Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Close to Home – Cara Hunter #BlogTour

I was delighted to be asked by Poppy from Penguin to be part of the blog tour for this debut crime novel which was published in December 2017. Close to Home introduces DI Adam Fawley in this nail-biting crime fiction novel. But before we get to my review I asked the author Cara Hunter why she chose Oxford as the scene of the crime.

Why is Oxford such a capital of crime?

It’s all Morse’s fault, of course. The books started it, but it was the TV series starring John Thaw that really sealed the city’s fate. And since then, of course, we’ve had Lewis and Endeavour too. If you believe even half of what you see there can’t be a (thinly disguised) college that hasn’t lost at least half a dozen dons to murderous revenge or professional rivalry. Don’t get me wrong, I am the most immense fan of the whole franchise, but it does make Oxford a mite crowded for anyone wanting to set their own crime series here. I could have chosen somewhere else, of course, but I live in Oxford, and whoever it was who said ‘write what you know’ is dead right. That was one important reason I wanted to set the Fawley books here; the other is because there’s a lot more to Oxford than ivy-clad quads.

Being a university town definitely shapes the sort of place this is: there’s a big student population, and a high proportion of academics, many of them from overseas, and some of them (like the students) only here for a few years. And surrounding the ancient beautiful centre you have a ring of very different communities, from the industrial area round the Cowley car plant, to the genteel suburb of Summertown, to areas like Osney and Jericho, which bear witness to the city’s industrial past (the two-up-two-down Victorian cottages in Jericho originally housed workers at the nearby Oxford University Press).

These different ‘satellites’ have their own distinctive atmosphere and appearance, but even if the geographical areas are clear and self-contained, the same doesn’t go for the people. I’ve always been intrigued how much intermingling there is here between very different groups of people – how many connections there are that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. It makes this beautiful city a rich and diverse place to live and work in, but it also makes it fertile ‘terroir’ (as the French say), for conflict, misunderstanding and tension. Everything you need, in fact, for the perfect crime….

Cara Hunter January 2018

My Review

Crime Fiction
5*s

Wow! This is one of the most nail-biting crime fiction novel I have read for quite some time. DI Adam Fawley presides over a police investigation into eight year old Daisy Mason’s disappearance one summer night while her family were holding a barbecue. No-one saw her go but how can a child disappear into thin air?

This was a compelling read, a real page-turner with twists and turns aplenty. These and many of the other well-worn phrases apply to Close to Home and once again I’m going to struggle to explain what exactly this book offers that makes it stand out from a crowded genre.

I really liked the use of different types of written material in the book, within pages of Daisy’s disappearance the news is out and the twitter feed, oh so realistically created is recreated on the page, just check out those twitter handles, the sentiments shared in the 140 characters and compare them to everything you see, even if you don’t want to, on your own social media feed. A few pages further on we have the transcript of a police interview with a suspect, we have bulletin’s from the media, a birthday message and a story written by a child, all of which adds to the texture of the book, it tells a story without needing to verbalise some of the conflicting views the reader themselves may have.

The characters are also well-formed. I have a feeling some will be universally disliked but Adam Fawley is a likeable detective, not an alcoholic although he does have a bit of baggage, but who doesn’t and it’s the kind of problem which is likely to produce a hefty amount of sympathy. He has a good team who are in the main supportive of each other, a fairly inoffensive bit of rivalry between a couple of officers but not the angst ridden teams with endless pressure piled on from above that is the normal crime fiction fare.

The plotting is meticulous, I actually went back to the beginning to check some facts and I’m convinced that this book has undergone some rigorous editing to make sure that all the strands line up perfectly. The reason why I mention this aspect is because the storyline switches direction a number of times with a piece of evidence turning everything about-face and yet the structure of the book means it has gaps. We see one part of the investigation while elsewhere another piece of evidence is being investigated and so the simultaneous actions taking place are partly told with the answers not necessarily being revealed for a few pages.

All of this gives a fresh feel to this crime fiction series because I am delighted to announce that DI Adam Fawley will be back in the summer in Cara Hunter’s second novel In The Dark, a book that I am really looking forward to reading.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin for providing me with a copy of Close to Home thereby allowing me to get hooked on another crime fiction series! This unbiased review is my thanks to them and Cara Hunter for presenting me with a puzzle to entertain me.

First Published UK: 14 December 2017
Publisher: Penguin 
No of Pages: 385
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Her first book, Close to Home, was picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and this is her second featuring DI Adam Fawley and his team of detectives.

To find out more about Cara Hunter, follow her on twitter @CaraHunterBooks.

Posted in Weekly Posts

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph (January 23)

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Vicky from I’d Rather Be At The Beach who posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

My excerpt this week comes from The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a book marketed as an original high concept murder mystery written by Stuart Turton which will be published on 8 February 2018.

Blurb

‘Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath… Amazon

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro

Day One

I forget everything between footsteps.

‘Anna!’ I finish shouting, snapping my mouth shut in surprise. My mind has gone blank. I don’t know who Anna is or why I’m calling her name. I don’t even know how I got here. I’m standing in a forest, shielding my eyes from the spitting rain. My heart is thumping, I reek of sweat and my legs are shaking. I must have been running but I can’t remember why.
‘How did – ‘ I’m cut short by the sight of my own hands. They’re bony, ugly. A stranger’s hands. I don’t recognise them at all. Feeling the first touch of panic, I try to recall something else about myself: a family member, my address, age, anything, but nothing’s coming. I don’t even have a name.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure whether or not I will find the repeating of the day in order to find the murderer innovative or annoying, but the opener definitely has me wanting to find out.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Shoeless Child – J.A. Schneider

Crime Fiction
4*s

Shoeless Child opens with the horrific murder of a woman and the escape of young Charlie Sparkes from the murderer following his mother’s order to run.

Meanwhile Homicide Detective Kerri Blas has returned to work after a stint on desk duty following a previous murder investigation that required her to see occupational health along with a period out of the field to recover. She is keen to be back on the team and working with her partner Sergeant Alex Brand although the partnership is under wraps from the boss, being strictly against the rules.

With Charlie eventually found and able to guide the detectives to the scene of the crime his mother is found wounded, but alive and both are taken to hospital. The resulting trauma has caused Charlie to shut down and he is unwilling and unable to talk to anyone at all and the police need him to identify the murderer.

This is an exceptionally fast-paced thriller that starts with a horrendous act made especially raw by the use of Charlie’s viewpoint for the escape scenes. It is no word of a lie that my heart was in my mouth during this part. Fortunately the whole of the book isn’t quite as traumatic and eases its way into a police procedural with Kerri at the helm. She might not be the boss but her ability to read a crime scene and people has obviously impressed the rest of the homicide team and more often than not she is given a chance to act on her intuition. When even her the Chief bowed to these skills I must admit I took a bit of deep breath as I am cautious about detectives that ‘just know’ something in my crime fiction but I’m pleased to say that although the police procedures seemed a little looser than certainly the standards their UK counterparts have to meet, there were clues that led to the final unveiling of the perpetrator.

With Charlie in a state of shock it is left to Kerri to make a bond with the previously bright and happy five-year-old which she does incrementally and with a great deal of affection. The book really should be called the Kerri and Charlie show because despite a wide array of characters, including a whole host of subjects that could have wanted Charlie’s pretty mother Rachel dead, these two really do steal the show.

Not only do we have a wide range of suspects, each creepier than the last, (personally I’d have been tempted to lock them all up for being despicable human beings) but there are red-herrings a plenty along with a few more dead bodies, just in case the break-neck speed that is maintained throughout the book allows the reader to breath once in a while, there is a surprise around every corner. This meant that I was on high alert for clues during the entire read and even the good guys, yes there are some, were treated to my contempt as was sure they were only being nice to hide some character flaw.

For those crime fiction lovers that love fast-moving plots which are underpinned with a solid plotline you can’t go far wrong in reading Shoeless Child, which is full of thrills from beginning to end.

Shoeless Child is actually the fourth in the Detective Kerri Blasco series and as I haven’t read any of the others, I can confirm that this works perfectly as a standalone thriller.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the author Joyce Schneider who provided me with an advance copy of Shoeless Child. This unbiased review is my thank you to her for such a thrilling read.

First Published UK: 24 January 2018
Publisher: CreateSpace
No of Pages: 278
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

This Week in Books (January 17)

This Week In Books
Hosted by Lipsy Lost & Found my Wednesday post gives you a taste of what I am reading this week. A similar meme is run by Taking on a World of Words

I am currently reading Hell Bay by Kate Rhodes set on the tiny Scilly island of Bryher Hell Bay will be published on 25 January 2018.

Blurb

DI Ben Kitto needs a second chance. After ten years working for the murder squad in London, a traumatic event has left him grief-stricken. He’s tried to resign from his job, but his boss has persuaded him to take three months to reconsider.

Ben plans to work in his uncle Ray’s boatyard, on the tiny Scilly island of Bryher where he was born, hoping to mend his shattered nerves. His plans go awry when the body of sixteen year old Laura Trescothick is found on the beach at Hell Bay. Her attacker must still be on the island because no ferries have sailed during a two-day storm.

Everyone on the island is under suspicion. Dark secrets are about to resurface. And the murderer could strike again at any time. NetGalley

The last book I finished was The Story of Our Lives by Helen Warner which covers four women over a time-span of twenty years through the highs and lows. This book will be published on 8 February 2018.


Blurb

Four friends. Twenty years. One powerful secret.

There are certain dates on which you’ll always remember where you were…The day Princess Diana died. 9/11. The London 2012 opening ceremony.

The same is true for Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa who have been best friends since they met twenty years ago.
As history has moved on around them, they have seen each other through everything. From Sophie’s secret fear that she doesn’t actually want to be a mother despite having two kids, to Amy’s perfect-on-the-outside-abusive-on-the inside marriage to Melissa’s spiralling alcoholism and Emily’s single motherhood.

But could a lie that spans just as long tear them apart?
A moving, unputdownable novel about four incredible friendships, and the stories we all share. Amazon

Next, because I am going away for a long weekend in the Peak District and I like my reading to be relevant, I’m going to be reading A Patient Fury by Sarah Ward.

Blurb

When Detective Constable Connie Childs is dragged from her bed to the fire-wrecked property on Cross Farm Lane she knows as she steps from the car that this house contains death.

Three bodies discovered – a family obliterated – their deaths all seem to point to one conclusion: One mother, one murderer.
But D.C. Childs, determined as ever to discover the truth behind the tragedy, realises it is the fourth body – the one they cannot find – that holds the key to the mystery at Cross Farm Lane.

What Connie Childs fails to spot is that her determination to unmask the real murderer might cost her more than her health – this time she could lose the thing she cares about most: her career. Amazon

What does your reading week look like? Have you read any of my choices? Are you planning to?

Please leave your comments in the box below.

Posted in Weekly Posts

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph (January 16)

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Vicky from I’d Rather Be At The Beach who posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

My extract today is from The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths a book that will be published on 5 February 2018 and the tenth in the Dr Ruth Galloway series of which I am a big fan.

Blurb

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!

So Ruth travels to Castello degli Angeli, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also soon finds Harry Nelson, with Cathbad in tow. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect. Amazon

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First Chapter ~ First Paragraph ~ Intro

This book has a prologue which I will give a taster of before moving to Chapter One.

PROLOGUE

‘This grave has lain undisturbed for over two thousand years.’ Professor Angelo Morelli speaks directly to the camera. The countryside has been the scene of invasion and battle from the Neolithic times until the Second World War, when the German troops fought Italian partisans in the Liri Valley. In all that time, this body has lain under the earth. Now, we are going to exhume it.’

CHAPTER 1

The confetti is still blowing in the street. Ruth watches as Clough and Cassandra get into the white Rolls-Royce – Cassandra laughing as she shakes the pink and yellow hearts from her hair – and drive away.
They’re an unlikely pair, no-nonsense policeman DS Dave Clough and beautiful actress and daughter of local aristocrats Cassandra Blackstock – but they met in the course of work and fell in love. And to prove it, they are getting married. Bully for them, thinks Ruth, although that sounds bitter even to her own ears.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well talk about wildly different pictures being painted from prologue to chapter one here – although it’s good to have a bit about Clough before the adventure switches from Norfolk to Rome.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Carnegie’s Maid – Marie Benedict

Historical Fiction
4*s

Andrew Carnegie is best known for being one of the richest men in America having made his fortune by leading the expansion of the steel industry, and towards the end of his life he was a leading philanthropist. Marie Benedict’s book has been written as a fictional account of how this man was moved to better the lives of others when his early years had been spent focussed on lining his own pockets. To do so she looked at her own ancestors and imagined a young, bright Irish girl becoming a Lady’s Maid to Margaret Carnegie, Andrew’s mother.

We first meet Clara Kelly in December 1868 as her journey across the Atlantic is coming to a close and she’s got to find a way to get to her relatives in Pittsburgh. Clara despite being the second child of her parents has been sent to America to provide a ‘Plan B’ for the family since their leased farm is being carved up following the potato famine and now there are real concerns that the Landlord has it in for Clara’s father.

The premise to the book where a farmer’s daughter ends up being a Lady’s Maid is a great vehicle for studying the man at the centre of the book, Andrew Carnegie. It don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there is a relationship of sorts between Clara and Andrew, after all both were immigrants, Andrew moving the US from Scotland when he was barely in his teens. With the Carnegie family coming recently to wealth the need to never descend into poverty again is one of their key drivers for continued success. I’m pleased to say that the author doesn’t skimp on the less than moral and perhaps legal actions of this great business leader either before his later transformation into someone who champions the education of all.

It’s also nice that this book is populated by strong and intelligent women. Margaret Carnegie, whilst maintaining a tight grip on her household is also very much involved in her son’s business and Clara is also keen to learn more about business as the book progresses.

This is a heavily fictionalised account and shouldn’t be read as anything other than that but that doesn’t stop it being a fascinating insight into the lives of immigrants to America during and after the American Civil War. The descriptions of life both in Ireland and Pittsburgh make for illuminating reading especially the lives of Clara’s distant relations Patrick and Maeve who bring up an ever growing brood in a small and dirty ramshackle home. Patrick working at the Iron foundry whilst Maeve takes in needlework to be completed by poor light in the evenings. By contrast Clara’s efforts to become indispensable in the Carnegie household may mean long hours brushing hair, cleaning and darning clothes but she lives in luxurious surroundings although I pitied her the lack of friends apart from the former slave Mr Ford within the almost prison-like existence.

A fascinating historical tale which is indeed one explanation for Andrew Carnegie’s transformation into one of the best known philanthropists with the book ending with the opening of the free library in Boston built by Andrew Carnegie.

I’d like to thank the publishers Landmark for providing me with a copy of Carnegie’s Maid ahead of publication date of the 16 January 2017.

First Published UK: 16 January 2018
Publisher: Landmark
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Weekly Posts

Weekly Wrap Up (January 14)

Well I’m finally on the mend and returned to work on Wednesday so all is far better in my world than it has been. On the book front I am strongly considering joining The Classic Club in part due to my New Year’s resolution to read or re-read at least six classic books in 2018. The other part is my fellow blogger Fiction Fan has been putting the pressure on and I’ve been raiding her own list of classics for this challenge, in my search for books for my own list.

So far my list stands at around 25 books with a surprisingly large bias towards female writers. I have to find at least another 30 books to find and I suspect some of these may well be crime fiction classics sourced from The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books compiled by Martin Edwards. Any suggestions will be gratefully received, my definition of a classic being fairly loose with any book that is more than approximately 50 years old qualifying.

This Week on the Blog

A busy week with four reviews posted over the course of the week starting with my one for Faking Friends by Jane Fallon which was one of five of my reads published on 11 January 2018.

My extract post this week was from The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin which will be published on 1 February 2018.

On Wednesday I was part of the Blog Tour for Peter May’s novel I’ll Keep You Safe which included an intense extract from the book which was followed on publication day of my review of the novel. Peter May’s descriptions of the Outer Hebrides was once again the backdrop to this crime fiction novel.

Friday was another Blog Tour, this time I posted a review for Turning for Home by Barney Norris a thoughtful and insightful novel centred around an eighty year old widower and his grand-daughter.

Finally my week finished with my review of some historical crime fiction inspired by the trail of Madeline Smith in Glasgow for the murder of her lover, Emile L’Anglier; Blackmail, Sex and Lies is written by Kathryn McMaster

This Time Last Year…

I was reading After She Fell by Mary-Jane Riley the second book in the Alex Devlin series which features the protagonist as a reporter investigating the apparent suicide of a friend’s daughter at an exclusive boarding school in North Norfolk. Mary-Jane Riley has painted a wonderful selection of characters, some nastier than others, against the brilliant backdrop of the setting, all with a lightness of touch so that the picture is painted while the action is taking place.

You can read my full review here or click on the book cover

Blurb

There are so many ways to fall…

Catriona needs help. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Elena was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near her boarding school. The death has been ruled a suicide, but Catriona isn’t convinced.

When her old friend, journalist Alex Devlin, arrives in Hallow’s Edge to investigate, she quickly finds that life at private boarding school The Drift isn’t as idyllic as the bucolic setting might suggest.

Amidst a culture of drug-taking, bullying and tension between school and village, no one is quite who they seem to be, and there are several people who might have wanted Elena to fall… Amazon

If you haven’t read this one yet, now is the time to do so as not only does it have a fab new cover but the third in the series, Dark Water is due to be published on 16 March 2018.

Stacking the Shelves

Well I still haven’t bought any new books but I do have some acquisitions nevertheless.

From Lovereading UK I have a copy of The Story of Our Lies by Helen Warner which will be published on 8 February 2018.

Blurb

Four friends. Twenty years. One powerful secret.

There are certain dates on which you’ll always remember where you were… The day Princess Diana died. 9/11. The London 2012 opening ceremony.

The same is true for Sophie, Emily, Amy and Melissa who have been best friends since they met twenty years ago.

As history has moved on around them, they have seen each other through everything. From Sophie’s secret fear that she doesn’t actually want to be a mother despite having two kids, to Amy’s perfect-on-the-outside-abusive-on-the inside marriage to Melissa’s spiralling alcoholism and Emily’s single motherhood.

But could a lie that spans just as long tear them apart? Amazon

From NetGalley I have a copy of Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall which I was exceptionally pleased about having been a fan of this author for a while and chose her last book Dot as one of my top ten published books of 2013. Our Kind of Cruelty will be published on 3 May 2018.

Blurb

This is a love story. This is a tragedy.

This is a book about a break up so bad that when you put the pieces of the love story back together, what you get is murder.
Mike understands that most of us travel through the world as one half of a whole, desperately searching for that missing person to make us complete.

But he and Verity are different. They have found each other and nothing and no one will tear them apart.

It doesn’t matter that Verity is marrying another man.

It’s all just part of a plan: you see, Verity and Mike play a game together, a secret game they call ‘the crave’, the aim being to demonstrate what they both know: that Verity needs Mike, and only Mike.

Verity’s upcoming marriage is the biggest game she and Mike have ever played. And it’s for the highest stakes.
Except this time in order for Mike and Verity to be together someone has to die … NetGalley

I was also lucky enough to be provided with a copy of The Girl in the Woods by Camilla Läckberg, the tenth in the tenth in the Fjällbacka Series which will be published on 22 February 2018.

Blurb

A missing child
When a four-year-old girl disappears in the woods just outside Fjällbacka, the community is horror-struck. Thirty years ago, a young girl went missing from the exact same spot, and was later discovered, murdered.
A murder
Back then, two teenage girls were found guilty of the killing. Could it really be a coincidence that one of the girls – now a world-famous actress – has just returned to Fjällbacka? Detective Patrik Hedström starts investigating, with his wife, bestselling crime writer Erica Falck, by his side.
A community torn apart
But as Patrik and Erica dig deeper, the truth becomes ever murkier, because it seems that everyone in the tight-knit community is hiding something. And soon, the residents must confront the fact that they could be harbouring a murderer in their midst… NetGalley

And lastly I ‘met’ Vicky Newham through social media and distinctly remember the day she announced that she had a publisher for her novel Turn A Blind Eye. Vicky has kindly supplied me with a copy of her book which will be published on 5 April 2018.

Blurb

A dead girl.
A wall of silence.
DI Maya Rahman is running out of time.

A headmistress is found strangled in her East London school, her death the result of a brutal and ritualistic act of violence. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept:
I shall abstain from taking the ungiven.

At first, DI Maya Rahman can’t help but hope this is a tragic but isolated murder. Then, the second body is found.
Faced with a community steeped in secrets and prejudice, Maya must untangle the cryptic messages left at the crime scenes to solve the deadly riddle behind the murders – before the killer takes another victim. Amazon

2018 appears to be continuing with some appetising books – what do you think? Any of these take your fancy?

tbr-watch

Since my last post I have read 3 books and appear to have gained 6 so my TBR has taken a swift about turn to 188

Physical Books – 110
Kindle Books – 55
NetGalley Books –23

 

I have banked another third of book token this week and therefore purchased no new books in 2018.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

Blackmail, Sex and Lies – Kathryn McMaster

Historical Crime
4*s

There are few stories as old as that of forbidden love and perhaps that is in part why the question of whether Madeline Hamilton Smith really did murder her lover Pierre Emile L’Anglier in Victorian Glasgow or not, has stayed in public consciousness for over one hundred and sixty years.

In Blackmail, Sex and Lies Kathryn McMaster has created a fictionalised tale using the actual letters between the lovers Madeline and Emile, as he was known, as the backbone of the book.

Madeline was part of the upper-middle classes, the daughter of an architect, albeit a man whose origins were far humbler whilst Emile worked as a packing clerk for Huggins a cotton merchants which was not an acceptable match in the year 1855 which is when the two first came into contact with each other. From Kathryn McMaster’s description Emile didn’t display his less than acceptable status, being well-dressed and a bit of a flatterer with his French accent and tales of daring dos in battles in France. The latter is subject to scepticism since Emile L’Anglier actually moved to Glasgow from Jersey in the Channel Islands where he was born on 30 April 1823.

Madeline was a mere 19 years old when she first met and was charmed by the older Emile and the pair initially had clandestine meetings until the wagging tongues of the gossips in Glasgow meant that word reached her mother. Her father banned the young Madeline from meeting or talking to Emile ever again and had she heeded his warnings the tale of course would have been much different.

As it was at the age of twenty-one, Madeline found herself on trial for his murder, the method, good old arsenic, the means a cup of cocoa and the opportunity a meeting to avail herself of very compromising letters which she hoped he would return to her to save her reputation, particularly as she was now engaged to the far more suitable William Harper Minnoch.

The fictionalisation of the story was incredibly convincing, even to this reader who has read a fair few accounts of the alleged  Victorian poisoner. The letters are inserted throughout the text in italics, so although the author has pin-pointed a time where young Madeline realised that Emile actually wanted to marry her so desperately to elevate his social position, the letters with pet-names and seeming promises of devotion are read in the context of a young woman who begins to realise the error she has made.

The book also contains some pictures to illustrate the text so that we see the house where Madeline and Emile exchanged the dynamite love letters through the convenient placement of her bedroom window, the lodging house where Emile met his agonising death and the likeness Madeline had taken to send to her lover.

A crucial element to the fictionalisation of historical murders is to tell a good story and the author certainly managed that. This is the first book I’ve read where the length of time Madeline and Emile carried on their relationship was really bought home to me – one of them was certainly playing the long game. To my immense pleasure what happened post-trial isn’t overlooked either, with enough details given even at this point for further insight into Madeline’s character to be made. The author has created her characters, added a plausible plot based on historical fact and woven that together creating the events, some of which are mentioned in the letters and others that must be entirely of her imagination and yet, so believable.

Did Madeline Smith murder her lover? I don’t think we will ever know and although the author’s explanation is incredibly convincing, even she can’t absolutely rehabilitate this young woman who behaved shockingly given the mores of the time.

For those who buy the kindle version of Blackmail, Sex and Lies, there is an opportunity to receive the full transcripts of the letters sent in the main by Madeline, Emile’s return post not having survived. Those that had envelopes with postmarks (although there is some doubt about whether the letters were returned to the correct envelopes have the added details of when they were posted and delivered which is enlightening as to the efficiency of the Victorian postal service! This collection is a lovely postscript to the book.

This is the second book of the year in my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, and since I bought my copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies in December 2017 is also worth another third of a book token!

First Published UK: 30 August 2017
Publisher: Drama Llama Press
No of Pages: 198
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books I’ve read that reference Madeline Smith

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup
A Gallery of Poisoners by Adrian Vincent
The Poison Principle by Gail Bell
The Secret Poisoner by Linda Stratmann
Victorian Murderesses by Mary S. Hartman

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Books I have read

Turning for Home – Barney Norris #BlogTour #BookReview

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

A Grandfather on his eightieth birthday and his grand-daughter a mere quarter of a century old are the figureheads for the talented Barney Norris’s latest book, Turning For Home but don’t be mislead this is far deeper than the conventional birthday gathering where memories are both revived and made.

Robert Shawcross is eighty and despite the loss of his wife the year before he is holding his annual birthday party, the one Hattie his wife instigated when he was forty, originally conceived as an opportunity for the scattered family to gather. The party itself has diminished over the last few years with the decline in the older family members but Hattie’s sister Laura has taken up the baton and is there preparing the food for the gathering.

Robert is moved to reflect on his life, a civil servant he spent much of his time in Belfast and was there at the time of the Enniskellen bombing on Remembrance Sunday in 1987. A bomb which killed many civilians, missing the British Troops it was planned to kill. The reflection of this time is prompted by the arrest of the Sinn Fein Leader in 2014, the news hitting the press just before Robert’s big party. The Boston Tapes were recordings of interviews carried out with Loyalist and Republican paramilitaries between 2001 and 2006 on the understanding that they would not be published until the interviewee was dead, what it seems no-one had appreciated was that these men could implicate those still living, leading to the arrest of Gerry Adams following a police probe.

So we have real life events based on the ‘Troubles’ with both the Enniskellen bombing and the Boston Tapes but Barney Norris chooses smaller more intimate stories against this gigantic backdrop. We have Robert’s story, the part he thinks he played in the negotiations towards peace along with recognition that he was one small cog in a whole bigger wheel, told alongside his Grand-daughter, Kate’s tale whose far shorter life hasn’t been without its own struggles. Her story is less clear to begin with but with incremental revelations we see a young woman who had much to live for until tragedy struck and her life derailed leading to a spell in hospital. Kate’s story is of loss and of her search for something that perhaps will never materialise. This is a story of families who never really know the truth about each other and individuals who struggle with the gaps between the truth and hope.

And I think perhaps it’s very human as well. Isn’t the life of any person made up of the telling of two tales, after all? People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them.

This is a deeply poignant book, as books about characters nearing the end of their life are bound to be in some respects but it also has a message of hope. That just because the space between reality and dreams is wider than we’d like shouldn’t stop us from trying. Kate’s story is painful to read at times but worth persevering with, seeming just as relevant to this reader as the wider canvas that is its backdrop.

Barney Norris gives us both stories, interspersed with extracts from the Boston tapes, with lyrical prose and real depth. The struggles the two character’s face being unique to them but the language used will strike a chord as it charts the rise and fall of human emotions that are common to all of our lives.

A fantastic tale of betrayal, of love and hope and all the great emotions we ride throughout our lifetimes bought down in scale reflected through two people’s eyes, hearts and minds.

I’d like to thank the publishers Transworld who allowed me to read a copy of Turning for Home before publication on 11 January 2018, a book I was keen to read having thoroughly enjoyed Barney Norris’s debut novel Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain as well as Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course the author, Barney Norris.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Transworld Books
No of Pages:272
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Don’t forget to catch the other stops on the Turning For Home Blog Tour which runs until 17 January 2018!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

I’ll Keep You Safe – Peter May

Crime Fiction
4*s

Since The Lewis Trilogy goes down as a favourite read of mine of all time, I was delighted to be offered a copy of this, the latest standalone novel, by Peter May also set in the Outer Hebrides. You will just have to imagine my excitement when I opened the front cover to find that I’ll Keep You Safe has a wonderful map of the places on the islands mentioned throughout the novel. Even better for those with a lack of Gaelic, there is a list of pronunciations so I didn’t have to do what I normally do which is to make up a word that looks close all the while knowing that wouldn’t pass muster anywhere except in my head.

The action doesn’t start in the Hebrides though, the setting for the explosive opening is in Paris soon after a confrontation between and her husband Ruairidh (Roo-are-ee) of ten years. Niamh has read an email sent from a well-wisher, informing her that Ruairidh is having an affair with his Russian business associate Irina. Ruairidh and Niamh are in Paris on business, the one they built together selling Ranish tweed, spun locally and sold to high end fashion designers world-wide.

After the opening Niamh is left alone, traumatised by the unexpected turn of events and she starts reflecting on her life living in Ranish, her relationship with her parents and Ruairidh’s parents trying to understand events that have never been properly confronted before.

Peter May has chosen to narrate this tale from two female viewpoints. In the main we hear from Niamh, either reflecting on the past or in the present trying to come to terms with recent events. The other narrator is Detective Braque from the French Police, a divorced woman who is trying to balance her job with the demands of twins, and it has to be said on the most part failing.

I love Peter May’s writing and the picture he paints of life on the Scottish Isles is so vivid that as in his previous books, I felt I knew the place so much so that I could easily be convinced I’ve visited despite the fact I haven’t. The descriptions of summers full of midges, the rain never far away, and the joys of playing house in amongst a pile of peat all add to the picture. Equally well portrayed is what life is like on the island, both in the past when Niamh was growing up and in more recently where she and Ruairidh built their own house at the edge of the island. The claustrophobia of everyone knowing each other’s business, the churches that rule a whole way of life which means discos for the youngsters end earlier to ensure there is no carousing on the Sabbath and the funeral rituals are all presented to illustrate the traditional views held by the islanders.

Despite being swept away by Niamh’s tale I was slightly less convinced by the ending which involved a leap of faith that I didn’t quite manage but there is no doubt at all that I’ll Keep You Safe ends on a bang in keeping with the explosive opening. With a book full of luscious descriptions as well an introduction into traditional weaving this is a book that will conjure up a mass of images illustrating a way of life which is unique to these Scottish islands. Even better these qualities are combined with characters that walk out of the pages and into your life.

I was very grateful to be sent a copy of I’ll Keep You Safe by the publisher Quercus. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

You can read an extract from this book in yesterday’s post which formed part of the Blog Tour celebrating publication of this novel today, 11 January 2018.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Riverrun
No of Pages: 436
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US