Wow!! I was hoping for a good read after having enjoyed The Widow so much last year but this story totally blew me away.
A skeleton of a baby was found in a garden of what is now a demolition site in Woolwich ready for the gentrification of this area of London. Kate Waters (the journalist in The Widow) spots a couple of lines about the body in the paper and decides to see if she can build a ‘human life’ story out of the sparse information.
The story is told in short punchy paragraphs following the storylines of four women at the time of the find in 2012. Kate Waters is a great investigative journalist and her narrative leads the way in mirroring one of the aspects I enjoyed so much in the author’s debut novel by feeding us peripheral information, in one instance the change in the way her job has evolved now more news is read on-line.
In 1970 Angela Irving’s baby was snatched from the maternity ward where she was born. The search for baby Alice led to a dead-end taking a detour of suspecting the story of her disappearance wasn’t exactly as presented by Angela.
Emma Simmonds works from home as a writer polishing the words of others to produce books about celebrities. Could she have a better profession to fix this book in contemporary times? Emma like Angela suffers with anxiety so working from home is ideal. Emma is married to an academic, a lovely man twenty years her senior.
And finally there is Jude, mother to Emma and the two had lived in a shared house in the area of the find. Jude and Emma have a complex and fractured relationship. Jude never revealed who Emma’s father was and although Emma picked up some hints over the years, she hasn’t ever met him.
The story is pretty much led by Kate’s narrative as she works with the new boy in the news room and this is where Fiona Barton’s experience as a journalist lends authenticity to the smallest of interactions from her kindly instructions to Joe on her craft when you can tell she wants him to get his nose out of his phone and study the wide variety of characters they come into contact with as they follow the story of a long-buried baby.
The pace is fast and while each of the three other women may cast their minds back in their narratives the overall timeline is strictly linear with each chapter indicating the day and the narrator so that the story is kept straight in the reader’s mind.
All those big questions of why, who and how are there for the asking, with many others crowding in around the edges of this tale full of buried secrets. Best of all the reader gets a different perspective from the variety of narrators and can ponder on the information provided. I did guess what had happened but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book one bit, after all I wanted to find out not only if I was right, but what would happen following the revelations.
This is a psychological thriller that obviously has its roots in reality, a story with the elements of life we prefer not to think about, or if we do, to file under a cliché headline. The Child takes a look behind the headlines and the result is a compulsive read.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Random House UK for giving me a copy of The Child ahead of publication on 29 June 2017. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the author for such an engaging read.
First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Psychological Thriller Amazon UK Amazon US
There is something doubly appealing about crime fiction with a strong contemporary feel and Mark Billingham has chosen this, his fourteenth book in the Tom Thorne series to highlight honour killings. The fact that he does this within a brilliantly constructed mystery certainly makes for compelling reading.
DI Nicola Tanner is on compassionate leave after the death of her partner who was murdered inside their shared home. Having worked with Thorne when he makes a brief appearance in Die of Shame, she seeks him out convinced that those in charge of the investigation into Susan’s death are not interested in her belief that her murder was a case of mistaken identity, and it is actually her own life they meant to take.
The relationship between Tanner and Thorne is brilliantly handled as they work off the grid to find out the truth. When a couple of teenagers go missing Thorne and Tanner fear their own families know more than they are letting on but are they reading too much into the case?
I was delighted that Hendricks, the gay pierced and hugely sarcastic doctor who carries out the post mortems on any of the stray bodies that are sent in his direction, was back to lighten the plotline when it all becomes a bit too dark. Black humour is infinitely better than no humour at all and in all honesty, whilst she might have had ample reason to be so, Tanner is the most entertaining of detectives.
Thorne is in the form of the fictional detective is more than happy to bend the rules to suit himself although with the normally rule-abiding Tanner pushing him to do more, he has the occasional doubt about whether this is the right thing to do in this instance.
You might fear from the earlier paragraphs that this is a worthy piece of crime fiction that is tackling a sensitive subject with little knowledge of the issues. Not so. Mark Billingham has clearly researched his subject matter speaking to those who have been part of those families where the younger generation are resistant to following the rules their parents are keen to uphold for fear of becoming outcasts in their own community. The idea that murdering your own child to protect the family’s reputation is rightly abhorrent to many even within these communities, but sadly not to all. Whilst Mark Billingham more than nods his head at the former, this is not a book that preaches, he lets his characters display the emotions that echoed in my own mind but managing to steer clear of a commentary that didn’t fit the natural direction of the investigation being undertaken.
As has been the case with each of the Mark Billingham books I have read the pace is fairly furious, if you are anything like me, you will not want to put this book aside even though you are in much need of a breather from the latest piece of action. The plot is complex and involved with enough facts to underpin the occasional surprise the author springs on his reader. Just the way I like my crime fiction.
I’d like to thank the publisher Grove Atlantic for allowing me to read an advance copy of Love Like Blood ahead of publication on 20 June 2017. This honest review is my thanks to them and to Mark Billingham for an in-depth look at an issue brilliantly threaded through a captivating crime novel.
First Published UK: 20 June 2017
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Mark Billingham Books
Sleepyhead [Aug 2001] Tom Thorne #1
Scaredy Cat [Jul 2002] Tom Thorne #2
Lazybones [Jul 2003] Tom Thorne #3
The Burning Girl [Jul 2004] Tom Thorne #4
Lifeless [May 2005] Tom Thorne #5
Buried [May 2006] Tom Thorne #6
Death Message [Aug 2007] Tom Thorne #7
In the Dark [Aug 2008] Standalone Novel
Bloodline [Aug 2009] Tom Thorne #8
From the Dead [Aug 2010] Tom Thorne #9
Good as Dead [Aug 2011] Tom Thorne #10 Rush of Blood [Aug 2012] Standalone Novel The Dying Hours [May 2013] Tom Thorne #11
The Bones Beneath [May 2014] Tom Thorne #12 Time of Death [April 2015] Tom Thorne #13 Die of Shame [May 2016] Standalone Novel
Love Like Blood [June 2017] Tom Thorne #14
Every now and again a book comes along that wows you with its richness; Greatest Hits is one such novel. There can’t be many people who don’t have a soundtrack to their lives, those songs that were the background to early years, the songs we fell in love to and those that we obsessively listened to as we attempt to mend wounded hearts; for many of us there is a tune that can turn back the years to a distant time and place. Laura Barnett has taken this idea and turned it into a densely woven story.
Cass Wheeler is a singer songwriter and Greatest Hits is the story of her life, exploring through her own lyrics the key events in her life from the earliest days with her decidedly less than maternal mother Margaret and her father, the local vicar Francis, who would read to her from adult books to sooth her to the woman she is now, reflecting on her years of silence, having turned her back on music. For Cass there were no songs left to write and no music to fill her days.
Greatest Hits is supported by a wonderful cast of characters who in turn support Cass through her life, most notably Aunt Lily and her assistant Kim. With any book spanning decades the links to the past are most important and in true reflection of real life we also see that some people are in our lives for brief amounts of time, but nonetheless have a huge impact as was the case with her childhood friend, Irene, and perhaps more importantly Irene’s mother who provided the mothering that was bereft from her own life. All of these different yet vivid characters provide the supporting acts to Cass’s story.
Each of the sixteen long chapters are headed up with one of the titles of the songs that Cass is compiling of the music that reflects her life. Below the title we have some lyrics from the songs as well as the fictional release date and other recording details. We therefore dive back to the early days and those memories, whilst in the present we have some clues as to the tragedy that struck Cass and led to her disappearing from her successful music career at its height in the 1970s to the withdrawing from life as well as music in the early 2000s. This layering of a story is exceptionally well done and Laura Barnett weaves the past and the present convincingly with the brightness of the triumphs with the depths of despair not forgetting those more mundane or mixed emotions which all of us experience.
Despite not being a famous singer, and not having spent my life penning songs or living in the lap of luxury and only being born as Cass was releasing her early music, Cass’s life felt like one I could have been part of, so evocative were the descriptions and so rich in both characters and writing style. This is a book to wallow in with a story that transports its reader to a time and place far away. For those who really want to get the full experience a soundtrack is being produced with Kathryn Williams performing the songs contained within the book to be released in conjunction with this novel. But even without the added interactive element Greatest Hits is in my opinion a triumphant second book to follow up to The Versions of Us which I also adored.
I’d like to thank the publisher Orion Publishing Group for allowing me to read an advance copy of Greatest Hits ahead of publication on 15 June 2017. This honest review is my thanks to them and the talented Laura Barnett for a fabulous read.
First Published UK: 15 June 2017
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
No of Pages: 464
Genre: Contemporary Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
I am particularly delighted to be part of the blog tour for Need You Dead which is the thirteenth in the award-winning DS Roy Grace series by Peter James because this is a series I’ve followed from the very beginning, reading each book in order eager to find out what has happened to my favourite characters whilst knowing that there will be a cracking crime story to keep me entertained.
Today Peter James is sharing some of his research with us:
DS Roy Grace Blog Tour – Day 7 Research behind Dead Man’s Grip
While researching Dead Man’s Grip I was taken around the famous local landmark that is Shoreham Power station. Along with being claustrophobic I have always had an absolute terror of heights, so the research for a key scene in the book, involving a secret tunnel under Shoreham Harbour, where I would be making a 180 feet vertical descent down a ladder in a shaft, was horrifying! A major “oh shit” moment! Fortunately I had two very delightful and caring helpers from Rescue & Emergency Medical Services Ltd who gave me the confidence and help to do it.
Then at the launch of Dead Man’s Grip I was submerged in a van in Shoreham Harbour for a stunt enacting a key scene in the book. I was nervous as hell before this event and I had the whole police dive team prepped to rescue me in case it went wrong!
Peter James has kindly provided original pieces for each day of his blog tour so make sure you catch the rest of the stops!
Lorna Belling has been found dead in a bath tub in a rented flat in Brighton. Already known to the police because she’s reported her husband for domestic abuse Roy Grace sees the investigation as a good one for Guy Batchelor to be Deputy Senior Investigating Officer for a couple of reasons: one to allow him to learn the ropes and secondly because Roy has to fly to Germany to pick up his son Bruno to bring him back for the funeral of his mother.
Lorna is a hairdresser who works from home, her phone is monitored by her husband and there has been more than one nasty incident with her husband Corin who works for an IT company, but the last attack was particularly nasty. The Domestic Violence caseworker is concerned for Lorna’s safety but so far Lorna has decided to stay put with Corin and the puppies she has bred. But the flat where Lorna was found dead wasn’t her home, so why is she in a cheap rental flat with dodgy electrics?
Of course the investigation isn’t quite as straightforward as first appearances indicated and the reader is in on the action seeing the red-herrings being liberally scattered across Brighton to ensure that the Police are following entirely the wrong scent. In a bold move by the author we even know why the only link missing is who it could be. It goes to show how in experienced hands a small amount of mystery is all that is needed with this book not lacking at all in tension as the team set out to find the killer – or perhaps Lorna committed suicide after all?
There are a number of strands to be pursued by the team and all of them have a good collection of well-drawn characters to keep us fully entertained as they do so!
It is almost refreshing these days to have modern crime fiction told in a straightforward time-line and here we have the chapters headed up by the days of the week starting from the beginning and working to the end – how clever is that? Because there is so much going on there are several chapters for each day, with each looking from a different point of view and in the case of Roy Grace, some are from a different country.
As with the entire series I get as much enjoyment in meeting up with the large and varied cast of characters, particularly with the established team of police, with the author reflecting their most immediate concerns using his extensive contacts with the real crime fighters in Brighton’s Police Force to ensure all the details are bang up to date. A small word of caution, Mr James, please don’t turn Roy Grace into a political figurehead for the Police however much your sources urge you to, less is more as they say!
As always this latest Roy Grace story had me thoroughly entertained. I can also spy some interesting threads which I’m sure we will follow for a few books yet in Roy’s personal life as Bruno settles into life as a big brother to baby Noah and so as always, no sooner did I put the book down, I was eager to have the next instalment from Brighton and Hove.
I am extremely grateful to Macmillan and Midas PR for providing me with a review copy of this book, and for allowing me to be part of this blog tour – the pinnacle of my blogging ambitions! My review of course is unbiased.
First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 432
Genre:Crime Fiction – Crime Series Amazon UK Amazon US
A book that captured me from the first page where we meet Olivia Sweetman making her way to address all two hundred guests gathered at The Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons in London. All those people are amongst the jars of organs to celebrate the publication of historian Olivia Sweetman’s book, Annabel, a study of a Victorian woman who became one of the first surgeons, a woman who also had a sensational personal life too, captured within Annabel in her own words.
After the celebrations the book switches to the run up to the publication of the book, eventually as far back as when Olivia first saw Annabel’s diary in Ileford Manor in Sussex in the hands of Vivian, the housekeeper cum research assistant that Olivia would come to depend on as she juggled her television appearances as a celebratory historian, her marriage to David, busy writing and researching his own book, and her three children Dom, Paul and Jess.
I adored every word of this book, there is always something absolutely irresistible in a book about a book after all, but The Night Visitor has taken this kernel and added the most memorable characters, a plot that is underpinned by meticulous timing so that I became bound up in Olivia’s fight for her reputation long before I understood why she was needing to fight in the first place.
Adding to the history we also hear about beetles, more specifically the dung-beetles that Olivia Sweetman’s father studied, hence that eye-catching cover.
‘Your eye for detail, your doggedness, you’re just remarkable,’ she said, looking into my eyes. Hers really are a striking colour. At that moment they reminded me of a beetle called, Necrophilia formosa, whose iridescent carapace is somewhere between violet and royal blue and which feeds on beautiful flowers that reek powerfully of rotting fish.
So we have Olivia the modern woman juggling life and making her mark studying a woman who was forging ahead in a man’s world in the Victorian times, and we have Vivian, who outshines them both with her strangeness, her adherence to strict routines, her sharp mind which is at odds with her position as a housekeeper but most of all a character who is oh so very believable. When reading the chapters narrated by Vivian, we hear from the two women in turn throughout the book, I was strongly reminded of some of the wonderful creations of Ruth Rendell who created equally dislikeable but fascinating characters.
Olivia has Vivian in her life as a necessary evil, she looks down on the woman who she depends on to give her access to Annabel’s diary, to do the tiring leg-work during the research into this woman’s life and while she is grateful for all her hard-work, her doggedness and attention to detail, once the book is edited, she finds her relentless appeals to write another book difficult to shut down. This struggle between the needy and the needed while trying to maintain the smooth politeness that society demands that makes the entire story so believable.
Whilst the plotting is superb it is definitely the characters that lead this novel and even the bit parts are wonderfully drawn giving you a real sense of the describer and described in broad brush strokes
I do remember how grim I felt as I sat behind Maureen’s desk, unreasonably infuriated by her ‘Smile! It’s gin o’clock!’ sticker on the till and her ‘Keep Calm, It’s Only a Royal Baby’ coaster. I was fighting the urge to rip both objects up and put them in the bin. I have known Maureen since childhood, we were in the same class at primary school and she has always irritated me. She is intrusive, bossy and rather dim.
The Night Visitor will hopefully not haunt me in the way that she haunted Vivian, but these characters, the intricate storyline full of fascinating detail will stay with me for a long time to come. I can safely predict this will be one of my books of 2017.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Quercus who provided me with a copy of The Night Visitor. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 4 May 2017
No of Pages: 368
Genre:Psychological Suspense Amazon UK Amazon US
The Fact of a Body is one of the most compelling investigations into a true-crime that I have read, perhaps because that isn’t all it is. It is how one crime can have parallels into another, entirely different life. That is how Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich feels and what she sets out to show us with this mix of true-crime and a memoir.
When Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich joins a law firm in New Orleans as an intern, whose work is based on having death sentences overturned, she feels she is about to start the career she is supposed to have. The daughter of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti the death penalty. But all that turns when she watches a video of Rick Langley who has been convicted of killing a six year old boy, Jeremy Guillory. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the crime is awful but what shocks the author most is that she feels so strongly that Rick Langley should die for the crime he committed. She no longer believes what she thought she did and that has consequences on her life.
The real question she asks is why has she changed one of her core beliefs and within this book she carries out a painstaking investigation of not only Rick Langley’s life but also that of Jeremy who was the son of a single mother, pregnant with her second son at the time of the murder. Alongside this we learn more about her own life, growing up with not so much secrets as known facts left unsaid and unexamined. In this book they are thoroughly examined. It is quite clear that the crime or more accurately where the truth lies, is something of an obsession for the author. What she bravely examines within the text is why she feels that way
All three strands of the book are equally hard to read in parts but the writing is both accessible and intelligent. The author’s own story is far from being a misery memoir where the author begs us to feel her pain, instead she shows us how her family chose to deal with the blows life dealt them and the consequences, as she sees them, of those decisions. When she examines Jeremy’s life it is with tenderness for both him and his mother. Given that we know her visceral reaction to hearing Rick Langley’s voice the author writes with care about the man himself. Not to lessen his crime in any way but by delving deeper into his story and the various explanations given to the fateful evening when Jeremy was killed, tries to find the beginning of this man’s story.
Adding to the intelligent feel are some of the points of law as she was taught complete with examples that are relevant to the criminal case which was incredibly useful for those of us less familiar with the US law. Ricky Langley had gone through three separate trials by the time Alexandria was investigating, she had three different trial transcripts and three different videotaped confessions along with DNA evidence, and masses of reports written by different experts. The author herself has to decide which of these truths is the real truth at the same time she dredges her memories from early childhood and tells her truth, which may or may not differ from those of her siblings.
I actually started reading this book after using it as one of my Tuesday Opening Paragraph posts and couldn’t put it aside which I think is testament to just how compelling, if difficult, a read this is.
I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of this book ahead of publication on 18 May 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 18 May 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Non-Fiction True Crime Amazon UK Amazon US
A hard-hitting yet compelling novel examining what it means to be imprisoned as a child and released under a false identity. Boy A is one of two boys tried and convicted of the murder of another child. Although there are echoes of a trial here in the UK this isn’t in anyway an examination of that crime with much of the book concentrating on what happens next.
Boy A chooses a new name, Jack Burridge, to preserve his anonymity which is part of the terms of his release and then with the help of his ‘uncle’ Terry who had been a member of staff at the home he was first sent to follow his conviction. One of the minimal number of people who know Jack’s true identity. Jack has a job but first he must learn what it is like to live in a world he last left as a child.
The book skips backwards and forwards through the time periods from before Boy A met Boy B to after he left the adult prison with his new name. Each chapter starts with a letter of the alphabet starting with A is for Apple. A Bad Apple. All the way through to Z, which is for Zero in case you are wondering. Just finding the titles that match the content of each chapter must have been a challenge and the sparse language used with its short sentences is perfect for the subject matter. This book feels like a work of art as well as a captivating tale.
Fortunately, given the tough subject matter, the torn sympathies as Boy A’s life is revealed through not just his own eyes, but later on, his father’s too, there are some humorous parts to the book too, most predictably when Jack meets a girl and the attraction is mutual, but most often it is bittersweet humour with a shared moment with a cellmate before his monotonous life rolls onwards.
As we see the horrors Jack endured in prison it is almost odd that my sympathies were highest when he starts his new job and makes friends, and of course a girlfriend Michelle. It is here that it becomes apparent how hard it is to hide your entire life up to a point in your twenties. As Jack becomes close to those around him, his enormous secret puts a boundary up between them as he unwillingly hands out lies to cover the truth.
But nor is this book just about Boy A, Terry and his life at the point where they overlap tells a different story, a fairly normal one of a broken marriage leading to a strained relationship with his own son as he also guards the truth and builds the lies of the life he hopes to see prove that rehabilitation is possible.
The way the stories of Boy A, his parents, Boy B, Terry the psychologist along with Jack’s new friends and his girlfriend all intertwine, create a thought-provoking and compelling read. The book is just the right length the author resisting the urge to brow beat the reader and the ending perfectly pitched. A book to ponder over and in the end marvel at how in the right hands, such an emotive topic can be explored.
Boy A was my thirteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017. I purchased this book in April 2015.
First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Serpent’s Tale
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
The genealogical expert Jefferson Tayte is back! I love this series which has taken me back to historical eras I know little about while telling a cracking story in the bargain. In this latest episode the majority of the action happens in the present day but the seeds of this action belong firmly in the past. In Washington, DC the FBI are interested in Jefferson Tayte, aka JT, so he breaks off his Scottish trip with his fiancée to return to answer their questions.
It seems that there is a serial killer on the loose, a serial killer who isn’t content with straightforward killing. Oh no, this killer comes up with inventive, and tortuous ways to dispatch his victims. JT examines the latest scene where twin brothers have been drowned in a Perspex box filled with water, an elaborate murder which indicates that this killing is as much about capturing attention as anything else. For JT finding out his former research is somehow linked to the killings is more than a little disquieting. And then comes a clue, genealogical in nature, which the FBI can’t solve without his help.
The race against time as JT uses all his skills, and his files provide the reader with facts as well as almost non-stop action with the pace relentless throughout this episode. The killer wants JT involved in the chase, but why? As the authorities have to release warnings to everyone who has employed JT’s family history services in the past, his reputation is in tatters. Living in a safe house with only a FBI agent for company it is easy to sympathise, JT is forced to try to save the chosen victims while his professional and personal life is shredded by his association to the horrendous crimes being committed.
This was absolutely brilliant, Steve Robinson has produced a real puzzle within this thriller! Or perhaps I should say lots of mini puzzles which require different aspects of genealogical research to solve. This will ensure that those readers who have hit a brick wall in their own family history research can put things into perspective; unless you are in the unlikely position of having to find a particular person’s details otherwise someone else may die!
Steve Robinson hasn’t forgotten the overall story arc which began with JT searching for his own origins following his adoption and so not only does Jean, his fiancée, play a role in Deadly Games, but another superb character that JT made contact with in Kindred also makes a substantial appearance at just the right time!
JT himself has grown and developed depth as a character throughout the series with his emotional development handled with a light but sure touch keeping the reader’s attention without being overwhelmed by navel-gazing.
I really can’t recommend this book highly enough, whilst you will be missing out if you haven’t read the previous books in the series, this will also work as a standalone novel for lovers of puzzles, mysteries and a rollercoaster of a ride.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Steve Robinson who provided me with an ARC for this, the sixth book in the JT series, this unbiased review is my thanks to him and Thomas Mercer. Dying Games has decisively knocked To The Grave as my favourite read in this series from the top spot!
First Published UK: 4 May 2017
Publisher: Thomas Mercer
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction – Genealogical Amazon UK Amazon US
Previous Books in the JT series
In The Blood Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.
To The Grave A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.
The Last Queen of England While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.
On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.
When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.
Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.
Jefferson Tayte is good at finding people who don’t want to be found. For years he has followed faint genealogical trails to reunite families—and uncover long-hidden secrets. But Tayte is a loner, a man with no ties of his own; his true identity is the most elusive case of his career.
But that could all be about to change. Now Tayte has in his possession the beginnings of a new trail—clues his late mentor had started to gather—that might at last lead to his own family. With Professor Jean Summer, his partner in genealogical sleuthing, he travels to Munich to pick up the scent. But the hunt takes them deep into dangerous territory: the sinister secrets of World War II Germany, and those who must keep them buried at any cost.
This is a traditional mystery story set in 1996, where Simon Shaw is a Professor in forensic history at a college in Raleigh, North Carolina. His life is on a downward spiral having recently split up with his wife. He is suffering with depression which he is at pains to keep under wraps but his lack of interest in academic life has been noted by his colleagues and questions are being asked in some quarters about his abilities. Then a body is found on an archaeological dig at Bloodworth House by his friend David Morgan and it looks like he has a chance to use his skills to help him out. It doesn’t take long to realise that whilst the body is old, it isn’t all that old and Simon becomes obsessed with finding out more.
With the date of the body still under consideration the Police are called to the site but are unwilling to carry out too much in way of an investigation considering the perpetrator is most likely dead. It is at this point we meet Julia, a lawyer with the police whose job it is to consider the legal aspects of how to file the crime. After all it doesn’t take much by way of an examination to realise that it is a crime, the skeleton has a bullet hole through their skull and they had been hidden below the floor of the kitchen at Bloodworth House.
Simon soon becomes convinced that the bones belong to Anne Bloodworth who went missing in 1926 and was never seen again although there were rumours she’d run away because of a falling out with her father. Simon soon moves from a point of interest to obsession banishing the worst of his depression in research and Julia.
This was a competent mystery story that held my attention for the duration. The plotting was solid and the historical aspect very well presented although perhaps the contrast between life in the 1920s and 1990s would have been more distinct had Simon not been a bit fussy and pernickety for a man who is reportedly only in his 30s, but maybe that’s what being a Professor at such a young age does to you? The book did however underline that the life of heiress Anne Bloodworth, was maybe not all it was cracked up to be. The book came into its own when it became clear that someone wanted to halt any investigation into her life and Julia became far more involved with the case and her character was a really good addition to the book as her role is one not usually seen in this type of crime fiction novel.
The academic setting also made a pleasant change, we had academic in-fighting and jostling for position as a backdrop, I especially enjoyed the meetings which while differing in subject matter could mirror the petty concerns of work colleagues the world over, these adding shade to the storytelling.
While the dénouement wasn’t especially inventive, it was fitting which to me is far more important anyway. I did guess some, but not all the mysteries, I was better on the who than the why. Given that the first book in the series is possibly the weakest in that a wide range of characters have to be given backstories I thought that Simon Said was a proficient and interesting opener.
This book is the tenth in my Mount TBR 2017 Challenge having been purchased in June 2015 to qualify.
First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
No of Pages: 240
Genre: CrimeFiction – Mystery Amazon UK Amazon US
Little Deaths is inspired by the true story of Alice Crimmins who was tried for the murder of her two young children in Queens, New York in 1965, and oh my, what a compelling story this is!
We are introduced to the mother, now Ruth Malone, who lives in an apartment in Queens whose two children Frankie and Cindy went missing from their bedroom. With little Cindy found strangled in a nearby parking lot a day later, Frankie remained missing for a further ten days, and then he too was found murdered. Despite the horrible crime as the book unfolds we see that Ruth was tried, not as much on hard evidence but because the former cocktail waitress did not behave as the public expects a bereaved mother to act.
I was instantly drawn into the tale, the world that Ruth lived in is one that is relatively easy to sympathise with. Her life hadn’t turned out as she expected, her dreams stunted by the birth of her two children and then she separated from her husband Frank. At the time the children went missing the two were locked in a custody battle with Ruth determined not to relinquish her children but at the same time nor was she going to live like a nun. Contrary to the working class values that was Queens at that time, her neighbours disapproved of her association with a number of other men,added to which she cared about her appearance, drank and smoked. The hard truth is that Ruth wanted more from her life but did that mean she was the one who killed the children? The countless crimes against Ruth mount throughout the book as the police, certain of her guilt, have her under almost constant surveillance so when she buys a new dress soon after Cindy’s body was found, her guilt was almost confirmed.
Emma Flint has provided us with one of the most complex of female characters and each incident can be viewed from differing angles and the conclusions made will depend on which angle you consider to be most realistic. This creation really takes the book way beyond a simple rehash of the crime itself. I felt I knew Ruth, I could both identify with some of her thoughts whilst at other times wonder why she made life quite so hard for herself, after all she was far from stupid – perhaps that was her downfall?
In the mix of characters we have Ruth’s mother, her ex Frank, a couple of male friends, the police and the crime reporter determined to make a name for himself, Pete Wonicke, whose obsession with the case added a whole other layer of interest to the story. On the sidelines are the former babysitter and other neighbours all who are pertinent, maybe not to the main mystery but in building the picture of the time and place. The atmosphere of this book was really spot on for both and part of what I loved so much was the feeling of being transported to a different world. The third person narrative was entirely appropriate for the book which is an exploration of values of the time as much as a murder mystery.
I know it is a cliché but once I started this book I simply couldn’t put it down, and as a result of how wrapped up in Ruth’s story I became, have spent my time since with an obsession with Alice Crimmins. From my research I can confirm that the author has clearly done hers although I’m sure the book had far more impact because I read it before learning about the case that inspired it.
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of this book from the publishers Picador and this review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 12 January 2017
No of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US