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

The Shrouded Path – Sarah Ward #BlogTour #BookReview

Crime Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous Books in the DC Connie Childs Series

In Bitter Chill
A Deadly Thaw
A Patient Fury

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

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Peacock Summer – Hannah Richell

Contemporary Fiction

An old lady, an older house and peacocks! That alone was tantalising enough for me want to know more, and just look at that stunning cover! So I’m delighted to say this story didn’t disappoint at all, in fact it took me off to a mysterious manor with secrets at its heart.

Maggie is summoned back to her sojourn in Australia to the news that her Grandmother Lillian Oberon has been admitted to hospital. Seeing her beloved Grandmother, the woman who has raised her since she was tiny, begging to be allowed to spend the rest of her days at Cloudesley, her home in the Chiltern Hills, Maggie resolves to be on hand. No matter that what happened before her flight to Australia has made her something of a person non grata in the village of Cloud Green. She’s shocked to find a house has deteriorated further in her absence and is now in dire need of some monetary input, money it appears that simply isn’t available. But a promise is a promise…

As Lillian recovers back at home her mind continually returns to memories of the year 1955 when as a young bride she was dealing with the night terrors, and worse, that her husband Charles suffered with. The entrance of a young artist Jack Fincher brings colour into her life as he spends the summer turning the old nursery into a jewellery box of a room with his Trompe-l’œil designed to show off the treasures of Cloudesley to their best advantage.

For some reason the start to my summer reading has involved quite a few books detailing domestic violence of various degrees and in various time periods and this belongs firmly in that bracket. Lillian is a second wife who believes, or is made to believe that she is inferior to the first. Charles has rages bought on perhaps by the war but Lillian, as is commonly the case, is trapped. Even though by this time divorce was possible Lillian feels compelled to look after Albie, Charles’s son and to ensure that the private care given to her sister is continued. It isn’t always fear that keep those binds so tight. This aspect gives what could otherwise be considered a light read, a darker edge and pleasingly a different angle to this dual time-line read (something that I think makes for the perfect escape to the past whilst keeping the present in focus.)

Maggie’s story whilst more recognisable in many aspects also touches on the darker side. Albie her father has been inconsistent and there is that shadowy event that hasn’t been forgotten, least of all by her.

Not only is this an original tale, full of splendour and visual effects, it is also peopled by those characters that you wish you could meet in real-life. I admired Lillian, wanted to see Jack’s creations and had a certain amount of respect of Maggie’s determination. This is a book where you feel the plotting has been meticulously carried out with none of false tension created by devices clearly planted to spin the mystery out. Yes, I know these are often necessary but it is lovely not to be jolted away from the story with them planted conveniently at the end of each chapter.

I can’t leave this review without admiring the ending, more than that I can’t say without spoiling the book for other readers…

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Orion who allowed me to read an advance copy of The Peacock Summer. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the hugely talented Hannah Richell.

First Published UK: 28 June 2018
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US



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

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction

I opened the book and instantly felt at home with the story, I knew within a couple of pages that this book would suck me in, and it did. I adored the mystery of what happened to Audrey back in the fifties and I was equally enchanted by Jessie’s story in the present day, a life so different despite the earlier time period being easily within living memory.

So I suppose you want to know what it’s about? In the present day Jessie who has a teenage stepdaughter Bella, still so obviously grieving the loss of her mum and toddler Romy to contend with dreams of an uncomplicated country-life with her family. Her husband Will is more hesitant but can see that Jessie has fallen in love with Applecote Manor but will the house live up to Jessie’s hopes and dreams and build a better future away from dead Mandy’s ghost hovering in their London house?

Right from the start I warmed to Jessie who is honest about those gaps we all have between how we’d like life to be, and what the truth actually is. Later in the book she freely admits to posting pictures on Instagram portraying what she wants but there is something very dark and shadowy at Applecote Manor, a presence that Bella believes means that they will never be happy there. Is this teenage angst or does the house hold a secret? Well of course it does!

In the 1950s we meet four sisters, three born within a year of each other, the beautiful Flora, the athletic Pam and the serious Margot whose viewpoint dominates the past part of the storyline and these three are joined by the younger Dot who trails after her three elder sisters during a summer heatwave while they are staying at Applecote Manor. This is a summer that will have repercussions for years to come as innocence is lost.

And then there is Audrey who went missing five years before the summer we experience with the Wilde sisters and it is this that is the mystery that is the heart of this book.

There are so many themes packed into this deeply evocative story, from the bonds between sisters, the ghosts of the past who can cast shadows over lives, the difficulties in growing up, friendship and mothers all get an airing. Each storyline in the past is echoed in the present but not in an obvious way, it is the subtlety and the lightness of touch that makes this such an impressive read, with the beautiful Cotswold setting the pivot of the strands that paint the bright pictures from the hot summer in the past with the cold and wet days as Jessie struggles to build a future for her family.

Alongside the many themes this is also a difficult book to neatly fit into any one genre – it has a central mystery, a historical time period and there are times when the writing became so dark it could be considered domestic noir and it is a coming-of-age story. Whatever the genre, it is brilliant a book that I truly lived, I didn’t just picture the sleigh bed up under the port-hole window at the top of the house, I could swear I had lain down on it myself and I knew the characters, all of whom were honestly drawn, no-one was flawless and none were clichés and they were all distinct, even the secondary characters. All in all I feel sure enough to pronounce that Eve Chase is an author who has an enormous amount of talent so I have already ordered her debut novel Black Rabbit Hall which had high praise heaped upon it when it was published in 2015.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin who allowed me to read a copy of The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, this review is my heartfelt thanks to them and Eve Chase for a wonderful journey that had me experience the full range of emotions and I closed the book with a tear rolling down my cheek. Readers in the US will find this book under the title The Wildling Sisters.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

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

The Long Drop – Denise Mina

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction

This is the story of Peter Manuel, not a recreation of his crimes scrawled baldly across the page but a nuanced look at the man, both behind the vile acts he perpetrated and the one that he was in his own mind. In Peter’s head there was still the possibility to be another Peter, the one who was a writer and was famous for something other than burglarising, vandalising and raping. When he met the long drop (the method used for hanging in Scotland) he wasn’t the other Peter though, he was the man who wasn’t as clever as he thought he was.

Denise Mina has created a night Peter spent with the father of one of his victims. A father, husband and brother-in-law to three women who didn’t live to say what their last night was like but William Watt wants to know, particularly as he was arrested for the crimes himself, and so his lawyer Laurence Dowdall, having secured Manuel’s agreement, accompanies the men on a meeting in a restaurant one wintry Glaswegian night in 1957. Laurence Dowdall leaves the two men to it and they spend the entire night drinking, visiting clubs before finally winding up drinking a cup of tea in a car outside Manuel’s house, his mother a mere shadow behind the curtains.

The nuanced and assured storytelling is gripping with details oozing out of each sentence, not just about the crimes but about the characters, the essence of the lives they lived and the Glasgow of that age before the slums were cleared and Glasgow was cleaned up. It tells the story of a whole community which had violence running through it. The men jostling for position, just as Manuel and William Watt did in the pub, desperate to hold prime position, not to be outdone by lesser men. Being hard was what it was all about and the men who both protected and beat their women with fierce pride.

Of course we do learn about Manuel’s crimes too in a similar fashion, this isn’t a linear story telling, it is all the more captivating because we wait for the details; the half-eaten sandwich left abandoned at the murder scene, the empty bottle of whisky left on the sideboard for the police to find after the shock of the broken bodies left in the bedroom have been discovered. There is no doubt that Peter Manuel was not a nice man but we also see him through his parent’s eyes. One particular scene about their visit to the prison is one that I suspect is seared into my memory for ever, the emotions roll off the page in an understated manner which pulled at my heart-strings all the more for those that remained unsaid. I have a particular respect for writers who leave the reader the space to fill in the gaps, to allow them to put themselves in the shoes of a mother of a murderer without justifying the emotions she felt and what she might feel in a week hence.

This without a doubt is one of the best books I’ve read based on a true crime with this relatively short book being jam-packed with details which are wide-ranging. It did help that I had recently watched the television drama In Plain Sight, because previously I hadn’t heard of this man, although I’m now aware that for years afterwards his name was used as a synonym for the bogeyman for Glaswegian children.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of The Long Drop prior to the publication by Random House UK on 2 March 2017. This unbiased review is my thank you to them and of course the incredibly talented Denise Mina.

First Published UK: 2 March 2017
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 240
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Blood Card – Elly Griffiths

Historical Crime Fiction 4*s
Historical Crime Fiction

When Colonel Peter Cartwright, their commander from the war, is found dead with the ace of hearts, the blood card, next to him Max Mephisto and DI Edgar Stephens are summoned to London and put in charge of a secret investigation into his death.

Racing back to his current investigation in Brighton where Edgar is probing the mysterious death of fortune teller Madame Zabini he is soon off on his first aeroplane trip to New York, a fifteen hour journey on the trail of the murderer.

The links to the world of the theatre are really strong in this, the third outing of Stephens and Mephsito and reach back in time. Max and Edgar are tracking down some old-timers from the world of the variety shows which are now beginning to fear their fate with the advent of television. And it is time to be worried with a terrific surge in families buying sets to watch the Queen’s Coronation. Max was unable to take the trip to New York as he has dipped his toe into the world of television and is performing a magic show live for the small screen, a show that will follow the main event of the day. His new agent Joe Passolini has promised that millions will watch Those Were The Days, the greatest variety show to reach into the drawing rooms of the UK.

The two plots, one dealing with deaths of those linked to the theatre and another strand devoted to the gypsy’s who deliver the entertainment on the pier. Stephens and his Sergeants Bob Willis and Emma Holmes are far from convinced that Madame Zabini’s death was suicide, as Bob succinctly put it:

‘You’d think, being psychic, she’d know if someone was going to do her in’

When her son receives a letter asking him to ask Stephens what the Magic Men knew, the operation he was part of with Max during the war, the feeling that something was not quite right just intensifies. The problem is apart from handing over the note the family aren’t terribly forthcoming, having an aversion to the police.

My love of these two crime fighters hasn’t abated one little bit and this proved to be a fun read, all deaths happen ‘off-page’ to cause minimum distress to the reader. The plot has an old-fashioned feel to it, matching the time period perfectly, consisting of cryptic crossword puzzles and a network of characters where even the most shadowy, could be kindly be described as ‘misunderstood’ That’s not to imply there isn’t any action, there is, and the descriptions are brilliant. The portrayal of the build up and ultimately to the day of the coronation itself, one full of excitement as the new Elizabethan age dawned was fantastic I felt I was right there with the people who partied despite the rationing, which was still in place, and shows went on to please the new audience in front of their televisions.

Elly Griffiths manages to sneak plenty of historical facts into this engaging and evocative mystery of an era that doesn’t get as much exposure as the preceding decades. She effortlessly transports us to the time and I’m delighted that her female characters are so strong despite being true to their time. For those who have read the previous books, it is an absolute delight to see the character progression, the bonds that have been forged in times of adversity lending a depth to such a fun read. So it isn’t only long live the Queen but long live Max Mephisto and DI Edgar Stephens!

I was delighted to receive an advance review copy of this book ahead of publication next week and this review is my thanks to the publishers Quercus Books, and of course the fabulous Elly Griffiths.

Published UK: 3 November 2016
Publisher: Quercus Books
No of Pages: 382
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Max Mephisto & DI Edgar Stephens Series

The Zig-Zag Girl
Smoke and Mirrors

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

Smoke and Mirrors – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction

November 1951 and DI Edgar Stephens Sergeant Bob Willis and Sergeant Emma Holmes are carrying out an investigation into two children have gone missing, one minute they were going to buy sweets, the next they’d disappeared into thin air. With snow falling the police have a huge task ahead of them while the local community do their best to assist in the search.

Meanwhile with pantomime season approaching, Max Mephisto is busy rehearsing for Aladdin. Playing the part of Abanazar which allows him to perform some of his amazing magic tricks, performing alongside the Great Diablo and close to his old friend Edgar he’s far from despondent at the thought of the upcoming stint on Brighton Pier. But with the headlines screaming about The Babes in the Woods the locals aren’t really into the pantomime spirit; mothers are anxious about their children and vigilantes are staking out the sweet shop, convinced the owner had something to do with the disappearance of Annie and Mark. It doesn’t take long for Edgar to call on Max for assistance, perhaps the former Magic Man can see the sleight of hand that took place to spirit the youngsters away.

This series which began with The Zig-Zag Girl, feels entirely different to any other crime series, of course the historical feel has a lot to do with that, something which is reflected in a much gentler writing style than modern crime fiction. Despite the nature of the crime in this book, there is no overt violence but rather a complex puzzle to solve and there are no shortage of leads to follow, one of which links to a murder of a young actress in a production of Babes in the Wood before WWI, but as the culprit was caught and hanged for his crime, Edgar is at a loss as to what the connection could be. This lead plus the fact that Annie was keen on the theatre and had been in the middle of rehearsing her own play, Hansel and Gretel, with her siblings and younger friends the police turn to the old fairy tales for clues. All of which makes for fascinating reading on an entirely different level than I’ve come to expect in crime fiction.

There are details which relate to the first instalment in this series mainly in the form of many of the characters but where some of those who played a big role in that first episode are relegated to bit parts in this rich sequel although I think that there is enough information included, without endless repetition, for someone to read this as a standalone book. One thing is for sure, this is a book with its varied, yet easily identifiable characters has a feeling of lightness about it at times, as well as being unexpectedly emotional at others; I actually shed a small tear at the end of this book. DI Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto have stolen my heart!

I’d like to thank Quercus Books for allowing me to read a copy of this book before publication on 5 November 2015 in return for my honest opinion. A perfect book for winter reading, and one where the author hasn’t felt the need to provide her readers with a doorstopper, this book clocks in at a very reasonable 352 pages.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Zig-Zag Girl – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction

When two boxes which have an unbecoming odour are left at the station’s Left Luggage in Brighton the police are called. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is called to investigate as once opened the contents reveal parts of a human body. When the third and final part is located with a message addressed to Edgar as ‘Captain Stephens’ he remembers a magic trick called the Zig-Zag Girl, not the immediate notion that may spring to any regular policeman’s mind, but Edgar had been part of a special unit during World War II that was made up of a contingent of magicians. Calling themselves The Magic Men their aim was to trick the German’s into thinking Scotland was better defended than it was.

In 1950’s Brighton the world moved at a different pace and Edgar is left to investigate with only a few minor admonishments from his superiors to solve the mystery, and fast. Edgar starts to meet up with the other members of The Magic Men a task that began easily enough as the famous Max Mephisto is currently top of the bill at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, and as the two men catch up on the intervening years we are also treated to the life of a travelling showman with his itinerant lifestyle full of landlady’s in B & B’s and showgirls and the pressing worry that variety shows are no longer the draw they were before the war.

I enjoyed this tale, on the one hand it is a classic mystery story, not too much blood and guts with all the nasty action pretty much taking place off page, and partly a portrait of a different lifestyle in an age when it was still so important to many to give the right impression. Edgar’s mother for instance isn’t impressed with his choice of career, she would have much preferred him to become an academic. The war changed the lives of The Magic Men and not all for the worse, with companionship in this relatively cloistered unit giving Edgar a different outlook on life especially at first when it was completed with a blossoming romance, but things didn’t end well for The Magic Men and after one final failed trick they had disbanded.

I have to admit, I loved Edgar, his lack of grandeur and his obvious hero-worship of the more world-weary Max was touching as was his sense of loyalty towards other members of The Magic Men, Tony and the Major, as well as the elderly Diabolo all of whom were intriguing characters and despite not being drawn in any great amount of depth were great secondary characters.

I have enjoyed Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series rooted as they often are in the past and I was hugely impressed with the way the writing in this book effortlessly transported me to 1950’s Brighton conjuring up a different kind of magic to that of the magicians.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus Books for allowing me to read a copy of The Zig-Zag Girl in return for my honest opinion. If you like a complex mystery, learning about a different way of life and a well-told tale, you will probably enjoy this book.

Elly Griffith’s previous books

The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead

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

Family Likeness – Caitlin Davies

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction

This is a book which has all the ingredients mixed together to tell a great story. In the 1950’s Muriel is taken to a home by her mother. Muriel is of mixed race and just four years old. Through Muriel’s narration we follow her through her time in the home through to adulthood and the birth of her daughter Rosie. Rosie also narrates part of the book. She is angry on behalf of her mother, she wants her mother to have been wanted, not to have been brought up in ‘care’ and when Rosie wants something she goes and gets it.

Rosie has been a teacher at a cross-road in life. She gets herself employed as a nanny to a busy businessman who is travelling abroad leaving Rosie in charge of Ella and Bobby. Here we see another side to Rosie, the side that cares about the poor young girl who has no mother, the girl who doesn’t get on with her teacher and the girl who is angry and resentful that her family is no longer complete. Rosie takes the children to Kenwood where both Ella and Rosie share an interest in Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a Navy Captain and a West Indian woman. Here is another mixed race child whose life was dictated by her colour. Rosie wants her mother to read her files, to know where she came from but doesn’t appreciate that Muriel doesn’t share that same need.

This is an interesting look at families of all shapes and sizes and although this is underpinned by the issue of colour there is far more to this story, this story applies to all families. If you like well written books, with characters who matter after you have turned the last page, try this, a definite five star read.

Family Likeness
The Ghost of Lily Painter

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction