Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Mile End Murder – Sinclair McKay

Non-Fiction
4*s

Sinclair McKay re-examines a crime right at the heart of the Victorian era in 1860. A murder that was committed against an elderly woman in her own home in the East End of London.

Mrs Emsley was no cuddly granny-type lady though, she was a miser worthy of a part in one of Charles Dickens (more of him later) novels. Born in the East End of London under the bells of St Anne’s in Stepney she came from humble beginnings but by the time she met her end she’d been married twice and amassed an enormous amount of wealth in the form of housing stock. Although she employed some men to collect her substantial rents she also visited the hovels packed with families who lived close by to her own home, not known for her compassion she would frequently evict her struggling tenants if they were even a week behind with their payments. She was therefore fairly universally disliked. All in all the best kind of murder victim for a good mystery; anyone and everyone can be a suspect.

                      Mary Emsley clutching a role of wallpaper

Mrs Emsley had bought some wallpaper which she was attempting to sell and so it came to be that her badly bludgeoned body was found in her house with the rolls of precious wallpaper close by. For a woman known to be suspicious of visitors the lack of forced entry suggests that she admitted her killer herself. The only clue was a a bloody footprint on the landing when the body was discovered by one of her rent collectors by which time it had attracted some maggots for good measure!

The police were called and soon fixed on a suspect and indeed this man was hung for the crimes committed. Unsurprisingly, and those of you who have read my previous reviews of Victorian true crimes will also detect a theme developing here, dear old Charles Dickens was apparently one of the 20,000 people who attended the public hanging while of course decrying the ghoulishness of those citizens eager for a bit of excitement.

In a twist to the tale in 1901 Arthur Conan Doyle took a look at the case as he wasn’t sure that the man who hung deserved his fate, his thoughts were published as a serialised book The Debatable Case Of Mrs. Emsley. In 2017 Sinclair McKay took up the baton and went back to the evidence and builds a case for another perpetrator entirely.

This is an incredibly readable book of the type I enjoy most in this sub-genre; Sinclair McKay keeps a running commentary of the social history alongside the background to the victim, the suspect and the resultant trial and hanging. There is also a substantial information on how relatives came out of the woodwork to claim her fortune and to keep it out of the hands of Queen Victoria since our miserly widow had not made a will.

I found it a fascinating read and whilst I have to admit that the author has perhaps hit upon a more worthy suspect than that of the police, I wasn’t altogether convinced that he had a watertight case either, but coming up with a credible alternative at the distance of more than 150 years is no mean feat.

I’d like to thank the publishers Aurum Press for allowing me to read a copy of The Mile End Murder and for Sinclair McKay who transported me back to a darker, dingier and poverty ridden East End of London.

First Published UK: 7 September 2017
Publisher: Aurum Press
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Non Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Family Secrets – Derek Malcolm

Non-Fiction
3*s

This non-fiction book tells the tale of a supremely unhappy family, one that is marred by a secret of the highest order, a murder.

Film critic Derek Malcolm tells the story of the murder committed by his father from the distance of many years. This rather strange tale tells the story of Derek’s early years, his relationship with his father who loves his country sports and his mother who craves attention. There are moments of pathos surrounding his school years where the couple, who at times lived apart, visited him. Awkward moments where any signs of a less than affluent nature were kept hidden as much as possible. There is no doubt that this was a different time, and the rules were very different indeed.

Despite the tone of the book, very much stiff-upper-lip, the reader can only wonder how Derek coped with the warring couple who were his parents. There seemed to be no bond between them and yet the two stayed together in disharmony throughout his childhood albeit in different locations for a while. As an only child I can only imagine that school was his salvation and his success in later life is testament that even a strict boarding school aged a tender four is possibly better than living in a domestic war zone. Anyway mummy sent him fond messages on the back of postcards… Of course she was busy entertaining her male friends and lapping up the attention.

“Isn’t this a nice picture? Much love, Mummy”

A possible source of the disharmony at home is an event in 1917 when Douglas Malcolm, on leave from Western front determined to save his wife, Dorothy’s honour by killing a man who she was having an affair with. This was seemingly a planned event, Dorothy had asked Douglas for a divorce, he declined. The scene in the Paddington boarding house where the confrontation took place was quite probably not a pretty one.

More than thirty years later Derek stumbles across the details, something his sixteen year old self didn’t feel the need to share with his father. he Judges and the Damned was the book and while browsing through the Contents pages Derek reads, ‘Mr Justice McCardie tries Lieutenant Malcolm – page 33.’ But there is no page 33. The whole chapter has been ripped out.

The most interesting part of the book in my opinion was the murder trial itself. I can’t imagine a court would take the same view nowadays or even that any man claiming to murder another to save his wife’s honour would achieve anything but incredulity. But that was the defence. That’s not to say that the standing of the two men involved didn’t also play its part in the snobbishness of the courtroom.

This was an interesting story, told almost completely without emotion, as if Derek Malcolm was telling the tale to men very much of his background and his standing. The upper lip is often so stiff I felt the words could barely make their way out as we are told of bullying and beatings at Eton as if these are real badges of honour. Of course to a man of his time, they probably were but I can’t deny there was a gap between the raconteur and his audience.

First Published UK: 2003
Publisher: Hutchinson
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Non Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Shrouded Path – Sarah Ward #BlogTour #BookReview

Crime Fiction
5*s

I was absolutely thrilled to be contacted by Faber & Faber to see if I wanted to be part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of the fourth book in the DC Connie Childs series, The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward. I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous books in this series, written by the blogger Crimepieces, one of the earlier crime fiction bloggers I found all those many moons ago when I started blogging.

With its tale split between the past in 1957 and the present, this book certainly didn’t disappoint and at the risk of being repetitive this was even better than the three that preceded it.

One November evening in 1957 six teenage girls walked into the train tunnel at The Cutting, but only five made it out again. What happened to the sixth is shrouded in a mystery as murky as the mists that swirled around the Derbyshire landscape.

In 2014 Mina Kemp is sitting by her mother’s bed in hospital. Hilary is dying but she has become unusually agitated believing that she has seen her childhood friend. She begs Mina to find Valerie and despite not knowing where to start, her mother never having mentioned Valerie before Mina determines to do her bidding.

Meanwhile the Bampton police should be having a quiet time of it. With just one natural death on the books to follow-up while DI Sadler is on his holidays it is only the temporary elevation of Matthews in his absence that is causing the work to be more arduous than needs be. However there is the new DC, Peter Dahl to show the ropes to so they pay a visit to the deceased, Nell Colley’s home, to see if there is anything at all suspicious about her death.

This series is everything you could want from a crime fiction novel. Even though it is part of a series each book is entirely self-contained, although of course the characters develop from book to book. One of my favourite aspects is that all the characters are great, they are all genuine people, police as we like to imagine our local police force to be; caring and diligent with an absolute drive to get to the truth. This isn’t a series overburdened by police politics or gripes about how the force has changed. These are detectives in the old mode, ones that really want to detect. Of course one of the most striking The setting is superb, as one who has holidayed in the area the village of Bampton is as you’d imagine a typical village in the area to be and by taking us back as far as 1957 that feeling s reinforced even more in The Shrouded Path. Best of all there are multiple threads that are meticulously plotted so that there is a real sense of satisfaction at a well-told story by the time you turn the last page.

In a book that changes from past to present and back again we get a flavour of life in the 1950s not by way of obvious signposted items but from the everyday context from a girl not allowed to sing carols before Christmas Eve (and not arguing about her father’s strict order) to the simpler times where life was about making your own entertainment, riding bicycles to choir practice and secrets being hidden well away from prying eyes.

This is the perfect autumnal read – my only disappointment is now I need to wait a while before I learn what Sarah Ward will serve up next for DC Connie Childs.

First Published UK: 4 September 2018
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books in the DC Connie Childs Series

In Bitter Chill
A Deadly Thaw
A Patient Fury

Don’t miss out on the other posts on this Blog Tour

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

The New Mrs Clifton – Elizabeth Buchan

Historical Fiction
4*s

The Second World War is the basis for a whole raft of historical novels and The New Mrs Clifton takes a different approach in viewing the conflict from a different angle.

Gus Clifton returns from the war to the home he shares with his two sisters with his new wife. This turn of events would always cause shockwaves because he was expected to marry their friend, his fiancée Nella. But Gus hasn’t just broken this loyal woman’s heart, the one who waited for his return, he has married a German woman Krista.

Of course along with the rest of Britain Gus’s two sisters have seen the brutal effects of the war on their country, and those they love the most. Julia is a widow while Tilly is determined to live life to the full.

Elizabeth Buchan recreates the time and place with haunting accuracy. There are bombed buildings, rationing and queues and the concrete fury at the Germans for causing the war. How can Krista damaged by her own experiences of the war can ever be happy in a country where she is hated?
Gus was a member of the British Intelligence forces based in Germany during the conflict and the reader along with his sisters and fiancée are forced to wonder what happened there to choose such an unsuitable wife.

Not only has the author meticulously documented the aftermath of the war in England she has also created some complex characters who interact with each other in an entirely believable manner. The legacy of the polite society is still firmly in place with the snubs against Krista of a low level but persistent nature rather than the locals storming the house and throwing bricks through the window. But the reader gets to peek behind the curtains soon realises that there is something other than love that binds this couple together with Krista battling vivid nightmares and clearly having had no choice but to bind herself to a man she does not love and travel to a country where she is viewed with the highest level of suspicion.

This slow burn of a novel examines how the war has fundamentally changed both Gus and Krista but it also looks at the lives and expectations of those who had no choice but to wait out the conflict with hope diminishing with every piece of bad news. The three British women, Julia with the loss of her love, Tilly with her tentative approaches to their new sister-in-law and Nella who is bewildered and shamed by the turn of events have to find a way to carry on, and to heal. This is a story that will have you asking yourself some difficult questions and to put yourself in the shoes of a woman whose quest for survival has led her into a hostile environment.

The New Mrs Clifton is a deeply moving and sympathetic portrait of life which had the power to examine the way that the perception that a whole nation of people were rotten through the actions of its leaders still persists till this day. It is far easier use the broad brush strokes of the atrocity to paint a picture than to acknowledge that war isn’t kind to anyone, least of all the civilians that are innocent bystanders.

I bought my copy of The New Mrs Clifton after reading a whole heap of great reviews from my fellow bloggers – my friends you did me a great service!

First Published UK: 2016
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 405
Genre: Historical Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Sisters of Mercy – Caroline Overington

Psychological Suspense
5*s

Agnes Moore disappears on the day that she is supposed to board a plane to return to England from Sydney. She had made the epic journey to meet up with her younger sister Snow. Agnes had supposed she was an orphan having been left in an orphanage but all these years later she’s learned that she is a beneficiary of her father’s will, and that she has a younger sister. Her family at home in England have no idea of what has happened to her.

Until the reading of the will Snow was also unaware of her sibling living a different kind of life on the other side of the world. Unlike Agnes who was full of excitement at the thought, Snow was not so keen.

The third main character in this story is a journalist New South Wales journalist Jack ‘Tap’ Fawcett who first reports the story Agnes’s disappearance after her daughter Ruby travels to Australia to make an appeal. Then he starts receiving letters from a prisoner.

Caroline Overington uses her settings judiciously. The disappearance of Agnes was the day of a red dust storm, an event that is used by the journalist to nudge at his reader’s memories to conjure up the day and time in their minds. It is also an event that gives the reader something unusual to picture somehow making the disappearance part of an eerie day.

I was really impressed with the way this tale unfolds but unusually for me I will caveat this review with the fact that there are some scenes of suffering that are upsetting. Snow’s letters to the journalist from prison form the backbone of the story. She starts writing to him because she believes that he is misreporting the facts behind the disappearance of her sister and wants to correct them.

People say that I don’t seem to care that my sister went missing after coming all the way out to Australia to visit me, but think about it from my point of view. I didn’t want her to come out in the first place.

As the reader is pretty much in the dark as to what her supposed crime might be at the start the clues come from these letters.

Although Sisters of Mercy might be judged from its premise to be a mystery story, it is really a character study of a woman. If you are a reader who has to like the main character it is possibly not a book for you but I was fascinated as Snow reveals herself, in her own words seemingly naïve about the reaction of the recipient.

I already had a huge respect for Caroline Overington having read a couple of her previous books and I’m glad she is one of the few authors whose work has travelled across the world from Australia. This is an author who steers well away from a formula, her books are all different but all I think, incredibly engaging. Sisters of Mercy is not a story that is wrapped up neatly at the end and because the author chose this method I find myself wondering about the events in it long after I turned the last page.

I’d like to thank the fabulous blogger, Margot Kinberg, for prompting me to buy a copy of this book following her feature of it in a spotlight post on her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

First Published UK: 2012
Publisher: Random House
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Caroline Overington Reviewed by Cleopatra Loves Books

I Came to Say Goodbye
Last Woman Hanged

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Night She Died – Jenny Blackhurst

Psychological Thriller
4*s

I have read far fewer psychological thrillers in 2018 than previous years and those that I have chosen have been of a high quality with the successful authors using a premise which is a little out of the ordinary. That is exactly what Jenny Blackhurst has done in The Night She Died as she builds on her outstanding success of her previous books in this genre.

Picture the scene of lovely wedding between a happy couple. Move to the next frame and you see a woman in her wedding dress looking over the bay and then she is gone. Below the clifftop she stood on are rocks so the outcome doesn’t look great. And sure enough after that there is no trace of Evie, no body and no one knows quite why, or do they?

Evie White is the bride who disappears, she leaves no note and so her heartbroken groom is left with nothing except unanswered questions. Evie’s best friend is Rebecca and it is obvious to the reader that she knows something, but what it is she is keeping quiet about.

The book is told in two narratives, the past by Evie going back to her childhood to explain the woman she became, and the present, by Rebecca. Rebecca is propping up the groom who became a widower before he had any chance to enjoy his marriage. Unsurprisingly he isn’t coping too well especially as the police are trying to unravel the mystery of Evie’s apparent suicide which inevitably means that Richard finds out about the aspects of Evie’s life that she had kept hidden from him. It probably won’t surprise you to be told that both women are soon revealed to be what could be considered ‘complex characters.’

For those readers who love a tense and imaginative foray, this will be a book that you’ll enjoy and fortunately the author keeps the magic and the surprises coming from the first to the very last page. If I was going to be picky I’d probably state that I’m not sure that the police would expand quite so much energy on a suicide even if they did suspect foul play at the outset but if a book is well written and engaging then I’m prepared to overlook such quibbles.

Jenny Blackhurst hasn’t just come up with a good premise here she follows it through by writing appealing characters. Admittedly both women are complex but there is something appealing about them both and they are real. Most of us have met both an Evie and a Rebecca in our lives and so the author’s obvious investment in her characters pays off. I cared about them both even while trying to work out what had happened to cause Evie to throw herself off the cliff.

The timing is also impeccable. For me the joy of reading a psychological thriller is that hook that keeps you turning the pages. I tend to read this kind of novel faster than other types of books and the author has the format down to a tee. The short chapters the alternating time periods and narrators works so well to keep me turning the pages to find out the next piece of information and has me constantly changing my mind about what is relevant to the plot and what is not.

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for allowing me to read an advance review copy of The Night She Died, and to Jenny Blackhurst for providing me with a compulsive read!

First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Jenny Blackhurst

How I Lost You
Before I Let You In
The Foster Child

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

A Double Life – Flynn Berry

Crime Fiction
4*s

It is no secret that I am incredibly fond of books that use true crime as a starting point for a fictional account and so I simply had to read Flynn Berry’s second book which is loosely based upon Lord Lucan, the man who killed his nanny and then disappeared in 1974.

Claire Alden was eight years old when one night she was woken by some noise and found her beloved nanny, a young woman by the name of Emma covered in blood on the kitchen floor. Some time later she was scooped up and removed from the house. Her mother was in hospital and she was sent to stay with one of her friends with her young baby brother Robbie while she recovered. Her realisation that her father was suspected of the murder was slow but the effects it had bred an obsession that has lasted a lifetime.

In the present day Claire is a doctor. A caring woman who every now and again gives us a run-down of the ailments she’s treated that day. But she has a secret, her name isn’t Claire and she’s been in hiding for so very long whilst also watching, trying to find out what happened to her father. What sparks the latest flurry of obsession is that the police have been in touch, there has been a sighting and once again Claire lets herself believe that this might be the one, they actually might find him.
This is a dark book, full of foreboding as to what might be waiting for Claire. She looks back to their days in Belgravia followed by flight from the media and prying eyes to Scotland. What makes it all so much worse is her father’s friends seem to be working to a different reality. One where Claire’s mother had set him up for the murder, and that she’s an unfit mother.

Alongside the main theme is that of friendship, particularly that forged at a typically English public school with its societies where bonds are formed to last a lifetime no matter what. James and Rose were two of her parent’s best friends and so they are one of the subjects who Claire has tracked over the years. She’s followed them to work, she checks them out online and she wants to get inside their house and lives to find out what they know. There is a resentment that the life of privilege has not only protected her father but those friends who she suspects know more than they’ve ever let on.

Claire might be a highly functioning member of society but her younger brother has fared less well although he has no memory of their father it has marred his life too. These two damaged souls give the reader the chance to think about the often forgotten victims of crime. The children of murderers often overlooked and yet in this case they have grown up under a dark shadow indeed.

I was taken with the dual time line that works forward through the days from before the murder alongside Claire’s search for the truth. The tension is constant and the ending explosive.

I’d like to thank the publishers Orion for allowing me to read an advance review copy of A Double Life, a fascinating read that has already had me seeking out a copy of Flynn Berry’s debut novel Under the Harrow, winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2017.

First Published UK: 31 July 2018
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

This is Not a Novel – Jennifer Johnston #20BooksofSummer

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This is a novel and one that I think falls under the heading ‘literary novel’ with its symbolism and eloquent prose.

The story is mainly split between the 1970s with visits to World War I. Imogen Bailey’s brother Johnny is a champion swimmer. Their father is hoping that he will make the Olympic squad but maybe this is his dream and not Johnny’s. One day fifteen year old Johnny goes missing in the water in County Cork, no further sighting is ever made but Imogen never quite believes he drowned.

She therefore decides to write to Johnny, not as a story but as a way to sift through her memories and back them up with family documents; letters, school reports and diaries, hence the title of the book with premise that the result will be:

“a hopeful message sent out into the world, like a piece of paper in a bottle dropped into the sea”

Following Johnny’s disappearance Imogen stops speaking and is sent to a private hospital to recover. The real cause of her lack of voice is one strand of this fascinating story. The others concern Johnny’s disappearance and the links to the past with another family member sent to fight for his country.

Considering this is a fairly slim novel it is commendable that the writer has managed to condense a whole century of one family into its pages with no obvious bumps as she hurtles backwards and forwards giving the feeling of the natural echoes that her narrator finds in the trunk of old papers.

There are some absolutely fascinating characters within the book from Mathilde the housekeeper who converts religion as a way of fitting into country life following her move to Ireland after the war whose story sits next to that of the young German Bruno who makes such an impact on Johnny and Imogen. The stories of their trips to the cinema seemingly benign made this reader wince at the parts that both the youngsters were oblivious to.

This is a story told in layers, far more than is immediately apparent when reading the novel itself. I like and greatly admire authors who can allow you to read and enjoy but then give you the additional pleasure of uncovering some of the themes on reflection after that last page is turned. The trick of writing something that is seemingly uncomplicated but having hidden depths of course works well in conjunction of the narrator being absolutely convinced in the seemingly impossible, after all Johnny disappeared from the family some thirty years previously. A narrator unable to accept the inevitable after that length of time gives some doubt to her own memories whilst there can be no doubt in the written evidence provided.

Like so many other Irish writers the distinctiveness of the place of their birth is never far from the surface. The reader is well aware of Ireland’s ‘neutrality’ at the time of war so far in the distant past the bitterness of one mother for her son being sent needlessly to fight in the War has a different ‘flavour’ to those set in other parts of the UK. As with everything else in this novel though, the Irish hand is employed with a subtlety that is unusual.

This is Not a Novel is my fourteenth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge Yes, I declare that I resoundingly failed at this challenge this year!!

First Published UK: 2002
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Shuttle – Frances Hodgeson Burnett

Classic
3*s

The Classic Club Spin number 18 picked The Shuttle by Frances Hodgeson Burnett for me which was one of my choices of children’s authors who had written books for adults too. Once it was picked I then decided to investigate a little more – you can read my full post here.

So I was a little concerned about the length of the book and with good reason given that I only finished the last page shortly before leaving for work this morning! But I was very impressed to find out that the garden at Great Maytham Hall near Rolvenden, Kent, as inspiration for the setting of this book, and The Secret Garden – more of that later.

Great Maytham Hall Garden by Stephen Nunnery

So what did I think of the book. Well although it was long at well over 500 pages most of the time the story flowed along although I have to confess there were times when the lengthy descriptions so common at this time wore me down but there were plenty of surprises, maybe not so much plot wise but I found the attitudes given the time that this was written in 1907 far more forward thinking than I expected.

The story opens in New York with Sir Nigel Anstruthers meeting the young and fairly insubstantial, in build and character, Rosalie Vanderpoel. Rosalie is an heiress of magnitude and Nigel Anstruthers was seeking just such a young woman to marry with the aim of using her wealth for the upkeep of Stornham Court. Nigel meets the parents, the younger sister Bettina and the couple soon tie the knot. As Sir and Lady Anstruthers they set sail for the UK and then by train to Kent where Stornham Court is far more dilapidated than Rosalie expected. But since by that time her husband has failed to keep his brutish nature under wraps she is already on edge. Meeting the dowager does nothing to improve her feelings and it soon becomes apparent that she is trapped.

Many years later her younger sister Betty comes to find her. In the intervening years the house has fallen into even more severe disrepair as all the money has been spent on Sir Anstruther’s own entertainment. Rosalie is in just as bad shape, having also fallen into disrepair, her one surviving son who has a deformity being the only meaning in her life. Betty is shocked but a strong-willed and ‘business-like’ young woman who takes the house and her sister in hand.

With echoes of what would become the healing nature of plants and flowers in the Secret Garden within this book as one of Betty’s first actions is to hire a Head Gardener to oversee the many younger men to bring the garden to life. There are walks round the garden, descriptions of various flowers and a sense that this beauty breathes life into her sister’s soul.

There is also the inevitable romance playing out alongside the younger sister’s careful plan to extricate her sister from her awful marriage. This is a very modern woman who while approaching life somewhat differently given the slightly less rigid American lifestyle to that expected in an English village must surely have spoken to the Edwardian women who read this book at the time of publication. That along with a cautionary tale to those in America not to be taken in by a title alone. There is much said about what constitutes a married woman’s property what separating would mean for a woman not only in terms of her standing in society but that she would lose custody of her child. I couldn’t help but wonder what those women who were living under just such a regime took from this story.

There are dramatic scenes before the climax of the book which definitely allude to the particular power a man has over a woman, even a strong and clever woman, which while not in any way explicit was quite unexpected.

So in conclusion this was a good choice as one of  my Classic Club reads as there was much to enjoy within these pages that include travelling salesmen, hop pickers and magic wands aplenty in the form of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of money. I did mark it down by one star because it was a little bit of a slog in places but in all honestly I don’t think I’ll forget the many and varied characters I met during this read.

The Shuttle is number 46 on The Classics Club list and the seventh of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

First Published UK: 1907
Publisher: Persephone Books
No of Pages: 536
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Flying Shoes – Lisa Howorth #20BooksofSummer

Contemporary Fiction
3*s

Mary Byrd Thornton is minding her own business in Mississippi when a call comes through from a detective that is revisiting the murder of her step-brother over thirty years before. So far so good, exploring what an unpunished crime of this magnitude does to a family, how they deal with the impossible emotions that must come from such an awful event sounded ideal.

So Mary Byrd Thornton is summoned back to her home town in Virginia, to her mother, leaving her husband and their two children behind. A journalist is sniffing around the story too and poor Mary is struggling with being propelled back into that time when she was a teenager and some of the police were less than sympathetic dealing with the family. The thing is she has always believed they know who snatched Stevie from them.

Unfortunately for this reader the solving of this long ago murder is a mere bit part in what is on the whole a stream of consciousness about Mary Byrd Thornton’s life. Her friends, the truck journey she takes to Virginia, the alcohol she drinks, the affair she consider and her housekeeper Evagreen and this woman’s own troubles which are of a massive magnitude. The problem I have with this type of writing is that it never seems to get to the point, and quite frankly I get frustrated with the style fairly quickly.

There are a lot of interesting characters and I feel that for once I was able to understand a part of the world where although we speak the same language, the whole ‘feel’ of the place is quite unlike any that I know. There is insight into the plantation past and racial issues that were still firmly in place at the time the book was set in the 1990s. We get to look inside different types of houses, visit different families and even get a flavour of the local news. This is a book about a community with a defined culture and if that was what I thought I was reading about, then maybe my frustration wouldn’t have been quite so great.

One big positive is Mary’s approach to life so although I didn’t really get to know her despite the endless thoughts on breakable china, the mixed emotions of child-rearing, her inquisitiveness about her friend’s lives and her somewhat chaotic approach to housekeeping, it was clear that she isn’t a woman to take herself too seriously. She may pay lip-service to caring about other’s views of her but it doesn’t cause her to want to put too much effort into conforming. Her view of the loss of Stevie was also far more realistic than endless weeping and wailing that many novels offer of prolonged grief. There is a sense of guilt but again, not overwhelmingly so. This made sense when I got to the end and realised that in part the author has written the book about the unsolved murder of her own step-brother which seemed to give the book more context than I had previously given it credit for.

Despite being written in a style that doesn’t really appeal to me, there was a lot to enjoy in Flying Shoes and a book that has more impact in retrospect than perhaps it did while I was reading it.

Flying Shoes is my thirteenth read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge

First Published UK: 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
No of Pages: 337
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US