Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Poison Panic – Helen Barrell

Non-Fiction
4*s

In the 1840s the level of literacy was still low across the United Kingdom, but stories of crimes committed didn’t need to be read by everyone for them to spread, especially when the crime was murder, even more so if committed by a woman and panic inducing when the means by which a person was slayed was poison.

In Essex the county was the unfortunate scene of the panic induced by tales told both orally and by the newspapers about a number of women put on trial for poisoning unwanted relations using arsenic. There were calls for regulations and a strong sense that there was a shadowy group of women who were acting in cahoots or at least devising a method to poison people and walk away from the horrific crime with no stain on their character.

Helen Barrell’s book, Poison Panic, delves into the facts, and the fiction, of these events using all available sources to examine the cases and to evaluate whether there was any sense of collusion between the women whose crimes feature here.
This book is jam-packed, not just with the details of the three women Sarah Chesham Mary May and Hannah Southgate whose crimes in rural Essex led to wariness about that gentle hand at home who was in charge of preparing the food, slipping some of the notorious white powder into the dish, but also on some of the social history. We learn just how rudimentary their homes were, the rats that plagued the household were hopefully kept at bay with arsenic, houses where one man’s struggle with the results of arsenic poisoning were more than a slight inconvenience for his downstairs neighbours and houses where money from a burial club might just make it worthwhile to bump of an unsuspecting relative?

I’m a fan of investigations into Victorian crimes and can only applaud Helen Barrell in her presentation of the interlinking stories in Essex. With plenty of pictures, including photographs, illustrations from the magazine Punch as well as the very useful maps that underpin how closely or conversely how far apart the women lived from each other in a time where transport for wives of agricultural labourers wasn’t an option. To give a little perspective the author uses information from her own family in the village of Wix to give some context to the scene of crime. The author uses the Census of 1841 to provide additional evidence as well as the newspapers of the time who went to the same sort of lengths they do nowadays to keep the reader’s attention. It is fascinating to see how years after the poisonings these stories were wheeled out, dusted down complete with inaccuracies and served up fresh for what was sometimes a whole new generation of readers years after the events.

All fascinating stuff but for me, having read quite a large amount about this particular crime over the last couple of years, it is good to have some real cases that directly influenced the government to act in bringing in laws surrounding the sale of poison. Not, as the author is keen to point out that those early laws would have stopped the three women investigated in this book getting their hands on the white stuff.

Poison Panic was the thirty-first read in my Mount TBR Challenge and I’d like to thank the author for a comprehensive visit to Essex to examine these arsenic poisonings in the 1840s.

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First Published UK: 30 June 2016
Publisher: Pen and Sword History
No of Pages: 224
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Take Two Shorts

Today I am sharing two mini-reviews of short stories. Of course just because a book is short doesn’t mean it has anything in common with another, but linking both of these are examples of how crime fiction can be used very effectively to make readers think about contemporary issues.

Short Story
4*s

Promises to Keep – Elizabeth Haynes

This short story is part of the author’s DCI Louisa Smith series sitting between her first book Under a Silent Moon and the second, Behind Closed Doors. As with many authors who decide to write a short story there is an issue at the heart, in this instance, child migrants.

Jo is on sick leave from her job as a custody sergeant troubled by the death of Mohammed, a young child migrant whilst in her care. Her partner DS Sam Holland is concerned and worried about her and the relationship is floundering. Jo runs daily through woods where child migrants meet and through her eyes the author presents us with a story that challenges and informs on our perceptions of this issue.

The writing is superb and although this story is very short, coming in at about 40 pages, the author manages to look at both the main issue and the pressures on their relationship which provides for an engaging read that makes you think.

Promises to Keep  was my twenty-ninth read for my Mount TBR challenge having been purchased in February 2014.

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First Published UK: 24 February 2014
Publisher: Sphere
No. of Pages:  41
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Left For Dead – Jane Casey

 

Short Story
4*s

I have read the entire series of Maeve Kerrigan and this book sits before them all, featuring Maeve Kerrigan as a very young detective not long out of training school. Jane Casey has also decided to put an issue at the heart of her short story, this time the issue is domestic abuse starting with the shocking statement.

Two women died every week in the UK at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. On average, women endured thirty-five incidents of domestic abuse before contacting the police.

And then I showed up the thirty-sixth time and stumbled through my arguments for why the victim should trust us. As if we could save them.

This is a fast-paced story which takes us through a typical night with Maeve partnered by an older an experienced police officer. Whilst he is paternalistic he isn’t going to tell Maeve how to behave as she finds her feet with her colleagues battling sexism and what I would term as plain bad behaviour by some of her fellow officers.

The crime at the heart of this book is a shocking one, not for the faint-hearted, and one that gives Maeve an opportunity to demonstrate some of her fantastic observational skills that become apparent throughout this brilliant series.

As this book was more than double the length of Elizabeth Haynes it undoubtedly felt more in-depth and from my perspective makes for a great introduction into the series. As a seasoned and devotee to Maeve Kerrigan this was a chance to remind myself how much I enjoy the character whilst awaiting the next book in the series.

Left for Dead was my thirtieth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, having been purchased in October 2013.

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First Published UK: 25 July 2013
Publisher: Ebury Digital
No of Pages:  110
Genre: Crime Fiction 
Amazon UK

The Maeve Kerrigan Series in Order

The Burning
The Reckoning
The Last Girl
The Stranger You Know
The Kill
After The Fire
Let the Dead Speak

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Flowers for the Dead – Barbara Copperthwaite

Crime Fiction
5*s

The beauty of flowers and their language are intertwined with the twisted thoughts of Adam Bourne, serial killer who believes he is the saviour of those he kills. Rarely have a read a book where I felt so torn between sympathy for both the victims and the perpetrator.

This book definitely falls into the grittier end of crime fiction writing, the read is not one for the faint-hearted, even the most hardened reader will be tempted to check their doors after meeting Adam. Adam longs for love but I just want to put it out there – watching women and helping them with their household chores when they don’t know you is not really going to do it for any of the women I know, and sure enough to date it is fair to say Adam has been unlucky in love.

Adam despite not understanding what makes women tick on the most basic of levels, is not a stupid man. He is sharp and using all and any tools available to him to follow the latest woman, always someone who looks like they need love, and then is disappointed when his plan does not quite pan out the way he expected.

There are few scenes I’ve read over the years than Adam’s reasoning for standing outside Covent Garden tube station in London scouting for unhappy women – a station I’ve waited at enough times in my life to bring the scene to life.
Alongside Adam’s adult persona we learn about his early life, the mitigation if you like for the way he has turned out with touching scenes of Adam’s beloved Grandmother reading him stories from the big book of fairy tales. Their mutual love shines through as when he gets older she introduces him to the language of flowers – the idea that each flower has a message to send, something which was very popular in Victorian England, slightly less so in this day and age although of course any woman who receives a dozen red roses understands what the message means and through careful commercial reinforcement, so do most men. But did you know that Daffodils mean unrequited love? No nor did I.

Yes, I know I’ve not told you about the plot, it’s a good one but you really do need to find out for yourself and there is little more that I can tell you without spoiling it! Yes, the characters are also all well drawn from victim to Policeman all have realistic elements to their personalities, I especially loved the interplay between Mike and his young daughter Daisy as we see a more harmless form of persuasion in the young girl as she wages war on his smoking habit. And the structure is brilliant, each chapter headed up with the name of a flower and its meaning with a sub-heading of where we are in Adam’s backstory if this is one of his chapters. This starts twenty-six years ago with Wood Sorrell (maternal tenderness) which once you meet Sara, Adam’s mother you’ll realise is an attribute that was totally absent in his life – what an inspired thinking to create a character that is more hateful and far scarier than the serial killer – Barbara Copperthwaite is a genius.

In short, you should really read this one, perfect for the winter nights when the wind is howling and the rain is lashing down, and you are safe inside – or are you?

Flowers for the Dead was my twenty-eighth read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in December 2016.

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First Published UK: 21 September 2015
Publisher:  CreateSpace Independent Publishing 
No. of Pages:  472
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Solitary Child – Nina Bawden

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

Nina Bawden published 23 adult novels and 20 children’s books in a career that spanned five decades stepped into my life as a child with her book The Peppermint Pig which won 1976 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime book award judged by a panel of British children’s writers. When was a little older her book about children evacuated to Wales imprinted itself equally and Carrie’s War became a huge favourite of mine. I didn’t write book reviews as a child but if I had done, I would have said that these two books truly transported me back in time, to vivid places with characters that I would never forget. Would The Solitary Child have the same effect, in short, I believe so the story so searingly and at times baldly stated means that Harriet’s choices will take a long time to dissipate.

The Solitary Child is an intensely claustrophobic novel which from what I can work out is set around the time it was first published in 1958, certainly after the war but long before it was conceivable that any female would consider a life without a husband a good route to choose in life!

The book revolves around Harriet, just twenty-two when she becomes engaged to James Random after knowing him for just a couple of weeks. James is a rich farmer who lives on the Welsh Boarders, older than Harriet and with the inconvenient dead wife in the background which we soon learn died in circumstances weren’t altogether respectable. The pair had met at a party:

There seemed to be no other way of meeting people in London; each chance invitation was a gateway to a less restricted future.

James did not hide the fact of his wife Eve’s death from Harriet, after leaving the party they went to a little pub where he told her.

But at the time I was appalled. Not entirely by the story because that seemed – at the time, anyway – to be almost unbelievable, but by his blurting it out so clumsily and publicly to me, a stranger. For a little time I though he was boasting, dragging in the unsavoury past as a kind of shabby success.

Harriet as the swift engagement shows, wasn’t overly put off though, the obsession with the first Mrs Random coming later when she moves to the farm and finds herself in amongst those who knew the couple, and their daughter Maggie. The farm is run by Mr Evans whose wife helps out in the house with her own daughter who has a child, yet no husband. James’ sister lives next door and the tension between these characters neatly bubbles beneath the surface – no shouty arguments for this bunch instead it is constrained but no less heartfelt for that.

It was not a new issue, merely a renewal of old anger. Looking on, I was aware of an enmity which astonished, not because of its sudden violence but because they had managed to keep it hidden until now.

With only a few years between them Harriet soon comes to love Maggie who although young for her age gives Harriet someone to focus on while her doubts about her husband grow as she’s exposed in small ways to what those who live nearby and those who work for him really think. Harriet is trapped in a life she isn’t prepared for and so the tension grows as her mind worries over the past. At one point the doctor is called and depressingly reflects the times:

They were talking. The singing in my ears was less loud and I could hear fragments of their conversation.
“Illness… some degree of hysteria… not uncommon.”

Of course the finale arrives and Harriet does eventually find out the truth of Eve Random’s demise which left me with a strong feeling of disquiet. In part this is precisely because the book reflects the time of when it was written, indeed the publishers Bello makes a point that:

Some aspects may appear out of date to modern day readers. Bello makes no apology for this, as to retrospectively change any content would be anachronistic and undermine the authenticity of the original.

I know that this review hints rather than says anything concrete about the book itself but I can confirm that the theme of a woman haunted by a previous wife whilst not a new one has a slightly different twist to it in this enjoyable yet miserable read.

The Solitary Child was my twenty-seventh read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in March 2015 after reading HEAVENALI’s wonderful review.
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First Published UK: 1958
Publisher: Bello
No. of Pages:  234
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Ice Child – Camilla Läckberg

Crime Fiction
4*s

The Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck series of which this is book 9, are set in the small fishing town of Fjällbacka are Scandi-noir books which whilst full of murder, fortunately from my point of view on the whole avoid the more stark violence of this genre’s reputation. Camilla Läckberg’s stories tend to link past crimes to a current investigation and The Ice Child is no different in that respect. Whilst Erica is writing another true-crime book about an infamous husband killer, Laila is in prison convicted but has steadfastly refused to talk about the crimes she has committed. Patrik is involved in the re-appearance of a teenage girl who went missing from a nearby riding stables four months ago. Tragically her surprise reappearance does not end well.

I think this is a series that to get the best from it, you need to have read the earlier books. The back-stories of the various police officers in Fjällbacka are ever-present as is that of Erica’s sister Anna who in short is forever facing some trauma or another. Luckily in this episode she is let off rather tamely with a fairly run of the mill relationship issue.

Interspersed between the back story of Erica’s visits to the prison to meet with Laila who frustratingly is still holding back on what happened decades before and the ongoing investigation into missing girls across Sweden are some excerpts of Laila’s thoughts. I do enjoy this kind of device where we the reader, get to know more about the crimes than the investigator. In this case in Camilla Läckberg’s recognisable style these short excerpts openly beg the reader to ask the questions which move the storyline along.

I started this post by saying on the whole the gruesome factor is lower down the scale than many in this genre, be warned though, this is no cosy mystery and there were some descriptions in both timelines that were shocking for the twisted thinking behind the crimes committed. It is no longer enough to simply be stabbed it would seem, now bodies must be mutilated, abuse must be extreme and everyone in the vicinity of a crime must be vigilant in case they are somehow caught up in the murderous spree. The latter certainly is part of what helps to keep the tension high in this book with the reader on the lookout not only for the killer but anxious about anyone who may fit the profile and with many scenes set at the riding stables there are a few to choose from.

I love the myriad of characters in these books, especially the interaction between the police and their trusty receptionist heart-warming, especially as some of them are seriously annoying, mentioning no names – Bertil, but they are a ‘work-family’ which add a lighter side to offset the horror in the past and the present.

It is relatively rarely that I get not only the name of the killer but the whydunit too but I did manage to outsmart the author this time getting full marks for both parts which in no way dented my enthusiasm for the book. As always I’m eagerly awaiting the next episode, The Girl in the Woods, which surely must be out soon?

The Ice Child was my twenty-sixth read in the Mount TBR challenge, having been purchased in November 2016.
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First Published UK: 10 March 2016
Publisher: HarperCollins
No. of Pages:  432
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Books in Patrik Hedstrom and Erica Falck series

The Ice Princess (2002)
The Preacher (2004)
The Stonecutter (2005)
The Gallows Bird (2006)
The Hidden Child (2007)
The Drowning (2008)
The Lost Boy (2013)
Buried Angels (2014)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Silent Voices – Ann Cleeves

Crime Fiction
4*s

Having returned to the Vera series with Silent Voices after far too long a break I welcomed this unattractive, blunt and uncompromising woman into my life not in any small part due to her brilliant detection skills.

The victim in this book is a social worker, found dead in a sauna by our very own Vera, yes an unlikely habitat for our steely detective, but even Vera realises she is mortal and had taken the advice to get some exercise and swimming appealed the most.

Vera is very much hoping that Jenny Lister died of natural causes but it isn’t to be and I chuckled to watch her brazen it out to her colleagues who were called to the scene to investigate the murder, not that they’d let even the merest whisper of surprise escape their lips in front of the formidable Detective Inspector.

Ann Cleeves gives us a puzzle with plenty of suspects, nearly everyone who appears could be viewed with suspicion, whilst managing to be thoroughly entertaining at the same time. With characters to become involved with, not least Vera’s sidekick, Joe Ashworth who finds Vera’s demands are in direct conflict with those of his wife during the course of this book this really does fit the bill as a modern police procedural. The sub-genre is one where I firmly believe the key investigator, in this instance Vera, needs to move the investigation along, despite real-life, this isn’t really a team sport and certainly not easy when the clues seem to point in different directions. Vera is the power behind the investigation without relegating her colleagues to idiots, they are just don’t shine quite as brightly as she does! The other secret of a success in this genre is to ensure the reader is invested in the investigation and the asides to the rest of the team are inserted just often enough to make sure that everything is explained well without ever entering that dangerous whiff of being patronising.

I like my crime books to have some humour and Vera’s very dry variety fits the backdrop of murder incredibly well with the perspective changing from third person to first so that we ‘hear’ Vera’s opinions in the raw so to speak, as well as watch others jump to attention to do her bidding, she really is an imposing character. I’m also a fan of probing the stories behind the headlines and at the time of publication of Silent Voices, there were lots of stories in the UK papers about Social Workers and their perceived failings. The author is thereby allowing the readers to feel they had their finger on the pulse of the debate whilst also encouraging a look at the issues from a number of viewpoints, not distilled into a bald headline which can’t ever take in the complexities of the whole issue.

One of the biggest draws of this particular lead character is her undisguised love of the drama of a murder investigation which really pulls the story forwards and how refreshing to have a Detective inspector who isn’t so hung up on the politics of the force that she is afraid to take risky decisions. The plot is unbelievably tangled with the reader needing to concentrate almost as much as Vera on the minutiae of information to be even within a whisker of a chance of solving the crime, and it is brilliantly executed – no saggy middle for Vera Stanhope, well not in the book although I would imagine stumbling across a dead body in the sauna is probably gives her just the excuse she wants to hang up her swimsuit!

I was delighted to read Silent Voices as my twenty-fifth read in the Mount TBR challenge, especially as I realised that I originally purchased this book way back in May 2012! The bonus is that I am lagging behind having just read number four in the series so have four more to enjoy to catch up!

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First Published UK: 4 February 2011
Publisher: Macmillan
No of Pages:  384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

My Last Confession – Helen FitzGerald

Psychological Thriller
3*s

I love the way Helen FitzGerald tackles widely different subjects within her writing of psychological thrillers and in My Last Confession, we have a newly appointed Probation Officer and one of her ‘clients’, a murderer.

Krissie is a single mum and she’s moved in with Robbie – I believe these two characters appeared in the author’s debut novel Dead Lovely, which I haven’t read but may explain why some of the details about how they came to be together seemed a little illusive. She uses her previous skills working with child protection and move into supervising adult offenders.

Jeremy is one of Krissie’s cases, in prison for murder, although a conviction which Krissie begins to doubt whether he has been wrongly convicted and so she turns detective. Of course Jeremy is only one prisoner who makes up Krissie’s workload and so we have a number of characters to get to know while Krissie battles with her job and her son who steals the show more than once.

Krissie is a mass of contradictions, on the one hard a caring woman, one who is trying to build a family but she also does some incredibly stupid things over the course of the book. There were times when I just wanted to shake some sense into her, after all this is supposed to be an educated woman but obviously one whose heart rules her head. At times, despite playing detective with gusto, I had to despair at Krissie’s inability to read the clues given to her – maybe she needs to read a few more crime fiction novels to give her some pointers.

The book really does beg you to sit up and take notice with some attention grabbing scenes. For those of a nervous disposition, there are some racy scenes too. Having read four other books by this author I think perhaps the more subtle look at modern life worked slightly better for me. Those themes are ever-present in this book, particularly the Glasgow setting which is terrifically well created. Although I’ve not worked in a prison or in any type of related position, the work-place scenes are easily transposed to anyone who has colleagues and they had me chuckling away frequently.

There were some bizarre scenes though which I didn’t really quite work for me but it really was worth persevering because the second half of the book is exceptionally gripping with an ending which was perfectly fitting.

This is an ideal book if you want to read something a little bit different, a bit of crime, a little bit of women’s fiction, a few racy scenes and a whole dollop of fun. This is the ideal lighter type of reading, one that should be approached with a sense of irony which would iron out the earlier scenes that had me slightly confused.

My Last Confession
was my twenty-fourth read in my Mount TBR Challenge having been purchased in November 2016.

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First Published UK: 25 April 2011
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages:  275
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Great Reads by Helen FitzGerald

Bloody Woman
The Cry
The Exit
Viral

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Past Tense – Margot Kinberg

Crime Fiction
4*s

Tiltton University is not the quiet place of learning all the staff and students could hope for when the construction workers move in to build a new performing arts centre. And then work stops because there is something buried in the site that ruined everyone’s day.

Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.

Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga are called to the scene and it isn’t long before the bones are sent off to be dated. The result is that the skeleton is that of a young man, and he died some forty years ago but he didn’t bury himself so it must be murder but how on earth do you go about investigating a crime that old?

Never fear because the detectives have Joel Williams, The Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton University, a former detective now academic, is only too willing to use his skills to assist. Before long the Police and the campus sleuth have a name; Bryan Roades a twenty year old who went missing in the 70s. Could his determination to emulate his heroes in the investigative journalism world on the campus newspaper have led to someone wanting him out of the way?

This is my first Joel Williams story although this is actually Margot Kinberg’s third book in the series featuring the academic detective and I’m pleased to report Past Tense reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel. The crime aspect was one of my favourite tropes; I love it when those who commit a crime think they are home and dry only for them to be caught years after the fact. This is particularly true in this novel as the article Brian Roades was working on was about women’s lib and of course attitudes have changed dramatically in the past forty years, so I suspect if anything the uncovering of the truth had far more impact than it may have done if he’d been allowed to write his story back then, but that of course is mere speculation on my part!

Margot Kinberg structures the novel well always keeping the mystery in clear line of sight and thankfully her investigative professor is a normal man, without angst and is somewhat self-effacing which gives the book a less aggressive feel than some modern crime novels, not that life as part of the campus staff is without its petty rivalries, this is no cosy mystery! I always imagine life in academia to be somewhat rarefied, however with this book written by someone living that life, I’ve been totally disabused of that opinion but it is an illusion shattered by some great characters and some fabulous dialogue that helped establish the setting, and opinions, for the modern angle of the crime and its discovery as well as giving enough references to take us back twenty years to the heart of the crime.

I have been a long-time reader, and admirer of Margot’s blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… and I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive about read this book – what if I didn’t like it? But not to fear, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the plotting and the writing style, a book without gratuitous violence but not so sanitised that it felt too sugary for this crime loving reader. I will definitely be keeping up with Joel in the future and I’m looking forward to my next visit to Tilton University.

Past Tense was my seventeenth read in the Mount TBR challenge and I’m pleased to announce is my last review of the backlog dating from June!

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First Published UK: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Grey Cells Press
No of Pages:  428
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

Psychological Thriller
4*s

It is winter in the North Yorkshire Moors where Sarah Carpenter is coming to terms with the loss of her husband and the emptiness of her farmhouse now that her daughter Kitty has left for university. Her son Louis is not around much having fallen out with Sarah following the death of his father, although she has a good friend in Sophie, a politician’s wife.

Against this backdrop enters Aiden an old flame of Sarah’s who has rented her holiday cottage and she’s pleased to see him but she does wonder what he is keeping secret from her. And so it starts… another riveting psychological thriller from Elizabeth Haynes.

With the bleak background of the landscape, the feeling of claustrophobia inherent in a fairly isolated and remote home the setting is perfect for this dark and often torrid tale.

The cast of characters is superb and it is a sign of what a talented writer Elizabeth Haynes is that their interactions with each other, in a variety of settings allows us to see different aspects of their characters. At the start Sarah is quite a staid woman, worried about money, her children and to be honest not a lot else, her world possibly having shrunk dramatically now that she is widowed. Her sadness over the relationship with her son is eloquently described with the often helplessness from Sarah’s viewpoint that is so often a feature of this type of schism. Fortunately Elizabeth Haynes doesn’t constrain herself in developing just the main characters, every one we meet in this book is far more than a shadowy figure on the page and the way they bounce off each other definitely takes this book to a higher level than expected. Sophie and her sleazy MP husband George are just two that you may not like, but you are definitely be able to place them in a wider context than is usual with secondary characters.

It’s fair to say her children and her friends aren’t overly impressed with Aiden staying in the cottage when they know so little about him, and then when his choice of profession comes to light they are even less enamoured with the idea. Sarah is hurt by this but she is a loyal woman and although she has momentary doubts she isn’t about to kick Aiden out.

The story is mainly told from Sarah’s viewpoint in the Sarah’s in the third person although we also get Aiden’s side of things is told in the second person which is one of the rare occasions in a book where this actually works without jarring. Added to this we occasionally have a chilling narrative inserted along the way, who this belongs to and why it is there only becomes apparent at the end of the book which ends in a satisfying manner.

I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Haynes ever since I picked up her newly published book Into the Darkest Corner which incidentally was the read that really got me hooked on psychological thrillers, she certainly didn’t disappoint me with Never Alone, although the moral of the story is that perhaps it is sometimes better to be alone…

Never Alone was my sixteenth read in the Mount TBR challenge as I actually read this book back in June – the 20 books of summer 2017 challenge having somewhat disrupted my reviewing although some of these also count towards this challenge too – a full update on where I’m at will follow once I’ve done a proper count and updated Goodreads!

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First Published UK: 28 July 2016
Publisher: Myriad
No of Pages:  352
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest Corner (2011)
Revenge  of the Tide (2012)
Human Remains (2013)
Under a Silent Moon (2013) – DCI Louisa Smith #1
Behind Closed Doors (2015) – DCI Louisa Smith #2

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

Stranger in the House – Julie Summers #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction
5*s

This non-fiction book takes a look at the women, be they wives, mothers, sisters or daughters who welcomed back their menfolk from the Second World War. How did these women adapt to the men who returned from battlefields or prisons? How did they begin to cope with all too apparent trauma that returned with them?

Stranger in the House is a collection of reminiscences about life in the immediate aftermath of the war and of the long term consequences of readjustment. There are interviews with wives, widows, sisters, daughters and granddaughters showing how this war cast a very long shadow indeed. Julie Summers has also raided the historical archives to give us the mother’s view – these poor women had often already lost members of their family in the First World War, how brave they must have been to send off their sons to another conflict.

This is a book full of details, clearly carefully researched and full of real accounts from the women who had lived, not only through the upheaval of war itself, with sometimes many months with no idea whether their loved ones are alive or not, to the aftermath with damaged men returning to families, sometimes children who didn’t recognise their fathers and all this with severe rationing in place.

“When their war ended, our war began.”

Of course the men themselves had an enormous adjustment to make and it seems like those in charge had accounted for the fact that support was needed for these fractured families following the huge failings of the First World War but this concentrated on practicalities like housing rather than what was really needed which was emotional support for the men and women who had to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The structure of the book is that the chapters relate to all the different subjects from the aftermath of war, communication and the variety of different relationships the women had with the men that returned from war.
One of the early chapters focusses on the contrast between those men stationed where the Army Post Office were able to deliver and those who weren’t. The men and women who had received regular communication on the whole fared much better than those who hadn’t.

“Letters for us stand for love, longing, light-heartedness and lyricism. Letters evoke passion, tenderness, amusement, sadness, rejoicing, surprise. And none of this is possible without the Army Post Office”

Of course some of those letters told of children born while the men were away, and not all of these could be explained in the husband’s absence. These families had a whole different struggle when the men returned and the author didn’t shy away from this difficult subject.

There is a particular emphasis within the book on those men who had been Japanese prisoners of war and it seems from the accounts in this book that many of these men were specifically ordered not to talk about their experience and of course these men often came back with serious medical problems to cope with too. The number of different voices, children at the time of their father’s return, who talk about rituals or issues over food and mealtimes is striking and so sad to read. The often factual accounts which are devoid of exaggeration or a wish for sympathy are all the more heart-rending because of that.

It is particularly touching that the last chapter speaks to the grandchildren of these men and often these children, not bought up to avoid any talk of the war, got the men to open up for the first time to their relatives and the families heard what the men had seen and heard during the six long years of war.

I don’t think I’ve read a book about war that more poignantly illustrates that for a whole generation the war was never really over.

Stranger in the House was my eighteenth read in my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

First Published UK: 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Non-Fiction – WWII
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