Everyone tried to warn you, but did you listen? Did you heck. Looking back, the young lady at the bird re-homing centre did seem a tad keen to offload your bird of choice, but you just brushed it off. Now you have the bird at home you understand why she was so keen: cuckoos are a bloody nightmare. You thought it would be great to own a cuckoo, and when you saw the advert in the local bird re-homing group on Facebook, you couldn’t wait to reply and offer to rehouse her. They got back to you immediately, saying that you can collect Godlefe the very next day. Even the lack of any home checks, etc, didn’t ring any alarm bells. At first when you got Godlefe home and released her into your little flat all appeared well. She settled into her little bird box that put up on the wall – you don’t approve of cages – and she seemed to sleep. But then, at 1pm, she pokes her head out of her little box and goes ‘cuckoo’. Awh, that was cute, you think. Then, an hour later, she goes ‘cuckoo cuckoo’. At 3pm, ‘cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo’. 4pm ‘cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo cuckoo’…. by 10pm that novelty had well and truly worn off. You tried putting a blanket over her box at night, but she just pokes her head out and continues as if nothing was amiss. And then there are the eggs; she lays them everywhere. You’ve found one in your bowl of plums (only realising it after you bit into it), in the little bowl of potpourri your mum keeps putting in the bathroom, and even in the hood of your jacket that hangs behind the kitchen door, which you only discovered when it cracked over your head as you put the hood up. After a week of sleepless nights and growing complaints from the neighbours, plus the continuing egg problem, you decide that Godlefe has to go back to the centre.
You search Facebook for the bird re-homing group page, but it appears to have been closed down. Instead of the page you had found before, in its place you find…. a blurb:
Danny Lancaster has been missing since the fishing boat exploded. Police are closing their inquiry but Wanda Lovejoy continues her campaign to find the truth. An evil man kept alive by machines nurses a corrosive hate. As drugs and disease pull his dying mind apart he throws his crime empire into a scorched earth quest to find one man. If Danny Lancaster isn’t dead he soon will be.
When I was a kid I loved to play hide-and-seek. Who didn’t, eh? We played it at school, at home, at friend’s houses, anywhere really. We hid under bushes, in garages, behind walls, under tables, beneath duvets, even behind the coats hanging from the coat racks. You were always convinced that you had the best hidey place and then, invariably, some bugger found you straight away. But then there were those times when you were never found. The times when you really had found the greatest hidey hole in the world. You’d hide away in there for ages, sniggering away to yourself up your sleeve, listening to your friends running about, sometimes only inches away from you before gadding off to look elsewhere. Eventually of course you started to wonder if they had really given up on looking for you and were off having a jolly good time without you, so you start to call out “I’m over here!”, hoping that they would actually find you.
Back in the early 80’s my dad brought home a CB radio. They had only just been legalised in the UK (in 1981) and I spent many, many an hour on it, sat in my dad’s car, chuntering away to complete strangers across the airwaves. These days it’s all done via the interwebs of course, but back then this ability to talk to people from far and wide (well, about 10 miles away depending on atmospheric conditions, the size of one’s aerial and other things that got in the way, but still), was brand new and super duper exciting. My handle, that’s call sign to the CB uninitiated, was Spaceranger. Don’t ask as I have no idea why. I think I thought it sounded way cool and I was a fan of all things astronomical and spacey. Plus I loved robots and spaceships and Buck Rodgers and Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man, so that probably had some bearing on it. Anyway, shut up!
Before that it was Mincemeat. Once again, I do not know why! Who the hell calls themselves Mincemeat? I’ll tell you who *points to self* this dick, here. I used to hate mincemeat. All that sickly sweet chopped up fruit and peel? Who the hell thought that up? Mind you, I like it now, but back as a wee lad it was the Devil’s own chunder.
What are we talking about again?
Oh yeah, CB radio and hide-and-seek…anyhoooooo…
For the younger Beardy Book fan this is what yer typical CB radio looked like:
There were a whopping 40 channels to chat on. From memory, two of those were saved for hailing others upon: channel 14 and 19.
“Breaker breaker, 1-4 for a copy. This is Spaceranger. Anyone out there?” That was how you let others know you wanted to have a chat. There was probably a “good buddy” thrown in for good measure, and I’m not sure about the ‘breaker breaker’ bit, now I think about it, but you get the idea there. If someone replied you looked for a vacant channel and you tuned the CB to it and you were away. There was all kinds of slang that just rolled off the tongue back in the day, but now I have to Google to remember. Don’t worry, I’m not going to rattle it all off here. The other channel, 19, was the truckers channel, and it was frowned upon if any non-truckers were to use that one.
Ok, Beardy, what has all of this got to do with hide-and-seek? Well I’m glad you asked. Take a look at the photo above and you’ll notice in the top left corner a little signal monitor. Your domestic CB set up didn’t have the greatest range and so you would use that little gauge to tell how far away the other person may be; the weaker the signal the further away they may be. At first I was the only one to use our CB radio, but eventually curiosity got the better of my dad and he joined in. Over time he made quite a tight network of new friends and they used to meet up a regular intervals. Between them they created a new game of hide-and-seek they called “Fox Hunting”.
Now, before everyone goes crazy and starts to boycott my blog, no actual foxes were used in this game. What it was was thus: Every first Sunday of the month, those who had CB radios in their car, which was pretty much everyone, would all meet up in a car park somewhere. Now, I understand that this all sounds terribly dodgy to modern eyes, but back then, to my 12/13 year old self, it was a great time to hang out with my dad and other grown ups and have a laugh with the Big Lads. Nowadays we’d have all been arrested on some jumped up dogging charge. So, once we had all met up, caught up, and had a chat, one of the cars would drive off and hide somewhere, easier said than done in a car, whilst the rest of us waited and had a laugh. Once that car had hidden they would hail us on the pre-arranged channel and we would use that little signal strength gauge to drive around as they constantly chatted away to find them; the stronger the signal the nearer we knew we were. Sometimes they would be found almost immediately, and then whoever found them first would go off and hide and the game would continue. The hiding places got more and more complicated and adventurous as the Sundays passed. Once, my dad, myself and our mate Les hid up a steep slope behind some garages. I had no idea how we got up there or ever got the car out again, but we managed it. It was great fun watching the others driving back and forth along the road behind the wall that concealed us high above them. They were going crazy as the signal was at full strength, but they couldn’t find us for love nor money.
Oh, those were the days.
After each successful hunt we’d all trot off to the now defunct Little Chef outside Radlett for chips, usually about 15 minutes before they closed for the night and they had cleaned all of the fryers out. We weren’t very popular at times with that particular branch. In the end we stopped going there out of guilt.
So, yes I know, I know, what in the actual name of bloody hell has all of this talk about hide-and-seek got to with the book, Godlefe’s Cuckoo.
Danny Lancaster, star of the Danny Lancaster Investigates series, that’s what. You see, Danny is the world champion at hide-and-seek. He is the absolute bee’s knees. The grand fromage. The dog’s total and utter bollocks.
There are a couple of reasons why:
Firstly, he has successfully managed to hide away from my attentions, and quite possibly that of the wider reading public it seems, for five previous books. Yes, five.
And secondly, at the start of Godlefe’s Cuckoo Danny has gone AWOL after the events, presumably, at the conclusion of a previous instalment, and is still AWOL 18 months later when we join the story.
That’s one hell of a hidey hole he has found. In fact it’s SO good that everyone has given up on him and have declared him dead. He must be either really bloody stubborn (which he is), or he has an awful lot riding on this particular game and really doesn’t want to lose (which he does and he doesn’t).
However, there are one or two people who haven’t given up on Danny just yet, all for very different reasons.
But hold on, hold on: who the hell is this Danny Lancaster dude anyway?
The creation of author Bill Todd, Danny Lancaster is an ex-serviceman turned Private Investigator in and around Brighton and Hove on the South Coast of England (for those of you reading this outside the UK).
A little background:
Danny was only a young boy when he was bitten by a radioactive serviceman and was bestowed with superhuman army powers. From the age of 10 he could change the colour of his skin to blend in with any background, rendering him almost invisible. He could shoot a pea-shooter with devastating accuracy, knocking tin cans from a wall over a 100 yards away, or ringing people’s doorbells leaving the answering occupant confused and angry at the invisible miscreant (possibly shaking their fists at thin air going “grrrr, bloody kids” before going back inside). He could count the occupants in a room with a single glance and formulate the quickest route to any destination just by looking at a map once. But he kept these powers a secret from everyone until he was recruited by the UK Secret Service and sent into action. Sadly he lost a leg in Afghanistan and, despite his formidable powers, he was sent home and medically discharged from the army. But Danny would not be put off by this set back, and so he became a Private Investigator. Over the next 5 books he tackled crime, death and corruption in Brighton and Hove and its surrounding environs, using his super powers for the good of society and to help those in desperate need. But then, one day, when on board a friend’s fishing boat, something went wrong. Someone, or something, destroyed the boat, killing his friend and sending Danny Lancaster into the chilly English Channel. The blast stripped Danny of his super powers and he was left to drown, lost to that merciless strip of unforgiving water between England and France.
Or was he?
Now, I admit that not all of the above is true. I may have embellished some of Danny’s backstory there. But some of it is true and I may well leave you, dear reader, to discover which parts those are when you buy and read this book.
But why, oh why should I buy it? I hear you ask?
Because, despite the lack of super powers (oh, ok ok, yes yes, I made that bit up. Happy now? But the Afghanistan, losing the leg, medical discharge and turning PI bits are true. So, see, it wasn’t all fibs), Godlefe’s Cuckoo is a superbly written and dramatic thriller.
Despite this being book six in the series, I felt that it worked beautifully as a standalone and also as a great introduction to the series. In some ways this is also a spoiler laden entry into Danny’s world as several, I imagine recurring, characters meet a sticky, and somewhat permanent, end in this book. Bill Todd does not mess about when it comes to putting his characters through the wringer. I imagine that some of this emotional impact will be lost on the new reader, but I for one will enjoy starting this series over and seeing how we got to where they are at the start of Cuckoo.
So, apart form Danny who else do we have in Godlefe’s Cuckoo?
There is Wanda Lovejoy and her husband Bob. Both of these are clearly recurring characters, friends of Danny. Wanda is one of those who hasn’t given up on his little game of hide-and-seek, even though nearly everyone else has given up and gone home for a glass of fizzy pop and a jam sandwich. Wanda is convinced Danny is alive and is pestering the police to do something about it.
Talking about police, enter DI Pauline Myers and her annoying DS, Andy Beaton. Andy is a bit of a police dinosaur; set in his ways and wary, even scornful, of women in high places, and believes that Danny is firmly dead and good riddance to him. But Myers begins to suspect that maybe Danny Lancaster, a thorn in her side from previous encounters, may not be as dead as he wants everyone to believe. She begins to wonder this after a spate of mysterious deaths linked to our champion hide-and-seeker occur a little too close to home.
It turns out that there is another person who is fed up with Danny’s little game of hide-and-seek, only he is taking very drastic measures to find him. Back in another book Danny pissed off some very powerful people in the Russian underworld, namely one ‘businessman’ named Stašiná.
Stašiná is a very, very unpleasant man. He’s the kind of man who would give a small child a puppy, watch as the child cuddled and kissed it, face full of glee and love, only to then tear the puppy out of the child’s hands and throw it into a fire and laugh in its face at the ensuing terror. Yup, he is that big a shit. To Stašiná, Danny represents a loose end and it is one that he demands is tied off before he dies (which will be quite soon as he is really very poorly indeed. Oh, boo hoo, poor Stašiná). As such he sends his daughter Natalia and son-in-law, Abramov to the UK to see that Danny is flushed out and put to an end by any means possible.
Along the way we also meet Hansel and Gretel – not the cute kids of fairy tales and potential witch food, but a brother and sister death squad who really are not to be messed with; Stašiná’s hired muscle who come along to assist in the de-hiding of Danny; Emma and her husband Paul – a right wanker if I’ve ever read one. Emma, who is Danny’s ex, struggles to make ends meet for herself and their young son Georgie; and Piers Templeton, a “Tweedy, stiff-necked military type”, and ex-spook, who agrees to find and help Danny.
Finally (well, for the purposes of this review anyway) there is Kay and Monica, two rather eccentric women of a certain age who live in a centuries old cottage in a hard to reach cove with no amenities whatsoever. Kay and Monica are wonderful, feisty, self sufficient characters. I have no idea if they’ve cropped up before, but I sincerely hope that we meet them again in future books. They kind of reminded me a little of a female equivalent of Christopher Fowler’s superb detective duo Bryant and May, with Kay being John May and Monica, Arthur Bryant. Their dynamic is very similar, with their long friendship, back and forth bickering and their obvious love and respect for each other. How they fit into this story is something that I’ll leave you to discover, but it has something to do with Danny’s record breaking game of hide-and-seek *wink wink*
This is just a soupçon of the characters you meet in Godlefe’s Cuckoo. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a cast of thousands here; it doesn’t read like a phone book of names, but there are quite a few, and each one is well drawn and believable (well, mostly. Fortunately you don’t bump into many Russian murder squads every day, but after the events in Salisbury and the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, almost anything is believable). The is a very strong cast of female characters in Cuckoo, each of whom are strong, confident and fully paid up members of the take-no-shit club. Emma is an exception to this, but then again she is under the thumb of a strong willed, controlling, bullying husband, her will slowly being broken by him. Others, like Natalia, know exactly what they want and are not afraid to take it. In one scene she takes this to an extreme that, if the boot was on the other shoe, I imagine would have very different reactions from readers, but here it works to show that she really does mean business and is in thrall to no man.
Where would these characters be if they didn’t speak, eh? It would be a very descriptive and quite tedious affair, wouldn’t it? So, luckily for us, the dialogue in Cuckoo is great. It is extremely natural and there is a nice line of dry wit running throughout, mostly from the lips of Danny and from Kay and Monica.
Godelefe’s Cuckoo runs at a fair old pace, maintaining the sense of threat and jeopardy throughout, only flagging in a few places to catch its breath before moving on. Bill doesn’t hang about moving the story on with several deaths happening off screen, but their impact is not lessened because of that. I did feel that the ending was a tad rushed and a bit neat and tidy, but it was also very satisfying and totally suited the story with a couple of fist pump ‘Hell Yeah, mo fo’s’ moments. There are also enough loose ends to ensure that not everything is likely to be all warm and cosy for our surviving characters in the future.
Before we wrap this up, you may be wondering who the hell is Godlefe anyway, and why haven’t I mentioned him/her/them so far. Also, where does their cuckoo come in to all of this? Well, you see, Bill is a bit of an old historian and he weaves some of Brighton and Hove’s extensive, and bloody, history into his story, and presumably the other books too, in quite subtle and clever ways. Godlefe is part of this – part fact, part fiction – and so is her cuckoo*.
*ok, there’s no actual cuckoo of the feathered variety in this book. Read it and you’ll see where the title comes from. It’s rather good, actually.
Godlefe’s Cuckoo is a rattlingly good read. It is fast paced, witty, tense, cleverly plotted, full of menace and genuine threat, and you really do feel that no one is safe from the scorched earth tactics of the evil, and bloody horrible Stašiná. Although this is the 6th book in the Danny Lancaster Investigates series, it reads very well as a standalone and as a great entry point to the series. You know that the impact of some events is lessened slightly by coming in so late, but Bill’s writing is good enough that this really isn’t a problem. I really enjoyed this book and I am only thrilled that I have another 5 books to lead me onto the road to discover more about Danny and his friends and how they get to where we meet them in Cuckoo.
About Bill Todd:
I’m a journalist and travel writer who has visited more than 40 countries from the white wastes of Arctic Finland to the ancient deserts of Namibia. Love a good wilderness. I received the Ed Lacy travel award in 2007.
I’ve written six crime thrillers featuring soldier-turned-investigator Danny Lancaster and was startled and delighted to be voted one of the 100 best crime authors in the WH Smith readers’ poll in 2015. I’ve also written three short factual military histories. I live to write although keyboard time has been cut lately with the arrival of grandson Theo.
My thanks to Bill and to Emma Welton at Damppebbles Blog Tours for inviting me onto this tour and for my copy of Godlefe’s Cuckoo. Right, I’m off to hide. Count to 100 and then come and find me…..!
Amazon Author Page:
Godlefe’s Cuckoo was published in March 2018 and is available in paperback and eBook formats.
Before I go, don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour and buy the book to see what the fuss is all about for yourselves.