Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane – Paul Thomas Murphy

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

This historical true crime happened in 1871 in the Greenwich are of Victorian London. Poor Jane Coulson had been found in a terrible state with her face bashed in on a footpath by a policeman following his beat in the area. The girl was at last unidentified so extreme were her facial injuries and in the week or so that it took to discover who she was a few other girls, sadly of disrepute, were named as the victim. Eventually the truth was discovered but Jane Coulson didn’t, couldn’t, survive her injuries.

This is a well-researched book of a crime that I hadn’t come across before and doesn’t just concentrate on the police’s investigation into the murder but also the three trials the suspect underwent with the accompanying views of both the media and the local population at the time. With a sense of the place impeccably reconstructed for the reader as well as a detailed look at the various stages of the investigation and the trial I was absorbed by this reconstruction. With enough doubt to whether the right person had been arrested from the outset the author has pieced together the details including those that didn’t appear at the trial. Of course, after such a long period of time, there is little hard evidence to re-examine but that didn’t stop the author applying principles known today that were not at this time, being used to make a reasonable assessment of the case.

The author also captures the characters who make up the background to the story. From the reluctant witness of the shop-keeper who was unable to identify the man who bought the hammer which was the alleged weapon to the righteous Mr Henry Pook who defended the alleged perpetrator Edmund Pook, no relative. Edmund Pook was supported by his father a grandly named Ebenezer Pook along with his brother and other family members. The victim, Jane Coulson had worked as a maid of all work for this middle-class family and as a result we get to see how the Victorian class system operated at that time. Maids of all work were by far the most common servants of the time with middle-class families keeping one to do long hours as a status symbol as much as anything. The Pooks were not so well-off that Jane even had a pokey attic for a room, she actually shared with the victim’s cousin!

All in all a fascinating and immensely readable account of the crime, its investigation both into the identity of the victim and the murderer, the trials that followed and just as intriguingly the reaction of the public both on the streets and through the media of the day. In some ways this reaction was split along class lines but not entirely which in itself was interesting.

In the end my conclusion ties in with the authors but read the book yourself, you may well think that another scenario is equally as likely as to who did kill Jane Coulson.

I’d like to thank the publishers Head of Zeus who allowed me to read an advance copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thank you to them.

Published UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: Head of Zeus
No of Pages 352
Genre: Historical True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US – Not Available

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Shadow Hour – Kate Riordan

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

I do like a good historical time-split novel and so when I saw Kate Riordan had written a tale set in both 1878 and 1922 telling the tale of two governesses both whose charges at Fenix House high on the hills of Cheltenham.
This story starts in an intriguing way, reminding us that:

It is not always as simple as beginnings, middles and ends Not all stories should be regarded as a straight line, with the past at a distance and the present close at hand. Some, like this one, are formed in a circle, with something terrible and secret at the core, and everything else radiating out, ripples from a raindrop on water.

And so begins a gothic tale, set as far as Grace in 1922 is concerned in a dilapidated house which is nothing like her grandmother, Harriet’s memories of the house, which were much grander when she was the governess back in 1878.

The gravel was thin and patchy, showing the earth beneath, like a balding carpet; weeds and grass had taken hold in patches.

I looked through the bars at Fenix House and then glanced quickly away, as one averts their gaze from a stranger with a damaged face.

You see Grace had grown up hearing about the wonders of Fenix House of her Grandmothers fondness for her charges Helen and Victoria, and her affinity with their elder brother Bertie, but she didn’t tell Grace anything, and what she failed to divulge reverberated through the years.

There is no doubt that Kate Riordan is a marvellous storyteller with a fantastically plotted book which indeed, as promised in the beginning works in a circle taking in a myriad of lives from the lowly servant Agnes to a man high up in the Great Western Railway, from a woman who was forced to take the job of a governess to have a living, to Louisa Pembridge whose life is spent swallowing strange and dangerous potions to hold onto her youthful beauty all perfectly drawn to create a cast of characters both rich and varied.

Although the author touches on some of the key historical elements this book is not really about what is going on in the wider world and has an almost claustrophobic feel where the action is shrunk to one house, one family and their servants with few outside distractions. A world where unless it was read in a newspaper the world outside the house and its grounds, complete with the ruins and ice house, may not even exist.

I really can’t say too much else about the book except to state that the secret is much darker than the normal type in this genre, the romances perhaps even more doomed and with at least one of the characters having premonitions about future events, more spooky too. I’m not usually a fan of supernatural devices but in this book, with the setting and the secrets that are uncovered piece by piece, it did work – I am perhaps more forgiving of these in historical novels where these types of ‘gifts’ were more commonly accepted.

This is a brilliant second novel from Kate Riordan who is the author of The Girl in the Photograph, will be published on 25 February 2016. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Penguin UK who kindly gave me a copy of this novel and in return I write this honest review.