22. Nov, 2020

Woking Author, Toby J Cole - Beyond the Pales

I was very saddened to learn of the passing of fellow Woking author, Toby J. Cole early in September this year. Toby leaves behind a wife and three adult children. 

Toby Cole and I never properly met; however, we did correspond via email and social media and he kindly afforded me a complimentary copy of his debut novel, Beyond the Pales back in 2014. The book is a crime thriller set predominately at Brookwood Cemetery, and in and around Woking, Surrey. Toby who lived near me in Knaphill also penned a collection of short stories entitled The Assassination of Hilary Mantel

The Booker Prize winner, Mantel lived in a penthouse at the former Brookwood Hospital in the village, indeed, “just a stone’s throw,” from where Toby lived.

Toby spent the first six years of his working life as a registered nurse before joining the Metropolitan Police. Later in his career, he conducted police mentoring in Iraq and armed protection in Afghanistan. Like myself, he took up story writing after taking early retirement.

If you live in Woking and enjoy reading books set in and around the local area, then Beyond the Pales is for you. 

About the book:  Why is a Forensic Anthropologist murdered in the largest cemetery in Western Europe? Detective Superintendent Pandora Kingdom needs to find out and fast. As well as battling the killer, she has her own demons to deal with. She lost her arm and leg while police mentoring in Afghanistan. Does she still have the strength for the hunt? Assisted by Steve Bridger, an MI5 agent, Guy Hobbs a History professor and the ghost of the soldier who died when she was blown up. She soon finds out that she has choices to make and needs to know who is really on her side. The killer’s trail leads to a secret research laboratory in Porton Down where the victim worked. Is she following the right trail? What experiments are really going on in the woods there? Why does a police inspector kill himself? and what is the link that leads her back to Brookwood Cemetery, as the body count begins to rise. A cemetery that holds a quarter of a million dead souls holds many secrets. What do an order of Orthodox Monks guard so carefully? What are the fields of graves and mausoleums hiding within them? What is driving the killer on? Pandora Kingdom thinks she knows. Does she have the strength left to risk everything?  Or have the parts of herself, left on the dusty fields of Afghanistan, taken more than she can give. 

Kirkus Review: A debut crime thriller in which a forensic scientist is found murdered in England’s enormous Brookwood Cemetery. Pandora Kingdom is a talented homicide detective in Surrey, England. She’s also a double amputee, having lost an arm and leg to a bomb in Afghanistan. Over 20 years solving murders, however, has made her a tough, go-to detective, so she’s assigned to the case of Susan Thompson. The victim, a forensic scientist with an interest in body decomposition, was found in Brookwood Cemetery. She was shot in the head and her hands were nailed to a gravestone. At the crime scene, Pandora teams with MI5 agent Steve Bridger, who informs her that Susan researched, among other things, how chemical weapons affect pig corpses (since it’s illegal to use human bodies). Eventually, the investigators learn that Susan was fairly promiscuous - with both men and women - and enjoyed living beyond her means. Large money transfers in and out of Susan’s bank account and a storage unit (filled with strange, telling contents) point toward why someone might have killed her. But as fresh bodies begin piling up, the case assumes greater urgency. Did Susan die for the selling of government secrets, angering a lover or both? Debut author Cole begins this new crime series in a striking locale and imbues the narrative with generous historical and police procedural knowledge. The immediately likeable Pandora thrives in a male-dominated field without being completely humourless, like when she asks, “Are you checking out my wooden leg Mr. Bridger?” There’s also a touch of whimsy in scenes when she speaks with the ghost of a soldier named Daniel Sutton. And while the trope of a promiscuous victim is familiar, Cole handles it with subtlety. The narrative’s main flaw is that the punctuation occasionally slips (“What is with, the red tape?”). These moments don’t detract from a smartly paced tale, however, thick with chilly ambience and some thoroughly shocking deaths. The second volume will be eagerly awaited. A truly instructive debut characterized by heart, wit and restraint.

You can find the book on Amazon HERE