Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Life Between Us – Louise Walters

Historical Fiction
4*s

If you like a book that explores family relationships, a family saga if you like updated to include a mystery, then you need to pick up A Life Between Us. Within its pages you will meet a whole range of characters, some that you will undoubtedly take to more than others and the truths and lies that underpin the way they behave.

The prologue to A Life Between Us is set in 2014 with Lucia Thornton leaving the family home for the last time, shutting the door on the dark secrets that have shaped the next generation. The rest of the book uncovers those secrets and the toll they’ve taken.

In 2013 Tina is encouraged by her patient husband Keaton to join a book club as a way of getting her out of the house and meeting other people. A fantastic idea, I’m sure you’ll agree and one that provides some contrast to the often dark narrative that underpins this novel. Tina’s twin Meg had died aged just eight and for the best part of four decades has accompanied Tina through life, as a chiding voice that does nothing to assuage Tina’s guilt for what happened on the day her twin died. A product of the time, Tina was just left to deal with the aftermath and sadly, Meg’s death has shaped her life, leaving her one with little room for one of her own.

Louise Walters’ book takes us back to 1954 travels through the sixties up to the year of the drought in the UK, 1976. The latter told in part between the pen-pal letters between Tina and her cousin Elizabeth who lives in America. This was a particularly lovely touch and provides a change of writing style. It also provided me with memories of my own letters to my pen-pal full of news! I loved the fact that Tina, keen to find another book-lover, is quite insistent that Elisabeth needs to read her favourite book, Ballet Shoes! Tina’s twin was far more into tree-climbing than reading, so her delight at being able to talk about the Fossil girls is warming, not least as this book played a part in my own childhood of roughly the same era. Further back in the past we learn more about Tina’s Aunt Lucia, one of five children born and bought up Lane’s End House in a time which was very different to those her nieces are born into. I am always impressed when writers of these types of novels provide strong links between the past and the present stories, and in this one it becomes apparent that both aunt and niece have something in their past that they simply are unable to escape.

This book contained everything I hoped for; from period details to complicated relationships the inevitable worn out patience of a man who had lived in the shadow of the death of a child he never met and the mystery which can only be resolved by delving deep into the past. With each page packed full of drama yet cleverly avoiding the feeling that the issues explored are in any way contrived or there to move the story along. One of the biggest problems of a dual time-line book is that it can be tricky to keep both strands interesting while not confusing the reader with the hopping backwards and forwards. I’m delighted to confirm that both these pitfalls have been adroitly avoided by the author and she has written a book that is utterly compelling.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance review copy of A Life Between Us from the author and I have a feeling that this story will haunt me the way that her debut novel, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase has done. This unbiased review is my thanks to Louise Walters for such a dark yet delightful read.

First Published UK: 28 March 2017
Publisher: Matador
No of Pages:  304
Genre: Historical Fiction – Family Saga
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Boundary – Andrée A. Michaud

Crime Fiction
3*s

Set on the border between the US and Canada there is no doubt at all that this literary crime fiction is incredibly atmospheric. Not only is it evocative of the time it was set, 1967 Boundary combines this with a real sense of place, a holiday town populated mainly by women and children during the summer months with the men returning from work at the weekend.
So an idyllic setting with a lake and woods and sounds of the sixties running through two friend’s lives as Zaza and Sissy wield there charms on all around them. Andrée watches from the side-lines knowing that she is far too young for the ‘almost’ young women who laugh and swear and flirt their way through life.

But behind the summery scenes are the undying stories of a man, damaged by life as a solitary Canadian trapper. Pierre Landry had lived in a cabin in the woods. His tragic end and the crimes attributed to him, including the infatuation with a local woman, clinging to the town, unwanted and yet all-pervasive and the children tell stories about the ghost of Pierre Landry.

Barbeques are lit and children called in for food, dolls played with, dens made and the fairground welcomes its guests as every other summer’s day and then, Zaza goes missing. The nearby police are called, the older more experienced officer, Michaud, is haunted by a young girl’s murder, while the younger, Cusack gets worn down by the ensuing investigation into Zaza’s disappearance.

We are told the story from a number of the characters viewpoints including Andrée’s, the police and members of Boundary’s town. These different viewpoints paint a vivid picture of a town marred by events and the change of atmosphere is all-encompassing.

The story starts very slowly and although it isn’t a particularly long book, it took me a long time to finish. In part this was down to the small font which I’m sad to say I struggled to read after a full day working looking at a computer screen and I really needed daylight to see well. This in turn didn’t help the lack of forward momentum early on in the book as I was able to read so little. This may sound odd, and perhaps not entirely fair, particularly to those of you who have younger eyes than mine, but it did seriously hamper my enjoyment of what was clearly a book with lots to offer. I was reading a proof copy though so I’m not sure if the finished article will make for easier reading, but this was a book where I would have preferred an eBook. After the investigation starts the pace picks up and the various strands of the plot begin to draw together to create a convincing, if sad, story. I felt the characters acted in a consistent manner and I felt an affinity for Andrée, and not in the usual way that I feel for child narrators, she wasn’t like me as a child but her feelings felt particularly authentic.

This felt like a grown-up version of crime fiction with plenty of layers and issues to ponder which in many ways lends itself to a more contemplative reading experience than most crime fiction.

I’d like to thank the publishers No Exit Press who allowed me to read a copy of Boundary ahead of publication on 23 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: No Exit Press
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Crime Fiction – Literary
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Legacy – Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Crime Fiction
4*s

Well this new series was my introduction to Yrsa Sigurðardóttir the Icelandic author who has come highly recommended. I wouldn’t say I’m an out-and-out lover of Scandi Noir, as some of it is a bit too dark for my tastes, but here goes, here’s  what I thought.

The book opens with a deeply sad meeting of the equivalent to Social Services where three young siblings are separated to be adopted, ‘the only way to give them all a chance says the director, ‘they can’t stay together’.

The story then moves to 2015 when two young boys alert their neighbour because they’ve been unable to wake up their mother. There’s a reason for that, their mother is dead, brutally murdered by someone who has taken killing to a whole different level. Please dear readers, if you are particularly sensitive and prefer your murders to take place ‘off page,’ avoid this book. That said, this isn’t a book where you are bludgeoned by horrific images on every page there is too much else to be absorbed with.

The woman’s seven year old daughter Margret had seen the murderer and she is taken to the Children’s House, a centre where children who have been abused or otherwise caught up in a crime are treated and questioned, to give a witness statement there. The highly trained team which includes child psychologist Freyja, who I suspect may be the link we follow throughout the series. Freyja is compassionate without being overly sentimental and dealt predominantly in common sense which is how I prefer my protagonists to be.

Meanwhile the local Police force has been under fire with many of the lead detectives needing to keep a low profile in both the press and community and so it is that the newly promoted Detective Huldar leads the investigation into the murder of the young mother. He’s aware that should he fail, that will be the end of his career but when he quickly establishes that his victim seemed to have no enemies, he is struggling for a lead. Our Detective Huldar clearly considers himself a bit of a ‘lad’ but since it’s obvious he is so far out of his depth and he gained my sympathy as he kept on turning over those stones in order to solve the mystery. I actually think the better side of his character is shown by his pairing with his partner Rikhardur. He is not the sort of man to heap the awful jobs on someone else, he purposely watches the post-mortem as he understands his position.

In between the scenes at the Children’s House where Freyja attempts, fairly fruitlessly to coax some details from young Margret we meet a group of young men who are friends because of their interest in listening to short wave radio and it seems to one of the group, Karl that the mysterious numbers broadcasts are a coded message meant for him.

With so much going on, I became completely absorbed by this rich complex tale and never forgot that sad opening but struggled to find a link in the main body of the story. Instead the strands hear which all seemed to be diverging in different directions were skilfully nudged into place within the last portion of the book to bring the tale to its stunning conclusion.

I will be looking out for the next book in this series although I hope to explore some of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir back catalogue before then too.

I was lucky enough to be sent this book by Amazon Vine on behalf of the publishers Hodder & Stoughton and this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 23 March 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
No of Pages:  464
Genre: Crime Fiction – Scandi Noir
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Cut Short – Leigh Russell

Crime Fiction
3*s

I know, I really don’t need to be starting any new crime series as the ones I have on the go, and try hard to keep up with already fill up a fair few slots on the trusty spreadsheet, but this book was already on my kindle having been purchased three years ago.

Now I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t too sure about Geraldine Steel’s debut outing at first but reminded myself that it is hard to introduce a whole new bunch of characters with enough of a back story to make it into a full series and the plot was definitely an intriguing one.

In Woolmarsh following the breakup of a relationship and she’s looking forward to a quieter life than that she left behind, but it isn’t to be. No sooner has she moved into a gated apartment than a killer strikes leaving behind a woman hidden in the park for a small child to find. Not a great way for Geraldine to start her new life! Partnered with the affable DS Ian Peterson the pair along with the rest of the team are under pressure to apprehend the strangler, particularly when it isn’t long before he strikes again.

There are several strands to the story with one pertaining to someone vandalising Geraldine’s personal property and another narrative from a clearly disturbed man who talks to a woman called Miss Elsie which kept my interest when the police investigation inevitably stalled. All too soon the press are asking questions about the competence of the officers in charge and women are protesting about their safety.

The fact that this series is soon going to be up to book number nine leads me to believe that the character development that perhaps this book would have benefited from, the author having favoured dastardly plotting, will soon be realised. It is all too easy for these police procedurals to feel like a rehash of something done before and yet I did feel that this showed a lot of promise. Yes, Geraldine was prone to going home and drinking wine, but hey, so I’m sure do lots of her readers and they don’t have to wonder which member of this small town out and about strangling people even while the police are on every corner! She isn’t too beset by personal problems although she has the odd reflective moment, but on the whole she uses the fact that she’s single with no personal claims on her time to work. We are told, that she uses her attention to detail and great memory to put together the clues and in this case, it works.

In the first paragraph I alluded to the wealth of characters in this book which can be tricky to manage and Leigh Russell gets over this by introducing them throughout the book as they are required, in many ways this book is almost written for TV which led to a disjointed feel in parts but there was also an awful lot that appealed and I certainly found myself racing towards the ending.

I read this book as part of my Mount TBR Challenge 2017 – this is number 7 out of my target of 36 for the year but… I must put the series books aside as I’m very tempted to buy Road Closed which sort of defeats the point of the challenge.

mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 2009
Publisher: No Exit Press
No of Pages:  435
Genre: Crime Fiction – Police Procedural
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century – Peter Graham

Non-Fiction
4*s

New Zealand on a fine wintery day in June 1954 a woman, her daughter and her daughter’s best friend took a walk in nearby Victoria Park. The little group stopped at a tea kiosk for refreshments and then walked further into the park. The next thing Agnes Richie, owner of the tea kiosk knew was that the two girls turned up screaming that Pauline’s mother Mrs Rieper had fallen, and there was lots of blood. There was no fall, Mrs Rieper had been bludgeoned to death by the two fifteen year old girls.

Peter Graham takes a forensic look at the circumstances that led up to the killing of Mrs Rieper, soon to be known as Honorah Parker, in the newspapers, because if the indignity of being the victim of matricide wasn’t enough, Bill, Pauline’s father had to disclose that the couple had never married despite having had four children together. The natural place to start is the friendship between the wealthy Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, especially as the rumours were that the two girls were in a lesbian relationship and the author takes us through a comprehensive look at the facts, mainly supplied by Pauline’s diary but supplemented by the stories the two girls wrote and a few comments from contemporaries. He doesn’t leave it there the circumstances of both families are examined with microscopic detail to look for clues on where the seeds were sown for such an unnatural crime. Indeed rates of matricide, a fairly rare crime in itself, but when split by gender exceptionally so. Indeed those who commit this particular crime tend to be adult women living with elderly mothers, not teenage girls.

The book is fascinating, it starts with the scene of the crime and then looks backwards into the family details before moving onto the questioning of the girls and their eventual trial. If anything a lot of the details about Henry’s work as a scientist seemed a little superfluous but if nothing else it gave context, and indeed contrast, between the lives the two girls lived. The author tries, and in my opinion fails, to come up with an underlying mental illness for either girl, but as in the examination of their family set-ups, he doesn’t ever impose his views, rather gives the facts and lets the reader come to their own conclusion.

The big difference in this account is that we know what happens after the trial, after the two girls were released mainly because one of them became a famous author, of crime fiction. Her identity was discovered when in 1994 Peter Jackson directed the film Heavenly Creatures about this crime, then thirty years after the event. Anne Perry was alive and well, living in Scotland having succeeded in becoming a successful author. It is hard to put out of your mind the stories to the two friends wrote together, heavily inspired by the films they watched and their fertile imaginations. Pauline Parker was also tracked down by keen journalists, she also no longer lived in New Zealand but had settled in England under a new name.

This was a fascinating read although it is often the truth that as much as we want to, we learn little from murderers through true crime. The two girls in this instance, hatched a plan without any idea of what killing someone really entailed and as a result were quickly caught. Their plans to go to America and meet the film stars and become writers, didn’t come true… but for one of them it almost did.

I chose to read this book when I learned that Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge was inspired by this crime which was front page news around the world at the time. I thought that I would follow up with a book by Anne Perry herself, but to be honest I don’t have the stomach for that at the moment, but I have bought a copy of Heavenly Creatures to watch.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
No of Pages: 325
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime 
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Everything But The Truth – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Everything But The Truth is a psychological thriller but not of the ilk that you might be expecting from the genre. This superb read is a quieter more thoughtful book with moral dilemmas at its heart rather than the fast paced action packed books that is now the norm for books marketed under this heading. That doesn’t mean this book isn’t gripping, far from it!

Rachel is pregnant, one that wasn’t planned, well there was hardly enough time for that in her new relationship with Jack, but the pregnancy isn’t a disaster, both are thrilled about the baby on the way and Rachel is delighted to have found ‘the one.’ Rachel works in a law firm as an administrator having left her job as a paediatric doctor while Jack is working as a journalist in Newcastle having moved for a temporary role from his hometown of Oban. All is going well although the couple have yet to move in together in readiness for the forthcoming baby.

Then late one night Jack’s iPad lights up and half-asleep Rachel reads the email sent which mentions an event that she knows nothing about. Rachel begins to wonder how well she knows Jack especially when the short reply he gives the next morning, isn’t wholly convincing.

The book then follows Rachel and Jack forward from this moment where Rachel is determined to find out the truth whatever the cost, but is she right to keep digging? And what is she going to do if she ever finds out? We also see what Rachel’s life was like before Jack, when she was working I the hospital, this strand takes a while before the relevance of this becomes clear, but all is revealed later Beyond that I can’t say anything about the plot because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else.

There is no doubt that Gillian McAllister knows how to weave a tale that is complex and has space built into the narrative that allows the reader to put themselves into the character’s shoes, and yes to make judgements on that tricky morality scale. All the characters are exceptionally well drawn, Rachel and Jack behave in ways that felt absolutely realistic, but so do the secondary characters who are varied and memorable in their own right. I often think that social situations are the hardest to transfer to the page, after all those family walks where in reality no-one says anything particularly scintillating are rarely found in books, but when Jack and Rachel went for a walk with Jack’s parents and brother, it was an evocative scene full of Scottish mist with convincing everyday ordinariness.

One of the strands of Everything But The Truth linked to a personal experience of mine which meant that this is one of those magical books that really ‘spoke to me’ . In this part I had predicted the outcome, but that made it no less devastating to read the words I didn’t want to see on the page. Yes, this book had me sobbing, but it also entertained me, made me think and painted a picture of a young couple that imprinted themselves onto my memory. I won’t forget this book in a long while it had that big an impact on me. There is so much packed into this book that I really do think that there are going to be few readers that are not drawn into some aspect of this clever, fresh-feeling addition to the genre.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book for review purposes from Penguin Books and this honest review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 9 March 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 420
Genre: Psychological Thriller
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Quieter than Killing – Sarah Hilary

Crime Fiction
5*s

Quieter than Killing starts with a chilling prologue; a young boy listens to the sound of a car being washed, carrots being chopped and a boy in a red bedroom surrounded by a girl’s possessions. This outwardly domestic scene has an unfathomable undercurrent that let me know from the first short sentence that the latest book in the DI Marnie Rome series, her fourth outing, was going to be a real treat.

So starts another brilliant outing for DI Marnie Rome and her partner DS Jake Noah in a race against time to work out what links what appears to be violent attacks on people who have previously been convicted of crimes as disparate as kidnapping and assault. Then the new perpetrator goes too far and one of their victims dies. Who is picking these latest victims and why won’t they reveal who is hurting them? With crimes that seem to take no account of age, sex or years since the original crime, finding the killer is going to need the sharpest of detectives. Meanwhile Marnie is left shaken when her parent’s former home is burgled and her tenants badly hurt at the same time and are in the hospital.

During earlier books in this series we’re aware of the crimes committed by Marnie’s foster brother Stephen and his mischief-making is still ongoing, as are Jake’s problems with his younger brother who has been embroiled in the local gangs. This mixture of police investigation with their personal problems is one of the aspects I really enjoy and the two worlds are becoming too close for comfort for both officers. The pair find themselves investigating the gangs and their increasingly young recruits. And then things seem to get personal and with Marnie’s boss, and chief protector and supporter, off work with a serious illness, Marnie has to learn to confront attacks both personal and professional without him at the same time she has to prove herself to the woman drafted in to lead the Murder Investigation Team.

The plotting as ever is exquisite with perfect pacing which takes us down more than one blind alley, each time the tension rises to a new height. This is the twistiest of the series yet, but the author keeps a handle on the strands so that at no time did I consider any revelation, one too many. It is refreshing to be able to relish a story without feeling as if everything is positioned just to confuse, but that these events are not only possible, but likely to happen.

Of course the most engaging of plots wouldn’t get far without great characters and whilst the two detectives are already well-defined, they show parts of their characters that haven’t been quite so obvious before and they are joined by a great supporting cast. To Sarah Hilary, it doesn’t matter if you are a goodie or a baddie, she will add layers to both surprise and delight.

So we have plot and characters and even better Sarah Hilary adds a brilliant turn of phrase to the trinity. For anyone who is under the misapprehension that crime writers can produce a great book without knowing their crime as it is all about the whodunit and less about the well-crafted phrase, all I can say is read this book and experience how great a read can be when all three come together.

I am very grateful to the publishers Headline who allowed me to read an advance copy of Quieter than Killing ahead of publication of 9 March 2017.
Previous books in the DI Marnie Rome Series:

Someone Else’s Skin
No Other Darkness
Tastes Like Fear

First Published UK: 9 March 2017
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Let the Dead Speak – Jane Casey

Crime Fiction
5*s

Eighteen year old Chloe Emery left her father’s house and made her way home to her mother and in these earliest scenes I was left in no doubt at all that something awful is about to happen as her neighbour, Oliver Norris, offers her a lift and drops her home. She dashes inside the house out of the rain and then slowly, very slowly, she realises that all is not as it should be. The house smells funny and there is mud everywhere, only it is not mud, it’s blood.

Maeve Kerrigan has been promoted and she is now a DS, eager to prove herself in the new role and determined that Josh Derwent is going to realise she doesn’t need him treating her like a junior anymore. The pair are called to the Emery house where despite the lack of a body, a murder investigation is launched; Chloe’s mother Kate is nowhere to be found and all her belongings are still at home. This could prove to be a PR disaster for the police if Kate is not dead, but an equal one if they don’t treat it seriously enough.

Right from the off I had masses of questions, was Chloe really as slow as she seemed, and if so why was her bright younger neighbour, Bethany Norris so keen to spend so much time with her? With Chloe reluctant to tell the officers exactly where she’s been since she left her father’s house, or even why she left without saying goodbye, the police are sure they are missing some vital information. But, at least Chloe is safe staying with the Norris’s while the house is a crime scene.

We have a new younger woman on the team too, Georgina who it’s safe to say isn’t a hit with Maeve and so her efforts to impress fall somewhat flat but it takes her a while to cotton on. This is just one example of how Jane Casey gets the tone exactly right. Maeve may well not take to Georgina, but she tries. She doesn’t go for the all-out put downs but tries to temper them with some helpful advice, that way when Georgina screws up, we all know who to blame.

This is, like all the other books in the series, action packed with life-threatening moments coming not just where you expect them, at the end of the book. The pacing is immaculate, once I started this one, I really was terribly reluctant to put it down. There is intrigue as well as all the deadly sins, none as deadly as those inflicted on those who should be closest to us, our family. The casual lies, betrayals and greed are sewn deep into the very fabric of this book, and few of the minor characters come away with anything like an intact reputation which gives plenty of suspects to be suspected!

Now if you want taut plotting and a cast of characters to delight, then you don’t need to look any further, Jane Casey delivers on both. Even better there is an undercurrent of humour which serves to deflect from any of the horrific pictures your imagination may serve up, and believe me, there are plenty of such opportunities.

I was extremely lucky to be given a proof copy of Let The Dead Speak by the publishers ahead of publication date of 9 March 2017!

The Maeve Kerrigan Series in Order

The Burning
The Reckoning
The Last Girl
The Stranger You Know
The Kill
After The Fire

First Published UK: 9 March 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Long Drop – Denise Mina

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

This is the story of Peter Manuel, not a recreation of his crimes scrawled baldly across the page but a nuanced look at the man, both behind the vile acts he perpetrated and the one that he was in his own mind. In Peter’s head there was still the possibility to be another Peter, the one who was a writer and was famous for something other than burglarising, vandalising and raping. When he met the long drop (the method used for hanging in Scotland) he wasn’t the other Peter though, he was the man who wasn’t as clever as he thought he was.

Denise Mina has created a night Peter spent with the father of one of his victims. A father, husband and brother-in-law to three women who didn’t live to say what their last night was like but William Watt wants to know, particularly as he was arrested for the crimes himself, and so his lawyer Laurence Dowdall, having secured Manuel’s agreement, accompanies the men on a meeting in a restaurant one wintry Glaswegian night in 1957. Laurence Dowdall leaves the two men to it and they spend the entire night drinking, visiting clubs before finally winding up drinking a cup of tea in a car outside Manuel’s house, his mother a mere shadow behind the curtains.

The nuanced and assured storytelling is gripping with details oozing out of each sentence, not just about the crimes but about the characters, the essence of the lives they lived and the Glasgow of that age before the slums were cleared and Glasgow was cleaned up. It tells the story of a whole community which had violence running through it. The men jostling for position, just as Manuel and William Watt did in the pub, desperate to hold prime position, not to be outdone by lesser men. Being hard was what it was all about and the men who both protected and beat their women with fierce pride.

Of course we do learn about Manuel’s crimes too in a similar fashion, this isn’t a linear story telling, it is all the more captivating because we wait for the details; the half-eaten sandwich left abandoned at the murder scene, the empty bottle of whisky left on the sideboard for the police to find after the shock of the broken bodies left in the bedroom have been discovered. There is no doubt that Peter Manuel was not a nice man but we also see him through his parent’s eyes. One particular scene about their visit to the prison is one that I suspect is seared into my memory for ever, the emotions roll off the page in an understated manner which pulled at my heart-strings all the more for those that remained unsaid. I have a particular respect for writers who leave the reader the space to fill in the gaps, to allow them to put themselves in the shoes of a mother of a murderer without justifying the emotions she felt and what she might feel in a week hence.

This without a doubt is one of the best books I’ve read based on a true crime with this relatively short book being jam-packed with details which are wide-ranging. It did help that I had recently watched the television drama In Plain Sight, because previously I hadn’t heard of this man, although I’m now aware that for years afterwards his name was used as a synonym for the bogeyman for Glaswegian children.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of The Long Drop prior to the publication by Random House UK on 2 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thank you to them and of course the incredibly talented Denise Mina.

First Published UK: 2 March 2017
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 240
Genre: Crime Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

When the Sky Fell Apart – Caroline Lea

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

One June day just two weeks after those who had decided to evacuate had left on a boat to the mainland, the sky in Jersey was ablaze, the Germans were bombing and poor Clement Hacquoil, the local butcher is set alight. Watching from the side-lines is ten-year old Claudine whose own father has left the island to fight the war against the Nazis.

This shocking opening sets a scene that is only two believable with the author using the German bombs as a way of introducing some of the main characters that populate this often heart-breaking tale. Dr Carter is an English doctor who if he’d followed the orders should have departed on the boat but is needed on an island which still has a sizeable population left. Edith is an older local woman who is on hand to help the injured butcher with her knowledge of plants which can help the sick and the injured. The locals under Edith’s watchful eye remove Clement from the beach and take him to the hospital but he is too sick to attempt to leave on the last boat out of the island before the German soldiers arrive.

Jersey was under German occupation for five long years. Years where food was short, the remote location and the sheer number of German soldiers which meant that there simply wasn’t enough food to go around. This shortage is mentioned regularly throughout the book in a number of ways including the variety of hot drinks and dishes the islanders made in place of their pre-war favourites; acorn coffee anyone? Potato peel pie? Mmm…

In When the Sky Fell Apart the Commandment in charge of the island is a real brute who has the local population and his own men jumping to ever changing rules. Of course in reality the rules were long, and often petty designed to stop the islanders seeking to defend themselves whilst the Germans busied themselves with the help of the prisoners of war to fortify the island with bunkers, tunnels and sea walls that are still evident today.

So while the story is based on a historical event that left a long shadow, the book is peopled by those of the author’s imagination. And she has created a really good cast. The key members being Maurice, a man with a sick wife, Edith the local healer, Dr Carter and Claudine who all see the war and the occupying soldiers through the prism of their own war years. The characters are varied, at different stages of their lives and all battling their own personal battles because of even a war didn’t stop all other battles small and large that people face in life. I liked all the characters because each one had their good points, and at times not so good. The shifting alliances underlining what people need to do to survive in extreme circumstances. This really is a book where the human element is as strong as the true events that it is depicting and I found both elements equally compelling.

While the years of the war roll by we get to see the personal battles and the way our key characters interact with each other and their neighbours on the island and with so much to engage the reader, the book avoided that mid-book slump that historical novels can be particularly susceptible to. I think it helps that the author was born and bred in Jersey with the local names rolling off the tongue, or perhaps that should be page!

Some of the events this book is based upon are very familiar to me and have also been captured in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society but the story itself is far more than historical events, this is a book where I cared about the characters and willed them to have the best war years possible, and hope that when it was all over, their post year lives were spent in tranquillity.

I’d like to thank the publicist FMcM Associates for sending me a copy of When the Sky Fell Apart ahead of the paperback publication.

First Published UK: 24 February 2017
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
No of Pages:  360
Genre: Historical Fiction – WWII
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