Before I Met You is written in my favourite style, it is set in dual time-periods. Betty is in her early twenties in the 1990’s when following the death of her Step-Grandmother Arlette she moves from Guernsey to Soho to trace the mysterious Clara Pickle who has been left a bequest in Arlette’s will. The family have no idea who Clara Pickle is, no-one has ever heard her mentioned and as far as they know Arlette spent her whole life in Guernsey.
Lisa Jewell’s writing drew me into the story immediately with the balance between Betty and Arlette’s story handled well. The references to the early nineties were plentiful, l such as the status symbol of a mobile phone and the lack of anyone else with one to text, will be familiar to those of us who were there but I have to confess Arlette’s story set in the 1920’s was what had me hooked. Arlette had befriended an artist and some jazz musicians exploring in the time period where the social lives of well-connected young women were opening up to all sorts of new possibilities.
This is a story of two young women each making their way in the world for the first time without their families both have their fair share of adventures, misunderstandings and friendships. A lovely book with a slightly more mature feel than the earlier books I read and enjoyed by Lisa Jewell.
I read Me Before You way back in 2013 and loved it. You are right, this isn’t crime fiction and nor is it particularly gritty but even though Jojo Moyes was telling the story about a young woman who falls in love with her boss, a quadriplegic, I found it an irresistible read.
In 2015 Jojo Moyes bought out a sequel, called After You and I considered whether to read it and decided it would ruin the original for me (something that I always dread with sequels) and so I ignored it. And then… in 2018 a further episode to Louisa Clarke’s life was published called Still Me. At this point, a colleague read the entire trilogy after hearing about Me Before You and asked my advice on if it was worth a read. I said yes and then she raved about the other two books, and I cracked and decided to listen to After You as an audio book. My previous rambles on audio books will confirm that light-hearted contemporary fiction is my preferred listening fare.
So how was it? In short I loved it. The narrator Anna Acton is perfect for telling the next episode in Louisa’s story as she learns to live with the emotional fall-out from Me Before You. The narrator manages to get the humour to come across in her voice without it ever feeling forced and the sadder parts are also almost underplayed allowing the author’s words to work the magic and complementing them rather than overegging the pudding so to speak.
Louisa isn’t the same young woman she was. She’s more thoughtful and suffering but she also has something special to offer. What I love is although she’s undoubtable a ‘good person’ she isn’t so good it’s sickly. Jojo Moyes created a ‘real’ woman character and then has developed her, realistically to deal with the next chapter in her life.
What makes Jojo Moyes such a wonderful author – I am now a confirmed fan – is that she manages to take her readers (or listeners) through the entire gamut of emotions and I travelled unashamedly through Louisa’s despair, her hope for others and then bit by bit herself, her sympathy, her embarrassment and her joy. They are all held up for examination and our inspection. I may be considerably older than Louisa but in many ways the story she tells is a timeless and relevant to us all. Yes, there is romance and love and all those nice things which are all made entirely palatable with a rich seam of humour to take the edge off the sweetness. I have walked and listened to Louisa laughed at her observations, winced at the embarrassment of wearing an awful Irish costume as part of her job in the airport bar, loved it when she got one over on the pompous boss and wept alongside her when life unfairly conspires against her.
I loved meeting Louisa again as well as catching up with the Traynor’s and some new characters too, all as rich and as powerful as the original book, perhaps more so because on the surface the ingredients appear to be less obvious. In fact I loved it so much that I hadn’t finished this one before I bagged the audible version of the next book in the series, I wasn’t going to miss out any longer.
First Published UK: 24 September 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books
No of Pages: 411
Listening Length: 11 hours 8 minutes
Genre: Contemporary Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Lisa Jewell just goes from strength to strength as she serves up different scenarios with a whole cast of different characters in this her sixteenth novel and I for one was hooked from page one, where there is out and out darkness in the form of a body on a kitchen floor. The police are in attendance and an investigation is opened.
First of all the author paints us a picture of perfection, a group of colourful houses perched on a hill, the type of house that Joey (Josephine) has always wanted to live in but that seemed unlikely after four years working in Ibiza, and now she’s home with her new husband Alfie in tow. Fortunately her older brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca live in the cobalt coloured house in Melville Heights and her and Alfie had moved in while they sorted out where there life was going next.
Lisa Jewell’s latter books have all had some level of darkness about them but this one hurtles headlong into the undeniable thriller territory. After listening to Joey describing her life to her mum at her grave, we are launched into a transcript of a police interview held at Bristol police station nearly three months past this point. A word of warning, keep your eye on the changing dates, which are easily signposted, because this book does hop backwards and forwards until the past catches up with the present.
There are as in many of this author’s books a number of issues which are sensitively portrayed but with realism at its core rather than the reader getting the feeling that they’ve been used to bolster an otherwise flabby storyline.
At the centre of this book is Tom Fitzwilliam, the head of the local school who is married to Nicola. They also live at Melville heights with their teenage son, Freddie. Joey quickly becomes infatuated with Tom and is watching him. Tom’s son Freddie was documenting the neighbourhood using his digital binoculars but more recently has been using his spy equipment to watch the teenage girls in the vicinity while down in Lower Melville Frances Tripp is convinced that there is a mass of people watching her, so she is watching everyone else.
You might be able to tell from that very short synopsis, apart from a lot of watching, there are lots of characters in this book. And what characters they are, even the teenage girls are kept distinct by Lisa Jewell’s keen eye (and pen) for the little things that make each person unique.
In short I found this latest novel absolutely gripping. I wanted to know who had been murdered, who would want to murder but most of all I wanted to truly understand this eclectic bunch of people who became my neighbours for the duration of the book. Of course it wasn’t that simple with impeccable timing we are drip-fed pieces of information, some of which are red-herrings, so that my opinion on the characters altered the more I learned about them all.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again here, if you haven’t read one of Lisa Jewell’s books you really should, she has a very easy to read style but that isn’t to say that they are superficial, in fact they are anything but!
I’d like to thank the publisher Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Watching You and thank you to Lisa Jewell for such a gripping read.
First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 496
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
Well Roy Grace is back for the fourteenth time in Dead If You Don’t which in short is an action packed police procedural that shouldn’t be missed.
I am a huge fan of this series and always look forward to the next book more or less from the time I close the last page and so it may surprise you to hear I had a moment of disquiet when I realised the opening scenes featured a Kip Brown and his teenaged son, Mungo, going to a big game at the Amex Stadium. OK I got that it was an important match with the locals Brighton and Hove Albion against Manchester City no less but I’m no fan of football and out of all crime fiction storylines, bombs rank bottom of the pile. The Head of Security had been warned that a bomb was going to be left in the Amex stadium unless a payment in bitcoin was made before kick-off. Oh dear, was this going to be the one novel in this series I didn’t enjoy because of my dislike of the combination of football and bombs? No, of course it wasn’t because Dead If You Don’t isn’t just about bombs and football, that was just setting the scene for something far more complex.
We have big businessmen, near bankruptcy a bunch of criminals to keep everything spicy and Roy Grace at the match with his son Bruno. Glenn Branson is with security at the stadium keeping an eye out for the promised bomb and then it all kicks off aside from the football!
As always Peter James keeps things real with his thorough research with the police giving this series a real air of authenticity whilst still ensuring that the storytelling isn’t overwhelmed with procedures and policies. I love the team, Norman Potting is still his un-PC self although more subdued than he was at his most annoying. Glenn has also overcome many of his personal problems and is reaching for the next rung on the career ladder but there is little time for the personalities to go wild in this book because Roy Grace is busy co-ordinating a missing boy, a bomb scare, a dead drugs mule and a dismembered body. Quite a lot to take on in a weekend! Dead If You Don’t is almost wall-to-wall action so although we get snippets about Roy’s wife Cleo and his sons Bruno and Noah they are very much in the background, unlike some of the previous books.
This is a scary ride of a book indeed, nearly as scary as Norman Potting’s erratic driving as they race to a potential scene of a crime. It’s a measure of the skill of the writing that I felt I was alongside poor Roy Grace as he urged Norman to go faster than a snail’s pace only to nearly be swung into the path of a van when he complied.
I’m not going to say any more – this was just as good as all the previous books in the series, if anything it felt more action packed with the switch of focus from the police and their families to the criminals and their nastiness and seeming complete lack of morality. And the ending is fantastic – a little bit of a moral to round the whole shebang off!
I’d like to say thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of Dead If You Don’t before publication today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author Peter James. Roll on episode 15!
First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 400
Genre:Crime Fiction – Crime Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Now I do sometimes struggle with what’s known as ‘women’s fiction’ and more so when a book has a message, this falls into both categories but despite some reservations, there was lots to enjoy and think about.
Lexie and Annie are sisters, and in the middle of the night, after two years with no contact Annie rings Lexie asking for help. Annie is an addict and she’s pregnant. Annie is also very ill and needs to go to hospital but if she does she could be charged with child endangerment because of the drugs she’s taken.
Here lies the message with the author urging the reader to see that this isn’t the right approach for the law to take over addiction, which we are reminded frequently, is an illness and therefore if helped the women can turn their lives around and care for their children. Personally I think this is a far from black and white issue but I will say no more on the subject, if you want to ponder on this further, this is the book to make you do so.
That off my chest the book takes us back to the girl’s childhood which includes loss and moving to a cult. This part is told through Annie’s eyes in a journal she writes to her therapist and it’s not only incredibly moving, expertly creating a whole world of confusion for the young girl which felt realistic. Through Annie’s journal which we read excerpts from throughout the novel we learn more about her descent into drugs, this too with no personal experience of the matter also felt highly authentic. Kelly Rimmer knows how to tell a story convincingly and I defy anyone not to have their heartstrings pulled by Before I Let You Go.
Lexi is a doctor, the older sister who had the same upbringing but her approach as a child was different and of course even siblings do not necessarily have the same reactions to each other. Lexi had always cared for Annie and the bond between the two is again created in full technicolour.
Before I Let You Go is an emotional read and I have to admit even though I despised the choices she made, in many ways I felt far more of a connection with Annie than Lexie. Lexie was just a little too perfect for me and I could see how being her younger sister would cause some ‘issues’ To make matters more complicated Lexie is planning to marry Sam, another doctor and someone else that had good person running thorough his core like a stick of rock. Lexie’s need to be independent causes issues between the couple, and if I were Sam I would probably have stated my case far earlier and more strongly than he did.
So a book about relationships in the main those between siblings and their parents viewed through the interesting angle of life in a cult. As much as I struggled with the message at times, I would have ripped your arm off if you’d tried to remove this book from my hands before I’d finished it. In the world of books it can be good to read a book that arouses strong emotions, even when they aren’t positive ones, and believe me, I was irritated by all the characters more than once!
I am very grateful to the publisher Headline Review who allowed me to read a copy of Before I Let You Go ahead of publication. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.
First Published UK: 27 February 2018
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
When I heard that Peter May was publishing another book set in the Outer Hebrides my excitement knew no bounds so I was absolutely thrilled to be contacted by Midas PR to see if I would like to be part of the blog tour to celebrate publication.
Peter May has kindly provided extracts from I’ll Keep You Safe which starts in Paris, so don’t forget to catch yesterday’s extract at Anne bonny book reviews before moving on to this, the second extract of the blog tour. Extract 2
By the time she got to the lobby, Ruairidh and Irina had left the hotel. Through glass doors that gave on to the square, Niamh saw them getting into Irina’s car, a white A-Class Mercedes, its hazard lights flashing.
Niamh sprinted through the lobby, pausing breathlessly to let two sets of sliding doors open, before running out on to the pavement, assailed by a thousand city smells and sounds carried on cooling night breezes. The Mercedes was already accelerating away, past the lines of police vehicles, towards the traffic lights at the far end of the Place.
A classical-looking building on the block beyond the Crowne Plaza was clad in scaffolding, and simmered darkly behind mesh screening. Workmen’s trucks and a couple of skips lined up along the pavement in front of it, abandoned for the night.
Niamh ran out into the middle of the street, past a classic revolving Morris column, with its domed top, advertising a rerun of Le Fusible at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. Several armed police officers turned to look at her, suddenly alert. But she didn’t even see them. The brake lights of the Mercedes glowed red as it stopped at the lights beyond the workmen’s trucks, and the left indicator began to flash. Niamh glanced across the square, beyond the thirty-foot statue of Marianne picked out by symbolic red, white and blue spots, and thought that if she ran a diagonal across the slabs, she could reach the far end of the square in time to cut the car off before it was gone for good. If only the lights would stay red long enough.
She ran past the graffiti-covered red containers that lined the nearside of the pavement, sprinting beyond Marianne and the steps that led down to the Métro République. Off to her left she was only vaguely aware of the diners who sat out at green metal tables at the Café Fluctuat Nec Mergitur. Destroyed by fire early in 2015, it had been reopened, and renamed with the motto of Paris following the terrorist attacks later that same year. Tossed by the waves but never sunk. It was about to be tossed once more.
Niamh saw the lights change to green and the Mercedes start to turn left across the flow of traffic. And then she was blinded. A searing, burning light that obliterated all else, just a fraction of a second before the shockwave from the blast knocked her off her feet. As she hit the ground, sight returned. She saw glass flying from the broken windows of the Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, tables and chairs spinning away across the square. As she rolled over, the Mercedes was still in the air. Later she would remember it as being ten feet or more off the ground. But in fact it was probably no more than eighteen or twenty inches. Flaming debris showered down across the Place de la République as the car slammed back on to the road, a ball of flame.
While her sight had returned, her hearing had not. The tinnitus was deafening. Then somewhere beyond it she heard a voice screaming. It was some moments before she realized it was her own. She pulled herself to her knees but did not have the strength to stand up, supporting herself on her arms and transfixed by the blazing vehicle on the road. Somewhere in her peripheral vision, beyond awareness, she saw dark figures running in the night. Long, flickering shadows cast by the light of the burning car.
Screams still tore themselves from her throat. Repeated, hysterical bursts of them. Before she understood that it was his name she was shrieking at the night. She felt hands grasp her arms on either side, men in uniform and dark body armour lifting her to her feet. One of them was shouting at her. His lips were moving, but she couldn’t hear him. And then a woman moved into her field of vision. A woman with long dark hair cascading over shoulders draped in silk, a shawl wrapped around her above a pencil skirt and high heels. She flashed a wallet from her bag at the men who held Niamh. With the blaze behind her, Niamh couldn’t see the woman’s face. And yet somehow her voice cut through everything else. A commanding voice edged with concern.
Niamh felt tears burning tracks down her cheeks and stopped screaming to draw breath. Although she could now hear the words, she couldn’t understand them. She shook her head hopelessly. Then suddenly there was clarity. The woman was speaking English.
‘You are English?’
She almost certainly only wanted to know that Niamh understood her. But Niamh had never been able to think of herself that way. ‘Scottish,’ she said, her voice was hoarse already. Then she thought what an absurd distinction it was in a moment like this.
‘You were running towards the car.’
‘Ruairidh . . .’ Just saying his name caused her throat to close and fresh tears to scald her face. She took a moment to find her breath again. ‘My husband.’
‘Your husband was in the car?’
Niamh nodded vigorously. ‘And Irina.’
‘Vetrov. The fashion designer.’ She found light now in the woman’s eyes. ‘They’re dead, aren’t they?’
The woman nodded.
Niamh broke down again. Sobs contracting in her chest, almost completely blocking the flow of air to her lungs. The woman put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. ‘Why were you running towards the car?’ It was a refrain that would repeat itself often in the hours to come.
‘They were . . .’ In her shock and confusion she searched hopelessly for the right word. ‘Lovers.’ She sucked in air between sobs. ‘All this time and I never knew it.’ She searched the light in the eyes that gazed at her, looking for . . . what? Sympathy? Reason? ‘Now I’ll never be able to ask him why.’
I think you’ll have to agree that it’s all a little bit tense… You can read my review of I’ll Keep You Safe tomorrow, the date of publication.
– the Lewis Trilogy set in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland;
– the China Thrillers, featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell;
– the Enzo Files, featuring Scottish forensic scientist Enzo MacLeod, which is set in France. The sixth and final Enzo book is Cast Iron (January 2017, Riverrun).
He has also written several standalone books:
– I’ll Keep You Safe (January 2018, Riverrun)
– Entry Island (January 2014, Quercus UK)
– Runaway (January 2015, Quercus UK)
– Coffin Road (January 2016, Riverrun)
May had a successful career as a television writer, creator, and producer.
One of Scotland’s most prolific television dramatists, he garnered more than 1000 credits in 15 years as scriptwriter and script editor on prime-time British television drama. He is the creator of three major television drama series and presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland before quitting television to concentrate on his first love, writing novels.
Born and raised in Scotland he lives in France.
His breakthrough as a best-selling author came with The Lewis Trilogy. After being turned down by all the major UK publishers, the first of the The Lewis Trilogy – The Blackhouse – was published in France as L’Ile des Chasseurs d’Oiseaux where it was hailed as “a masterpiece” by the French national newspaper L’Humanité. His novels have a large following in France. The trilogy has won several French literature awards, including one of the world’s largest adjudicated readers awards, the Prix Cezam.
The Blackhouse was published in English by the award-winning Quercus (a relatively young publishing house which did not exist when the book was first presented to British publishers). It went on to become an international best seller, and was shortlisted for both Barry Award and Macavity Award when it was published in the USA. The Blackhouse won the US Barry Award for Best Mystery Novel at Bouchercon in Albany NY, in 2013.
Around this time of year I start to consider my Top Ten Books Published in 2017 along with many other bloggers, this year the list has been thrown into disarray with so many late entrants, including this novel. Anything You Do Say encompasses so many of the aspects that I enjoy: a moral dilemma, ‘sliding doors’ scenario, great characters who behave realistically and superb plotting all coming together to give a fresh feel despite the elements appearing in other novels.
Two friends meet for their regular Friday night out at a bar in London and meet a man who is slightly too pushy, deciding to leave they part ways and Joanna walks home taking the route by the canal when she hears someone following her. Now ladies, we’ve all been there – unable to tell whether the threat running through your head is real or imagined. What happens next will change Joanna’s life forever.
What do you do, I find myself thinking, when you think somebody is following you down a deserted strip of canal? When you could become a statistic, a news piece, a tragedy? Nothing. That’s the answer. You carry on. You hope.
Of course the title are known to all of us although I hope few of us have had them directed towards us:
The words are familiar, but it takes me a moment to place them. It’s not a hymn or a song lyric or a phrase. No. It’s a caution. The caution.
Joanna is a great character, you probably know someone like her. She works on the mobile library while she decides what she wants to do with her life. She avoids the nastier aspects of life by ignoring them; bills, decisions, babies are all put in a box to be dealt with later… or never. Her friend, Laura, has plans, big ones, she wants to be an artist and is far surer of herself by far than Joanna, not uncommon in a friendship pairing. In both scenarios that are presented following the late night encounter we see not only what the consequences of her decision has on Joanna but Laura and her partner Rueben and brother Wilf too but also Laura’s partner Jonty in a perfect example of the ripple effect.
With sparkling dialogue which is entertaining yet realistic I was drawn into the story before I’d finished the first page. I loved the friends, that pre-Christmas setting with Christmas trees sparkling inside the houses that Joanna passes as she walks home at the opening of the book is followed up with the changing seasons as we follow the two different outcomes of that night.
As much as I enjoy books with the ‘sliding doors’ aspect I won’t lie, it can sometimes be complicated keeping the two strands straight in your mind. Fear not, Gillian McAllister has a clear system for marking the two stories by using a heading and since the stories diverge from the start I didn’t have a moment’s confusion. What I did have, was compassion for Joanna, maybe that says something about my morals, but there was one particular moment when I had my heart in my mouth as things took a drastic turn for the worse and despite actually needing to be doing something else I wasn’t putting the book aside until my heart-rate settled.
I really enjoyed Gillian McAllister’s debut novel Everything But The Truth which I read earlier this year but this novel even surpasses that one. Usually when I read a book that I want my friends to read, I wait until I have posted my review – not this time – I have been urging many of my bookish friends to go get this book, now – especially as it is at an absolutely bargain price at the moment for the kindle. The paperback will be published on 25 January 2018. Whatever format you read, I urge you not to miss out but do beware, once started, you will not want to stop reading!
I am extremely grateful to the publishers Penguin UK who have provided me with a great selection of books this year, including Anything You Do Say, and Gillian McAllister who I sincerely hope is furiously writing another book for me to enjoy, this unbiased yet unashamedly gushing review is my thanks to them.
First Published UK: 19 October 2017
No. of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US (currently only Audible)
Tír na nÓg a drop in centre for men is right at the heart of this, the second book in the Sergeant Claire Boyle series. With the realistic Dublin setting as a backdrop the lonely men who visit the centre make for a refreshing change which more than justly follows up on the author’s debut novel Can Anybody Help Me?
The drop in centre is run by Tom who gave Liz Cafferky a job when she was down on her luck and so she is unable to refuse when he wants her to do a TV interview to raise the profile of the drop-in centre with the aim to garner donations. There’s a downside for Liz though, she has become a bit of a media star and now she’s getting unwanted attention.
Meanwhile Claire Boyle is back at work following her maternity leave and feeling that all too familiar feeling of guilt despite her husband Matt staying at home to mind the baby. That’s until one of the drop-in centre’s regulars is murdered then her mind is focussed on the investigation.
I love this author’s work, it should be classed as a police procedural, after all there is an investigation with a solid mystery with the obligatory red-herrings and devilish plotting but we are also treated to a far more in-depth view of those civilians caught up in the investigation. By that I don’t mean a cursory this is how a major crime investigation impacts my life but we are given full insight into Liz Cafferky’s life beforehand too. This gives the book a totally different feel to the more traditional police procedural, a welcome one that gives this book a feeling of weight. Of course this approach wouldn’t work if the other secondary characters weren’t also fully fleshed out and there is something appealing about the care and compassion shown towards the visitors to Tír na nÓg that had me feeling quite sentimental at times. These are real people, not cardboard cut-outs and the interactions between themselves is as equally heart-warming, on the whole, after all this isn’t a book populated by saints!
You could be forgiven for expecting that with so many character-led scenes that the tension dips as we join the men in a game of cards or a chat but it really doesn’t, the feeling of foreboding is lurking at the edges whilst Liz tries to put her dodgy letters to the back of her mind and wonder instead at her new media personality the reader is still pondering a murder and a stalker so there really is a lot going on! I am thoroughly impressed by the author’s skill at keeping the tension high whilst at times, particularly at the end allowing me the release of the odd tear as that is how much I cared about some of the people I met through this book.
If I had one minor criticism it’s that Claire seems a little bit harder and so a little less approachable than when she appeared in Can Anybody Help Me? but then she’s had a baby, and so her slightly more brusque style is understandable.
This was a brilliantly entertaining crime fiction read that I pulled off my bookshelf as I wanted to read something I fancied for a change, not a review copy and not a book to fit into a certain challenge and it proved to be the perfect ‘because I want to read it’ book.
First Published UK: 2 July 2015
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Famous trials: Grace Elizabeth Fox, April 1953, by Sir Charles Hamilton Morley
Grace Elizabeth Fox rose from her bed and dressed with the aid of her young Attending Officer Mary Swann at 6.30 AM on the morning of 23 April, 1953. She ate a light breakfast of toast, marmalade and tea, then she busied herself writing letters to her family and friends. After a small brandy to steady her nerves shortly before 8.00 AM, she spent the following hour alone with the Chaplain.
So starts Before the Poison the tale of a fictional murder trial in 1950s England as seen through the eyes of Chris Lowndes a composer for films, who has returned to his native Yorkshire after decades living in the US. Recently bereaved he buys the remote Kilnsgate House unseen as somewhere to compose music and to recover from the loss of his beloved wife Laura.
It doesn’t take Chris long to discover that Kilnsgate House was the scene of a murder some fifty plus years before. On 1 January 1953 Dr Ernest Fox and his younger wife Grace, aged forty, were entertaining two old friends, waited on by their maid Hetty Larkin. The fire was roaring and despite rationing the menu comprised of roast beef, mashed potatoes, roast parsnips and Brussel sprouts followed by that very English desert rhubarb pie and custard. Outside the snow began falling and it didn’t stop, the party was going nowhere and the guest bedroom was made up for Jeremy and Alice Lambert. That night Ernest died and the remaining four inhabitants waited with his body two days until the police and the mortuary van could get to the house. With what he gleans from Grace’s life and learning that his brother was at school, next door to the prison when Grace was hanged, her life and perhaps more importantly the question of her guilt, or innocence, becomes something of an obsession.
With my love of historical crime, this fictionalised account of a murder trial in the 1950s hit just the right note with the details about the key players really coming alive, it was hard to believe that all this was fictional perhaps because the author had clearly done his research so the details were spot on with key references such as Albert Pierrepoint, the most famous of hangmen, adding hooks to hang the case on. With our protagonist being a composer the numerous references to music are completely in sync with the story unfolding and provide a gentrified backdrop to a story that delves into the past to a time where perception was everything. Fictional this may be, but Peter Robinson makes good points about why a woman may be suspected of murder, particularly if it was thought that the woman didn’t hold the highest of morals.
The story is of Chris in 2010 researching the crime, the details of the murder and the trial are presented in excerpts from the book, Greatest Trials and later on some diary excerpts that give further context to the key player’s life. This made for tantalising reading with the details forming a natural part of the story-telling, a clever device that allowed Chris’s narrative to focus on his next step in his discovery.
I haven’t read any of the Inspector Banks books but if they are anywhere near as absorbing as I found Before the Poison to be, I need to check them out sooner rather than later.
When you pick up one of Sophie Hannah’s books, I’ve learnt it is best to expect the unexpected and she’s done it again, I was gripped by the mystery of the seven year old’s disappearance seven years ago, a disappearance that had gripped America from the start.
As to be expected from this hugely talented author we have characters that are so memorable you’ll want to send them a Christmas card, or at perhaps cross them off the list, because, some of them aren’t very nice at all!
Cara Burrows has booked herself into a five star hotel in Arizona, miles from her husband and two teenage children, simply leaving a note to tell them she will be back on 24 October. It takes a while for the reader to understand how this seemingly nice woman could take such an action, or perhaps more importantly why. Patience is key, Sophie Hannah starts with a mystery which demands an answer but she makes her readers wait for them, but fear not, the answers are all given in good time. Cara arrives at Swallowtail resort late at night and is booked in by the receptionist. She makes her way to the room, only to find that it is already occupied by a father and daughter who she disturbs from their sleep. The receptionist is deeply apologetic and finds her a new room.
Staying at the hotel at the same time as Cara is an elderly lady who has ‘seen’ Melody at the resort each time she has stayed there. Melody was a girl who was all over the news and excerpts from talk shows before the culprits were arrested are included in the novel. This platform is useful for discussing the very different ways that crimes are handled by the media in the UK and the US. In the US the talk show host Bonnie Juror is able to shout her beliefs from her chat show without threat of perverting the course of justice, something that simply would never happen in the UK, although of course it doesn’t stop individuals speculating when we see the sadly all too familiar media statements from grieving families.
With Cara needing a bit of displacement activity she makes a very reserved British bond with two fellow sun lounger inhabitants, a mother and daughter both of whom had me in stitches with their brilliant one-liners with the differences in approach between the two nations accurately portrayed. Anyway between them they educate Cara on the full Melody story and encourage her growing suspicion that Melody is still alive and on the resort.
Taken in parts this story is completely unbelievable but I really didn’t mind, the journey was so entertaining, the commentary that underlines the storyline on a number of different subjects is true which allowed me to believe in the right circumstances with a good handful of coincidences thrown in that this could be true…
This is the perfect summer read although if you are staying in a less than palatial resort you may experience some envy, with brilliant characters, each one is so superbly drawn (and coloured in) with a fair bit of drama to ensure that a soothing massage I required by the time you turn that brilliant last page.
Thank you to the publishers Hodder & Stoughton who allowed me to read this book ahead of publication on 24 August 2017 – this unbiased review is my thanks to them.
First Published UK: 24 August 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
Culver Valley Series 1. Little Face
2. Hurting Distance
3. The Point of Rescue
4. The Other Half Lives
5. A Room Swept White
6. Lasting Damage
7. A Kind of Cruel
8. The Carrier 9. The Telling Error
10. The Narrow Bed