A dark secret lies at the heart of the British government; a secret so appalling that they will kill to protect it.
Charlie Bars is back in London and has taken on a missing persons case. Easy money –or so he thinks. The man he is looking for is inextricably linked to the evil perpetrated in the Gingerbread Houses and as Charlie’s search progresses, he finds himself drawn into the seedy underbelly of the capital; a world of abuse, exploitation and deviancy that threatens to destroy his soul.
Others are looking for the missing man too and hunter soon becomes hunted as Charlie finds himself the target of an insane torturer haunted by the ghosts of his military past.
As he descends into the darkest depths of human depravity, Charlie desperately tries to stay out of prison, on the right side of his morality and, most importantly, alive as he seeks to uncover the buried secrets of the Gingerbread Houses.
Something a bit grittier on the blog today with a review of The Gingerbread Houses, the latest Charlie Bars thriller from Benedict J Jones. My thanks go to Henry Roi at Crime Wave Press for inviting me to review the book and for my digital copy, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
This is the third Charlie Bars thriller, but the first I have read, and my first book by this author. Having had a nosey through his back catalogue, I can see a diverse array of titles and genres and quite a few that I would be interested in reading once I have my teetering TBR cut down to a more manageable level. The fact that I had not read the previous two books featuring the main character did not detract from my enjoyment or understanding of this novel at all, it works perfectly well as a standalone book, although I would very much like to go back and read the previous books to gain some more insight into Charlie’s back story and how his relationship with Ellie came about.
This is very much a dark noir novel with an extremely disturbing premise at the heart of the story, and one that will not be unfamiliar to those of us who have been paying attention to the news over the last decade. The fact that the story covered in this book is not too far distant from real life events made it even more upsetting as far as I was concerned and, if you are not a fan of your crime on the darker side, this book will not be for you. That being said, my tastes err on the safer side of twisted and there are lines that I am not comfortable with books crossing and this novel stayed on the acceptable side of those, so it is not damningly dark as far as I am concerned. Given the subject matter, I was glad that the author did not go into very graphic detail on some of the crimes committed, and some things were suggested rather than explicitly described. I think the author walked the line between dark and too dark perfectly and I was comfortable reading to the end, although not too comfortable, it was definitely disturbing.
The book revolves around private eye, Charlie Constantinou, a man who has had been on the wrong side of the law more than once, now earning a living as a gumshoe, but one with a conscience of sorts. It may not be honour as we would recognise it, but there are crimes that are even too low for him to condone and he finds himself mixed up in a scandal that goes right to the top of power in the country and is almost too much for him to handle. I found him to be a compelling and fascinating character, a tough guy with a softer side and a particular sense of right and wrong, that made him likeable despite his shady side. It is quite hard to write a convincing anti-hero, but the author here manages it magnificently and the reader finds themselves firmly of the side of a man with dubious morals, mainly because he is dealing with people even more deplorable than he is.
And there are certainly plenty of those in the book, ranging from the perverted and corrupt to the mentally unstable. This is a book that mines a very seedy seam of the London underworld for its inspiration and reflects that dark crucible perfectly. There is a lot of graphic violence and unpleasantness in this book, it is not a happy crime caper like the book featured in my last review, but if you like your thrillers on the noir side, you will really enjoy this. The plot twists and turns with cross and double cross, red herrings, unexpected twists and shock events from chapter to chapter and will keep the reader hooked from page to page. I was glued to it and read it in just under 24 hours, definitely a book with plenty of plot propulsion.
Aside from the crime aspect, I really enjoyed the relationships between Charlie and Mazza, which felt very authentic and well-written, and between Charlie and Ellie, which showed a different side to him as a character. The best bit for me though was the reflection in the writing of the dark side of London. One that, as someone who only visits as a tourist, I don’t really get to see. It felt grimy and sordid and completely convincing. One of the main reasons I read is to immerse myself in places and experiences that I will never have in my day to day life, and this book really delivered on that score. I highly recommend it for lovers of dark noir crime fiction.
The Gingerbread Houses is out now in ebook format and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Benedict J Jones is an author of crime, horror and western fiction from south east London. His work has been published in various anthologies and magazines. Since 2008, he has published almost thirty short stories.
Connect with Benedict: