Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

An Act of Silence – Colette McBeth

Psychological Thriller
4*s

Colette McBeth provides us with a nuanced and multi-layered tale in this story which could be plucked from the tabloids.

Linda Moscow is a former Home Secretary who resigned under a black cloud and of course had her disgrace splashed all over the red-tops. Imagine her horror when her son, Gabriel, a stand-up comedian, turns up in her kitchen informing her he is supposed to be presenting himself to the police in a few hours in connection with the death of a woman. Yes, Linda loves her son, can she trust in her son’s innocence? This strand of the novel is one that begs the reader to ask ‘What would I do?’ After all from what she is told Mariela who Gabriel shared the night with has been found dead on the allotment behind his house, for him it appears she was simply another notch on his crowded bedpost, tales of which have kept his face in the public eye ever since he became a famous comic. And then there is the secret that Linda has been nursing over the years.

I loved the way we learn more about each of the characters through their own narration and through other people’s eyes. When wisely used, this is one of my favourite ways for a story to unfold as I firmly believe it is how we learn about each other in ‘real’ life. The time jumps backwards and forwards as different details are revealed stretching way back into the past.

In the background there is the all too familiar story of sexual abuse by those in authority. Relieved of her ministerial duties Linda has joined with a journalist to investigate such abuse of young girls by those in positions of authority and is busy tracking the women down through social media to expose the truth.

Colette McBeth uses the various characters to examine relationships, most prominently in this case one between mother and son and what should be seemingly rock solid bonds can be stretched to the limits. How past experiences of guilt and betrayal colour apparently unrelated conflicts in the future and how interference from others can cast an insidious shadow on the way we view those that we are closest to.

Because of the nature of Linda’s quest to reveal the truth about historic sexual abuse, this is quite a sad book which made it a harder read than many in the psychological thriller genre however the plentiful twists and turns and action scenes meant that the book falls short of being a depressing tale about abuse. In fact by choosing two diametrically opposite characters, the child victim and the politician the author was able to make much wider statements about neither label coming close to summing up an entire person, each having far more layers and depth to them.

An Act of Silence lives up to its title, sometimes it is the unsaid that can cause far more strife than any words spoken aloud.

I’d like to thank Colette McBeth for giving me a copy of An Act of Silence when we met at a Headline blogger event earlier this year, this review is my unbiased thanks for a stunning, involved and intelligent novel that despite somewhat unlikeable characters really got under my skin.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Wildfire
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Colette McBeth

Precious Thing
The Life I Left Behind

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Not A Sound – Heather Gudenkauf

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Heather Gudenkauf’s books fit into a mix of genres leading with a strong element of crime fiction, defiantly thrilling whilst ultimately being triumphantly character but let’s don’t forget they also include issues as well as the spark of romance, all of which provides something for everyone without becoming a jack of all trades and master of none.

Amelia Winn is profoundly deaf following a hit and run accident. Cut adrift from the nursing work she loved she hits the bottle much to the fury of her husband David who needs to be able to trust her with his young daughter Nora. We meet her two years after the accident when out on the river with her service dog, Stitch, she finds a body. What happens next is terrifying and mysterious in equal measures.

The atmosphere in this book is ramped up by Amelia’s isolation, not only through her hearing loss but the fact that she has decamped from the marital home to an isolated cabin where she is slowly trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. It is impossible not to feel some sympathy for the poor woman who has cut herself off from her former friends, with only policeman Jake, her brother’s best friend, as a constant in her life. Jake has encouraged her to stop drinking and now she is ready to try to start work again, sadly not as a nurse but she’s applied for an admin job for an oncologist. The two strands build up a real picture of Hannah’s life and I liked the fact that although she had lost the early battles for her true self, she is no victim, she accepts that she could have handled things differently and that the loss of David and Nora in her life is as a direct result of how she acted.

There’s quite a lot going on in this book and I spent the first half or so imagining that the book was going to veer off in a totally different direction than it did but that’s not to say the author cheated the reader, the case was that I thought I knew better! As well as the well-researched hearing loss storyline the author, inspired by her son’s cancer, the strand that takes us into the files that Hannah works on as she updates the surgeon’s records. And of course at the heart of the book is a solid mystery. Who is the murderer and what was their motive?

I raced through this book and enjoyed the variety as well as the strong characters and exceptionally visual descriptions that the author paints for the reader. Although I felt there were a few occasions when the author repeated Hannah’s thoughts to ensure her readers got the point this was nicely balanced by the brilliant action scenes where the author gently reminds us how Hannah’s hearing loss means she has extra obstacles to overcome. With an ending that deliberately doesn’t sew up all the loose ends this book had a real feel of realism to it, which is always a bonus.

I have enjoyed so many of Heather Gudenkauf’s books, each one telling a very different story but all having a solid plot, great pacing and best of all being utterly compelling.

I’d like to thank the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance copy of Not A Sound, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 30 May 2017
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books by Heather Gudenkauf
The Weight of Silence (2009)
These Things Hidden (2011)
One Breath Away (2012)
Little Mercies (2014)
Missing Pieces (2016)

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

They All Fall Down – Tammy Cohen

Psychological Thriller
5*s

For those of you who read my blog regularly you’ll already know that I am a huge Tammy Cohen fan and it is only due to unforeseen circumstances that this review wasn’t posted prior to publication of her latest psychological thriller They All Fall Down on 13 July 2017. The good news is that if you want to read this in eBook format it is currently at the exceptionally low price of 99p.

The setting of this latest novel is in a private psychiatric clinic and right from the off there is a feeling that Hannah isn’t there of her own volition, but quite why and what happened before is left in the shadows. This isn’t the only mystery though, two women have died at the small clinic and Hannah is worried that they weren’t the suicides that everyone presumes. The problem is Hannah clearly has problems and she’s not being taken seriously by anyone, least of all her husband Danny who is becoming increasingly frustrated with what he thinks is her continued paranoia.

Once again Tammy Cohen has the pace absolutely nailed down. Now I’m somewhat a connoisseur of psychological thrillers, I know the wily tricks authors play to keep the facts hidden in order to ensure their twists give the maximum punch to the guts, and I confess this knowledge has tarnished the more amateur examples, but in this instance, there were enough clues given so that any twist felt far less artificial. Our main narrator, Hannah, by the very fact of her setting can be considered to be unreliable but we have other narrators including her fabulous mother Corrine. Corrine is so desperate to help her daughter no matter what she has done but she is also a realist who isn’t going to blindly go charging in without testing some of her daughter’s theories, so she turns detective. As always with this author all of the characters are carefully drawn, one where each time we meet them we learn a little bit more, sometimes coming to a different conclusion. This is particularly difficult with some of the issues Hannah’s fellow patients suffer from and I have to confess while racing through the book, I was also just like Hannah trying to leave the confines of the claustrophobic clinic.

If twists and turns enhanced by the fabulous pace aren’t enough to tempt you to read this, I must also mention the dialogue which is absolutely pitch perfect. With so many of the interactions between the characters betraying something which is key to the storyline, particularly those between the doctors and patients – those group meetings rang so true and at times the words on the page cut deep and I winced as the subjects battled both internal and external demons.

One of my issues with some books in this genre is the reliance on twists which is now the selling point rather than the original notion which was to explore the psyche, to my delight They All Fall Down manages both, we have the time to reflect on actions of the characters, and how their emotions can lead to them acting in the way that they do, but we also have some brilliant twists which in this case weren’t the ones I was expecting at all.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Black Swan who kindly sent me an ARC of They All Fall Down, and to Tammy Cohen for writing this brilliant novel.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Black Swan
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller

Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books By Tammy Cohen – aka Tamar Cohen

The Mistress’s Revenge (2011)
The War of the Wives (2012)
Someone Else’s Wedding (2013)
The Broken (2014)
Dying For Christmas (2014)
First One Missing (2015)
When She Was Bad (2016)

Writing Historical Fiction as Rachel Rhys

A Dangerous Crossing (2017)

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Bones and Silence – Reginald Hill #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

I simply adore this series, it takes a true writer to pen an entire collection where each book has a different feel and yet stays absolutely committed to the chief protagonists: Dalziel. Pascoe, Wield and Ellie whilst coming up with different types of scenarios as a stage for them to play on.

The stage in Bones and Silence is a literal one with the talented, determined and beautiful Eileen Cheung putting on a community medieval play The Mystery which is planned for the May Bank Holiday weekend. Her aim is to cast Dalziel to play God, riding atop a truck through the town – sheer brilliance!

Of course it isn’t all play-acting as the book opens with Dalziel witnessing something, but what did he really see through his window? The end result is a woman is dead and Dalziel is convinced that he saw two men, a woman and a revolver. In the time it takes for Dalziel to sprint to the house, the woman is dead and her lover and her husband both insist that she shot herself. Dalziel doesn’t believe a word of it!

Meanwhile Peter Pascoe who is still recovering from serious injuries inflicted during the previous book takes a more circumspect view and is somewhat less than convinced of Dalziel’s certainty.

Of course one potential murder and a play is not enough for Reginald Hill so we have some sub-plots to involve ourselves in, including some cryptic letters written anonymously to Dalziel which Pascoe investigates. All of this gives the reader many opportunities to witness the acerbic wit of Dalziel, the more introspective Pascoe and I’m glad to say Wield gets a decent part to play in this book. And of course inbetween the police action Eileen Cheung is cracking her whip with rehearsals and cutting through Dalziel’s expected reticence to knuckling down to put on a play that the entire community of Yorkshiremen and women can enjoy.

Ellie is a little less bolshie in this book following a serious lack of judgement that put others in danger in the previous episode but fortunately this being book eleven, I know she gets her spark back later on in the series. One of the great delights of this book is that although Reginald Hill has created some wonderful characters he allows different aspects of their nature to ebb and flow. We think of Dalziel as being charmless and dogmatic but at times he is capable of great empathy which turns him from a caricature into a fully rounded man, each of the other main protagonists are given the same treatment. This top-notch characterisation along with the, just the right side of genius in solving the crime in Bones and Silence, just served to underline what an absolute treat these books are.

If you haven’t read this book, and personally I think each book can be read as a standalone although to fully appreciate the depth they definitely work better once you’ve read more than one, have a hanky ready for the ending – I will say no more.

Bones and Silence was my fifth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 1990
Publisher: HarperCollin
No of Pages: 528
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead – Andrew Tierney #20booksofsummer

Historical True Crime
4*s

On 1 May 1849 Ellen Langley dies in Nengh, County Tipperary the local women gather and stone the house she was living in. Meanwhile Doctor Langley tried to go about the business of removing Ellen’s body from the house; he did, she spent two days in the garden.

This is the account of one woman’s life, a fairly indistinct figure and her sad demise and one that serves as a commentary on how women were both viewed and treated at this time, with a focus on the laws in Ireland at the time. It is clear, for whatever reason, Ellen Langley had been cast aside by her husband and in 1849 that put her in a very precarious position indeed.

This was an interesting read although the explanation of the convoluted family relations slowed pace of the book with mini-biographies of countless kith and kin, fortunately there are some family trees at the start of the book to assist the reader.

Following these early explanations we then move onto the part of the book which was far more interesting, the inquest where Doctor Langley seems at pains to exonerate himself from the faintest whiff of suspicion of wrongdoing. As a Protestant man of social standing, a man who had attended inquests as an expert witness at previous murder trials (there was far more serious crime in County Tipperary at this time than I’d imagined) it is possible that the Doctor was just pre-empting any rumours, after all the fact that his marriage to Ellen had not been happy in the last few months was no secret. Or his efforts to appear innocent were those of a man who was trying to disguise his guilt?

One of the things that always strikes me about historical true crime is how much faster the wheels of justice tended to move in those days. Archaeologist Andrew Tierney has certainly dug deep to find the documents that detail the court proceedings and has resisted what surely must have been a big temptation to flesh Ellen out with more details than are actually available. As a result she remains a shadowy being which made me feel all the more compassionate for this woman who represents so many of her time.

You can’t have a historical account in Ireland without links the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants and while this doesn’t overshadow the court case it is useful to have the context, if only to gain an understanding of social standing. Alongside that, Ellen died during the potato famine and the author paints a desperate picture of the effect this had on the local population, the contrast between the rich and the poor being readily apparent.

This is a worthy addition to my historical true crime collection and the arrogance and lack of compassion from some players in the court room, all men of course, women were not allowed at this time, was so blatant it defied belief at times, but there is a lot to keep the reader’s attention. And then we get to the ending, court case over, The Doctor’s Wife is Dead leaves us with a surprise discovery which left me shocked.

The Doctor’s Wife is Dead was my fourth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 23 February 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 282
Genre: True Crime – Historical
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Frost at Midnight – James Henry

Crime Fiction
4*s

For those who loved R.D. Wingfield’s original crime series featuring DI Frost, James Henry has recreated this dishevelled detective in earlier times; Frost at Midnight is the fourth prequel in the series.

It’s 1983 and Denton CID are confronted with a dead body on top of a tomb in the local graveyard, the case is instantly a PR nightmare as the body is Rachel Curtis, a domestic violence victim who acting under coercion was jailed for murder but had now been released early. Added to the now increased workload there are more immediate problems as Detective Sergeant Waters is getting married and he’s unable to attend the rehearsal with his best man Detective Inspector Jack Frost.

With the police station in a state of flux a the officers get to grips with the new-fangled computers and pagers everything is taking longer than it used to – Jack isn’t the only one who is sceptical of the use of these new additions to crime fighting. Superintendent Mullett, as ever, has his priorities at total odds with Frost and it is only thanks to the habitual nifty footwork in ignoring his orders that the team have any chance of solving the crime.

Meanwhile DC Sue Clarke has finally reached the end of her tether; looking after a baby and having Frost sleeping on her sofa following the death of his wife is not compatible with a good life. Sue wants to return to work but Mullett aka Hornrim Harry is reluctant. And then a prostitute goes missing leaving a young boy to fend for himself and CID need all the help that they can get.

I’ve enjoyed all the prequels that James Henry has written and found that the language and the characters have been kept faithful to the original books. The sense of time with all the accompanying misogyny and racism along with the emerging new technologies are present and correct and a huge amount of my enjoyment is on a nostalgic level. The plotting is well thought out with the sense of urgency mounting as the team try to wrap multiple strands of the investigation up before the wedding takes place. It isn’t just dead bodies and missing women, there is also the mystery of the missing money left by a newcomer to Denton in a cement mixer along with the ever-present worry of where Frost’s next meal is coming from! On that note the Frost in this book is more chaotic, even shabbier and perhaps a little less sharp although he has time to woo a couple of ladies (I’m really not sure of the appeal here) as he deals with his changed personal circumstances. In a modern crime book there would be trips to the force doctor and supportive colleagues discussing grief but this is 1983 and there is no doubt Frost is struggling without a single nod to mental health.

I’d like to say a huge thanks to Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Frost at Midnight which is another excellent prequel, one that kept me thoroughly entertained as Denton once more comes to life with all its myriad of characters and Frost’s caring and clever mind fighting to the fore.

First Published UK: 17 May 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Frost books Prequels and Originals

First Frost: (DI Jack Frost 1) (James Henry)
Fatal Frost: (DI Jack Frost 2) (James Henry)
Morning Frost: (DI Jack Frost 3) (James Henry)

Frost At Christmas: (DI Jack Frost Book 1) (R.D. Wingfield)
A Touch Of Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 2)  (R.D. Wingfield)
Night Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 3) (R.D. Wingfield)
Hard Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 4)  (R.D. Wingfield)
Winter Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 5) (R.D. Wingfield)
A Killing Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 6)  (R.D. Wingfield)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Sewing Machine – Natalie Fergie

Historical Fiction
4*s

I’ll admit I bought my copy of this book in part because of its delightful cover which caught my eye and then on reading two wonderful reviews of this book by Portobello Book Blog and The Quiet Knitter which easily convinced me that I needed to find out the tale of the Singer factory strike which was held in Clydebank, Glasgow in 1911.

I love historical fiction especially that which vividly shows the changes in our lives, particularly women’s lives, over the last century or so and The Sewing Machine squarely hits this brief. In 1911 Ten thousand workers went on strike, eighteen year old Jean being one of them. Jean’s story is one of split loyalties, between her family and her sweetheart and the consequences of the decisions made at this time in her narrative which spans decades.

In 1954 Connie has a Singer Sewing machine, bought in the early days of her marriage and unpredictability of life are beautifully captured in her own narrative and the details of those items she makes on her Singer, each item having a scrap of fabric and a few details entered into a notebook, these excerpts really hitting the mantra that less is sometimes so much more!

The most recent narrative is written by Fred In 2016 who is tasked with clearing his Grandfather’s flat which includes not one but two sewing machines. Fred is a man of this age, he blogs about his life, the big decisions he is forced to make and his memories of his grandparents. I’m not going to lie, I was surprised that we had a male perspective a book which shrieks ‘women’s interest’, one of the many successful and enjoyable departures from the formula often employed by writers in this genre.

In any historical novel the characters are key and each of those who feature are distinct and realistic. Some of the stories told are those that we may well be familiar but given life through the eyes of Natalie Fergie’s creations. My own grandmother had a Singer sewing machine and I used to play with a doll of my mother’s when I visited her house – new clothes were made for her using the flamboyant scraps of material of the 80s to give her a change from those more stylish and refined items she possessed from the 50s. This passing down of her needlework skills from generation to generation is one which was an automatic rite of passage and this feeling of links in a changing world was one of the many delightful aspects of The Sewing Machine with even some of the technicalities of the machine itself being so wonderfully woven through the story one that proved to both entertaining and informative at the same time.

As with any story in this genre there are coincidences but the wealth of historical detail that spans the years this book is brilliant, especially as the choices clearly made to relate in one way or another back to the good old sewing machine, that these are soon accepted as an absolutely possible truth. The Sewing Machine is cleverly constructed with many different threads which are entwined to produce an outstanding read which took this reader through the full range of emotions with each of the perfectly drawn key narrators.

This is one of those books that even though I turned the last page a while back, is still resonating now and I expect it will for some time to come yet. A stunning debut novel that vividly captures both time and place wherever and whenever that happens to be.

First Published UK: 17 April 2017
Publisher: Unbound Digital
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Saturday Requiem – Nicci French #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

In 2011 the talented duo Sean French and Nicci Gerrard published the first book in a new series about a psychotherapist called Frieda Klein under their pen name Nicci French with each of the titles featuring a day of the week. Originally I assumed that there would be a total of seven books but I’ve heard a rumour that there may in fact be eight in total. Saturday Requiem was the sixth in the series and published in 2016 but due to a NetGalley fail on my part, I missed reading a copy around publication time and later treated myself to the paperback copy in readiness for the seventh book which will be published later this month – Sunday Morning Coming Down.

Frieda Klein has vowed not to work with the police following some difficult moments which are covered in previous books, but… well of course there would be no book if she wasn’t in some way involved… she is drawn into the historic murder of Hannah Docherty’s family. Hannah had been tried and convicted of murder in her teens and has spent the last thirteen years in prison. Frieda agrees to meet her and is shocked to see that she is a shell of a person, almost mute and clearly injured. Because Frieda cares she is concerned that the treatment Hannah has received has caused her mental difficulties and decides to dig back to find out what sort of girl Hannah was before she apparently killed her mother, step-father and younger brother, Rory.

One of the reasons I get hooked on series is the relationships the key protagonists has with those around them and Nicci French has provided the readers with a real bunch of characters. Sadly DCI Malcolm Karlsson didn’t feature quite so much in this book having broken a fair few bones in his most recent crime fighting effort but the Polish builder Josef, Frieda’s biggest fan and protector, is there ready to lend a hand whenever the occasion demands it, and these occasions happen often! Jack and Chloe are also in the thick of things along with Karlsson’s loan of his deputy Valerie Long to investigate the historic murders, one that obviously needs more scrutiny following a recent discovery. Frieda is a complicated character but the validation of those around her ensures that I have warmed to her over the series. Dean Reeve, Frieda’s long-standing stalker is still elusively present and the set-up is still ongoing for what I hope will be an explosive showdown.

Apart from the characters of course what all readers need in crime fiction is a good puzzle with plenty of clues that don’t quite fit together until they are put into the right order. Nicci French gives us this in spades with each interview slowly moving the pieces around, and increasing the tension, until there is only one answer that makes sense. I don’t usually mention the endings to books, but this one blew me away!!

What more can I say, book six is up there with the best in the series, it sent me through the whole range of emotion with the plot, characterisation and pacing absolutely spot-on.

Saturday Requiem was my third read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: 30 June 2016
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Nicci French featuring Frieda Klein

Blue Monday
Tuesday’s Gone
Waiting For Wednesday
Thursday’s Child
Friday On My Mind

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blood Sisters – Jane Corry

Psychological Thriller
4*s

If you want a good psychological thriller to keep you engaged on the sunbed this year, you could do an awful lot worse than pick Jane Corry’s second novel, Blood Sisters.

Alison teaches art at evening classes, being talented but far too introverted to brave standing in front of a room full of teenagers it feels that this is the perfect solution, the trouble is, it isn’t enough to pay the bills and keep the wolf from the door, even when supplemented with her stained glass creations. Then she sees an advert to become the artist in residence at the local open prison, Alison applies and is successful and soon it is time for her to give those men who are deemed near to release a chance to find their own way of expressing themselves through art.

Kitty her half-sister is severely disabled and lives in a care home, unable to speak so that others can understand we do hear her rather fruity take on life through her thoughts which are ordered and often perceptive. Kitty was determined before her accident and that quality wasn’t removed by the accident.

With Alison becoming increasingly anxious that someone has discovered her secret, one which we can’t help but feel has its roots in the accident that both girls were in some fifteen years previously, the book soon takes on a dark and claustrophobic feel.

While neither sister was particularly ‘likeable’ both having more than the odd quirk, I did like the way the author chose to promote the lives of the disabled which felt like it was invested with far more than a gimmick in mind. The depiction of Kitty’s and the fellow resident’s, most notably Margaret and Jonny was sensitively but realistically done. This author isn’t one for fairy tales, the characters we meet have the feeling of real people even if in the earlier part of the book I did wonder how many coincidences we were expected to believe in but rest assured, even this part of the psychological thriller writer’s armoury is later revealed to be not exactly what I’d earlier assumed. While the scenes in the prison were in part used to increase the tension to the uppermost threshold, Jane Corry easily avoided the use of clichés when describing the men incarcerated there.

Given the title you can be forgiven for wondering if this is a book about a pair of siblings and their lives, and of course it is in part, but there is far more to this book than an event in the past, even if that is the hook that everything else revolves around.

Jane Corry has categorically proved with this second book (her first, My Husband’s Wife also being totally gripping) that not only can she write the twistiest and turniest of engaging thrillers but that she has nailed the absolute must for writers of this genre, her books are compelling precisely because the characters, no matter whether they are in prison or hospital or just clinging onto everyday life, are believable and consistent. People are complex and those who feature in Blood Sisters mirror that complexity in a terrifically satisfying read.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Penguin  for providing me with a copy of Blood Sisters, this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 464
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

Winter Garden – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

Classic Fiction
2*s

So far I have really appreciated the dark humour Beryl Bainbridge winds through the previous novels I’ve read; An Awfully Big Adventure, Sweet William and Harriet Said, but sadly any such flashes of brilliance in Winter Garden were overshadowed by either a weak plot or one that I simply didn’t ‘get’.

Douglas Ashburner is a lawyer, married or many years with two adult children when he is persuaded by Nina, who he is conducting a clandestine affair with, to join her on a trip to Moscow with the Soviet’s Artist Union. Douglas duly tells his wife he is off to the Highlands fishing, and arrives at Heathrow to meet his fellow travellers at the airport complete with his fishing rod.

The other members of the party are Bernard a minor celebrity in the world of art, and Enid a less well-known artist. Having to indulge in a certain amount of subterfuge regarding their true relationship Douglas finds himself sat apart from Nina during the flight, the book being set in the 1980s air travel was not the regimented affair it is today. Nina had asked Douglas to put her medication in her suitcase which doesn’t arrive in Moscow with the rest of the party. The failure to track down his case causes Douglas more than a bit of worry as he is going to have a devil of a job explaining why it got lost at an airport when it should be with him in Scotland.

If I’m honest after we reach this part of the book, I struggled to make much sense of anything further. Nina mysteriously disappears from the entourage with various excuses and explanations being given for where she is, mainly led by Olga, their translator for the trip. The weird occurrences keep happening with a particularly odd nocturnal encounter on a train trip to Leningrad, none of which are furnished with any real resolution that makes proper sense although I think I know what we are supposed to believe, the problem is I’m not sure!

What I did find interesting is the descriptions of Soviet Russia which come complete with the biting cold weather, not good news for Douglas as he misplaced his hat along the way although he does carry a pink scarf of Nina’s to keep the cold out of his ears. These descriptions of various engagements, viewing of graveyards and paintings include Beryl Bainbridge’s legendary wit, I was particularly fond of the visit to Stalin’s birthplace and the Russian characters we met. I’m really not so sure about Douglas who seemed incredibly naïve, and not just about his affair, particularly considering he’s supposed to be a lawyer. As Nina was off page she was fairly insubstantial although this aspect was nicely balanced by Enid who had some real depth. The trouble is interesting people only take you so far when these are pretty much disconnected from a plot.

Winter Garden was my second read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017.