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

Dying Truth – Angela Marsons

Crime Fiction
5*s

Angela Marsons burst onto the crime writing scene a mere three years ago and yet here I am reading the eighth book in the Kim Stone series already! This is a popular series because not only do the books have a modern feel, often the crime is based in an area that could be lifted from a news article, but the characters, particular those in Kim’s team are so realistically portrayed that it is easy to forget that this is a work of fiction.

In Dying Truth we have a thirteen year old girl who has apparently committed suicide from jumping from the roof of her expensive boarding school. The immediate narrative from those in the school is that Sadie was a ‘troubled girl’ but Kim wants to know more. Those words don’t explain to her quite how such a young girl can take such desperate measures and she’s determined to find out more.
Heathcrest Academy is an exclusive establishment and because of that there is the perception that the children, and more importantly their parents are somehow more elite than the everyday kid. Sadie Winters is a loner, the other kids with their overinflated egos pretty much ignore her but she doesn’t seem to mind. Although Sadie’s elder sister Saffie is also at the school, that hasn’t helped and when Kim meets their parents, she thinks she may understand why, but something doesn’t add up.

Then just as Kim begins to push for Sadie’s death to be investigated, there is another death and Kim is more determined than ever to winkle out the secrets that are hidden behind the fancy panelling, and opulent façade.

Angela Marsons has a great knack of writing stories that weave different strands together, never forgetting the psychology of crime but still presenting the story as a police procedural. Because of the nature of the deaths in this book our dear DI Kim Stone is forced to seek out her nemesis Alex Thorne for advice about kids who kill. This chapter is one of the most chilling exchanges that I’ve read, the truth underpinning this work of fiction is what makes the entire series so great.
There is another element to the storyline dealing with secret societies, something that has popped up from time to time in real-life tragic stories and yet each time this subject was broached in the book, I had to remind myself to close my mouth which dropped open in horror, not because I didn’t believe what I was reading could happen, but because I did!

If you haven’t started this fantastic series, do and not with this book because they are all amazing and each time I read a new one I say it was ‘the best yet’ and I’m going to again because it is true. The interaction between the characters is so natural and at times, like when Dawson tried to cheer up the ‘fat kid’ Geoffrey Piggott, it bought tears to my eyes with the careful yet supportive way he spoke, demonstrating the brilliance of the character himself, but then I love all of this small team and I can’t wait to see what life (or death) throws at them next.

First Published UK: 18 May 2018
Publisher: Bookouture
No of Pages: 386
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books featuring Kim Stone
Silent Scream
Evil Games
Lost Girls
Play Dead
Blood Lines
Dead Souls
Broken Bones

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

In the Dark – Cara Hunter

Crime Fiction
5*s

This is the second in the series by Cara Hunter featuring DI Adam Fawley. It might be set in Oxford but we have quite a different type of detective, crimes and characters than those who featured in Inspector Morse.

DI Adam Fawley falls into the breed of likeable detective. As you’d expect, he has some baggage, but in his case his past is one that is only likely to illicit sympathy. We learn a little more about him following on from his first outing Close to Home but his story is very much in the background, the foreground is most definitely the crimes committed in the quiet Oxford street where a woman and a young child are found locked in a basement.

The woman Vicky and child are starved and thirsty and severely traumatised, Vicky not speaking at all at first and with the owner of the house, Dr William Harper, is denying all knowledge of them the police are up against it trying to work out who the prisoners are, and more importantly how long and why they’ve been locked up. In their search for clues they realise that the house backs onto the garden of the home of a missing woman called Hannah Gardiner.

There are lots of characters who all add rich detail to what becomes an investigation into the two women, and of course the child who is too young to be able to tell them anything. The police team of course consists of more than DI Fawley and the relationship between the officers is good with Detectives Quinn and Gislingham (Gis) providing a realistic view of how to survive working on such a harrowing investigation.

“Gis, who has always been exceptionally good at knowing when to stop digging, and Quinn who carries his own set of shovels“

The author has worked hard though to provide a reasonable complement of police, all with distinct personalities which is far more realistic that the older style police procedurals with just a couple of detectives involved in solving a case. Another example that gives this book an up-to-date feel is the full use of the female detectives and supporting police personnel throughout the story. As in real life they are no longer used just to pass hankies these women are involved from beginning to end.

With the use of news reports from BBC Midlands and the like, inserted into the story the author also moves away from the more traditional tale that is told just from one viewpoint, this element is built upon with transcribed interviews, including from those living in Frampton Road. These are brilliant, the author telling us so much about the area from both the content and the words used.

This, as was the first book, is a fast-paced police procedural with the author liberally sprinkling her story with red-herrings to keep her reader’s guessing and I for one lapped it all up and I’m eager for the next book by this author to see what dark mystery Oxford will serve up for us next.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books UK who allowed me to read an advance copy of In the Dark. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course Cara Hunter for keeping so thoroughly entertained if a little traumatised by what was waiting for me on this visit to Oxford!

First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lisa Jewell Novels

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

Watching You – Lisa Jewell

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Lisa Jewell just goes from strength to strength as she serves up different scenarios with a whole cast of different characters in this her sixteenth novel and I for one was hooked from page one, where there is out and out darkness in the form of a body on a kitchen floor. The police are in attendance and an investigation is opened.

First of all the author paints us a picture of perfection, a group of colourful houses perched on a hill, the type of house that Joey (Josephine) has always wanted to live in but that seemed unlikely after four years working in Ibiza, and now she’s home with her new husband Alfie in tow. Fortunately her older brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca live in the cobalt coloured house in Melville Heights and her and Alfie had moved in while they sorted out where there life was going next.

Lisa Jewell’s latter books have all had some level of darkness about them but this one hurtles headlong into the undeniable thriller territory. After listening to Joey describing her life to her mum at her grave, we are launched into a transcript of a police interview held at Bristol police station nearly three months past this point. A word of warning, keep your eye on the changing dates, which are easily signposted, because this book does hop backwards and forwards until the past catches up with the present.

There are as in many of this author’s books a number of issues which are sensitively portrayed but with realism at its core rather than the reader getting the feeling that they’ve been used to bolster an otherwise flabby storyline.

At the centre of this book is Tom Fitzwilliam, the head of the local school who is married to Nicola. They also live at Melville heights with their teenage son, Freddie. Joey quickly becomes infatuated with Tom and is watching him. Tom’s son Freddie was documenting the neighbourhood using his digital binoculars but more recently has been using his spy equipment to watch the teenage girls in the vicinity while down in Lower Melville Frances Tripp is convinced that there is a mass of people watching her, so she is watching everyone else.

You might be able to tell from that very short synopsis, apart from a lot of watching, there are lots of characters in this book. And what characters they are, even the teenage girls are kept distinct by Lisa Jewell’s keen eye (and pen) for the little things that make each person unique.
In short I found this latest novel absolutely gripping. I wanted to know who had been murdered, who would want to murder but most of all I wanted to truly understand this eclectic bunch of people who became my neighbours for the duration of the book. Of course it wasn’t that simple with impeccable timing we are drip-fed pieces of information, some of which are red-herrings, so that my opinion on the characters altered the more I learned about them all.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again here, if you haven’t read one of Lisa Jewell’s books you really should, she has a very easy to read style but that isn’t to say that they are superficial, in fact they are anything but!

I’d like to thank the publisher Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Watching You and thank you to Lisa Jewell for such a gripping read.

First Published UK: 12 July 2018
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 496
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Lisa Jewell Novels

Then She Was Gone (2017)
I Found You (2016)
The Girls (2015)
The Third Wife (2014)
The House We Grew Up In (2013)
Before I Met You (2012)
The Making Of Us (2011)
• After The Party (2010)
The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
• 31 Dream Street (2007)
• Vince and Joy (2005)
• A Friend of the Family (2004)
• One Hit Wonder (2001)
• Thirtynothing (2000)
• Ralph’s Party (1999)

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

No Further Questions – Gillian McAllister

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Well the fabulous Gillian McAllister is back with another book that will make you think. Whilst this isn’t quite such an obvious moral dilemma as in her first two books, it constantly begs the questions ‘What would I do?’ and just as importantly, ‘How would I feel?’

There’s a trial, oh how I love a fictional trial, all the drama and none of the boring bits. There are two sisters; Martha and Becky. Martha is married to Scott and they had a daughter Layla who died at just eight weeks old. When Layla died, Becky was in charge informally employed by her elder sister as a nanny while she was in Kos setting up a base for a charity schooling refugees.

The prosecution say that Becky is responsible for Layla’s death. Becky is pinning her hopes on the trial to answer the questions about what happened to her daughter that fateful night. And don’t let us forget the mother of the opposite sides. What a position to be in. How does a mother comfort both daughters in such a situation.

As in all of her previous books Gillian McAllister makes statements about society as a whole. Yes the trial is concentrated on the night in question but what the media want to know is why Martha wasn’t there. The same question isn’t directed to Scott because as this book demonstrates, men are seen as irrelevant in this type of scenario. To be fair, Scott also feels guilt at being away, but he’s not held accountable by the public in the same way.

We learn all this from the narration by the two sisters, alternated throughout this gripping book. We hear about their views of themselves, their relationship with each other, their memories, their fears and of course their view of the court case. The endless wishing and hoping makes this book an exhausting read at times, but oh so worth it, I simply wasn’t prepared to part with it for a moment.
The characterisation is spot on with neither sister presented as flawless individuals, both are complex, like you are I. But of course a court case has lots of other characters to explore, , the ex-husband of Becky, their son Xander, the nosy neighbour and the Defence and the Prosecution, both strong women who look at the evidence and present it to the jury in a different way. I particularly liked the Judge and his faithful dog Rumpole, even he is given a bit of a back story to bring him to life.

I can’t stress quite how powerful a read this is. Like Martha I didn’t want to believe Becky was guilty as charged, but sifting through the same evidence as the jury even given fonder memories of the pair augmented by those of their brother Ethan, how could it be anything but. The power comes from a family breaking apart, the loss of Layla to them all, their divided alliances and the feeling that nothing will ever be the same again makes it a sad read too.

I now have to say a huge thank you to Penguin for allowing me to read a copy of No Further Questions. This review is my unreserved, and unbiased, thanks to them and Gillian McAllister for another memorable read. Even better the eBook is at available at an absolute bargain price at the moment, so don’t miss out.

First Published UK: 2 July 2018
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US (Audible only)

Previous (brilliant) Books by Gillian McAllister

Everything But The Truth
Anything You Do Say

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

Wedlock – Wendy Moore #20BooksofSummer

Non-Fiction
4*s

Wedlock has an extended title How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match caught my eye back in 2009 when this book was first published but it wasn’t until August 2017 when I actually purchased a copy for myself.

Now regular readers have probably worked out I’m a big fan of the Victorian and Edwardian periods of history but I don’t tend to venture back as far as the eighteenth century too often so Wendy Moore was always going to educate me on the social mores of the time, and she did that in spades.

Mary Eleanor Bowes, who became Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne on her first marriage, was one of the richest heiresses of the time when she inherited her father’s fortune on his death when she was just eleven-years old. When she was sixteen she became engaged to John Lyon and because her father’s will stipulated that her husband should assume his family name, the Earl addressed parliament with a request to change his name from John Lyon to John Bowes, which was granted. They married on her eighteenth birthday on 24 February 1767. Over time through their children the name was combined with a hyphen and the Queen Mother was a direct descendent of this union.

The couple lived an extravagant life, Mary often left alone whilst John concentrated on restoring the family seat, Glamis Castle, found amusement with other men but she was proud to announce that all five of their children were legitimate. Sadly, or perhaps not that sadly from Mary’s point of view as she wasn’t well-treated by John, he caught TB and died in 1776.

What happens next absolutely proves the saying fact is stranger than fiction with the “worst husband” being Mary’s second foray into marriage. We go from illegal abortions to duels to imprisonment and all manner of horrible happenings which I’m not going to recount at length because that would spoil the revelations of the book itself, if you haven’t already read it.

This book is billed as reading like fiction, and for a book that is so jam-packed with information which has clearly been meticulously researched (there are pages and pages of references at the end), it does. It’s always hard to fully put yourself in the shoes of someone whose life is of a different style to your own, and Mary Bowes was incredibly rich, she originally inherited over a million pounds and that was in 1760! It is even harder when society was so very different and I’ll be honest, when she was young Mary played to her strengths and whilst I wouldn’t suggest that she deserved all that happened next, she didn’t treat potential suitors well and so it’s not altogether surprising that she didn’t come up smelling of roses. She also wasn’t a maternal woman, and even given the times I was shocked that she openly wrote how much she despised her eldest son. But what I couldn’t help but admire was her tenacity in making sure her second husband John Stoney didn’t get away with his dastardly deed, and she did it! John Stoney was a cad, he spent money that he didn’t have and one of the more random facts I learnt while reading Wedlock was that his name is the reason where the saying ‘Stoney broke’ originated. As often happens when you learn something like that the next three, yes three, books used the phrase and each time I had a little smile about it.

This really is a remarkable piece of writing, the book is long, but so entertaining and let’s be honest shocking; I wasn’t being overly dramatic with my fact is stranger than fiction assertion. If I didn’t know this was a true account, I wouldn’t have believed some of the things that were revealed.

Wedlock was my third read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and this exploration of the life of albeit one very rich wife and mother in the eighteenth century made me very glad to have been born much later when society no longer saw the woman as property of a man, either her father or her husband.

First Published UK: 2009
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
No of Pages: 521
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Take Me In – Sabine Durrant

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Oh my this is a great summer read which starts with a holiday in Greece!

Marcus and Tess are on holiday, their marriage is a little bit rocky and the place they are staying in isn’t quite what they’d imagined but they do the British thing and dig deep and put on the best face for the sake of their three-year old son, Toby.

Picture the scene, they are on the beach, anyone who’s holidayed with a young child knows that sentence covers lots of preparation with lots to carry before you can even begin to relax. Tess pops off the beach to get changed and by the time she returns back Toby is in the water, face down. Sabine Durrant captures the scene all too well. The panic, horror and worst case scenarios were racing through my mind just as they did his parents from the stuttering view we get as the scene is viewed through their eyes. Sabine Durrant does so much by allowing the reader to fill in the gaps and by giving us the prompts and the space to absorb them this really was one of those scenes that became uncomfortably vivid.

With each chapter told from alternate points of view between Marcus and Tess we learn a lot about them both in the best way because we can’t help but see how they view themselves and what they really think of their other halves.

But back to Toby and the scary moment. Fortunately for them all there is a rescuer in the shape of Dave Jepson. A man holidaying with his own family he swam out to Toby and brought him back to shore. What this story does is eloquently expresses how a traumatic event can have lasting repercussions. In the normal narrative, the scary moment is over, everyone is relieved and life carries on but really it doesn’t. Even more so in this book because after the rescue, and a thank you meal, Marcus and Tessa can’t dislodge Dave from their lives. He keeps popping up and if that wasn’t bad enough for the remainder of the holiday, it becomes a whole lot worse on their return to the UK.

Of course even with the trauma Dave would not have made so many ripples if Marcus wasn’t taking risks in his business life and Tessa didn’t have secrets she most certainly didn’t want to be exposed. All of which makes for a reading experience that is very much like watching a slow motion car crash and then just as you think things can’t get any worse, or our couple can’t make a more stupid decision, it does and they do. When I say the tension rises, it does so almost imperceptibly at first until you turn the page and realise that your heart is pounding!

The characterisation is great, particularly Marcus and Tessa and the book wouldn’t have been so enjoyable if the author hadn’t pitched them as she has. Neither are outright unpleasant but they both do have traits of selfishness, smugness and a sense of entitlement but that’s not so unusual so in short, they are normal people living lives much like you or I or those you know and yet everything changed for them with one visit to the beach.

I love it when a book starts with a killer sentence to pull you in but what will stay with me with this book is the statement at the end… which is actually the underlying story condensed into something I haven’t been able to stop pondering since I finished reading Take Me In.

I’d like to thank the publisher Mulholland Books for allowing me to read a copy of Take Me In, something I was keen to do after having thoroughly enjoyed Sabine Durrant’s previous books. If by some chance you haven’t discovered her yet, you’re missing out.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Mulholland Books
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Psychological thrillers by Sabine Durrant
Under Your Skin
Remember Me This Way
Lie With Me

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

The Killing of Georgie Moore – Colin Evans

Non-Fiction
5*s

Another Victorian true crime this time entirely factual using evidence from the trial of Esther Pay who stood trial for the murder of seven-year old Georgie Moore.

I’m not going to rehash the entire sequence of events, or the outcome of the trial, if you want to know you should really read this for yourself. Instead, having read a fair few of this type of non-fiction reads I’m going to explain quite why this one was awarded the full five stars.

To understand the trial the reader needs to have some idea of the setting, the prime players in the crime, and their circumstances. The setting of course when dealing with historical crimes needs to accurately reconstruct the time period. And Colin Evans did this so well. In short Georgie’s father Stephen is a cad. He has seduced women up and down the country and the author explains how, contrary to our view of the Victorians this was entirely feasible with one in three marriages in the lower classes being undertaken while the woman was pregnant. Esther Pay,the accused by contrast had no children but she did have a husband who was fond of drink and routinely beat her, again not so uncommon for the times. We learn about the multiple dwellings of the key players and their interactions and pastimes. We are also treated to the background of the Police at the time, the difference between those in plain clothes and those in uniform along with their recent humiliation at the hands of the press. All of this is, in my view, essential to the reader to fully understand the crime and investigation in full.

The author has clearly done his research into this little known crime and all through the book he gives us the touchstone in the way of this to aid the reader’s understanding and in a tone that makes for appealing reading, always using his pen to paint the scene.

“Labourers who’d finished their work on this Saturday midday had slaked their thirsts and fuelled their tempers in the local inn before joining the crush. A few made the sign of the cross as the cortege edged past. Others were more concerned with pulling their raggedy clothes more tightly about their malnourished bodies in an effort to ward off shivers induced by the twin assaults of sub-zero temperatures and infectious mob sentiment.”

Of course the really interesting stuff is the trial itself and this one is a doozy with many adjournments at the pre-trial hearings as the police, led by Scotland Yard’s Inspector Marshall, and the defence go off to find their evidence building their respective cases brick by brick. Even to get this far had been a feat as little Georgie’s body had been found in Yalding in Kent but she had disappeared from near her school gates in Pimlico London. Of course by rights the local Kent Constabulary thought the trial should be there whereas Inspector Marshall thought otherwise…

“But Marshall was already displaying the heavy-handed insensitivity towards provincial forces that Scotland Yard would elevate to an art form over the next half century. He saw no reason to cede control of a high-profile murder investigation to a bunch of apple-munching yokels who would probably only foul up the case. No, this was his collar, his case, his glory, and he didn’t intend sharing it with anyone.”

The trial was engaging and even the outcome wasn’t really a surprise, you can never be sure with these historical crimes! I’m exceptionally pleased to say that this author didn’t sit on the fence, after all the evidence he has sifted through, he’s come up with his own theory. I’m not convinced that it covers all the unanswered questions, but it certainly hangs together well enough for me to feel that this was a piece of research well rounded-off.

This book is my 23rd read in my Mount TBR challenge 2018 having been purchased on 29 December 2017 and one that has prompted me to seek out more work by this author of 17 books dealing with forensics and true crime.

First Published UK: 2013
Publisher: Colin Evans
No of Pages: 495
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Sanctum – Denise Mina #20BooksofSummer

Psychological Thriller
5*s

My 20 Books of Summer 2018 challenge is a great opportunity to catch up with the back catalogue of some of my favourite authors and so this book, which I found at the local book sale last November was guaranteed a place on the list. As the book was originally published in 2002 I was amazed to see when writing this review that it is now being published as an eBook on 5 July 2018.

Susie Harriot, a forensic psychologist has just been found guilty of murdering a serial killer in her care, Andrew Gow. Susie’s husband Lachlan (Lachie) believes her when she says she is innocent. What we read is Lachie’s recently discovered diary or notes on the case. Lachie having been convinced that she would be found innocent now becomes obsessive, trying to understand his wife’s relationship with Andrew Gow and he is in his element when he finds the notes she wrote about Andrew Gow when she was treating him along with a mountain of other documentation hidden away in her study. I couldn’t help feeling that some of this effort should have been made before, rather than after, the trial. As Lachie digs he begins to realise that the life he thought they were living as a family, wasn’t quite what it seemed.

In the aftermath of the trial Lachie’s parents visit along with an Aunt of Susie’s and he retreats to her previously private study to try to make sense of what has happened. He doesn’t sleep but he has a daughter to care for which causes a stir amongst the staff and other mothers at the nursery she attends – more psychological studies as we observe their behaviour! Denise Mina has a keen eye for observation made all the more delicious because we get to observe the reactions whilst taking a different message from some of the encounters than the Lachie does.

The real beauty of this book is the fact that each of the characters, and the relationships they have, is an individual psychological study. The plot is an original one and I couldn’t wait to see what Lachie would find next, and more intriguingly, what he would make of the information. Let’s just say Lachie is not perhaps as clear-sighted as he might be. There are elements of dark humour as well for instance his dismay when seeing his photo is in the paper, not just because the media are on to him but mainly because it isn’t a flattering picture. As the story progressed I became involved not only in his discoveries but his motivation and ‘take’ on what had happened.

The style of the book begins with a preface explaining the provenance of the document and the ending is in a similar style, ramming home the ‘true-crime’ feel that the book has, for instance the mini exploration around women who are attracted to and become romantically involved with murderers, their motivation and expectations, this device just increased the books appeal as far as I was concerned.
Whilst the characters are on the whole not too pleasant, the exploration of their lives was absolutely fascinating and I was completely hooked. It’s true this isn’t quite like the Paddy Meehan series, nor is it the exploration that I read most recently about Peter Manuel called The Long Drop but it has what I’d call a true psychological base which I love.

An absolute winner of a read and one that absolutely convinced me that I really must read the other books by Denise Mina that I missed when they were first published.

First Published UK: 2002
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 304
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Off With His Head – Ngaio Marsh

Classic
2*s

Well before I picked this book as one of my Classics Club Reads, I noted that I did so because although she’s widely acclaimed, she is not an author I’ve actually read which is shocking considering that I consider myself quite widely read in this genre having been a fan since discovering Maigret and Agatha Christie in my childhood. I have to confess on the whole I found this a difficult read which I will attempt to explain.

The setting of the early scene was really well done when we met Mrs Bunz a German woman with an academic interest in folklore visiting the village of South Mardian in order to witness the “Dance of the Five Sons,” a mixture between a mummers play and a sword dance which has been performed in the village for generations at the time of the winter solstice. Fortunately for the time when we met the performers there were five sons all alive to accompany their father, even older, to give the villagers a show. Sadly the snow has kept the audience to a minimum, but no matter, Mrs Bunz is determined to document a rare example of an ancient tradition.

After lots, and lots, and lots, of build-up, through rehearsals and arguments, the dance is performed only for the father to be found with his head cut off at the finale. Shocking stuff indeed!

The villagers on the whole are a strange bunch, characterised by low education and an odd dialect. In short the five sons are portrayed as buffoons, particularly the youngest who has epilepsy causing the other four to endlessly chorus soothing noises whenever he gets agitated. Their father is the blacksmith, William Anderson, known to all as the “Guiser,” an unpleasant fellow who is prone to shouting and who cut off his daughter when she chose to marry someone from a different class to them. I know that this was written in a different time when attitudes were very different, but I found it distasteful because the family were at the heart of the action and even by the end we knew little more about them.

So I already had a problem with the ordinary folk but when you combine that with the way the wealthy of the village both acted and were deferred to by everyone, including our esteemed detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn who was bought in when the local bobbies were unable to decide who, out of the entire village (as they all had a motive for murder) had committed the act. With everyone loudly telling each other to keep quiet or disappearing because they don’t like visitors my main source of tension was created by the very real sense that Inspector Alleyn would don his wellington boots and leave without solving the crime because he seemed a little reluctant to ask the questions that seemed blindingly obvious. Consequently by the time we had the reveal, and the solution to a few more of the little mysteries that had occurred, I’d either worked it out for myself, or I was pretty much past caring.

For all that, I did like the parallels with King Lear, the murder itself was well plotted and the isolation of such a village in winter is one I could easily imagine. Sadly I wasn’t anywhere near as fond of the class obsession the writer enforced on her readers.

Off With His Head is number 30 on The Classics Club challenge list and the sixth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1957
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2018, Book Review, Books I have read

Seven Days in May – Kim Izzo #20BooksofSummer

Historical Fiction
3*s

 

The title Seven Days in May refers to the time that Brooke, Sydney and Edward spent on their fated journey from New York to Liverpool aboard the Lusitania, before it was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1915.

Even before we step aboard the luxury line we have a high society wedding in the offing. Edward Thorpe-Tracey, an impoverished owner of a fine estate is to marry Brooke Sinclair who has inherited a fortune from her father. Edward is hoping that the marriage will save the estate and provide a solid future for his disabled sister when he takes on the title Lord Northbrook. Brooke and her younger sister Sydney are dissimilar in many ways and Sydney is in disgrace having been arrested for her suffragette activities. Of course this has to be kept firmly under wraps so not to frighten the groom-to-be.

In a separate storyline we are in England, in Room 40 where codes are cracked and German dispatches are passed up the chain of control. Isabel Nelson has recently joined Room 40 on the helpful reference from her previous employer. She’s worked hard at evening classes to learn secretarial skills and is thrilled to be in the company of the other men and women undertaking such secret work; this young woman with a past feels like she’s making a difference to the war effort.

This is a book that promises a great deal and it certainly made for an interesting read, particularly as the author was moved to write the story having heard the stories of her Great Grandfather’s survival against the odds, of the sinking of the Lusitania as a boy. The story of the ship, the clothes and the taciturn captain all had an authenticity about them but the romantic tales that moved so many other readers fell a bit flat for me. Perhaps, despite all appearances, I am too romantic in that I never quite fully bought in that Brooke’s freedom and money in exchange for a title was the sum of this young woman’s ambition. Nor could I quite buy the fact that young Isabel Nelson was taken under the collective wings of the code-breakers and taught in such a short space of time how to not only transcribe them, but have time on the side to plot ship’s passages and run messages up to the head of the Admiralty himself, Winston Churchill.

For me the most moving scenes were of the tragedy itself. Here the writing really came alive with the scenes on the ship, and in the water having a feeling of authenticity that I had doubted earlier in the book. It was at this point the key characters fully came to life and behaved in a much more realistic fashion too. On balance, despite my reservations about the likelihood of Isabel’s talents being given an outlet so early on, and at that time in history, I preferred the storyline set in Room 40. I find the work carried out here fascinating and of course its origins gave rise to the work carried out at Bletchley Park during the next war, something which has become much better known over recent years. This area of interest was more to my taste than the one between the sisters and the impoverished Lord although I did enjoy meeting some of the hapless travellers on board as well as getting a sense of the safety measures taken given that even before they set sail there was some indication of the intention of the Germans.

Seven Days in May made for an interesting start to my 20 Books of Summer 2018 reading challenge and one that definitely gave me a deeper knowledge of this act which motivated the US to join forces against the Germans in WWI.

First Published UK: 25 April 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 362
Genre: Historical Fiction
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