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

Crippen: A Novel of Murder – John Boyne

Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

This is now the third book I’ve read by this author and Crippen is a fictionalised version of the case of Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen and the murder of his wife of which he was convicted and hanged in 1910.

It could be said that when you know the ending to a story that it will remove all suspense from the reading (or in my case listening) but this book defies that notion. Yes, I knew that Hawley Crippen’s wife Cora was poisoned then dismembered and her torso found under the floor of the cellar of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, Camden and having a somewhat grisly nature I know quite a bit about the events that are considered to lead up to the discovery, but to say I wasn’t captivated by John Boyne’s interpretation and imagination, would be an outright lie.

The story takes us back to Crippen’s earliest days where it appears John Boyne has invented quite a bit to create the most sympathetic view of the child growing into a man who longs to be a doctor. However the story also flips forwards in time to the ship the SS Montrose where John Robinson and his seventeen year old son Edmund board in Antwerp to make the journey to Canada to start a new life. John Robinson is a Doctor and the pair travel first class.

The journey across the Atlantic was probably my favourite part of the whole book. The passengers included the most hideous Antonia Drake and her spoilt daughter Victoria as well as the far more balanced Frenchman Mathieu Zela travelling with his nephew and the unassuming Martha Hayes. There are moments of almost farcical nature as despite the plan to keep a low profile John Robinson is in high demand to socialise with his fellow passengers, as is young Edmund.

Things weren’t an awful lot better in the past as we follow Crippen through his apprenticeship in an abattoir to fund his medical diplomas, his first marriage and the beginning of his relationship with Cora, a music hall performer who he eventually moves to England with. I’ve condensed this to a few sentences but the author carefully lays the basis for the part that all the readers know is on the way, and his answer to the question what led the mild mannered Crippen to butcher Cora and then recklessly move his lover, Ethel Le Neve into Hilltop Crescent? Once again along this tour we meet some truly memorable characters, most of them pretty awful but, oh so entertaining for being so. What struck me most was how much the social rules of the time seem to have played a part in the actual discovery of the murder and the interaction between the friend who first reported her suspicions to the hapless constable at Scotland Yard was one of my favourite scenes.

So yes there is tension, as much about how having started the story with the underdog Crippen we were going to get to the finale of the hanging. I’m not going to dissect this part but I for one wasn’t wholly convinced by the explanation, but it was a clever route to take and therefore bearing in mind this is a fictionalised tale, albeit with some of the key players, including Inspector Dew, the plotting was in place so it didn’t come out of nowhere; In short if I didn’t have my own views it was plausible. But most of all the and the journey both on land and at sea was exceptionally entertaining. The characters from the ship’s crew to the minor players really do carry this story especially as we all know the ending!

This isn’t a book to read if you want the absolute facts of the case, but if you want to be entertained this is the perfect platform to either take a look at Crippen from a slightly different angle, or simply to read a gripping tale.

I listened to this book in audio format, it had been on my TBR since January 2016 but regular readers will know i repeatedly struggled with listening rather than reading. I’m glad to say this book proved I could do it and the day it ended when I was only halfway through my walk home, I felt utterly bereft after all Crippen had accompanied me on walks and whilst knitting over a total of 17 hours and 43 minutes and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it aided by the wonderful narration by James Daniel Wilson.

This is the second fictionalised story I’ve read about this case, Martin Edwards wrote his version called Dancing for the Hangman which I  highly recommend.

First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Wrong Way Home – Isabelle Grey #BlogTour

Crime Fiction
5″s

I was absolutely delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour celebrating publication of Wrong Way Home, thank you Anne Cater. I’ve long been a fan of this author and I rate this series amongst my favourite of the contemporary crime series.

In this, the fourth book in the DI Grace Fisher series, our likeable protagonist has a breakthrough using familial DNA to hunt for the man who raped and killed a girl twenty-five years ago.

Heather Bower was just nineteen years old when she visited Southend for a night out with her friends and on a night that should have been full of fun, she became separated from the group and was found dead in a park the following morning.

Freddie Craig is an aspiring journalist who has always felt a link to the fire on Southend Pier the same night that Heather died. The fire was started by two teenagers who dropped a cigarette in a boarded up building. Fortunately for them taxi driver Larry Nixon was on the scene and pulled the boys to safety so becoming something of a local hero. As the fire raged Freddie’s mother gave birth to him. Freddie is inspired by the death of Heather to make a series of podcasts about the murder and his links to my favourite fictional journalist, Ivo Sweatman. Ivo and Grace have a history of being mutually supportive but she is fully aware that this must not become common knowledge. The excerpts from Freddie’s podcasts veer from factual to wacky and then downright disturbing and made for an interesting perspective and an unusual one keeping the story bang up to date.

As the DNA profile links to a woman, Deborah Shillingford, who was arrested for drink driving, Grace now has her family members to investigate to the DNA left all those years before and she sets to work with her partner Sergeant Blake Langley. Grace and Blake have history which has caused a bit of an undercurrent but they are both professional as they interview Deborah and learn that she has two brothers and a father still alive. At the same time they have to inform Heather’s mother advising that this lead may not lead to an arrest but hopeful that the knowledge that they are still seeking justice for Heather will be of some comfort.

This is a multi-layered crime fiction novel of the highest standard. Isabelle Grey has plotted superbly, and so even though all the characters are fully rounded the story is undoubtedly led by a series of events in the present that threaten to derail the investigation. That’s not to say there is just action there are moments to pause and wonder at the bonds within a family as various tit-bits are revealed. The plot is held up by spot on timing; this is a book that gives the reader time to consider the evidence and stick a stake in the ground before it is blown away by a new piece of information.

Reading Wrong Way Home I remembered quite why I enjoy this series so much. DI Grace Fisher is my idea of the perfect protagonist, a determined woman and yet, she behaves like a woman and it is so refreshing to see a woman who can cry at a wedding and then walk away to review evidence before leading her team to find a killer, and she does it with style.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus for allowing me to read a copy of Wrong Way Home and to Anne Cater for the invite to the blog tour and those thanks extend to the author for such a brilliant, plausible novel that had me enthralled by all its twists and turns. As always this review is unbiased and freely given.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Isabelle Grey is a television screenwriter whose credits include Jimmy McGovern’s BAFTA award-winning Accused: Tina’s Story as well as over thirty-five episodes of Midsomer Murders, Casualty, Rosemary and Thyme, The Bill and Wycliffe. She has also written non-fiction and been a magazine editor and freelance journalist. Isabelle’s previous novels include two psychological thrillers, The Bad Mother and Out Of Sight as well as the first two books in the DI Grace Fisher series, Good Girls Don’t Die, Shot Through the Heart and The Special Girls. Isabelle grew up in Manchester and now lives in north London.

Twitter @IsabelleGrey
Website: http://www.isabellegrey.wordpress.com

Previous books by Isabelle Grey

Out of Sight
The Bad Mother
Good Girls Don’t Die – Grace Fisher #1
Shot Through The Heart – Grace Fisher #2
The Special Girls – Grace Fisher #3

 

There are still some stops left on the blog tour so make sure you check them out!

 

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

Dead If You Don’t – Peter James

Crime Fiction
5*s

Well Roy Grace is back for the fourteenth time in Dead If You Don’t which in short is an action packed police procedural that shouldn’t be missed.

I am a huge fan of this series and always look forward to the next book more or less from the time I close the last page and so it may surprise you to hear I had a moment of disquiet when I realised the opening scenes featured a Kip Brown and his teenaged son, Mungo, going to a big game at the Amex Stadium. OK I got that it was an important match with the locals Brighton and Hove Albion against Manchester City no less but I’m no fan of football and out of all crime fiction storylines, bombs rank bottom of the pile. The Head of Security had been warned that a bomb was going to be left in the Amex stadium unless a payment in bitcoin was made before kick-off. Oh dear, was this going to be the one novel in this series I didn’t enjoy because of my dislike of the combination of football and bombs? No, of course it wasn’t because Dead If You Don’t isn’t just about bombs and football, that was just setting the scene for something far more complex.

We have big businessmen, near bankruptcy a bunch of criminals to keep everything spicy and Roy Grace at the match with his son Bruno. Glenn Branson is with security at the stadium keeping an eye out for the promised bomb and then it all kicks off aside from the football!

As always Peter James keeps things real with his thorough research with the police giving this series a real air of authenticity whilst still ensuring that the storytelling isn’t overwhelmed with procedures and policies. I love the team, Norman Potting is still his un-PC self although more subdued than he was at his most annoying. Glenn has also overcome many of his personal problems and is reaching for the next rung on the career ladder but there is little time for the personalities to go wild in this book because Roy Grace is busy co-ordinating a missing boy, a bomb scare, a dead drugs mule and a dismembered body. Quite a lot to take on in a weekend! Dead If You Don’t is almost wall-to-wall action so although we get snippets about Roy’s wife Cleo and his sons Bruno and Noah they are very much in the background, unlike some of the previous books.

This is a scary ride of a book indeed, nearly as scary as Norman Potting’s erratic driving as they race to a potential scene of a crime. It’s a measure of the skill of the writing that I felt I was alongside poor Roy Grace as he urged Norman to go faster than a snail’s pace only to nearly be swung into the path of a van when he complied.

I’m not going to say any more – this was just as good as all the previous books in the series, if anything it felt more action packed with the switch of focus from the police and their families to the criminals and their nastiness and seeming complete lack of morality. And the ending is fantastic – a little bit of a moral to round the whole shebang off!

I’d like to say thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of Dead If You Don’t before publication today. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author Peter James. Roll on episode 15!

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Crime Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Roy Grace Series in order
Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead
You Are Dead
Love You Dead
Need You Dead

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

The Dissent of Annie Lang – Ros Franey #BlogTour

Historical Fiction
5*s

One of the best things about being a book blogger is finding those hidden treasures of a book, one of which is The Dissent of Annie Lang. Anne Cater asked if I would like to be part of this Blog Tour and I jumped at the chance to find out more about Annie, the daughter of a strict religious father who dissents against all she was bought up to believe, especially as the setting is the 1920s and 1930s. I read the entire book in one day, something I rarely do unless I’m sick – that’s how much I enjoyed it and so I’m delighted to be kicking off this Blog Tour with my review.

The book starts with a tantalising prologue where we meet Annie in 1932 on her return from France where she’s been studying. Here she learns that her brother Fred is in the asylum with nervous exhaustion and this stirs memories from her childhood which she’s never fully understood.

The story is told from Annie’s perspective through all three parts of the book; 1926, 1926 to 1932 and finally 1932. Her earliest memories we are told are backed up by journals she wrote as a young girl following the death of her mother when Annie was just six. Annie has an older sister Beatrice and a brother Fred and a dog Nana. She remembers happier times when her mother was alive but following her death Annie is labelled troublesome and in need of a firm hand. A housekeeper Agnes is employed to take the household in hand. Her Grandfather is the pastor at the fundamentalist church he set up in Nottinghamshire. Sundays are spent worshipping and strict adherence to the bible is expected at all times.

It didn’t take me long to become immersed in Annie’s world and the doses of cod liver oil and maids lighting fires, boarding school for Fred and visiting the sick for Agnes, who soon became the second Mrs Lang, all set the time period nicely without the author making her meticulous research obvious. In fact for much of the book, I was convinced that this was based on a true story as it felt so authentic.

Although part of The Dissent of Annie Lang is set in her early childhood and she isn’t a particularly precocious child, the reader is well aware that she is noting the events that she believes will solve the mystery, of what became of her Sunday School Teacher Millie Blessing.  She turns the memories this way and that for clues and this clever device means that although we are told of her initial delight when Nana sprayed the new wallpaper with beetroot juice by wagging her tail, and witness her dismay when the punishment means that the dog is banished to a kennel in the garden, it is the undertones of this household that are brought to the fore. This is a house where young Annie understands that some things are never to be mentioned, what she doesn’t understand is what subjects are banned, and as for the reason why, she has no clue. Her sister, older by six years, knows more but is tight-lipped and far more religious than Annie believes she will ever be.

The characters are brilliantly depicted, Annie’s friendship with Marjorie Bagshaw in particular, the two girls thrown together because of where they live have little in common and the delicate tussle of power is shown as both keep secrets when it will be to their advantage, at one point Annie admits that neither particularly likes the other. Of course Annie herself is everything I enjoy in a character, spirited and determined and absolutely realistic, she holds her own against the seemingly impervious pillars of religion and the point in history where children, and women, have a very small voice indeed.

This historical story is definitely one of my finds of the year. The language so persuasive, the story grabbed me from the start and I was as anxious as Annie to know the fate of Millie Blessing and her beautiful blue shoes. I often try to avoid speaking about the ending of a book for obvious reasons but this one hit absolutely the right spot – there isn’t a neat wrap-up, but there is certainly enough to be absolutely satisfying given what has gone before.

I am grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour for Muswell Press, this unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course a huge thank you to Ros Franey for creating such a memorable story, this book is one that really does deserve to be shouted about. If you love history and a mystery, then I wholeheartedly recommend The Dissent of Annie Lang.

Don’t forget to follow the rest of the Blog Tour to learn more!

First Published UK: 19 April 2018
Publisher: Muswell Press
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


About the Author
Ros Franey grew up in Nottingham where this book is set. She is a maker of award-winning documentaries, including two films about the Guildford 4 which, along with the book she co-authored Timebomb, contributed to the quashing of their case. This is her second novel. She lives in Camden, North London.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Brighton Mermaid – Dorothy Koomson

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Dorothy Koomson treats us to her darkest book yet in this haunting tale of two teenagers who find the body of a young woman washed up on the shore in 1993. Twenty-five years later, Nell is still obsessed by the woman who was never identified.

The scene is set beautifully when a night seemingly full of promise of a party held by sixth-formers which Jude had lied to her parents to attend. The horror of the discovery combined with the fear of her parent’s wrath when she had to be picked up from the police station was palpable. And then there was their treatment at the hands of the police who didn’t know at first whether to treat the girls as eye-witnesses or suspects. The two may have been able to put this behind them if Jude hadn’t subsequently disappeared without a trace.

Dorothy Koomson doesn’t just set the scene but the time so well. Of course in 1993 the girls didn’t have mobile phones so one stayed with the body while the other went to the phone box to report the crime. Then we switch to the present where the internet where Nell investigates the missing links between people using genealogy sites to help others find missing family. It is against this background that she takes a year off work to devote herself to finding out who the young woman was, and what happened to her best friend.

As always Dorothy Koomson uses a number of hard-hitting issues in The Brighton Mermaid but all are deeply woven into the story-line, not one appearing placed for effect alone and the author crucially gives the reader time to absorb and reflect on these rather than telling us what to think, the best kind of writing.

The first half of the book sets the scene and so unsurprisingly moves at a slightly slower paced but nonetheless I found it absorbing, but… you will need to hang onto your seats for the rattling pace of the second half as Nell gets closer to understanding what happened twenty-five years ago and the events that changed, her and her family’s life forever.

I loved the characters in this book, the relationship between Nell and her sister so realistically portrayed with all the shades of love and hate that often are present, brilliantly displayed and woven through the main mystery which delves so deeply into the past. This is a story of actions having far-reaching consequences and the ripples that spread throughout a family forcing them to reconsider their ‘family story.’

I’ve long considered this author one of my favourites and her books cover a whole range of different types of stories within the range that is labelled ‘woman’s fiction’ from the sentimental to this one which edges into the crime fiction genre but what all the books have in common is the way that they immerse you into the story, not letting you go even after the last page has been turned.

I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Century who allowed me to read a copy of The Brighton Mermaid prior to publication on 17 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author Dorothy Koomson.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: Century
No of Pages: 496
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Dorothy Koomson’s previous books:

The Cupid Effect (2003)
The Chocolate Run (2004)
My Best Friend’s Girl (2006)
Marshmallow’s for Breakfast (2007)
Goodnight Beautiful (2008)
The Ice Cream Girls (2010)
The Woman He Loved Before (2011)
The Rose Petal Beach (2012)
The Flavours of Love (2013)
That Girl From Nowhere (2015)
When I Was Invisible (2015)
The Friend (2017)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Cliff House – Amanda Jennings

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This atmospheric story is set on the coast of Cornwall in 1986 where we meet the shy and unhappy Tamsyn as she perches on the cliff-top spying on the comings and goings at the Cliff House. The summer holidays have started and Tamsyn leaves her brother sleeping, sneaks the spare key her mother has to clean the house and resolves to have a proper look inside the house.

This book is mesmerising mainly because of the lyrical prose set against the chilling background of the rich Edie’s friendship with poor Tamsyn. Tamsyn is still struggling to come to terms with her father’s death, the poverty the family are experiencing as the local tin mine shut leaving her brother out of work with no real prospect of finding something to replace it. Tamsyn’s mother juggles jobs but is tiring of just managing and has begun to forge a new relationship. Tamsyn is less than happy with this being as she is full of grief and the angst of being a sixteen year old girl who is somewhat obsessed with the house and its occupants.

Edie has been expelled from her boarding school when the family decamps for an entire summer in the back of beyond in Cornwall. Away from everyone and everything she knows she feels adrift especially as things behind the windows are not as Tamsyn imagines them to be. The meaning of life really isn’t found by the expensive scarf discarded by the swimming pool on the terrace, or the jewels or even the fame the family enjoy because Max Davenport is a best-selling author. Edie is far more worldly-wise than Tamsyn and yet the two forge an often uncomfortable relationship as the summer progresses.

This isn’t a book full of fast-moving action, it is one where the characters lead the way towards a darker and darker heart. We have the imagery, the black raven being the main one which Tamsyn is sure foretells disaster, after all she saw one before her father died, one night at sea in a terrible storm. The relationships between the well-to-do Davenports and Edie, her brother Jago all bind them tighter together, often unwillingly but always inevitably.

The contrast between the families is stark, the descriptions of Tamsyn’s mother unfolding her bed as she’d given up the room she shared with her husband to his elderly father. The lack of money for anything more than the bare necessities are scattered throughout the book without ever becoming ‘shouty’ something that isn’t required when Tamsyn is given her first glass of champagne by Max Davenport at Cliff House.

Reading The Cliff House I felt drawn into Tamsyn’s obsession with the house and its owners and as the girls negotiate their uneven friendship I felt for her with her obvious feeling of inferiority but Edie doesn’t get things all her own way and she has her own problems that she’s trying to hide. Before we close the book, not only do we see how the summer ended, and even better a peak at what happened next.

I have to commend Amanda Jennings on her story-telling; whilst this is a different type of tale to In Her Wake, it is also makes for compulsive reading including as it does the hat-trick of superbly drawn characters, an atmospheric yet changeable setting and a darkness that enthralled this reader.

I am very grateful to the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance copy of The Cliff House prior to publication on 17 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Three-Martini Lunch – Suzanne Rindell

Historical Fiction
5*s

Unlike the author’s debut novel The Other Typist, Three-Martini Lunch doesn’t rely on one somewhat unreliable narrator to tell the tale, instead we see different viewpoints in this story of a set time and a place. The time is 1958, the place is New York and the world is that of writers and publishers. What more could a book-lover wish for? Well if you like a martini, you could always attend the lunches where they were obligatory for anyone invited by those with power.

The first character we meet is Cliff who is passionate about becoming a writer. Sadly, he lacks the talent to match his passion and so despite his father being high up in a leading publishing company, he is yet to become a published writer. Cliff was the least favourite of the characters although as I got to know his back story I wasn’t completely without some sympathy for him, at times.

Eden is a young woman who has moved from the Midwest complete with a letter of introduction from a professor to set her on the road to her ambition to become an editor. Sadly for Eden lady editors are few and far between in 1958 and she has more than the obstacle of her sex to overcome.

Miles is a young man, also a keen writer but he has his colour to overcome as well as some issues even closer to home, with a bully for a step-father and a whiff of scandal about what his father may have done during the war.
On one level this is the story of secrets, betrayal and consequences but somehow that didn’t feel like the ‘point’ of the book. The three characters and how their lives intersected and separated, their personal struggles and the faces they turned to the world, were just as fascinating so that it felt as though we had at least three books in one.

The absolute triumph of the book is the characterisation. There is a whole bundle of issues, but the author resists the old clichés and the main parties are all fully fleshed, real people. Even the secondary characters get attention with Miss Everett the woman who employs Eden at Torchon & Lyle publishing house to become a secretary for Mr Turner, editor, is brilliantly depicted.

With the basement cafes and literary parties where the accommodating secretaries can eat and drink their fill in exchange for acting as waitresses whilst circling the high-powered, or nervous writers, are so well depicted that this is a book that really transported me to another world, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Of course those secrets are never too far from the surface and because as the reader, I was in the know, by the last part there were moments where I felt like I was watching a train crash, the inevitability not serving to dampen the tension but raise it to unbearable levels as I waited to see what everything would look like in the aftermath.

A superb read that was almost saga-like in feel and one in the hands of an author who knows how to set a scene and let it play out. I could almost believe I was present at one particularly memorable Three-Martini lunches where the deal that was done was to have consequences for all involved.

Three-Martini Lunch was my thirteenth read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been bought in September 2017 and as it is my own copy, it is worth another third of a book token.


First Published UK: 19 May 2016
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 350
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Property – Lionel Shriver

Short Stories
4*s

At last I’ve found a short-story collection that I thoroughly enjoyed. This collection is centred around property be it the real-estate variety or belongings and there wasn’t a single one that I didn’t enjoy. The short-stories are book-ended by two novellas but the majority of the other ten stories are between twelve and twenty pages long.

One of the things that I’m sure helped my enjoyment was that I didn’t read them all back-to-back as I usually do and I’m sure that meant that my brain had time to absorb the wonder of one before journeying onto the next.

In each one Lionel Shriver not only unerringly captures the human characteristics as she most famously did in We Need to Talk About Kevin, but also has an eye for detail which quickly drew me into the storyline, so very important in this format.

My favourite story was The Chapstick which follows middle—aged Peter Dimmock as he leaves his home late to fly to see his dying father. It isn’t the warmest of relationships and over the preceding years there had been other mercy missions. Once the author has given us the background to the characters we arrive with Peter, late, at the airport to catch his flight. And it’s into security. Living on a small island which necessitates flying fairly frequently this section was brilliant. Peter is also a frequent and responsible flyer but his internal monologue matches my frustration, which the absolute rule is, you’re not allowed to express:

He pulls out his Ziploc, no larger than one quart size, containing shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, no more than three point four ounces or one hundred millilitres, making sure to put his baggie, in accordance with the standard specifications, on top of his overcoat, DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE STUPID BAGGIE IS GOING INTO A GODDAM X-RAY.

The best thing is this one comes with a bit of a moral and made me smile.

I should say at this point that the stories aren’t all set in the US, the last novella is set in Northern Ireland, The Self-Seeding Sycamore, probably the sweetest story in the collection, is set in London and Kilfi Creek is about a young woman who invites herself to stay with an older couple who are more immune to the twenty-three year old charms than she could ever imagine.

The stories subjects range from an artist’s piece of work and a platonic friendship in the first Novella to the petty-mindedness of American Sarah Mosley who begrudged her flat-mate an olive (yes, really!) in the last novella. We have undelivered mail and the thorny problem of negative equity which causes a couple to stay together when to all intents and purposes their marriage is over.

I loved the variety not just in place and subject but in style. Most have evidence of the author’s famous acerbic tone, but some had this element considerably softened allowing a different ‘voice’ to be heard. What they all had in common was that the stories are memorable (another problem I routinely have with short stories, particularly when they are all by the same author. Despite the fact I’ve read this collection over about a month and therefore read quite a few other novels in between, as I looked down the titles I had no problem remembering the key elements of each one.

I’d like to thank the publishers The Borough Press for providing me with a copy of Property. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 19 April 2018
Publisher:The Borough Press
No of Pages: 317
Genre: Short Story Collection
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Snap – Belinda Bauer

Crime Fiction
5*s

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of this author’s work in which she invariably manages to lace her crime novels with a sense of humour. Belinda Bauer above all has an exceptional ability to capture her characters on the page and none more so than when the character is a child. This is in contrast to so many other writers who often appear to use their child characters as a device and somehow make them either bland or annoying, but somehow not quite real. Not so in this novel.

Three children, eleven-year old Jack, nine-year old Joy and two-year old Merry are left on the hard shoulder of the motorway while their pregnant mother walks to the phone box to get help when their car breaks down. The sun is shining on this August day in 1998:

It was so hot in the car that the seats smelled as though they were melting. Jack was in shorts, and every time he moved his legs they sounded like sellotape.

Yes, we’ve all had that experience in a hot car but unlike these poor children our mothers didn’t walk into the distance never to return.

The story then jumps forward three years to Catherine While’s house, her husband Adam is away, she’s heavily pregnant and thinks she can hear someone in the house.

When you lived alone, and you heard a noise in the night, you didn’t cower under the bedclothes and wait for your fate to saunter up the stairs and down the hallway. When you lived alone, you got up and grabbed the torch, the bat, the hairspray and you sneaked downstairs to confront… The dishwasher.

This time though, it wasn’t the dishwasher.

When she returns to bed, there is a knife and a note by the side of her bed, that wasn’t there before.

The reader follows Jack’s struggle following his mother’s disappearance as well as observing what Catherine does following the intruder to her house, and not all of her actions are wise ones!

And then we have a Detective Inspector John Marvel who has been sent to Somerset away from his beloved London following a transgression and he’s assigned to the Goldilocks case; a burglar who breaks into people’s houses and sleeps in their beds before making off with their belongings. His team consists of DC Parrott and DS Reynolds and three make a hilarious trio as they try to catch their man.

So lots going on and yet all so enticing. There wasn’t a page that didn’t delight me with vignettes of observation that really hit the mark:

Angry embers spat and popped inside him. The papers always called her ‘mum-to-be’. But she was a mum-who-already-was.
Everyone had forgotten him and Joy and Merry.

Friday night and Catherine’s risotto was a triumph. All she’d done was stand and stir it while The Archers was on, but Jan went on and on about it as I she’d spit-roasted a unicorn.

The star of this show though is Jack, his resilience alone is amazing, and it is precisely because we see the cracks in his armour that I couldn’t help but fall in love with him.

A read that I have to admit is a tad quirky for a crime novel, a book that will truly entertain you while the darkness of murder lurks. It is so refreshing to read something that is differs in style within this, my favourite genre.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers by way of this unbiased review for allowing me to read a copy of Snap, prior to the publication in eBook format today, 3 May 2018. For those of you who want the print version it is following on 17 May 2018.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher:Bantam Press
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Belinda Bauer

Blacklands
Darkside
Finders Keepers
Rubbernecker
The Facts of Life and Death
The Shut Eye
The Beautiful Dead

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

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Classic
4*s

I added Lady Audlley’s Secret to my TBR back in 2015 after hearing that it contained echoes of the real crime committed by Constance Kent, a case picked up and written about in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale along with the knowledge that the author set the book at Ingatestone Hall in Essex following a visit there. Back in 1860s my ancestors lived in Ingatestone, not at the Hall I hasten to add, although one or two of them may well have scrubbed the scullery in their time, but this of course meant it was a sure fire in to be added to as part of my Classics Club challenge.

The Gatehouse of Ingatestone Hall

Although I wasn’t at all disappointed that it won The Classics Club Spin #17 I was a tad concerned that a Victorian sensation novel might feel a bit dated given my contemporary tastes of recent years. I needn’t have worried, reading this book confirmed that a story told well, makes for great entertainment no matter when it was written. The language was straightforward and easy to read although it did feel longer than many contemporary novels that is probably because it was originally written in instalments for her lover’s magazine in 1861 and even when it was published in 1862, it was split into three parts.

The book starts by taking us to the courtship of the beautiful and childlike blonde Lucy Graham by the somewhat older widower Sir Michael Audley who falls deeply in love with her and hopes she feels the same. She wisely promises nothing but agrees to become his wife which is a major step-up in society since she is currently the governess for a local doctor.

She had been the chief attraction of the race-course, and was wearied out by the exertion of fascinating half the county.

For you see Miss Lucy Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination by which a woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile.

Soon afterwards we meet up with Sir Audley’s nephew Richard who is meeting his friend George Talboys, who has returned from Australia having made his fortune in the gold rush. Despite his absence of three years he is keen to see his young wife who he left with a mere note following a bit of a row. George and Heleen Talboys had a baby but he doesn’t seem to have the same pull on dear old George’s vision of a happy homecoming. Anyway Richard and George meet up but a notice in the newspaper puts a spanner in the works and they soon have to make a trip to the Isle of Wight on the trail of the missing Helen.

This story is above everything else, fun. I could spend an age explaining that it became popular, if not revered in the way the ‘serious’ novelists of the time were, because it played on the Victorian’s fear that the home wasn’t always the safe haven that they liked to pretend it was. It is here that the parallels with Constance Kent were drawn. A respectable family, a step-mother and murder all play their own part in Mary Elizabeth Bradon’s dramatic tale. But I won’t do that, nor will I add more than a sentence about the breakdown of the old order by pretty young women seducing foolish old men thereby usurping the old order of things.

The characters are all seen through our omnipresent narrator’s eyes and ears, and yes, there is a certain amount of stereotyping some of them. Fortunately, I’m not a snob about such things, after all stereotypes are created for a reason and there is enough drama and subversion of the ‘old order’ to quibble that the rough husband of Lady Audley’s maid, Phoebe Marks is a bit of brute with no redeeming characteristics when at the heart of the novel is a woman whose beauty doesn’t translate to the ideals of the day.

The omnipresent narrator is there from beginning to end but once Richard Audley’s story begins we are also treated to less remote view of the scenes that unfold.

“You seem to have quite a taste for discussing these horrible subjects,” she said, rather scornfully; “you ought to have been a detective police officer.”
“I sometimes think I should have been a good one.”
“Why?”
“Because I am patient.”

But if you are expecting the fair Lady Audley to give you some insight into her secret, you will be disappointed, that is a matter of deduction for the reader and even if you reach the truth before our amateur detective Richard Audley, you will need to continue to find out how it all ends, surely the purpose of a good book. However if you’d like you might like to reflect on the pronouncement made in this sensationalist novel, take note that this was written over one hundred and fifty years ago – what would Mary Elizabeth Braddon make of the modern woman’s opportunities?

To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex. They want freedom of opinion, variety of occupation, do they? Let them have it. Let them be lawyers, doctors, preachers, teachers, soldiers, legislators — anything they like — but let them be quiet — if they can.

Once again I’m delighted with my Classic Club read, I meanly knocked a star off because it was a bit long-winded in places and so far I’ve given all my classic reads the full five stars, but in all honesty this has ignited an intent to read more books by this author and more books in this genre.

Lady Audley’s Secret is number 2 on The Classics Club list and the fourth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1862
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US