Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Move to Murder – Antony M Brown

Non-Fiction
4*s

I honestly can’t recall when I first came to hear about this historical true crime which seemed to have all the elements of a fiction, far removed from the more mundane murders where the motive, opportunity and means soon become relatively clear, but it was many years ago.  I hadn’t however read any books on the matter although there have been more than a few written and was keen to learn more.

Antony M Brown has devised an interesting concept with the publishers Mirror Books

Cold Case Jury is a unique collection of true crime mysteries. Each one tells the story of an unsolved, historic murder in an evocative and compelling way. It tells the story dramatically, like a historical novel, exposes the strengths and weaknesses of past theories and allows the readers to make their judgement on what most likely happened. Although each book is perfectly self-contained, the author providing his view at the end, readers are able to deliver their verdicts on this website, making these the first truly interactive crime tales. Beautifully presented with uniquely illustrated covers, they also contain historic documents, map and images – some unpublished before. For lovers of puzzles, mysteries and crime stories, this new collection of Cold Case Jury books will not only bring a murder story to life – it will make you part of it

And this is one of the mysteries and I for one couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit on the jury from the comfort of my own house although I have to confess voting for my chosen suspect did feel more than a little odd to say the least! I’m not sure whether choosing a murderer albeit one that is dead should be on a par with voting for your favourite contestant on a reality show.

For those who haven’t come across this true crime the facts that have puzzled many over the years are as follows:

On 20 January 1931 Mrs Julia Wallace was found murdered inside her home in Liverpool, she’d been bludgeoned to death.
Her husband William had found her body on his return from a fruitless client meeting as his job as an Insurance Agent for the Prudential Insurance, as he’d been unable to open the day at the first try his neighbours who he’d asked if they knew why were soon to the scene.
The real mystery seemed to be who was the Mr Qualtrough who’d left a message at the chess club he’d attended the evening before. This was the man William Wallace had set out to meet, but not only did Mr Qualtrough appear not to exist, nor did the address 25 Menlove Gardens East. This fact was unknown to William Wallace and everyone he asked for assistance directed him to similar addresses located in one area of Liverpool.
The unsolvable part of the mystery is if the crime was committed by the most obvious suspect, the husband, then who made the phone call to the chess club and left the message for William Wallace? And how could he kill her when he was tramping the streets looking for Mr Qualtrough? If someone had lured him away then what was there motive?

The author lays out the facts, those discovered by the police at the time, the contemporary records of the trial of William Wallace and the unusual decision to free him on appeal due to lack of evidence. He also includes information that has come to light after the death of some of the key players. This is all set out well, and at the end we are given various suspects and how likely our author believes them to be viable, he also lays his own hat down with his preferred scenario.

This was a book that I would classify as more factual ‘true crime’ which was enjoyable for the lack of drama and sensationalism alone. This was the third in this series of books which are also featured on the Cold Case Jury website.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Mirror Books who allowed me to read an copy of Move to Murder which was published on 1 November 2018.

First Published UK: 1 November 2018
Publisher: Mirror Books
No of Pages: 247
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

Classic
5*s

This book was chosen for one of the entries for The Classics Club list as I’d heard so much about it from so many admirers and so I had to see what Jean Brodie had to say about herself, I wasn’t disappointed.

As the book opens we meet Miss Jean Brodie as she is with her ‘set.’ The ‘Brodie Set’ is a group of ten-year old girls who she taught at Marcia Blaine School for Girls. It’s the early 1930s and Miss Jean Brodie declares to her willing listeners that she is in her ‘prime.’ What that means for a woman in these inter-war years is that she is ready and willing for new experiences, she loves art and she wants to be loved. Sadly the man who she loves is married.

Miss Brodie sees her role with these chosen girls to guide them to love life and to love learning and as far as she’s concerned the way to get the most out of life you don’t need to worry too much about history or maths, you’re much better listening to the story of her own lost love, Hugh who died in the war. She takes them to galleries, concerts and for walks around Edinburgh but it is the lost love that dominates the girls imagination in the early section of the book.

“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

Having first met the girls at ten we see their personalities reflected through their teacher’s eyes, and each other’s. Considering the book is so slim, it has quite a lot to say – I can’t get the fate of poor Mary MacGregor who everyone dismissed for her stupidity but became a useful scapegoat by them all, out of my head.

Mary MacGregor, lumpy, with merely two eyes, a nose and a mouth like a snowman [and] at the age of twenty-three, lost her life in a hotel fire’.

When they move to the senior school the girls still meet with their mentor, having tea with her and her lover and the story takes a turn because of the shadow of disgrace should any impropriety be discovered which will most definitely ruin Miss Jean Brodie’s prime. It is when the girls become women that the betrayal occurs but it is left to the reader to decide how they feel about the betrayer and the betrayed.

What I was expecting from Muriel Spark’s chief protagonist was a woman making a difference in a world that still had such rigid expectations, an unconventional character who had passed down this way of being to the next generation, a feminist and a lover of life. What I actually got was something far less obvious. Our chief protagonist goes on holiday to Italy and over the years that the Brodie Set are in existence comes back to extol the way Fascism has transformed the country, for the better in her view and as the girls get older she becomes more obsessed with the idea that one of the girls, Rose, should have a love affair with the man who she loves but was sadly married to another. All very odd and unnecessary!

This is one of those books that is truly a classic because it creeps into your mind and takes up residence. It is a slim novel but one that has absolutely had me mulling over its sheer depth. There are layers of meaning, a brilliant depiction of the class distinction in 1930s as well of course the special restrictions placed upon the woman of that age.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is number 1 on  The Classics Club list and the eighth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

First Published UK: 1961
Publisher: Macmillan 
No of Pages: 144
Genre: Classic Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Portrait of a Murderer – Anne Meredith

Classic Crime
4*s

It has taken me a while to write this review because I needed time for the book to settle before I could decide how I felt about it. One of its strengths, and weaknesses, was because it isn’t a conventional crime story. We learn who the murderer is fairly early on with the rest of the novel spent watching from the wings to see if they will get caught. Now considering the book was written in 1933 this was a brave move, although this author was quite established under another pen name Anthony Gilbert. However it does mean that for people like me who don’t particularly enjoy the thought of anyone going unpunished, especially for murder, it makes the read a little bit more traumatic than I expect the author intended.

Anyway back to the story. We have a patriarch Adrian Grey, an elderly and not particularly nice man, who has his children to stay for Christmas 1931. There are six children in all, and some of them have bought their partners, and although a grand house like King Poplars should have room enough for them all to rub along nicely, it appears not. One of his children, or their partners kills Adrian Grey. Not such a happy Christmas after all!

Could it be Richard the politician who needs some hard cash to make a little problem disappear? Surely it isn’t younger daughter Amy, the one who stayed behind to keep house and resent any reckless use of her tightly budgeted household? Or Isobel who made an unwise marriage and has returned home with whatever bloom she possessed faded until she is almost the background? Or the son-in-law Eustace who is financier who seems to have dragged the old man into a bit of bother money-wise? Or younger son Brand? He’s the one who is different and ran away to Paris to become an artist and whose blousy wife and mucky children were most definitely not invited to join the Christmas cheer. Surely it can’t be Ruth the happily married daughter who appears to want nothing from her curmudgeonly father? Well we do know it was one of them, and to be honest few of them have enough positive traits to outweigh the negative ones.

As it happens we are put inside the head of the murderer at the point of the killing and know who has done it, what they did to hide any evidence and how they acted post discovery. And this is the bit I liked, this witnessing a fairly unpleasant brood as they try to hide, or minimise, any motive they may have, or in plain speaking are willing to throw each other under the bus if it keeps them in the clear.

A Portrait of a Murderer on balance was a more interesting than an entertaining read. It shone a light on the fading prospects of those who were clinging to their upper class status at a time when everything was changing and fast. Adrian Grey was far from the only wealthy landowner who was having to cut his cloth a wee bit tighter after all.

I’m quite glad I chose to read this out of season, it would probably have put a bit of a dampener on my Christmas dinner but there is no doubting that the British Library Crime Classics has done us all a favour by bringing this book back from obscurity for our enjoyment, whatever the weather.

I’d like to thank the publishers Poisoned Pen Press for allowing me to read a copy of Portrait of a Murderer, I feel honoured to read a book that had been out of circulation for quite so long before they bought it back for a new generation to enjoy. This unbiased review is a thanks to all of you who made this happen.

First Published UK: 1933
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Classic Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Dissent of Annie Lang – Ros Franey #BlogTour

Historical Fiction
5*s

One of the best things about being a book blogger is finding those hidden treasures of a book, one of which is The Dissent of Annie Lang. Anne Cater asked if I would like to be part of this Blog Tour and I jumped at the chance to find out more about Annie, the daughter of a strict religious father who dissents against all she was bought up to believe, especially as the setting is the 1920s and 1930s. I read the entire book in one day, something I rarely do unless I’m sick – that’s how much I enjoyed it and so I’m delighted to be kicking off this Blog Tour with my review.

The book starts with a tantalising prologue where we meet Annie in 1932 on her return from France where she’s been studying. Here she learns that her brother Fred is in the asylum with nervous exhaustion and this stirs memories from her childhood which she’s never fully understood.

The story is told from Annie’s perspective through all three parts of the book; 1926, 1926 to 1932 and finally 1932. Her earliest memories we are told are backed up by journals she wrote as a young girl following the death of her mother when Annie was just six. Annie has an older sister Beatrice and a brother Fred and a dog Nana. She remembers happier times when her mother was alive but following her death Annie is labelled troublesome and in need of a firm hand. A housekeeper Agnes is employed to take the household in hand. Her Grandfather is the pastor at the fundamentalist church he set up in Nottinghamshire. Sundays are spent worshipping and strict adherence to the bible is expected at all times.

It didn’t take me long to become immersed in Annie’s world and the doses of cod liver oil and maids lighting fires, boarding school for Fred and visiting the sick for Agnes, who soon became the second Mrs Lang, all set the time period nicely without the author making her meticulous research obvious. In fact for much of the book, I was convinced that this was based on a true story as it felt so authentic.

Although part of The Dissent of Annie Lang is set in her early childhood and she isn’t a particularly precocious child, the reader is well aware that she is noting the events that she believes will solve the mystery, of what became of her Sunday School Teacher Millie Blessing.  She turns the memories this way and that for clues and this clever device means that although we are told of her initial delight when Nana sprayed the new wallpaper with beetroot juice by wagging her tail, and witness her dismay when the punishment means that the dog is banished to a kennel in the garden, it is the undertones of this household that are brought to the fore. This is a house where young Annie understands that some things are never to be mentioned, what she doesn’t understand is what subjects are banned, and as for the reason why, she has no clue. Her sister, older by six years, knows more but is tight-lipped and far more religious than Annie believes she will ever be.

The characters are brilliantly depicted, Annie’s friendship with Marjorie Bagshaw in particular, the two girls thrown together because of where they live have little in common and the delicate tussle of power is shown as both keep secrets when it will be to their advantage, at one point Annie admits that neither particularly likes the other. Of course Annie herself is everything I enjoy in a character, spirited and determined and absolutely realistic, she holds her own against the seemingly impervious pillars of religion and the point in history where children, and women, have a very small voice indeed.

This historical story is definitely one of my finds of the year. The language so persuasive, the story grabbed me from the start and I was as anxious as Annie to know the fate of Millie Blessing and her beautiful blue shoes. I often try to avoid speaking about the ending of a book for obvious reasons but this one hit absolutely the right spot – there isn’t a neat wrap-up, but there is certainly enough to be absolutely satisfying given what has gone before.

I am grateful to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour for Muswell Press, this unbiased review is my thanks to them and of course a huge thank you to Ros Franey for creating such a memorable story, this book is one that really does deserve to be shouted about. If you love history and a mystery, then I wholeheartedly recommend The Dissent of Annie Lang.

Don’t forget to follow the rest of the Blog Tour to learn more!

First Published UK: 19 April 2018
Publisher: Muswell Press
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US


About the Author
Ros Franey grew up in Nottingham where this book is set. She is a maker of award-winning documentaries, including two films about the Guildford 4 which, along with the book she co-authored Timebomb, contributed to the quashing of their case. This is her second novel. She lives in Camden, North London.

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

Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – Barbara Comyns

Classic
4*s

What a brilliant way to kick off my first read for The Classics Club with the voice of a young woman who tells her story as a young mother in 1930’s London. The poverty is almost overshadowed by this young woman’s grit and her conversational tone when underplaying with a light touch some equally delightful and heart-wrenching events. I couldn’t help feeling that she would be appalled by the social media age where every day occurrences seem to be blown into a major drama.

Here the part which is used for the title perfectly sums up the style used throughout the novel:

I had hoped they would give us a set of real silver teaspoons when we bought the wedding-ring, but the jeweller we went to wouldn’t, so our spoons came from Woolworths, too.

We start with the young, and she was very young only twenty-one, woman embarking on married life, against the wishes of practically everyone, to Charles who is an artist. Sophia is a commercial artist but of course Charles needs to concentrate on his art rather than actually find a job and bring some money into the household. That’s Sophie’s job which she does with good humour. In the early days their love gets them through but at a time when contraception is not discussed Sophia soon discovers she’s having a baby.

I had a kind of idea if you controlled your mind and said ‘I won’t have any babies’ very hard they most likely wouldn’t come. I thought this was what was meant by birth-control, but by this time I knew that idea was quite wrong.

The problem was that Charles did not want babies as they would disrupt his life and so Sophia is apologetic and fearful of how he will react.

As readers we know that this is a fictionalised autobiography of the author’s first marriage and that the events in chapters ten, eleven and twelve really happened. This covers the birth of Sophia’s son Sandro in a charity hospital in 1930’s London. It is horrific! Sophia is pulled from room to room having to lug her suitcase with her. Alone with the rude nurses she is as ever stoical about the experience which simply serves to make the revelations all the more horrifying from the perspective of eighty years later.

As the book goes on, the poverty bites and Sophia is in a constant battle between trying to keep Charles happy, to give Sandro what he needs and to keep the family’s head above water. Sometimes she is more successful than others. Inevitably the book takes a darker turn although the book’s tone never does as our protagonist continues to talk about events in an almost unnerving even voice.

There was no point being good or bad; everything was so dreadful in any case.

What a heart-breaking sentence! No major drama but those few words conjure up a whole level of misery that my longing was for someone to give this young woman some hope to keep her going. Of course all I could do was to keep reading and see where Sophia’s life led her…

I loved the book and I’m glad to say Sophia’s life does improve and we are reading about something she relayed to her friend Helen after the events.

I told Helen my story and she went home and cried. In the morning her husband came to see me and bought some strawberries, he mended my bicycle, too, and was kind, but he needn’t have been because it all happened eight years ago, and I’m not unhappy now.

Our Spoons Came from Woolworths is number 10 on The Classics Club list and the first one of my fifty reads that I’ve read and reviewed. A cracking start which had me riveted to this semi-biographical novel and one that makes me truly grateful that I was born when I was.

 

First Published UK: 1950
Publisher:Virago 
No of Pages: 209
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Other Mrs Walker – Mary Paulson-Ellis

Historical Fiction
5*s

It’s lovely to read a book that offers up something fresh and Mary Paulson Ellis resoundingly met that brief for me with this tale that weaves a mystery from the past with family secrets. I got the feeling that many families although not having the exact same story, there are many that have similar skeletons lurking in cupboards which share some of the same elements.

Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name…

Margaret Penny returns to Edinburgh after some thirty years away and returns to her mother’s home. She is not given a warm welcome, or even a proper bed but given that she feels she has no choice except to leave London, she has to take the scant comfort on offer

Margaret’s mother is part of a circle of women who attend funerals for those who have no-one else. This idea in itself can’t help but warm your heart although I may prefer to go it alone than to have some sour-hearted old woman turning up because she’s on a rota! Through this circle Margaret gets a temporary job locating family for those who are deceased, an odd job, but one that will ultimately save the council money as someone has to pay for the funeral.
Margaret’s first job is to locate a name for an elderly woman who died alone in a flat. In the cold flat with whisky pooling on the floor are a few belongings, including a beautiful green dress. With little in the way of paperwork Margaret embarks on a treasure hunt to find a name, and family for the deceased.

I loved the way this story was constructed. The story flips backwards and forwards with dates that range from 1930s to the present day, this is historical story-telling at its best; those small details so beautifully drawn, delighted me. Possessions are important to the Walker family and the handling of these often insignificant objects pervades their storyline. The descriptions of war-time London were outstanding and easily transported me to the era and the magical gift of an orange, its peel being one of the objects which links the episodes within this complex tale.

The characters were brilliantly drawn, three-dimensional with quirks that differentiate them easily but best of all we see many determined women who do not dwell on the past, or rail against the present, no, they are forever picking themselves up and forging onwards.

If you want a book to savour, one that is full of imagery despite being so dark that it is no wonder that the Walker family treasured their few flashes of colour with their oranges and jade green dresses, then you will enjoy this read. That said, because of the many themes along with the moving backwards and forwards in time, further complicated by the gaps in the timeline left to be filled by the reader’s imagination, it is a book to read when you can concentrate. I was lucky enough to read this in one hit and so got swept along in the storyline from London to snowy Edinburgh and from one claustrophobic household to another, and I loved every minute of it.

First Published UK: 10 March 2016
Publisher: Picador
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US (currently unavailable)

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

The Lake House – Kate Morton

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose to keep my copy of The Lake House for reading as my first read of the year as I had a feeling that I might not want to put it down and I was right I didn’t.

As in all of Kate Morton’s tales the story is split across different time periods; firstly in 1933 where Alice Edavane lives with her parents, her two sisters and her baby brother Theo at Loeanneth. Alice is in her teens already sure that she doesn’t want what her elder sister Deborah wants which is to go to London and marry well. Oh no, she is far too interested in writing stories and living at home for ever helping her father with his natural history studies. So far so normal but on the night of the Midsummer ball the Edavane’s host annually, something terrible happens and life will never be the same again..

Years into the future in 2003 the Metropolitan Police have been looking for a mother whose young daughter was left alone for days. Sadie Sparrow, a detective finds herself at odds with her superiors and is packed off for enforced leave to let the dust settle. She decides to stay with her Grandfather Bertie in Cornwall. Bored and worried about both her past and her future she hears of an unsolved crime and decides to investigate. Between that and her running she anxiously awaits the verdict on whether she still has a career to return to.

There are layers to this story which span far more years than the two main ones mentioned, we visit the battlefields of WWI, suburbia in the 1980s among plenty of others in-between, and as always with this author, I got a sense that this was backed up by solid research that underpins but never overshadows the story in hand. There are books within the book as well, a murder mystery and a children’s storybook that featured Mrs Edavane, Constance, as a young girl. So the stories swirl around each other, connected but each satisfying in their own right.

This is a large book at just over 600 pages and they are all packed with details or actions so none were inserted to make up the numbers! While not fast the pace of the book is consistent without that dreaded dip in the middle, and the characters are varied with realistic lives, hopes and dreams, which is always a bonus. The author has worked hard to make the largish cast rounded, nearly every single character had their fair share of emotions and motivations, some with a hint of a darker side.

In amongst the sheer readability is a solid mystery to be solved, along with a few more minor ones. I’m not going to pretend that some of the reveals don’t hinge on massive coincidences, but I found that easy to forgive in such an engaging and entertaining tome of a book, it does come with the territory for these type of historical split time-line stories and Kate Morton carries it off with far more aplomb than most. It was one of those books that I was genuinely sad to say goodbye to once I’d read the last page, it was that satisfying a read but my copy is now off to my friend who I’m sure will love it just as much as I did!

I’ve read all of Kate Morton’s previous books, you can see two sitting on my bookshelf on the header to this post and I’ve enjoyed them all immensely.

The House at Riverton
The Forgotten Garden
The Distant Hours
The Secret Keeper

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Equilibrium – Evie Woolmore

Historical Fiction 4*'s
Historical Fiction
4*’s

 

One evening in May 1903 Martha Collett goes down the steps in Wapping into the river. The former servant girl has left the workhouse determined to leave the disappointments of her life behind. This is the start to this historical book by Evie Woolmore.

The historical element centres on the spiritual acts that were popular in the early twentieth century. Martha and her sister, Epiphany initially hone their act in the North before deciding that the time is right to return to London and reclaim the child that Martha left behind. By chance Martha and Epiphany, now in the guise of Mrs Hearn and Miss Fortune, are invited to hold a séance in the very house where Martha used to work, the home of Rafe Lyward. The very Rafe Lyward who is the father of the baby they returned to London to reclaim.

Adelia the lady of the house is an unhappy woman, her brother died in Africa and along with her sister-in-law Flora she longs to know the truth of what happened to him. The question is will Miss Fortune be able to summon his spirit to put the living at peace?

I am not really a believer in the supernatural so I had some reservations about this book which were quickly dispelled. Martha is a believable character a woman who has had to make difficult decisions just as many women did at this time. Poor Adelia does not fit into Edwardian England having an enquiring this intelligent woman is trapped by society’s expectations. As such this is a fascinating study of women at the opposite ends of society at the turn of the twentieth century. This is a well-plotted story which offered so much more than I expected.

I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

To read more about this book and others by Evie Woolmore (all currently available for kindle at the bargain price of 99p) visit Allonymbooks.com