlist for the first time include Glasgow’s Helen Fitzgerald for Worst Case Scenario, which marks her first appearance on the Theakston list since The Cry, adapted into a major BBC drama starting Jenna Colman, was longlisted in 2013. Packed with gallows humour, Worst Case Scenario takes inspiration from Fitzgerald’stime as a criminal justice social worker in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, alongside her experiences with depression and going through the menopause.
Despite receiving international recognition, before Belfast’s Adrian McKinty started writing The Chain – for which he picks up his second Theakston nod – he had been evicted from his home and was working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Persuaded to give writing one last go, McKinty started on what would become the terrifying thriller that sees parents forced to kidnap children to save their own, and for which Paramount Pictures has acquired the screen rights in a seven-figure film deal.
The final title on the shortlist is The Lost Man by former journalist Jane Harper, who was previously longlisted for her debut The Dry in 2018, for which the film adaption starring Eric Bana is due to be released this year. Inspired by the beautifully brutal Australian environment, The Lost Man explores how people live – and die – in the unforgiving outback and is a moving – particularly topical – study in the psychological and physical impact of isolation.
The full shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 is:
– My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)
– Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)
– The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Little, Brown Book Group, Little, Brown)
– Joe Country by Mick Herron (John Murray Press)
– The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Orion Publishing Group, Orion Fiction)
– Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)
Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “Seeing the huge variety and originality within this shortlist, it comes as no surprise to hear that crime fiction is dominating our lockdown reading habits. Offering both escapism and resolution, these exceptional titles transport readers around the world and I can’t wait to see where we settle on 23 July when one of these extraordinary authors takes home the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier cask.”
The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals and supported by T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback from 1 May 2018 to 30 April 2019 by UK and Irish authors.
The shortlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith, alongside a public vote.
The shortlist will be promoted in a dedicated online campaign from WHSmith, digital promotional materials will be made available for independent bookstores, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s online community – You’re Booked – features exclusive interviews and interactive content. This forms part of the Harrogate International Festival virtual season of events, HIF at Home, which presents a raft of live music, specially commissioned performances, literary events and interviews to bring a free festival experience to your own digital doorstep.
The public vote for the winner is now open on www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com, with the champion set to be revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 23 July marking what would have been the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The legendary gathering – which formed part of Harrogate International Festival Summer Season – was cancelled, with much sadness, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The winner will receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.
Inside a beautiful Victorian family home in Glasgow’s West End, a mother and her young son are found brutally murdered. DI Costello is furious and knows exactly who did it, George Haggerty, the husband and father. The only problem is that Haggerty has a cast-iron alibi – the police themselves caught him speeding on the A9 at the time of the murders. But Costello can’t let it go. Determined to expose Haggerty as a ruthless killer, she’s gone solo.
DCI Colin Anderson has no time to ponder his partner of twenty years going rogue, as his own cases are piling up. But Costello’s absence becomes increasingly worrying. Has she completely disappeared following the tracks of a dangerous man?
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. I read The Sideman straight after finishing the previous book in the series, The Suffering Of Strangers. This is something I rarely do but I needed to know who had murdered the mother and her young son.
I find this series quite refreshing, I don’t think I’ve read a novel where a relative of the deceased features so heavily, appearing to trying to get answers and justice. When you are also aware that she could be responsible. An alcoholic, alone and recovering from the events that happened to her in the earlier book.
I liked getting to know Anderson more and being able to see how his personal life worked. His is more confusing than many but I’m sure I will get all my answers when I read the earlier books. I also had a lot of appreciation for the scenes that featured Mathieson and Bannon. One of them, at least, not likeable but I imagine they were realistic.
I could really visualise the setting. Remote, beautiful and slightly dangerous. Even if I couldn’t pronounce it, I wasn’t on my own, many of the recurring characters couldn’t either. It gave me a feeling that there was a slight North/ South divide, not just with the inability to pronounce correctly but also the attitudes of everybody from either community.
While war rages in Europe, Japan has established itself as the supreme power in Asia. The beautiful province of Hangzhou has become a stronghold of the Japanese puppet government. One day, five officers from the code-breaking department are escorted to an isolated mansion outside the city. One of them has been sharing secrets with the communists. No-one is leaving until the traitor is uncovered. It should be a straightforward case of sifting truth from lies. But as each code-breaker spins a story that proves their innocence, events are re-framed, and what really happened is called into question again and again. Part revisionist history, part playful meta-fiction, The Message is at once an absorbing and cerebral spy thriller and a commentary on storytelling itself.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received. The Message is the first Chinese fiction book that I have read and despite knowing nothing at all about either Chinese or Japanese history I found it fascinating. If at times a little confusing.
In three parts, the first concerns the interrogation of the five people. You don’t really get to know much about any of them, most of the focus is on the ways of getting information, the tricks that Hihara and the others tried to get the information they required. And the mercifully brief descriptions of the torture methods used when this failed. It was this part of the book that I found the most confusing, partly due to my lack of knowledge concerning the history and partly due to the number of people involved. I had no idea who Ghost was or if the right person had been found guilty.
The second part was my favourite, it was here that I realised what meta -fiction was and I stopped looking for information about the characters online. More importantly I felt I got to know at least two of the characters more. Not necessarily liking them but I understood them more and had more sympathy. It was also here, when I started to appreciate how clever this book was.
The third part goes into detail of the history of the conflict between China and Japan, the identities of some of the characters involved and the beauty of the area where all the crimes took place. And the believable account of how it was protected.
I have never read a book like this before, not easy to read but I’m glad I took a chance.