Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

The Lighthouse – P.D. James #20BooksofSummer

Crime Fiction

One of my favourite tropes in mystery novels one where there is a limited number of suspects. This is quite hard to make believable even in times gone by, but in more modern settings it has to be a challenge to have a cast iron setting. One of the only reasonable places for this set-up has to be an island which no-one can get to, and of course no-one can leave. P.D. James has therefore sensibly chosen the secluded island of Combe off the coast of Cornwall. Even better this island is used as a retreat for under-pressure men and women, only those of the better classes need apply of course.

At the time of the unexplained death on the island was preparing for some very important guests and so the murder needs the brightest and the best to investigate, so that would be Commander Adam Dalgliesh, DI Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith. They all drop there current work and hurry to the island.

In the best traditions of this kind of murder mystery is that the dead person wasn’t exactly a likeable person. I say the best tradition because it is far easier to read about murder when there is a part of you that can’t help feel that it isn’t any great loss to the world. This way you can concentrate on helping the police from the side-lines without any emotional involvement wasted.

I’ve always enjoyed reading P.D. James’s novels and this one was no exception, the plotting was brilliant with many of the limited number of suspects having a reason to what the victim bumped off, it wasn’t at all easy to detect who the perpetrator was with my thoughts changing as the story progressed.

The characters are predictably an unusual bunch and most of them quite frankly not the kind you would invite around for dinner, but they were distinct with some depth and of course their own motivation for wanting the victim dead, but being unlikable doesn’t mean they are killers.

So onto the setting, an island complete with all the features of island life. The reliance on being able to escape is dependent on the tides, the visibility through the continual threat of mist and fog and of course not forgetting the main feature the lighthouse which despite being on the coast, holds centre stage within the book itself.

This book was written in 2005 and features the SARS which was the health scare of this time, being a highly infectious respiratory disease and it is worth noting that the author was the grand age of 84 at the time it was written. It did become fashionable to say that the latter books lack the originality of those written earlier but having read this one and comparing it to modern crime writers I am moved to say, I like the certain old-fashioned feel, and find some of the author’s attempt to modernise the writing more jarring than when she followed her heart and wrote to a plot that is tried and tested with her own twists which are devious and clever. The Lighthouse is the 13th out of 14 in the Adam Dalgliesh series

The Lighthouse is my eleventh read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and one that took me back to an author who became a firm favourite at the start of my foray into crime fiction.

First Published UK: 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Rutherford Park – Elizabeth Cooke

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction

This historical novel set when England was right on the brink of World War I has far more depth than I initially expected, there are the expected emotional moments, but more than that, it is a book that looks at the lives of women at different levels of the social scale.

Rutherford Park is the stately pile that is the home to William and Octavia Cavendish and their three children Harry, Louisa and Charlotte and of course their entourage of servants. As the book opens on Christmas Eve 1913, we meet Emily Maitland, a shy young girl from the nearby mill town who is laying fires early in the morning a sharp insight into the world of a young servant girl of this era, but Emily has a bigger worry than carrying out her chores this cold day.

Meanwhile Octavia is expecting the house guests including a woman she has feared for the entire span of her marriage, a distant cousin of William’s the alluring Helene. It isn’t only the servants who have to abide by the rules of the house though – Octavia feels that her life is similar to that of a bird in a gilded cage, she is bored and feels her character has been stifled by living in the big house. She feels that she is looked down upon by her peers and servants because her money, money which was needed to keep the house going, is comes from the wool mills she approaches the new year with a yearning to do something more than escort the beautiful and outgoing Louisa as she embarks on the season.

The author has obviously, sometimes too obviously, done her research and there are plenty of authentic references to clothing, political views and expectations of this time, however at times, especially near the beginning of the story I felt that modern perceptions were heavily imposed on the characters thoughts rather than them being displayed in their actions. As the book progressed with its many secrets and dramas, the characters held their own as the paced picked up.

This is a book told through multiple viewpoints which gave a rounded picture of the goings on at Rutherford Park with the timelines overlapping at some points to give extra depth. The downside of this was sometimes it was hard to follow who was who until the plot had progressed and the characters became far more distinct.

I enjoyed this sumptuous tale and it was pleasing that it covered men with some real emotions, this wasn’t a female only cast, dealing with woman’s issues, no-one escapes the drama in this book! If you like a happily-ever-after, this may not be the book for you although since this book was first published in 2013 I am pleased to see that we have the opportunity to find out more, and maybe tie-up some of the loose ends by reading The Wild Flowers and I am going to have to buy a copy to find out exactly what life has in store for this family who has faced more challenges than they could ever have imagined.

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction

I’m really not quite sure why I didn’t read this book when it was first published in 2006, an error I only realised when I read the fabulous The Paying Guests last year, as I had read and enjoyed all of her previous books. This was her first departure to a more modern setting, that being the 40s with all the details of London life during the war.

Part One starts in 1947 where we meet the lonely Kay, Viv and Helen who both work in a dating agency, and Viv’s brother Duncan who we find out was imprisoned but what for, we don’t find out until much later. The characters are fantastically painted, I felt that I was on the roof with Viv and Helen exchanging the very edges of their secrets whilst having a cigarette during their lunch break. Likewise the scenes of Duncan working at a factory joining in the banter as best as he can, then returning home to Uncle Horace, gave a real insight into his character. As in all of Sarah Waters novels, there are plenty of homosexual characters, but I wouldn’t say that the book is ‘about’ that, rather it deals with the human emotions of desire, guilt, betrayal and regret, the sexuality of the participants matters little although in this novel we do get a sense of the secrecy and deception that was a necessary part of life at this time.

Part Two then takes us back in time to 1944, with rationing and bombs at their peak we see Kay as a practical ambulance driver whilst Vivian works as a secretary at the Ministry of War and Helen works at the town hall. The changes that have been made in Kay’s life in the intervening years is particularly shocking; in three years she has gone from playing an important role to being reduced to sitting at home watching the world go by from her window.

Part Three takes us further back again to 1941 where we finally learn why Duncan was imprisoned and how the lives of the main characters became intertwined. The three parts as a whole show us the consequences of actions in the past impacting lives in the present in a heart-breaking way.

Knowing the ending, or at least part of it, before you get to the beginning of a story lent this book a peculiar feeling of poignancy, as well as inevitably giving the reader a few ‘ahh’ moments as the actions of our main characters begin to make a little more sense once we know what had happened in the past. This way of revealing the story also meant that I wanted to go back to the beginning, willing the 1947 part to go just that little bit further, to give me some sense of completeness to the character’s lives that hold the promise of a future never to be told.

This isn’t a fast moving book and nor does it have any great mystery, the delight is in the assured writing style, the everyday nuggets that in lesser books I would term padding, but for some reason for this author each scene adds something to the atmosphere that unfolds and so despite being a fairly long book, I certainly didn’t feel it was too long – I was left wanting more. The depiction of a ruined London was so evocative, I could easily imagine myself hearing the bombs and seeing, and smelling the fires that came in their wake. The London streets seen through the eyes of someone walking in the darkness of the blackout had a truly eerie feel to them. As always Sarah Waters has done her research, and for anyone with an interest in this period of history her acknowledgement page contains a huge list of books that she used to make sure the scenes that she so wonderfully bought to life were based on fact.

I still feel that The Paying Guests is my favourite of this author’s books to date, but this is definitely a book that I can quite easily see myself re-reading in the future to further explore the beautiful and often tragic narrative. This isn’t a book for readers who want plenty of action and I did find it got off to a bit of a slow start, but as a whole this is one that I will remember and ponder over for some time to come.

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Letters to the Lost – Iona Grey

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction

One cold February night Jess sees an opportunity to get away from her abusive boyfriend ‘Dodge’ and she takes it. The problem is she has just fifty pounds to her name and nowhere to live. Not wanting to stay where Dodge might find her she comes across an old empty house where she decides to stay the night. Sitting on the doormat is a pile of unopened mail including one that stands out, handwritten and on thick paper Jess opens it and finds a recent letter addressed to a Stella Thorne. Sensing a mystery that might take her mind off her own problems Jess is intrigued and a box of old letters soon gives Jess the background to the plea.

The writer of the letters is Dan, now in his nineties, frail, but with a lively mind but who Stella was remains a bit of a mystery. What is clear that these were two people in love so why did they spend the majority of their lives apart?

Will is also interested in the old house, he works for one of those companies that try and find heirs when someone dies without leaving a will. The woman whose house Jess is living in was Nancy Price and to try and get some background on her Will chats to the neighbours. Will is a posh boy whose life hasn’t ended up the way he, or his family expected, in short he feels a bit of a failure, not helped by a bullying boss. On his quest to sign up heirs, Will bumps into Jess not realising she is staying in the house of his quarry.

The story told that involves Dan and Stella is one of a war-time romance between an American airman and a lonely and unloved young woman. Stella is married to a Reverend and her war consists of church committee meetings, queuing for food and managing to turn her meagre supplies into a dinner for first her husband and then the new vicar once Charles goes off to fight his war. There is little excitement and that is provided by her friend from the children’s home Nancy. The story that follows will melt the hardest of hearts. One of the must-haves for me in these types of books is that the historical angle must feel authentic. The author has easily achieved this, painting a picture of war-time London that had all those little details to transport the reader to this difficult time. With Dan adding the realities of life as an airman which didn’t shy away from the terror these young men faced I truly felt the emotions as well as the war-time sacrifices a whole generation made.

For once in these dual time-line tales I was equally as interested in the present day story. Having an interest in family history made the trials of Will trying to track relatives down through the records an interesting twist to the story. With the clear parallels between Jess and Stella, despite the span of years between the two giving a feeling of ‘rightness’ to the character’s chosen. All of the main protagonists were clearly and consistently portrayed, not for this author the cheap trick of a misunderstanding that kept the lovers apart, the mystery was far more realistic than that.

Altogether a lovely read which brought a lump to my throat on a few occasion helped by the cleverly woven threads which had me longing to know just a little bit more each time I reached the end of a chapter. In my opinion this book deserves the huge accolades it has received this year and I for one am glad I met all of the characters although I was sad to say goodbye to them when I turned the last page.

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Under World – Reginald Hill

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Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction

This is number ten in the wonderful Dalziel & Pascoe series, written in 1988 with a setting centred on a small mining community in Burrthorpe in Yorkshire. This is in the aftermath of the strikes of the 80’s and the miners now have sponsored day release for educational purposes. Ellie Pascoe is roped in to take some classes which provides her from a break writing her feminist novel which isn’t proceeding as planned. Her class includes an angry young man, Colin Farr whose father was the last person to see young Tracey Pedley alive before she was murdered. A local man who committed suicide was widely believed to be the culprit but that hasn’t completely stemmed the whispers and rumours.

Under World creates the atmosphere of a small closed community perfectly, a place where old secrets are kept and ruminated upon away from outside eyes so when a murder occurs in Burrthorpe mine means that the police are called in to investigate it takes Dalziel and Pascoe a while to get to the truth. It doesn’t help that Colin Farr is one of the chief suspects not least because Ellie obviously is attracted to the dark brooding young man who hates the locality but is unable to leave until he works out the truth of what his father did the day little Tracey went missing. Ellie is drawn to the young man’s mind, as well as his physical attributes, as she struggles to balance her feminist and leftist ideals against her role as wife and mother, most particularly her role as wife to a Police officer in a place where the wounds from the strike have not yet healed.

Most of us won’t have worked under ground yet Hill manages to recreate the atmosphere both from multiple points of view, from the seasoned miner to a sightseeing trip for the educators and an investigative perspective for the police. All add a different facet to build up a picture of what this way of life would have meant for those toiling unseen in the depths of the earth and given the lack of alternative employment in the locality, let alone one that would provide the same sense of mutual dependency on those who worked alongside you, why the downfall of this industry had the power to change these communities for ever.

I love Reginald Hill’s writing, he is one of the few writers whose strong political messages I enjoy rather than dismiss, probably because he weaves this carefully into the story-line without ever invoking a ‘preachy tone’. The black-humour that is present in the rest of the series also threads its way throughout this book, raising a wry smile from time to time, usually provoked by one of Dalziel’s proclamations. None of this gets in the way of a really good story though, the plot is as convoluted as expected, the tension kept taut as the investigation is sent hither and thither and the set of characters entirely believable. Although the absence of modern technology was noticeable, especially the use of phone boxes to summon help, apart from that, despite having been written so long ago this book didn’t feel dated, it easily stands up to the more modern police procedurals from one of the masters of this genre.

I’m delighted to have chosen this as part of my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge, it reminded me quite how good this series is and I can see that I will be revisiting more in the not too distant future.


Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

The Anatomy of Death – Felicity Young

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Historical Crime Fiction 4*s
Historical Crime Fiction

Dody McCleland young woman doctor returns home from her studies in Edinburgh where she had come to terms with the fact that in 1910 no surgical posts were open to women. Instead she has trained to become an autopsy surgeon and eager to work with Mr Spilsbury following his triumph in the court-room during the trial of Dr Crippen.

On her return she is met with the news that a close friend of her younger sister Florence has been killed during a suffragette march on Whitehall for Votes for Women. Dody refuses to carry out the autopsy on Lady Catherine Cartwright and the case is handed to another surgeon but questions over who killed her remain and Dody is determined to find the answers.

Meanwhile Police Inspector Pike, who worked on the periphery of the investigation into whether Crippen had killed his wife, is under pressure from above to prove that Lady Catherine didn’t die at the hands of a brutal policeman. Whilst wary of the more militant of the suffragettes he firmly believes that the police should have behaved better at the march and is asking difficult questions. Between them can they solve the murder?

This book transported me back in time to the turn of the twentieth century, the descriptions of the march are vivid as are Florence’s recollection of being force-fed while on hunger strike in prison. The author walks a fine line in expressing the various views held in the population at the time including the fact that most of the militant suffragettes had the money and home comforts that enabled them to spend time plotting their next actions whilst the poorer women in England were already working outside the home just to keep a roof over the heads of their families. I like this style very much as I prefer it when authors allow me to read the book in context of the time it is depicted and make up my own mind. I imagine weaving true facts with fiction is actually very hard and the author admits that the first known female attendant to Spilsbury actually occurred a full decade later in 1920 but Felicity Young has created an immensely readable and authentic feeling novel. The mystery isn’t terribly complex, my main enjoyment was derived from the links to events that I already knew so that I was able to read this book in context.

Dody comes across as a very level-headed young woman although not immune to the lure of romance she isn’t one of the men-hating varieties of women, she clearly worships Bernard Spilsbury and is intensely loyal to her sister Florence despite not agreeing with the latter’s more militant stance. With a desire to do good without being preachy about it, the character is well-developed as is that of Pike’s. Coupled with a well-paced thought out plot, this book has clearly been well-researched, an absolute essential for a historical novel.

I have a copy of The Insanity of Murder which is the fourth book in this series due out later this month which is a bit of a shame as I’m sure I’ll now end up reading the other two books out of sequence.

I’d like to say a special thanks (again) to Margot Kinburg from Confessions of a Mystery Novelist who recommended this book to me after I had read The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath. So glad she did and that I chose this as one of my 20 Books of Summer 2015, highly recommended for lovers of historical crime fiction.

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

The Maul and the Pear Tree – P.D. James and T.A. Critchley

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True Crime  3*s
Non-Fiction Historical Crime

Why are murders committed in the East End of London in 1811 still of interest over 200 years later? Well the brutal murders of two entire households are in part, at least, responsible for the birth of the Police Service that we have today.

One December night in 1811 an intruder entered the Marrs Draper store and murdered all the occupants including Timothy Marr the owner’s baby son. The only member of the household to survive was the servant Margaret Jewell who had been running an errand for oysters at just before midnight. Ratcliffe Highway was in the East End which led to the intersection between two other main roads. The area was watched by the night watchmen but he missed the entry of the intruder and help was only called when Margaret, having returned empty-handed, was locked out of her home.

This murder alone caused enough consternation between the locals, particularly as anyone with stained or torn clothes were arrested and seemingly just as quickly released by the complicated separate three police forces that had responsibility for the area. When another household were slain action and more importantly reform was called for.

The authors wrote this book in 1971 when interestingly T.A. Critchley, a Police Historian, name preceded that of the now much loved writer P.D. James. This book isn’t of the ilk of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the writing coming across as much more scholarly in the more traditional format of the known facts being presented with the alternative solution to the murderer being presented in the latter part of the book. Despite extensive research it appears that not a lot of the facts survive although there are plenty of contemporary accounts as the murders fed the imagination of the population well outside the East End of London. In addition there were no detectives and those charged with enforcing the police were by all accounts open to bribes or pressure from those far more powerful than them. In order to proceed to the conclusion the reader needs to wade through quite a dense prose which isn’t written with the lightest of touches. There was a feeling that some points were overly emphasised in order to persuade the reader of their truth and to be honest I don’t believe there are enough facts to accurately surmise what happened that night.

What makes this book worthwhile is the social history that accompanies the dreadful facts. The authors do a fantastic job of describing this area of Wapping with its shipyards and shadowy streets where the shops and public houses opened well into the night. The boarding houses that were temporary homes for the sailors when they were on shore and the petty rivalries and jealousies that breed in such situations. The women who when making statements were perhaps carrying out their husband’s bidding were carrying out their pre-ordained roles, the fact that those who should have been depended upon in such an event were perhaps sleeping (or worse) while earning their pittance of a wage all played a part on those December nights.

So what did I make of the author’s conclusion? It seemed plausible based on the little known facts and I concur that the murderer probably wasn’t the man who was blamed for the crimes. But of course the lasting legacy was the recognition that England needed something a bit more substantial and accountable than those currently policing the country.

I’m glad I know more about this oft referenced crime, I now understand why it is still mentioned so frequently and as a bonus I finally have an idea where The Ratcliffe Highway is, why the maul was important, and what a maul is!!

This was read as part of my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge.

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Whicharts – Noel Streatfeild

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Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction

I loved Noel Streatfeild’s first children’s book Ballet Shoes , a book that was re-read more times than I can recall throughout my childhood, so when I realised that this book was actually based on the author’s first attempt at an adult novel, The Whicharts, I knew I had to read this. Then as is so often the way it sat hidden away on my bookshelf, unopened, until now.

Reading The Whicharts is an odd experience with echoes of Ballet Shoes never far away and so it became a little like a game of spot the difference, with only my memory to depend upon. In The Whicharts we have a darker and seedier elder sister to the more uplifting Ballet Shoes, where childhood dreams can come true given enough grit and determination and as long as you remain loyal to those who love you.

Indeed both books start almost identically with the author clearly taking the earlier novel and superimposing the details for what would become a commended runner up for the Carnegie Medal on publication in 1936

 The Whicharts

The Whichart children lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is furthest from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day, and if not too wet expected to “save the penny and walk”.

Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their childhood.

“Our Father,” Maimie the eldest would say, “must have been a definitely taxi person; he couldn’t have known about walking, or he’d never have bought a house at the far end of the longest road in London.”

Ballet Shoes

The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is furthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day, and if not too wet expected to “save the penny and walk”.

Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their childhood.

“Gum,” Pauline, the eldest would say, “must have been a very taxi person; he couldn’t have ever thought about walking or he’d never have bought a house at the far end of the longest road in London.”

For anyone who hasn’t read Ballet Shoes the story is one of three girls who use their talents to support their family in a loyal bid to keep them all together when the money from their nominal guardian, Gum, runs out. The eldest girl, Pauline was an actress, Posy the youngest was a talented dancer and Petrova hates everything to do with the stage but still participates to earn her keep. There are moral tales inserted such as ‘not getting too big for your boots’ when Pauline loses out to her understudy because of her high and mighty ways. The book presents a career on the stage as exciting and rewarding for those who have a passion and through thick and thin the girls stick together. Basically all the ingredients to keep a young reader entertained!

The Fossils were mysterious finds of Gum (Great Uncle Matthew), who were placed with his niece, the Whicharts are the more grubby illegitimate offspring of the Brigadier who dumps them on his long-discarded mistresses, Rose, who is ably assisted by Nannie and Cook. As the girls grow up a little and money is becoming shorter Nannie decides it is time for the girls to go to school, they will take in boarders to pay the fees and keep the household afloat. There is just one problem what name to use to enrol them with. In the end it is the middle sister, Tania who decides:

“By our Farver’s name in course.”
Rose was puzzled.
“What name darling?”
“Whichart in course.”
Rose must have looked hopelessly fogged, because Maimie said kindly as one helping an imbecile:
“Our Father Whichart.”

As in Ballet Shoes it is the youngest of the sisters, this time named Daisy, the daughter of a dancer from Balham, that has the talent for dancing. Her talent is spotted and encouraged by one of the boarders Violet, who introduces them to Madame Elise. And so it is that after some momentary pangs about the suitability of such a career, that all three attend the dancing academy which dusty and dirty. In this book I think we get a far more realistic idea of what life dancing for pantomimes and in dance troupes really would have been like for girls of tender years earning their keep in times of hardship. These details were no doubt the product of Noel’s own years on the stage prior to deciding to turn her hand to writing.

I really enjoyed the story, although at times what I loved and what I would hate in the hands of another writer were disconcertingly close. All the ‘lower-class’ characters drop their aitches which took me straight back to the books of my childhood, but also felt entirely out of place and patronising in an adult’s novel. The adult parts where the young Maimie, after an introduction into adult relations by a director, decides to uses her exquisite looks for money and favours, and sometimes out of sheer spite against another woman, was unexpected and not something that I expected to be inserted in such a blunt way in a book that was published in 1931.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of Ballet Shoes to hand, and nor have I read this for many years, but the characters of the girls right down to how the middle sister who has little talent for the stage longs to fly an aeroplane and would much rather help out as a mechanic than go near the stage appear to be more or less identical although nowhere near as glossy. It is this superficial characterisation which at times appear too trite for an adult novel, despite the fact that some of themes are definitely not childish.

The ending to this book is far less positive than that of Ballet Shoes, and whereas the children’s novel followed the three girls into adulthood, this stops short in a fairly depressing way where only one of the girls looking anywhere near likely to achieving their ‘happy-ever-after’ ending.

I’m so glad I have read this book although the pleasure was far more nostalgic rather than based on this rather unpolished debut adult novel. I do however fear it has tarnished my memory of Ballet Shoes forever although at the same time has added a layer of realism that has charms of its own. 

I’m so glad I added this to my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge, it was so good even when it was truly terrible!

by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), half-plate film negative, 11 January 1934
Noel Streatfeild by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), half-plate film negative, 11 January 1934
Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Every Secret Thing – Emma Cole

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Historical Fiction 3*s
Historical Fiction

Having enjoyed a couple of Emma Cole’s novels written under her more popular pen name, Susanna Kearsley, I was keen to try this novel which promised a more ‘thriller’ angle to her normal historical novels and even better this one has a historical angle with a mystery to boot.

This book starts so well quickly moving the narrative onto the crux of the mystery to be solved.

I first met Andrew Deacon on the morning of the day he died.
It bothered me, afterwards how little I remembered him. Someone who changes your life the way Deacon changed mine should, by rights, be remembered, imprinted indelibly onto your brain.
‘I have a story I could tell you,’ he said. ‘A Story of an old murder, but one still deserving of justice. 

Kate is a journalist covering a trial at the Old Bailey for her paper back in Canada when she met Andrew Deacon on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral although at first she was dismissive, as he left he intimated he knew her Grandmother, she had to know more. Kate uses her journalistic training to track back through the years meeting the key players as she goes.

I loved the first third of this book, where Kate talks to her Grandmother Georgie and discovers the age old truth that she hadn’t always been old, in fact when she was young and had a role to play during World War II. There was a lot to enjoy and learn about especially as Georgie was recruited to work for the British Security Coordination in New York and the descriptions of her life as a young woman in an unknown country were fascinating.

Unfortunately for me, much of the remainder of the story was one of espionage with Whitehall heavily implicated in the mystery that Kate is determined to uncover. I had trouble believing that Whitehall would be interested in keeping secrets so many years after the event but those who like conspiracy theories will probably enjoy this section much more.

I’m not entirely sure what year the book is supposed to be set in but I’m guessing at the end of the nineties although the book was published in 2006. The portion of the book set in the past is inserted into each present day chapter as a recollection from the past rather than a dual-time line novel and this worked really well in linking the past events with the present.

There were some interesting characters but it was Andrew Deacon’s story which touched my heart as we followed him through time starting with his sudden death and then skipping back to his life as a young man working for the Intelligence service.

As well as switching time periods the book also criss-crosses countries featuring England, Canada, the US and Portugal with the main story told from Kate’s perspective told in the first person, with regular portions in third person narrative from Andrew Deacon and those who knew him.

An interesting story and although I didn’t entirely buy into the spy portion of this book, there was plenty to enjoy from some really wonderful characters counterbalanced with some despicable ones who’d used the war to further their own lives, seemingly oblivious to the sacrifices being made by so many.  This is a book which has something for everyone, a historical angle, a thriller along with a sprinkling of romance.

This is the second read for my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge, see the books chosen and read so far here

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Dancing for the Hangman – Martin Edwards

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Crime Fiction 5*s
Historical Crime Fiction

Dancing for the Hangman is a fictionalised account of Hawley Harvey Crippen’s life leading up to 23 November 1910 when he was hanged by John Ellis at Pentonville Prison in London for the murder of his wife Cora.

Martin Edwards has written a book that seeks to explain the psychology and events that led to this seemingly mild-mannered man who committed (if that is indeed the case) the crime and then who fled from England to Brussels with his secretary Ethel Le Neve. There they boarded a ship to Canada where they could begin a new life. Unluckily for Crippen the ship’s captain Henry Kendall became suspicious of the man and his son (Ethel was disguised as a boy), he was well aware that the police were hunting the pair as the newspapers were full of the story.  Using the latest wireless telegraph technology, word was sent that British authorities that the cellar murderer was on board the Montrose and there was only ever going to be one ending to this story, wasn’t there?

So convincing is this tale that I will undoubtedly repeat the fictionalised parts as fact for years to come as it was impossible to tell where the truth ended, and where Martin Edwards has used conjecture in this ‘true confession’ We are taken back to Crippen’s life as a young man, his first marriage to Charlotte and her untimely death which led to him leaving his two-year-old son Otto in the care of his parents while he travelled to New York to practice as a homeopathic doctor.

We travel backwards and forward with Crippen as he meets and falls deeply and passionately in love with Cora and at first all appears well. Crippen supports his wife in her wish to tread the boards and despite set-backs in his professional life this only illustrates his resourceful nature.

Edwards gives a convincing explanation to the events that led to Cora’s death and Crippen’s naïve hope that his mistress Ethel can move into 39 Hilltop Crescent without causing suspicion. Crippen hadn’t bargained for the ladies of the guild who didn’t take to Cora’s replacement and nor did they accept his vague and varied explanations to where she had gone.

I’m not sure that I found Crippen the sympathetic character as I was supposed to. He struck me as very naïve but also quite arrogant and selfish but undeniably weak, especially when faced with strong-willed women. Cora is not painted in a flattering light at all by the author and so Crippen received my sympathy through her flaunting of her lovers, backing her poor husband into a corner, unable to leave and make a life with his new love, but unwilling to stay with a woman who scorned him.

The book is split between the fictionalised confession, Crippen’s thoughts following his conviction and true excerpts from the trial, evidence presented and newspaper articles from the time, which never lets the reader forget that this was a real crime.

I don’t know how close to the truth the author got, but he obviously thoroughly researched his subject and has written a highly informative and interesting book that maintained the tension despite the fact that the outcome was already known to me.

This has got my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge off to a wonderful start with Dancing for the Hangman promoted from the TBR to the historical crime shelf. I’d like to finish by saying thank you to Margot from Confessions from a Mystery Novelist for her recommendation, she was right, I loved this book!