Today I’m delighted to be able to share an extract with you of Marnie Riches latest novel, The Cover Up, the second book in her Manchester Gangland series. I loved Born Bad and have been looking forward to seeing what happens next for Paddy, Sheila and good old reliable Conky so a massive thanks to Sabah Khan of publishers Avon for inviting me to be a part of the tour. First up though, let’s see what the book is all about.
The Official Book Blurb
Watch your back. Everyone else will be.
How far would you go to protect your empire?
Manchester’s criminal underworld is reeling from the loss of its leader, Paddy O’Brien. In the wake of her husband’s death, Sheila O’Brien takes charge of the city, and for once, she’s doing things her way.
But she hasn’t reckoned with the fearsome Nigel Bancroft, a threat from Birmingham who is determined to conquer Manchester next.
As a power tussle begins, Sheila is determined to keep control of the empire she has won – even if it means she has to die trying…
The Cover Up
by Marnie Riches
Seated at her own numbered table, as were the other women, Gloria felt like livestock at an auction as the men moved around the room, one by one, to vet her. But even as she nodded politely while being spoken at by Steve, the forty-year-old man from Widnes, whose strange, rubbery face looked as though it had been partially melted by a blowtorch, she felt as though she was being watched. You wanna watch your back, Mam. Lev’s words buzzed in her head like unwanted tinnitus.
‘Well, I’d always been interested in ice cream,’ Steve told her breasts. ‘I like the whippy stuff, me. My vans sell a lot of Flake 99s.’ He wiped the sweat from his brow with the napkin from beneath his tumbler of whisky, staining the charcoal tissue black. Gloria noticed then that he had a bogey, suspended on the hairs in his right nostril. ‘I make a packet at the football after a match. Even in winter.’
‘Is visible snot considered acceptable in ice cream retail circles, Steven?’ Gloria asked, pointing to his nose. Irritated. Every pore in her skin and every tiny hair on her body became super-sensitive to her environment. She grabbed the number eight sign in the middle of the table, an anchor to her seat, as anxiety whipped the composure from under her feet.
As Steve poked at his nose with the bitten fingernail of his chubby index finger, wearing a bemused expression, Gloria took the opportunity to scan the room. Everyone was deep in stilted, hopeful conversation, wiping their sweaty hands on their knees beneath the table. Everyone, except the man at the next table to her – an orange man with perfect, gelled white hair, plucked eyebrows and a very smooth face. Though the blonde at his table was speaking, waving her manicured hands animatedly as if what she had to say was hyst-er-i-cal, the man’s bright blue eyes were on Gloria and Gloria alone. He smiled.
The connection sent a shiver down her spine that was not entirely pleasant. She was certain she recognised this over-groomed dandy from somewhere.
The bell rang. No time to scroll through her recent memories in a bid to place him. Gloria’s heartbeat escalated to a thunderous pace as Steve, the ice-cream magnate left and her mystery man moved towards her. He held his hand out and remained standing, expecting her to get out of her seat, clearly.
She stood, shook his hand formally and was surprised when he pulled her into him for a full-on peck on not one but two cheeks.
‘I like to faire les bises,’ he said, pronouncing the French like Spanish, spoken with a Lancashire accent.
‘How sophisticated,’ Gloria said, taking her seat carefully and hooking her hair behind her ear. Coquettishly smiling down at the table-top.
‘My name’s Bob,’ he said, pointing to the name-sticker on his shiny pin-stitched jacket. He peered at her sticker, positioned near her shoulder. ‘Pleased to meet you, Gloria.’
Studying his face, Gloria was transfixed by those piercing blue eyes. She took a sip from her prosecco, then a gulp. Felt a Bible quote about to push its way out of her mouth but inexplicably held back this time. Feeling like this Bob was the best of a bad bunch and that there was some peculiar chemistry between them, Gloria forced herself to delve deep into her long-term memory, to the time of The Wastrel, when talking to men had been easy. The time in her life when she had learned to please men professionally. Young Gloria had been hot stuff. Young Gloria had forgotten most of the Bible quotes drummed into her as a child. She would channel young Gloria now. Just for fun. Jesus could take an evening off.
‘Pleased to meet you, Bob. My, what arresting eyes you have.’
‘You’ve got me banged to rights. I can’t take them off you, love.’ He held his hands up, as if in surrender. ‘I’m under your spell.’
Gloria ran her finger around the rim of her prosecco glass. ‘Are you implying I’m wicked?’ She batted her mascaraed eyelashes. The thrill of flirting after decades of the utilitarian exchange of facts with Sheila or spouting of religious platitudes at church was intoxicating. She felt like an old, neglected engine that was being cleaned of a lifetime’s sludge and lubricated by fresh oil. She bit her lip. Felt the alcohol loosening up her muscles and short-circuiting her inhibitions.
Bob grinned. He had small, clean teeth that shone blue beneath the bar’s lights. His white hair was dazzling. Wondering how it felt, Gloria wanted to reach out and touch it.
‘I think you’ve got a naughty lickle twinkle in your eye, Gloria,’ he said, leaning into her. ‘What do you do?’
‘Me? Oh, I bewitch men with my womanly assets and sparkling conversation.’ She threw back her head and laughed, aware that in doing so, her ample bosom would be more noticeable. The pastor’s handsome face loomed large in her mind’s eye, castigating her for acting like a wanton hussy with a smooth-faced, strange man called Bob, who couldn’t enunciate ‘little’ properly. But then, prosecco-fuelled Gloria of old reminded her that the pastor thought nothing of sizing up a teenaged girl’s lower portions whilst pressing the older flesh of his adoring congregation and his devoted fat wife. ‘And you?’
Bob laughed, running his clean fingers along the edge of the table. ‘When I’m not property-developing, I’m making conversation with beautiful coloured ladies.’
Coloured. Aye, there was the rub.
The Gloria that was a capable entrepreneur and an elder at the Good Life Baptist Church was just about to castigate him for his outdated and racist terminology when she became aware of a ruckus, audible above the distant thump-thump-thump of the sound system in the club’s main area.
Girls, screaming. Shouts for help. The sound of breaking glass.
Watch your back, Mam.
Sounds amazing right? Well I can tell you that it is and I am very grateful to publishers Avon for sending me an sneak peek copy of the book as I loved every minute of reading this book and catching back up with Paddy, Sheila, Conky and co. If you’ve read Born Bad then you are going to love this follow up and no mistake.
Months after Paddy’s death, Sheila is trying hard to keep on top of the O’Brien South Manchester gangland empire but it’s not easy. With a Birmingham Crime Boss keen to move into the area, an secret informant dropping Sheila and Conky in it with Detective Ellis James, a mystery figure following their every move, and the war with the Boddlingtons still simmering in the background she’s done well to keep things going without issue. Until now. And wouldn’t it be dull if things were just plain sailing? Just as well Marnie Riches has a wonderfully colourful imagination and more than a few tricks up her sleeve as this book is anything but dull.
Oh it was so much fun being back in Manchester with this lot. I really love the characters that have developed in the two books of this series. From Sheila, a wife beaten but not broken, Conky, once her husbands trusted right hand man and now all that and more to Sheila, and even Gloria, Sheila’s ‘legitimate’ partner in the cleaning business, they are such a wonderfully funny and yet strong group that its very hard not to love them. When Sheila pulls Gloria into the less legitimate side of the O’Brien empire it is with hilarious results. Can you imagine Gloria demanding protection money armed with a shotgun and a shopping trolley? Well imagine no longer. This leads to one of the funniest comparisons in the whole book and it probably shouldn’t work and yet it just does.
As always, this is a gangland novel so it is not without its darker side. There is violence, although none of it gratuitous or over the top. In fact some of the scenes are quite funny, the darker moments more quickly dealt with and in much less detail. And there are moments of intrigue and tension, when Boddlington boss Tariq’s father, Youssuf, is first nearly abducted and then goes missing. I have to admit I developed quite a soft spot for old Youssuf. He didn’t stand for his son’s nonsense, bitterly disappointed by his career path and determined to find his own kind of justice, if only for his missing pharmacist. That man has quite the determination.
There is so much going on in this book that the pages literally fly by. And it’s not only the action that you do see, the things which we know about, it is the unknown threat which keeps you on the hook as much as the obvious onset of the Brummie invasion. You certainly know that Sheila has her hands full and scenes towards the end of the book will make your eyebrows raise, in both surprise and intrigue as I know I am desperate to know now hat happens next. Sheila takes some very unusual steps to protect her kingdom and is left in a very difficult position to say the least. So much so that it is time to draft in the next generation of strong O’Brien women. I’m not sure Manchester is going to know what has hit it.
I will admit, I was left a little bottom lip pouty sad by events towards the end of the book, conflicted between my feelings towards one character and the impact of their actions upon another. Sad times but probably ones which set us up for one heck of a ride when this crew returns in book three.
Action and laughs are guaranteed from first page to last as Sheila and Gloria kick girl power up a notch. How far the boys will let themselves be kicked … well that remains to be seen. I cannot wait.
If you love the Manchester mob, you can purchase your own copy of The Cover Up from the following retailers:
About the Author
Marnie Riches grew up on a rough estate in Manchester, aptly within sight of the dreaming spires of Strangeways prison. Able to speak five different languages, she gained a Masters degree in Modern & Medieval Dutch and German from Cambridge University. She has been a punk, a trainee rock star, a pretend artist, a property developer and professional fundraiser. In her spare time, she likes to run, mainly to offset the wine and fine food she consumes with great enthusiasm.
Makes sure to check out some of the other brilliant blogs taking part in the tour.