Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Peacock Summer – Hannah Richell

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

An old lady, an older house and peacocks! That alone was tantalising enough for me want to know more, and just look at that stunning cover! So I’m delighted to say this story didn’t disappoint at all, in fact it took me off to a mysterious manor with secrets at its heart.

Maggie is summoned back to her sojourn in Australia to the news that her Grandmother Lillian Oberon has been admitted to hospital. Seeing her beloved Grandmother, the woman who has raised her since she was tiny, begging to be allowed to spend the rest of her days at Cloudesley, her home in the Chiltern Hills, Maggie resolves to be on hand. No matter that what happened before her flight to Australia has made her something of a person non grata in the village of Cloud Green. She’s shocked to find a house has deteriorated further in her absence and is now in dire need of some monetary input, money it appears that simply isn’t available. But a promise is a promise…

As Lillian recovers back at home her mind continually returns to memories of the year 1955 when as a young bride she was dealing with the night terrors, and worse, that her husband Charles suffered with. The entrance of a young artist Jack Fincher brings colour into her life as he spends the summer turning the old nursery into a jewellery box of a room with his Trompe-l’œil designed to show off the treasures of Cloudesley to their best advantage.

For some reason the start to my summer reading has involved quite a few books detailing domestic violence of various degrees and in various time periods and this belongs firmly in that bracket. Lillian is a second wife who believes, or is made to believe that she is inferior to the first. Charles has rages bought on perhaps by the war but Lillian, as is commonly the case, is trapped. Even though by this time divorce was possible Lillian feels compelled to look after Albie, Charles’s son and to ensure that the private care given to her sister is continued. It isn’t always fear that keep those binds so tight. This aspect gives what could otherwise be considered a light read, a darker edge and pleasingly a different angle to this dual time-line read (something that I think makes for the perfect escape to the past whilst keeping the present in focus.)

Maggie’s story whilst more recognisable in many aspects also touches on the darker side. Albie her father has been inconsistent and there is that shadowy event that hasn’t been forgotten, least of all by her.

Not only is this an original tale, full of splendour and visual effects, it is also peopled by those characters that you wish you could meet in real-life. I admired Lillian, wanted to see Jack’s creations and had a certain amount of respect of Maggie’s determination. This is a book where you feel the plotting has been meticulously carried out with none of false tension created by devices clearly planted to spin the mystery out. Yes, I know these are often necessary but it is lovely not to be jolted away from the story with them planted conveniently at the end of each chapter.

I can’t leave this review without admiring the ending, more than that I can’t say without spoiling the book for other readers…

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Orion who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Peacock Summer. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the hugely talented Hannah Richell.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

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

Us Against You – Fredrik Backman

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Last year I read a book about hockey. I made the point that I don’t like hockey but I did love the book called at that time The Scandal but now better known as Beartown. I will leave you booklovers to imagine my excitement when I heard there was to be a follow-up book and even greater pleasure when I was able to turn the pages of Us Against You.

We are back in Beartown primarily to see how a town that lives for its hockey is getting on after the shocking events in the first book. Do not read this book if you haven’t read the first one because you will be missing out on a very special experience indeed.

“The greater the mistake and the worse the consequences, the more pride we stand to lose if we back down. So no one does.”

I’ll be honest, there isn’t one big event in Us Against You and because of that it confirmed to me that Fredrik Backman’s strength is in his characters. Beartown might be small but it is full of characters of all descriptions and yet this author has loving created many of them so well that you will be drawn to those that maybe in real life you simply wouldn’t take the time to get to know. Of course the delight for me was meeting up with some old favourites.

Top of the list is Peter Anderssen the General Manager of Beartown Hockey team who has held onto his position until now but there are moves afoot to only have one hockey team in the region and that honour looks like being conferred on Hed – so it is the Bulls against he Bears. In the way that life often goes, the instant drawing up of direct competition means that hatred spreads in its wake as passions are roused to even higher levels.

“The worst thing we know about other people is that we’re dependent upon them. That their actions affect our lives. Not just the people we like, but all the rest of them: the idiots.”

We therefore have Peter’s wife Kira still struggling for her time to shine in her career, his daughter Maya and his son Leo. We see the old hockey coach and the boys who played hockey who mainly switched teams to Hed. Interesting to see how that plays out over a summer when hockey isn’t played, it’s planned. Switch scenes to the five uncles sat in the Bearskin pub where Ramona is still a steady presence in a changing world.

“At some point almost everyone makes a choice. Some of us don’t even notice it happening, most don’t get to plan it in advance, but there’s always a moment when we take one path instead of another, which has consequences for the rest of our lives. It determines the people we will become, in other people’s eyes as well as our own.”

Enter the snakelike politician Richard Theo who decides to use hockey although he seems to like the sport just as much as I do to win. Winning is more important to Richard than anything else it seems and his snaky dealings could make him a pantomime villain but again, the author has given him just enough depth that I was able to resist hissing every time he appeared.

“Lies are simple; truth is difficult.”

I loved this book, perhaps not quite as much as The Scandal but a great deal. I think these books are among the most quotable of modern books, there are truisms that are expertly woven into a story that will have you experiencing tragedy one moment and wondering at the strength of character of another the next. Everyone in Beartown has a story to tell and Fredrick Backman tells it to us with the love of his creation illuminating the world even when its facing destruction.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin UK for allowing me to read a copy of Us Against You ahead of publication on 14 June 2018. A beautiful read of ordinary lives which had me cycling through the entire range of emotions. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 14 June 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Cry for Help – Steve Mosby

Crime Fiction
4*s

A woman’s body is found. She hasn’t been stabbed or shot, instead she has been tied up and left to die of dehydration. Somehow seems far more brutal, and what on earth is the motive?

Dave Lewis is a man with plenty of baggage, his brother died as a child and his parents were consumed with grief. He works a magician and denounces those mediums who he feels preys on those like his parents, desperate to have some contact with their loved ones. Dave narrates his part of this story in the first person and we soon learn that tragically one of victims is known to him. He’s consumed with guilt that he didn’t try to find out how she was. How in this day and age where we are connected electronically to each other can people in your life fade so quickly into the background?

The detective is Sam Currie who has his own baggage to deal with. He has to put all of that to one side though and try and work out who the killer is and what they are trying to achieve. When a woman gets in contact pointing the finger at a suspect, he follows the lead, but is it the right one?

With the bulk of the book told from the third person covering the investigation and the other aspects to the case, it is fair to say this is a complex, and dark story. This multi-threaded story has a reoccurring theme of responsibility. Obviously our detective has responsibility for finding the killer, particularly one as twisted as this individual seems to be. But was Dave responsible for the death of his brother? Is it really up to him to stop the charlatans profiting from the grief-stricken, or should he allow those who want to believe so desperately to find solace where they can? On the much broader note, are we as a society less connected to each other than we were before the massive advancement of technology. Perhaps actually seeing your friends with your own eyes is more reliable than receiving a text message and assuming all is well. What happens though if that message isn’t sent by your friend and actually they are far from well? How do we know? This theme is meticulously carried through the book, and I do like books that make me reflect in this type of way.

That’s not to say Cry for Help isn’t a satisfying crime fiction novel in its own right, it is with plenty of action, twists and turns and red-herrings and expert plotting to hold this reader’s attention. I have to admit it did take me a while to settle into the style and work out what on earth is happening. I’m not particularly squeamish normally but I did find the descriptions of the girl’s deaths disturbing to say the least. I’m not always entirely sure where the line is between being inventive and going too far but I’d say this was on that very line!

This is the second book I’ve read by this author, the first being Black Flowers, another disturbing and memorable read and I bought Cry for Help after reading that one back in 2011. So you’ve guessed it, this is also a read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 being the 20th book I’ve read since 1 January 2018 from my own bookshelves purchased before 31 December 2017.

First Published UK: 2008
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Perfect Affair – Claire Dyer

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

I actually purchased this book way back in March 2014 but like so many other great books, it sat unread until I read The Last Day earlier this year which urged me to find out more about this author.

We meet the elderly Rose serving tea to Eve in a flat, renovated from the home that she’d shared with her parents. Her father’s coat still hangs on the back door. As Rose leaves to retire upstairs, she knows what is going to happen, it has been foreshadowed for a year when Eve and the man who rents part of her home, Myles first met. Rose knows that look…

This is a beautifully written novel, full of emotion but also accurately capturing the essence of an affair, or two.

The two stories, that of Rose and Henry in the past, and the one that is being conducted in the here and now between Eve and author Myles are both engaging. In case you are mislead neither affair is full of heaving bodies, the beauty is in their snatched moments of forbidden love of (for the most part) more cerebral kind.

In the 60s Rose shared a flat with Eve’s Grandmother Verity and relishing her single life meets Henry at work. The description of dresses, that Rose keeps into her old age along with a box full of memories are for the future, now life is for living but will her love of Henry win the day?

In the present Eve’s marriage to Andrew has become distant and to make matters worse she is facing their daughter leaving home to start her life as an independent adult. In short, in common with many women of her age, life is changing and Eve begins to examine what she has. When she meets crime writer Myles on a visit to see her old friend Rose, a spark is lit. But, the same question is raised, will the pair end up together, or apart? What was particularly enjoyable about this story is that the past was seamlessly woven with the present as Rose looked back on her life while watching over Eve in the present. This avoided the sometimes jarring quality of switching between time periods that can occur in the hands of a lesser writer.

The scenes where Myles struggles with his detective series lifted the book. It’s just how I imagine it – shall we have a dog walker finding the body? What will forensics turn up? All interspersed with Myles, not thinking fondly about his controlled wife Celeste, or his two sons but about the woman who he is falling in love with. As is inevitable if the reader is going to fully engage with the affairs, their marriages are not painted in a particularly flattering light, but nor are they painted so blackly that the reader is left thinking that no one would have remained in such a marriage.

The writing is brilliant and almost lyrical without being too ‘poncy.’ With a realistic look at two very different affairs, separated by years and circumstances, this book had me entranced. So even though romantic novels are far from my usual kind of reading fare, there was more than enough depth to this one to entirely hold my attention. I have to admit in many ways I found Rose’s story the more poignant of the two because there is the realisation of what discovery would mean for a young woman in that era and what it could mean for her future. As for Eve I will just say that my views were in accordance with Rose’s.

This is the 19th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. The Perfect Affair was purchased on 29 March 2014 and so fully qualifies.

First Published UK: 28 February 2014
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Sweet William – Iain Maitland

Crime Fiction
4*s

Sometimes when you have quite a few books on your TBR, many of which I have added because of the wonderful reviews my fellow bloggers have written, I don’t remember any of the details of quite why I bought them. In my defence I read many books and even more reviews of books so I can’t be expected to remember the finer details. So in short it isn’t that unusual for me to dive into a book with only a faint idea of what to expect. I can safely say, I didn’t expect what I got with this book, one that is anything other than forgettable.

Raymond Orrey has a plan. He is going to escape from the psychiatric unit, his current home to find his son William and take him away to the South of France to live a blissful life. Orrey is not mad, not like his fellow guests at the Nottinghamshire hospital, he doesn’t dribble or rock himself, he’s planned his escape, as well as he possibly can and he knows where he needs to get to. To the house in Aldeburgh where his son William is visiting with his ‘new’ parents, to attend the parade for Halloween and maybe to have a ride at the funfair. Raymond is going to take William away to a better life, with him, his father.

William is really quite small but he’s had a hell of a disrupted life in that short time and although the short break in the holiday home isn’t friction free – after all, families all have their tensions especially when more than one generation gathers at a time and his ‘grandparents’ are part of the treat. William is also diabetic and not a fan of having his blood tested for sugars.

What follows is mad. Not a politically correct word I’ll admit but the most suitable one. Reading Sweet William is a bizarre experience. Raymond Orrey gives us a blow by blow account of his escape and his thoughts. We are drawn into his world when he seems to ask advice when his plans go awry. Seeing as he didn’t really have any beyond escaping and travelling to his son, this happens frequently. Should this man run or try to blend in with the crowd? Would the police be looking for him or does he have time before they are alerted? We have the questions and then see what he chose in the next chapter – this goes on for 48 hours and is exhausting. Why? Because it pulled this reader entirely into a world where it is hard to keep reminding yourself that Raymond is mad, most likely very dangerous and it doesn’t matter how many times he tries to convince you otherwise. Of course we are never convinced by those who need to repeatedly tell us they aren’t mad but this author has written this so well that sometimes despite this, you get drawn into Raymond Orrey’s chaotic world so that when he weighs up his options you find yourself predicting which, if any, will be the most successful whilst keeping in mind the careful care needed to keep William safe and well, care I wasn’t sure his father would manage.

This is an unusual piece of crime fiction, I’m so glad I took Fiction Fan’s advice, the skill of the writer is abundantly apparent even if the title is entirely misleading, this is the darkest read I’ve unexpectedly fallen into in a long, long time! That said I can’t wait to see what this author produces next.

This is the 18th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. Sweet William was purchased on 28 December 2017 thereby qualifying by the skin of its teeth!

First Published UK: 19 October 2017
Publisher: Saraband
No of Pages: 251
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Only Child – Rhiannon Navin

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This book reminded me a little of Room by Emma Donoghue as our narrator is a six year old child struggling to make sense of a terrifying event.

Zach is in a cupboard in the classroom with his teacher and classmates, through the door he can hear loud sounds and so despite having practised ‘lockdown’ events at school before he knows this isn’t a practice.

“Lockdown meant don’t go outside like for the fire alarm, but stay inside and out of sight.”

I have to admit I struggled, straight away, it never occurred to me, despite the rise of violence in schools, particularly in the US, that children practiced for these events in the same way we did the odd fire drill as children. There is no overt violence witnessed that day, or at least not by Zach who having described the noises from his hiding place, the obvious fear of the other little children and the smells as they waited for the all clear. Sadly there are some fatalities. It soon turns out one of them is Zach’s older brother Andy.

“I could pick whatever I wanted, she said, so I put in the dollar and pressed the button for Cheetos. That’s junk food, and most of the time it’s a no to junk food, but today was a no-rules day, remember?”

This was a hard book to read and not just for senselessness that we all feel when we hear about another school shooting. The hard part was witnessing the grief of this one family through a child’s eyes. The reason why is in part the reason why it was such a good idea to read this from a child’s perspective because children are more honest than adults.

“Yesterday we did all the things we do every Tuesday, because we didn’t know that today a gunman was going to come”

Andy had oppositional defiant disorder which in child’s terms meant he made his mother and father angry and sad a lot of the time, and he was mean to Zach and so at first from his childlike perspective maybe life at home will be easier without Zach?

“And I thought about how we didn’t know then that it was going to be the last normal day, or maybe we would have tried not to have all the same fighting we always have.”

Of course it isn’t like that, and as the grief drives Zach’s mother on to campaign for the shooter’s family to be held responsible for their actions, sadly in her mission to ensure they are punished, she seems to have overlooked Zach’s continuing trauma. Zach’s father returns to work and Zach is left to amuse himself which he does in touching and yet believable ways. Always important when you are reading from a child’s viewpoint. He is an appealing child, and the power in his character, as in the rest of the book, is that it is realistic. People don’t instantly turn into ‘angels’ when tragedy strikes, in fact they often do incomprehensible things, all completely understandable, but it is a brave author who shines the light on how this can play out for both the family involved, and the wider community.

This was a thoughtful book, it dealt far less with the initial crime than I expected and the authors insights and portrayal into ‘life after’ were hard-hitting and to an extent confront all sorts of emotions felt that can’t be easily expressed by adults as a different expectation is laid on those bereaved. I was completely tied into the story and ended the book with tears dripping off the end of my nose – this definitely belongs to that list of books whose characters I won’t forget in a hurry.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Mamillan for allowing me to read a copy of Only Child, This unbiased review is a thanks to them and the author for such a well-written, if emotional, story.

First Published UK: 8 Feb 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Portrait of a Murderer – Anne Meredith

Classic Crime
4*s

It has taken me a while to write this review because I needed time for the book to settle before I could decide how I felt about it. One of its strengths, and weaknesses, was because it isn’t a conventional crime story. We learn who the murderer is fairly early on with the rest of the novel spent watching from the wings to see if they will get caught. Now considering the book was written in 1933 this was a brave move, although this author was quite established under another pen name Anthony Gilbert. However it does mean that for people like me who don’t particularly enjoy the thought of anyone going unpunished, especially for murder, it makes the read a little bit more traumatic than I expect the author intended.

Anyway back to the story. We have a patriarch Adrian Grey, an elderly and not particularly nice man, who has his children to stay for Christmas 1931. There are six children in all, and some of them have bought their partners, and although a grand house like King Poplars should have room enough for them all to rub along nicely, it appears not. One of his children, or their partners kills Adrian Grey. Not such a happy Christmas after all!

Could it be Richard the politician who needs some hard cash to make a little problem disappear? Surely it isn’t younger daughter Amy, the one who stayed behind to keep house and resent any reckless use of her tightly budgeted household? Or Isobel who made an unwise marriage and has returned home with whatever bloom she possessed faded until she is almost the background? Or the son-in-law Eustace who is financier who seems to have dragged the old man into a bit of bother money-wise? Or younger son Brand? He’s the one who is different and ran away to Paris to become an artist and whose blousy wife and mucky children were most definitely not invited to join the Christmas cheer. Surely it can’t be Ruth the happily married daughter who appears to want nothing from her curmudgeonly father? Well we do know it was one of them, and to be honest few of them have enough positive traits to outweigh the negative ones.

As it happens we are put inside the head of the murderer at the point of the killing and know who has done it, what they did to hide any evidence and how they acted post discovery. And this is the bit I liked, this witnessing a fairly unpleasant brood as they try to hide, or minimise, any motive they may have, or in plain speaking are willing to throw each other under the bus if it keeps them in the clear.

A Portrait of a Murderer on balance was a more interesting than an entertaining read. It shone a light on the fading prospects of those who were clinging to their upper class status at a time when everything was changing and fast. Adrian Grey was far from the only wealthy landowner who was having to cut his cloth a wee bit tighter after all.

I’m quite glad I chose to read this out of season, it would probably have put a bit of a dampener on my Christmas dinner but there is no doubting that the British Library Crime Classics has done us all a favour by bringing this book back from obscurity for our enjoyment, whatever the weather.

I’d like to thank the publishers Poisoned Pen Press for allowing me to read a copy of Portrait of a Murderer, I feel honoured to read a book that had been out of circulation for quite so long before they bought it back for a new generation to enjoy. This unbiased review is a thanks to all of you who made this happen.

First Published UK: 1933
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? – Kathryn McMaster

Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? is a piece of fiction heavily based on a true crime committed in Manningham, a town to the north of Bradford in West Yorkshire in December 1888.

Johnny Gill was eager to help the local milkman out on his rounds, at just seven years old his mother insisted that he wear his warm coat as protection against the cold December morning. She expected him back as usual for his breakfast but he didn’t turn up. His mother first sent his older sister to look for him, then when she couldn’t find him went running up and down the nearby lanes looking for her eldest son, with his fair hair and sweet face. When his father Tom returned home and day turned to nigh and with still no clue as to where their son was, they went and reported him missing.

I’m not going to lie, the descriptions of the scenes when the small boy’s body was found in a nearby stable are hard to stomach. The crime may have been committed well over a hundred years ago but in some cases, the distance of time makes no difference to the horror felt.

Kathryn McMaster recreates the time and place using meticulous research as well as that of the crime investigations, including the speculation that Jack the Ripper had travelled to this northern town to commit a further atrocity.

The chief suspect wasn’t Jack the Ripper though, it was the milkman, William Barrett, a married man with a baby, who had recently moved to the town and who Johnny had joined on the milk round the morning he disappeared. William Barrett insisted he dropped the boy off before he returned to pick up more milk and start the second half of the morning round but no-one had seen the boy since. Due to the lack of concrete proof all the police had was a whole heap of circumstantial evidence, you will need to read the book to see if this was enough to convict anyone for the crime.

                5 January 1889

Fictional books of real crimes are tricky to get right, especially when the time period is so very far in the past, but both this book and Blackmail, Sex, Lies and Lies by the same author, concentrates the fiction to bring the personalities, and emotions, of those involved to life, thereby hitting exactly the right spot. We witness the terror and grief of both Johnny’s parents. The bewilderment of the locals that someone, possibly from within their community had carried out such an act and the support the milkman had from his boss and his wife. Intriguingly there was a fund set up to help pay for the twenty-eight year old’s court costs at the time, something that says such a lot about the sympathy and support that this young man garnered at the time.

Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? was an absolutely compelling read although not for the faint-hearted. The fictionalisation is subtlety and expertly woven between the known facts and documents from the time.

This is the 17th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. Who Killed Little Johnny Gill was purchased on 16 December 2017 thereby qualifying.

First Published UK: 9 February 2016
Publisher: Drama Llama Press
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Historical True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Arsenic Labyrinth – Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction
4*s

This is the third of the Lake District Mysteries and for once I am working my way through in strict order, something I’m glad I chose to do as the back story of how historian Daniel Kind left his teaching post at Oxford and his television career to live in a cottage there, while not key to the individual mysteries themselves, does of course work better when you the story arc plays out in the correct order.

I have to mention how thrilled I was to open the book to two family trees one for the Clough family and one for the Ichmore family. I love touches like this in books and although the significance of these families isn’t apparent for a while, once it was you can be sure I turned back to the beginning to acquaint myself with the details. After that we have an excerpt from a journal – something neither the police or Daniel have seen. Don’t you just love that feeling that we know something the investigators don’t?

Chillingly the journal starts with the words:

You’d never know it to look at me now, but once upon a time I killed a man.

So on to the mystery which starts with DCI Hannah Scarlett opening an old case file because local journalist Tony di Venuto, chooses the tenth anniversary to campaign for an investigation into the disappearance of Emma Beswick. For publicity reasons it seems like a good time to re-evaluate what Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team know, and where they should look to see if any new information comes to light. This is a case that DI Hannah Scarlett knows well, she was part of the original investigation team working for Daniel’s father.

Along the way she visits the Museum of Myth and Legend run by local man Alban Clough and managed by his daughter Alexandra because Emma used to work there, and she had a relationship with Alexandra. What she learns isn’t so much about Emma though, but about the local folklore and the arsenic labyrinth, set in a remote spot of the lakes.

Part of what I love about this series is the well-researched information that that the author carefully weaves into the storyline. Nothing as clumsy as an information drop for this accomplished author, rather key information in direct relation to the mystery which is fascinating.

With the professional detective and an amateur side-kick both involved in the investigation, although not in any formal way, the reader is offered an insight into the different ways key bits of information can be found, and used to unravel the different questions that need answers. For light relief we watch a con-artist weave his artful magic on an unsuspecting, desperate and gullible B&B Landlady to get a more comfortable bed for a few nights.

For a book that I would classify as at the more comfortable end of crime fiction it is jam-packed with literary references, historical information, an ancient feud and of course a solid mystery. Because there are so many strands to these books it can seem as though it takes longer to get to the heart of the puzzle than you expect but it really is well worth the wait.

This series really is a satisfying read, a beautiful location bought to life against the backdrop of the flip-side which investigates the darker side of human nature. It certainly won’t be long before I read the next in the series, The Serpent Pool.

This is the 16th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. The Arsenic Labyrinth was purchased on 6 November 2017 thereby qualifying.

First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

The Lake District Mystery Series

The Coffin Trail (2004)
The Cipher Garden (2005)
The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007)
The Serpent Pool (2010)
The Hanging Wood (2011)
The Frozen Shroud (2013)
The Dungeon House (2015)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018, The Classic Club

The Lodger – Marie Belloc Lowndes

Classic
5*s

Talk about setting the scene! We first meet Mr and Mrs Bunting fretting over their lack of money. These respectable ex-servants now run a boarding house, the only problem is, they have no boarders. Money is tight and many of their prized possessions have been sold, or pawned, although Mrs Bunting would never lower herself to enter a pawnbrokers shop. The pair are hungry and down to their last pennies.

The boarding house is on the Marylebone Road in a very foggy London circa 1913 but it has been furnished nicely. It is just before Christmas when the couple decide to put the light on in the hallway and a stranger, with little luggage knocks at the door.

Mr Sleuth is just the sort of lodger the couple want in Mrs Bunting’s opinion. She judges him to be a gentleman, and so although he is a bit fussy about keeping his rooms locked, oh and only wants Mrs Bunting to serve his food, and he’s a vegetarian, but he’s paying a handsome sum for the privilege which means Mr Bunting can go back to buy the daily paper and his tobacco.

Those daily papers are filled with stories of murders, bodies found with a note from ‘The Avenger’ Mrs Bunting is seriously unimpressed with everyone’s, well mainly Mr Bunting’s, salacious interest in the case, something only increased by their young friend, Joe who is serving with the Metropolitan Police and not at all adverse to giving titbits out about the investigation. But even with the intrepid Joe playing his part the bodies keep on mounting. With the arrival of Mr Bunting’s teenage daughter Daisy who Joe has taken a shine to, Mrs Bunting begins to suspect their lodger of being The Avenger. She doesn’t know what to do as I suspect she is secretly in agreement of doing away with those fond of drink which seem to be the main victims. That said she doesn’t want to be an accessory after the fact and of course, as the papers say, this could be Jack the Ripper.

This slow burning novel is mesmerising. Even this level-headed reader some one hundred years into the future couldn’t help but be drawn into Mrs Bunting’s mounting apprehension and horror. This middle-aged woman is a fascinating character, even more so than Mr Sleuth with his Bible reading and odd habit of prowling the streets in the fog doesn’t quite compete. She is one of those women of a certain age who seem to relish having no enjoyment in life and looking down on those who do. The only pleasure she seems to approve of is Mr Bunting’s chair, bought as a treat for him to sit in after a hard day’s work. Her attitude to young Daisy is so cutting at times that it seems that Daisy is quite unlike modern teenagers who I’m sure would, in the main react in any other way other than helping Mrs Bunting sweetly with her chores, which is what this lovely girl does. It’s not as though she doesn’t have a spark to her personality which is shown by a visit Joe takes her on to the Black Museum, although sadly for the pair Mr Bunting gate-crashed this romantic trip.

As a classic piece of crime fiction with a psychological bent, this has to be up there with the best and so I urge you to take a trip through the foggy streets of London to revel in the descriptive and yet modern feel to the writing. There on those streets or perhaps upstairs in the boarding house, you will find out the truth of the matter!

The Lodger is number 31 on The Classics Club list and the fifth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1913
Publisher: The Crime & Mystery Club; UK
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
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