Father and Son – John Barlow

My only problem with John Barlow’s books is that it takes him a year to write them but it only takes me three days to read them! I was looking forward to Father and Son, the second book in the John Ray series (after Hope Road, reviewed here) & it didn’t disappoint.

John Ray is called out very early one morning to a local bar owned by an old rival of his father’s, Lanny Bride. He finds the body of Roberto Swales, one of his father’s right hand men in the old days. Roberto was always around during John’s childhood & John is shocked by his death & by the brutal nature of it. Shot in his legs & arms to incapacitate him, Roberto has been tortured with a broken bottle before his death. In Hope Road John helped track down the killer of Lanny Bride’s daughter & now Lanny wants him to find Roberto’s killer.

John’s life is a mess. The white sheep of the Ray family, he went to Cambridge, became an accountant & moved to Spain. Unlike his brother, Joe, he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. Tony Ray was notorious in Leeds as a small time criminal involved in counterfeit goods & money. John never wanted to be involved in the family business which was neatly sheltered by the used car dealership Tony owned. John returned from Spain only to witness his brother’s murder & reluctantly take over the used car business from his father, now in a nursing home after a stroke. The events recounted in Hope Road led to the breakdown of John’s relationship with police officer Denise Denson. Den moved to Manchester & John’s life has been a blur of alcohol & depression ever since. Tony Ray Motors is being run by John’s step-cousin Connie, who owns half the business.

John’s search for Roberto’s killer becomes entwined with the story of a bombing in Leeds years earlier. Attributed but never claimed by the IRA, a bomb destroyed a supermarket. News coverage of the incident was dominated by footage of a young man staggering from the blast with the body of a baby in his arms. One of the men thought to be responsible for the bombing, Bernard Sheenan, has died & his last interview was with journalist Jeanette Cormac. Jeanette contacted John because she’s also interested in writing a biography of Tony Ray. On the morning of Roberto Swales’s murder, Jeanette had spent the night with John. When it emerges that Sheenan was murdered & in a similar fashion to Swales, John begins to wonder why these men were targeted & why they were tortured before their death in an obvious attempt to get information. The connection seems to be Jeanette’s investigations &, if so, could Tony Ray be somehow involved? John’s presence at Roberto’s murder scene & his relationship with Jeanette attract the attention of local detective Steve Baron & he has to find the killer before the police arrest him – or before he, or someone close to him, becomes the next victim.

Father and Son is an edgy, fast-paced, breathless thriller. The action takes place over three days & I was reading as fast as my fingers could flick the pages. If work hadn’t been in the way, I’d have finished it in a day. This is the most hardboiled series I read so if you prefer the cosier type of mystery, I should warn you that there are some violent scenes & the descriptions of the murder victims are quite detailed (I skimmed these bits). The plot is complex with strands reaching back to John’s childhood & leads him to question how much he really knows about his father & his criminal activities. Denise Denson, visiting from Manchester, becomes involved in John’s investigations & has to walk a fine line between helping the man she still loves but isn’t sure she can trust, & not jeopardizing her career. Denise is a great character & I was glad to see her back in this book. She’s wary of becoming involved with him again but doesn’t want to see him dead. At the end of the book, John has reached another crossroads & I can’t wait to see where John Barlow takes him in the next book in the series. I just wish I didn’t have to wait a year to get hold of it.

John Barlow’s new book – Father and Son

Early last year I reviewed the first book in John Barlow’s series of thrillers about John Ray. My review of Hope Road is here. I loved Hope Road even though it was a little more hardboiled than my usual mystery reading. John Ray is an intriguing character. The son of a notorious Leeds crime figure, John goes to university, becomes an accountant & goes off to live in Spain. However, John isn’t able to completely leave behind his family’s criminal connections as we discovered in that first book. Hope Road was a fast-paced rollercoaster of a book & I was pleased to know that John Barlow was planning a series.

This week, John contacted me to ask if I would like to review the second John Ray novel, Father and Son. Of course, I said yes, please, & it’s sitting on my Kindle right now & I’ll be starting to read it very soon.

You’ll find more information about John Barlow on his website. Father and Son is available as an e-book from Amazon only at the moment but John will send anyone an ePub copy if they forward him a purchase confirmation email from Amazon. Amazon are happy with this compromise so if you’re interested, contact John through his website.

Hope Road – John Barlow

Tony Ray is a legendary crime boss. He was famously acquitted of a charge of counterfeiting in the 1980s &, although he’s now an old man living in a nursing home, his name has not been forgotten. His son, Joe, seemed to be following in his father’s footsteps until he was murdered, shot in the showroom of the family’s secondhand car dealership. Joe’s brother, John, witnessed the murder. John is the straight one of the family. Head boy at school, university, qualified in accountancy, then years living in Spain, John had just returned to Leeds when Joe was murdered. Now, two years later, he’s taken over the dealership. He’s living in a studio flat created from the conversion of his old high school. The Honours board hangs on his wall with his name in the list of Head Boys. His girlfriend, Denise Danson, is a police detective, although her superior officers aren’t pleased that she’s going out with a member of the Ray family. John’s life couldn’t be more of a contrast with that of his family.

John has just won an award as Dealership of the Year (Yorkshire Region) . The morning after the award ceremony, Denise is called out to the scene of a murder. A young woman has been found in the boot of a car. A car that John had bought days before. A car that his salesman & friend, Freddy Metcalfe, has been seen driving. John can’t get in touch with Freddy, who has disappeared. And then, the police find $50 000 in counterfeit money hidden in the car. Counterfeiting was the Ray family business in the old days, along with selling fake perfume & the secondhand car business. The police don’t think it’s a coincidence that the dead girl, Donna Macken, & the funny money, was found in a car belonging to a member of the Ray family. John is in the clear with Denise as his alibi but that doesn’t mean the police won’t try their best to implicate him if they can. When Freddy is found & refuses to talk, it looks like an open & shut case. John decides to find out who the killer is & he finds himself involved in a world that he had hoped to have left behind forever.

Hope Road is a fast-paced, exciting novel. The action takes place over just three days & the author does a great job of filling the reader in on John’s history at the same time as the plot is hurtling forward. Often the victim is forgotten in crime novels, they’re just a convenient plot starter. In this book, Donna is a real character, although we only see her through the eyes of others & a few grainy frames of CCTV footage. A beautiful young woman living with her mother, father long since gone. Involved in drugs & prostitution but planning a way out with Freddy, her protector, friend & lover. She was last seen at a rundown motel in the company of Freddy & two dodgy Ukrainian tractor salesmen. John’s search for the truth leads him into this murky world.

John Ray is an ambiguous character. He seems to be playing straight but there are hints that there’s more going on in his life than the reader knows. The uncertainty about John & his motives certainly kept me on my toes. The minor characters are also intriguing. Connie Garcia, John’s half-step-cousin, is a delightful character. Connie has come over from Spain to work in the dealership & John employs her as a favour to his father & the Spanish relatives he barely knows. Connie transforms the atmosphere with fresh coffee & croissants for the customers &, with her training at the Madrid Business School, keeps meticulous records. Although Connie seems to spend all her time on the phone chatting to her boyfriend, she’s a shrewd young woman & has a few surprises in store for John. Hope Road is the first in a series & I’m really looking forward to reading the next book.

I have to admit that Hope Road probably isn’t the kind of novel I’d pick up if I saw it at work or in a bookshop. The cover & the blurb sounded a little bit too hardboiled for my taste. But, when John Barlow kindly emailed me & offered me an ePub copy, I thought I’d see whether my preconceptions were right or whether I should try stepping out of my comfort zone. I started reading at lunchtime last Tuesday & it was a real struggle to close down the e-reader & get back to work. I was immediately drawn in to the story & John is an intriguing character, I wanted to know more. How did someone with his family background end up as an award-winning car dealer & in a relationship with a police detective? Hope Road is written in present tense & I don’t usually like that but, in this case, it suits the story & adds to the urgency of the plot & the breakneck pace. I very soon forgot what tense it was in. There’s also a couple of very violent scenes but I read those very quickly!

John Barlow is an experienced writer with several other books published in the traditional way with traditional publishers. I especially like the title Everything but the Squeal, a travelogue & memoir about Spain, where John now lives. He’s decided to publish Hope Road independently as an e-book & it’s available at Amazon, The Book Depository & anywhere else that sells e-books. Hope Road is the first of a series of nine novels about the Ray family. I can’t wait for the next book. More information on John & his career can be found at his website.

Too hot to think

It’s very hot in Melbourne at the moment. 34 degrees yesterday, 38 today and 34 tomorrow. I have a terrific new thriller to review, Hope Road by John Barlow, but it’s too hot to sit in the study and write the review. I’m sitting in the cool lounge room writing this on my new iPad – which is really my friend P’s old iPad. P has upgraded and set me up with a wireless network which is very useful on days like today. I can sit in the coolest room of the house and type this while working out how to use the iPad and everything that goes with it.

BUT, I couldn’t work out how to add a photo because the post would look boring without one (I’ve got all my photos on the iPad but still couldn’t do it). So, here I am, sitting in the study, typing very quickly, adding a photo & then scuttling back to the cool kitchen to think about salads for dinner.

Poetry tomorrow & hopefully my review of Hope Road early next week (after the cool change).