Cover Image: Marked Men

Marked Men

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Member Reviews

My thanks to Severn House Publishing and Netgalley for providing an eBook of this book.   The views expressed about it are my own.

It's a better than average police procedural thriller that begins with a wrongly convicted thirty-something recently released from prison who is out for revenge on his buddies who essentially framed him for the murder of a homeless man, and escaped jail.  The focus of the story is on his efforts to carry out his revenge plan as the police investigating a pair of murders follow his trail through present day Manchester, England.   He narrates the story in alternative chapters where it is disclosed that he is plagued by blackouts from binge-drinking. Things take a surprise twist as the the story progresses and the possibility of a second killer comes to light.  This all leads to an exciting conclusion with a surprising conclusion.

A couple of the investigating police detectives stand out.  DC Sean Blake and DS Magda Dragomir are interesting characters and work together as a good team. They are different from many police procedural detectives in that they are still keen to do a good job and are not hampered by heavy drinking or other similar flaws.  They are in competition with another pair of detectives, who are portrayed less favourably.  This enmity is not resolved in this book and will likely carry over to any sequel.  This book is the second in a series but can be read as a standalone.
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I don’t remember why I requested this book on Netgalley. The cover, perhaps? I’m not certain that I even read the blurb. (That’s not advisable, by the way.) But whatever the reason, I am glad that I did. Chris Simms just made a new fan.

By the end of the prologue, I knew I was reading an experienced writer. My notes gushed, “Great tension, hints of underlying sexual desire and violence. Strong opening! Simms knows what he’s doing here. Please, please, deliver the goods!”

He did. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from first page to last. Here’s why:

1.  Sean Blake is an unusually sweet police officer.

For starters, he’s young and relatively inexperienced. He’s a Detective Constable, working under Detective Sergeant Magda Dragomir, who works under a DCI. He’s still new enough to his position that he’s excited to be a part of a murder investigation. His DCI compares him to an eager puppy, and that comparison came to mind at multiple times during the novel.

In my experience, most police procedural stories feature a world-weary and jaded investigator who’s seen too many dead bodies, too much blood, and too much horror. It comes with the job.

Sean, though, hasn’t been broken of his idealism. He’s shocked and saddened that murder victims are ranked by priority: the killing of a homeless thief is low priority. Sure, they’ll do the basic steps of “investigating” but as Magda says, “But we are not to give ourselves any headaches after that” (chapter 3).

Sean doesn’t like this. He wants justice for the victim. He’s bothered when relatives don’t ask if the man suffered. He’s infuriated by the very idea of a police officer tipping off the press.

Oh, and he sponsors a young wolf in an animal sanctuary, has a model of the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars in his apartment, and hasn’t had a girlfriend because he cared for his sick mother throughout his teens and twenties. He’s sweet. What’s not to love?

He’s not without his dark side, though.

2.  Sean and Magda make great work partners.

Magda, an immigrant from Romania, is as deep a character as Sean. I appreciated how the two interacted and how she variously mentors, teases, and comforts him during the investigation. When she’s too abrasive, he smooths things over with the skill of a diplomat. He can confront her and she will listen. In short, the two may have conflicts but they respect each other, too.

We need to see more non-sexual relationships between the genders, in my opinion.

3.  The other characters are well-developed.

Simms has a large cast of characters, but he does a great job bringing them to life. I was impressed by how he handled Jordan Hughes, a homeless man recently released from prison. It was hard not to have sympathy for him.

4.  The story is well-plotted.

As you’d expect, this murder investigation turns up deeper, troubling things from the victim’s past. (It is troubling, and realistically so.) Simms cleverly slips in red herrings and clues, even as he develops well-rounded characters, compelling motives, and a vivid setting. It’s also relatively clean (though you may learn some colorful Romanian words!) What more could a reader ask for?

I highly recommend Marked Men.
(Note: review on my blog will go live on July 27, 2019.)
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Well done procedural set in Manchester but the best part of this series (well, there are two books) are the characters.  DC Sean Blake was the carer for his mother, who has just died, and he's dealing with her "estate."  He's also got a nascent relationship with Katie May and a great partner in DS Magda Dragomir.  The actual mystery of the killings, all related to a gang, isn't too twisty but there are good atmospherics.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. This is a quick, entertaining read.
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This is book 2 in the Sean Blake series (our secondary theme today, the first book was Loose Tongues). While I have read other books by the author, this was the first from this new series. This book takes on the concept of 6degrees of separation and looks at it from childhood- do we stay with the same crowd and can history repeat itself? But was their history to repeat back then or not?Loose threads and subtle links make this a late-night page turner, as you race to see if Blake can solve the mytsery before another death occurs!  Don't miss this new summer series for making you wish you were in London!
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Marked Men sees the return of DC Sean Blake as he adjusts to life without his Mum and investigates a series of murders set within Manchester.  Chris Simms weaves a believable story which resonates with the modern society in which we live, touching upon the dangers of social media and actions having consequences. In true Chris Simms style this is a page turner with a twist in the tale.  I  would definitely recommend reading Marked Men
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A new to me series that covers Sean Blake, a newly minted DC in Manchester.  This is a basic but well done police procedural.  Jordan Hughes has just been released from prison and has his sights set on revenge against Anthony Brown and the rest of his teenage friends who fitted him for the murder that landed him in prison.  

Meanwhile, DC Blake and his partner, DS Magda Dragomir are called to investigate a dead body found in a canal.  And then again to a second body found again in similar circumstances.   

The characters are well drawn, even the more minor ones.   It was interesting to see how a group of high school friends could end up so differently.   There is one rather unbelievable character on which the plot climax hangs.  But it still kept my interest and I would happily read other books by Simms.

My thanks to netgalley and Severn House for an advance copy of this book.
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Another great DC Sean Blake thriller by Chris Simms! Marked Men is a definite beach read of the year!
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3.5 stars

Many of us had a particular group of friends that helped us navigate through all the firsts that make up the dreaded teenage years. First date, first job, first car, first murder….wait. Ok, maybe not the last one. 

Unfortunately, Jordan Hughes ran with a crew of young delinquents meaning he experienced all that & more. Seventeen years have passed since he was convicted of killing a homeless man. Now he’s free & back to have a word with his former pals. He begins tracking them down & it’s not long before one is found floating in a watery grave. 

The case is assigned to DC Sean Blake & DS Magda Dragomir. Sean is an earnest young detective eager to make his mark & he & Magda soon have their hands full when another body surfaces. Then another. They quickly make the connection between the victims. But getting the remaining members to talk is a different story. Most of the old gang still live on the fringes in one way or another & are reluctant to spill their secrets to the cops. 

This is the second book in a series but can easily be read as a stand alone. The focus is on Sean & we get ample background in terms of his career & personal life. He’s a squeaky clean never-been-kissed kind of guy. And although the murders themselves are nasty, the author doesn’t dwell on graphic details. It’s a very clean read (no swearing, sex. etc.) & most of the main cast wouldn’t be out of place in a cozy.

The story is well written & has a good premise. If you read a lot of police procedurals, you’ll probably spot the culprit early on but it’s only in the final stretch that motive is revealed. If you prefer a more wholesome approach to suspense or just need a break from grit-lit, this is a quick easy read that will keep you entertained.
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Thank you to Net Galley, the publishers and the author for an ARC copy of this book for an honest review.

Although number two in the series, I felt this book was great and gave enough information from the first book and very quickly was able to fully understand the characters.

Also my first book by this author, but this series alone is enough for this author to be on my radar,  with another great gritty police procedural series, with some great characters especially Magda and Sean.

Jordan Hughes, who has just finished serving more than a decade in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, is bent on taking revenge on those responsible, including Manchester, England, gang lord Anthony Brown. Two days after Hughes’s release, DC Sean Blake, and his partner, D.Sgt. Magda Dragomir, investigate the death of Lee Goodwin who was found in a canal with his hands bound together by a plastic tie. Goodwin’s mother, who is remarkably unmoved by Lee’s death, points them to a friend of her son’s, Phil Nordern, but before Blake and Dragomir can track him down, Nordern’s body, also with its hands secured by plastic, turns up in a park lake. 

The story  follows to the police inquiry but also alternate with ones from Hughes’s perspective, heightening suspense as even more murders are committed.

The book and story keeps to a great pace, with a great last few chapters with lots of shocks, great pace and good action.

I enjoyed the characters, the story, and the well paced gritty police story, with another author to watch for on the powerful British scene, keep up the good work.

Four stars, and not far off five stars.
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Chris Simms is probably best known for his solid series of novels about Manchester detective, DI Jon Spicer.  Always reliable, and in the case of Cut Adrift exceptional, the eight DI Spicer books feature well developed, credible characters, interesting plots and vivid descriptions of Manchester and its surrounds.  In recent years Simms has moved on from the Spicer novels, and Marked Men is the second in his new series about DC Sean Blake.
After a brief Prologue in Majorca, the story moves to a filthy canal in Manchester and the discovery of the body of a vagrant encased in a sleeping bag and weighed down by bricks. DC Sean Blake and his boss, Detective Sergeant Magda Dragomir, are assigned the case and soon have their work cut out for them when a second body is found, killed in identical circumstances.  As Blake delves into the shady pasts of those killed, he finds childhood connections between the two victims and a group of men still living in Manchester, including a local crime lord and a recently released prisoner. 
Simms is a good, fluid writer and Marked Men moves along at a steady, engaging pace, without resorting to gunfire or implausible car chases.  There are moments of tension and action, but most of the enjoyment comes from watching Blake and Dragomir unravelling the details of the case.  We also follow the actions of the obvious suspect, as he sets about seeking revenge on those who framed him years ago.
The central characters of Blake and the Romanian born Dragomir are well-developed and their relationship feels real and is leavened by nice touches of humour.  Simms is also adept at creating interesting secondary characters, especially the down-and-outs who squat by the canal.  The descriptions of Manchester have a sharp, gritty edge to them, and Simms makes good use of the return of the recently released prisoner to highlight the changes whilst he has been away:
“This wasn’t change.  This was like something entirely new had been laid over the old.  All these tall buildings competing for the light.  Some with coloured cladding.  Some with sail-like embellishments on the roofs.”
Despite the new looks, some parts remain the same: 
“The paving slabs outside the row of shops weren’t flat. Like there’d been a minor earthquake and the council couldn’t be arsed with straightening things out. Dog crap and crumpled cans.”
I really enjoyed Marked Men.  The plotting and characters are interesting and the book builds to a neat twist.  You don’t need to have read the first book in the series to enjoy this one, although those who have read Loose Tongues will relish watching Blake’s development as he copes with the emotional pangs of leaving his deceased mother’s house and moving into a new flat.  He and Magda are good characters and I hope that they are around for some time yet.
Four stars!
Thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for an advanced copy of the book.
Full review at
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Detective Constable Sean Blake works in the Special Crimes Unit in Manchester.  He misses his mother who was murdered during one of Sean's cases.  She had been a police sergeant and a strong influence.  When she was badly disabled at work, Sean became her Carer when still at school.
Sean and Det. Sergeant Magda Dragomir a Rumanian by birth, investigate the body of a man found in a canal lock.  He is a rough sleeper and his hands had been tied before drowning.  They are aware that a man has just been released after nearly twenty years in prison.  He claims he was framed by his friends.  Is this his vengeance?
An exciting police procedural.  This is the second book featuring Sean.  The author has the Jon Spicer series as well as the Iona Khan short series.
I've read all these books and he is definitely one of my favourite authors.  Highly recommended.  See my full review on the Euro-Crime website.
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Superbly crafted.

Sean Blake is a Detective Constable in the Manchester area who works alongside his boss, DS Magda Drogomir. This is the second in the Sean Blake series but, as they are separate stories, they can be read in any order.

A body is found in a canal. It has been dumped there, and evidence points strongly to murder. Another body is found shortly after that with a similar MO and suspicion falls on Jordan Hughes, who has recently been released from prison having served 17 years for the murder of a homeless man. Hughes has always protested his innocence but the testaments given by a group of friends who were with him at the time of the crime were enough to convict him. He is now out for revenge.

What appears to be an open and shut case slowly opens up and proves to be more complex. Most of the gang still live locally and the passage of time has been kinder to some than others. Anthony Brown, for instance, has his finger in most illegal activities in his part of the city while others have descended into unemployment and drug taking. Whoever they are, their various nefarious activities will be slowly revealed as the plot progresses. 

I enjoyed reading about how Sean and Magda investigated the murders. Their relationship felt real, and the atmosphere surrounding the local area was tangible. Even the internal police politics and rivalry was well played out and didn't intrude too much or feel forced. The dialogue was gritty, and the characterisation, even of the more minor characters was well developed. There were twists and turns towards the end where everything came together and although it ends more with a whimper than a bang it's entirely in keeping with the feel of the book and the lives it portrays. All the clues are there for the reader who takes the trouble to identify them.

First class. I shall be buying the first in the series and adding Chris Simms to the list of my favourite authors.

mr zorg

Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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#MarkedMen #NetGalley What a cracker of a follow on to Loose Tongues, even better than the first in my opinion!! I love this series, not least as it is set in my home town of Manchester.  I have lived away from there for many years now but all the references to various places takes me straight back there and I love it!  In this second in the series we learn more about the central characters, in particular DC Sean Blake and DS Magda Dragomir, they are a great duo and I love the fact that although there is some baggage for Sean in relation to his mother, for the best part he is a normal, if a bit naïve at times, junior detective. Plenty of action and the real culprit only discovered near the end, which in my book is a sign of a great author!  Cant wait to read more in this series!
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This is the second book in the DC Sean Blake series.  Based in Manchester, DC Sean Blake is a relative new comer in the SCU - serious crimes unit - and so far, he hasn't had an easy ride, already gaining the dislike of DS Dave Fuller.  Fortunately, Romanian born Detective Sergeant Magda Dragomir and Blake have teamed up and make a good team, despite Dragomir being somewhat of a mother hen at times.

Blake and Dragomir are called to a drowning part of Manchester’s canal of a homeless man which turns into a bigger case when another man is found drowned in Debdale Park – an old reservoir on the outskirts of town.  Meanwhile Jordan Hughes has just been released from prison in Leeds after serving seventeen years for the murder of a helpless homeless man he didn’t commit.  He has skipped out on his parole, left the area and travelled back to Manchester determined to find and murder those people, supposedly his schooltime friends, who framed him for the murder having spent all his time plotting his revenge.

Blake, Dragomir and Blake’s potential love interest civilian support worker Katie May set to the task of investigating both murders.  Whilst they are carrying out their investigation into the two murders DS Fuller and DC Ray Moor are giving the investigation into the murder of Kevin Rowe, found stabbed to death in his home and it is quickly established that all three murders are connected, and both teams are set to work together resulting in tension between the two teams.

Whilst this is ongoing Sean is having to deal with the sudden death of his mother, selling the childhood home he spent with her and moving into his own flat.

I was fortunate enough to discover Chris Simms whilst on holiday in Greece where I went to read a book left by another holiday maker in the apartment complex and went for his book purely because I was living in Manchester at the time and the idea of reading a crime novel set around my home town appealed to me. I haven’t looked back and have read every one of his books to date.  Therefore, I feel I am in good stead to state that this is the best book Simms has written to date.  His characters are realistic and believable, with good points and flaws everyone of us have.  I stated in my review of Loose Tongues the first book of this series (also by Severn House) that I wanted to get to know more, not only about Blake, but also Magda Dragomir and Katie May, and I am not disappointed in the least.  Simms’ portrayal of the other characters’ thoughts and actions also work well and there is no confusion when he flits from say, Hughes to Blake and back again.

Once again, the story builds at a good steady pace, and I found myself not wanting to put it down as the climax was building.  Although I guessed at potential ‘villains’ I didn’t guess all the players until Simms was ready to reveal them, which is always a bonus – sometimes it’s good to know who the main villain is from the onset, sometimes it’s even good to guess who they are halfway through, but the best books to my mind are those that keep you guessing until the ‘big reveal’.  I felt Simms excelled himself this time round.

I am looking forward to reading more about DC Sean Blake.  Chris Simms has grown wonderfully as his books have progressed and I am sure that the next one will outdo even this – I look forward to the continuing progression of Blake within the SCU and his personal life.

Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you to Severn House Publishing, Mr Chris Simms and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review this book prior to publishing, and wish them all continued success.

I urge you, dear reader, to dive in and immerse yourself in Manchester and Simms.
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Marked Men, the second book in the DC Sean Blake series, is as terrific as the first. DC Blake and his partner DS Dragomir are first on the scene of what seems to be a particularly cruel murder.  Soon the bodies start to pile up and as the plot twists and turns the evidence points to a mad man bent on revenge. Unreliable witnesses and in-house professional jealousy complicate the investigation but are no match for Blake and Dragomir.
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This is no straightforward murder mystery. It has an unusual storyline and carries the reader with several changes of direction before the very unlikely culprit is revealed. Set in and around Manchester,the characters are believable and the internal friction within the detectives involved adds to the context very effectively. There are moments of humour as well as accounts of dire events. I strongly recommend this as a gripping read.
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Manchester writer Chris Simms intoduced us to Detective Constable Sean Blake in Loose Tongues (Severn House, 2018) where he was making his debut in the city’s Serious Crimes Unit. Crime buffs will know that Simms has been around for a while, building a serious readership with his books about another Manchester copper, the rather more senior Detective Inspector Jon Spicer, as well as earlier novels featuring DC Iona Khan of the Manchester Counter Terrorism Unit.

Marked Men begins on an idyllic Spanish beach, but then switches to the less salubrious setting of urban Manchester, and we only learn the significance of the opening much later in the plot. This way of starting a novel has become rather well-worn, but Simms handles it well and times to perfection the revelation of its significance. The Manchester action begins with Blake in waders and hard hat at the bottom of a drained lock on a local canal. There is a body, naturally, with more to follow, and as Blake and his immediate boss, DS Dragomir criss-cross the city trying to make sense of the crime scenes we – like them – are drawn into thinking that the deaths are revenge killings. But who, exactly, is avenging what? This is where Chris Simms leads us – and his detectives – a merry dance. There is a clue, but I have to confess I didn’t get it any quicker than did Blake and Dragomir.

Police procedurals come and go; some writers, in an effort to take the genre in a new direction, make the featured police officers ever more quirky and disagreeable, to the extent that they are barely functioning as normal human beings. Simms has a steadier hand, and is happy to have Sean Blake as thoroughly decent fellow, perhaps a tad naïve at times, but – as an officer – alert and intelligent. The shadow of his late mother is slowly receding as he makes his on way through the complex office politics of the police station. For a boy brought up in rural Sussex and then spending his university days in Newcastle, Simms certainly knows his Manchester and, as in the Jon Spicer novels –

Marked Men will be out in hardback at the end of March, while Kindle users will have to wait for the Darling Buds of May to open before they get their chance. Chris Simms has his own website, a Facebook page, and is also on Twitter.
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Thank you NetGalley and Severn House for the eARC.
DC Sean Blake is moving into his own place after the death of his mother when a body is found, in a lock, drowned.  His hands are tied with plastic ties and there are bricks in the bottom of his sleeping bag.  Soon there's another drowned body, also with his hands tied.  Sean and DS Magda Dragomir are soon on the lookout for a suspicious man who's been asking questions about the two men.
Jordan Hughes has just come out of jail after 17 years and he's bent on revenge on the men who accused him of setting a homeless man on fire, letting him take the rap when he wasn't even the one who committed the murder.
This is the 2nd book in the DC Sean Blake series and like the 1st one, a really good read.  I love Sean, he's a good man who was a good son and his relationship with Magda is a joy to read.  She's funny and really has Sean's back, as he has hers.
Even though Jordan is a killer, I couldn't help feeling empathy towards him, he got such a bad deal, and the men he's after are nasty brutes.  The mystery has good twists with a surprising ending.
This series is becoming one of my favorites.  I hope there are plenty more books to follow.  The stories are gritty, but not overly gruesome and it helps that the two main detectives are so likeable.  Highly recommended!
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