Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Cliff House – Amanda Jennings

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

This atmospheric story is set on the coast of Cornwall in 1986 where we meet the shy and unhappy Tamsyn as she perches on the cliff-top spying on the comings and goings at the Cliff House. The summer holidays have started and Tamsyn leaves her brother sleeping, sneaks the spare key her mother has to clean the house and resolves to have a proper look inside the house.

This book is mesmerising mainly because of the lyrical prose set against the chilling background of the rich Edie’s friendship with poor Tamsyn. Tamsyn is still struggling to come to terms with her father’s death, the poverty the family are experiencing as the local tin mine shut leaving her brother out of work with no real prospect of finding something to replace it. Tamsyn’s mother juggles jobs but is tiring of just managing and has begun to forge a new relationship. Tamsyn is less than happy with this being as she is full of grief and the angst of being a sixteen year old girl who is somewhat obsessed with the house and its occupants.

Edie has been expelled from her boarding school when the family decamps for an entire summer in the back of beyond in Cornwall. Away from everyone and everything she knows she feels adrift especially as things behind the windows are not as Tamsyn imagines them to be. The meaning of life really isn’t found by the expensive scarf discarded by the swimming pool on the terrace, or the jewels or even the fame the family enjoy because Max Davenport is a best-selling author. Edie is far more worldly-wise than Tamsyn and yet the two forge an often uncomfortable relationship as the summer progresses.

This isn’t a book full of fast-moving action, it is one where the characters lead the way towards a darker and darker heart. We have the imagery, the black raven being the main one which Tamsyn is sure foretells disaster, after all she saw one before her father died, one night at sea in a terrible storm. The relationships between the well-to-do Davenports and Edie, her brother Jago all bind them tighter together, often unwillingly but always inevitably.

The contrast between the families is stark, the descriptions of Tamsyn’s mother unfolding her bed as she’d given up the room she shared with her husband to his elderly father. The lack of money for anything more than the bare necessities are scattered throughout the book without ever becoming ‘shouty’ something that isn’t required when Tamsyn is given her first glass of champagne by Max Davenport at Cliff House.

Reading The Cliff House I felt drawn into Tamsyn’s obsession with the house and its owners and as the girls negotiate their uneven friendship I felt for her with her obvious feeling of inferiority but Edie doesn’t get things all her own way and she has her own problems that she’s trying to hide. Before we close the book, not only do we see how the summer ended, and even better a peak at what happened next.

I have to commend Amanda Jennings on her story-telling; whilst this is a different type of tale to In Her Wake, it is also makes for compulsive reading including as it does the hat-trick of superbly drawn characters, an atmospheric yet changeable setting and a darkness that enthralled this reader.

I am very grateful to the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance copy of The Cliff House prior to publication on 17 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 17 May 2018
Publisher: HQ
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

The Missing Girl – Jenny Quintana

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Wow! I’m not sure what I expected from this debut author but it wasn’t this evocative tale of a girl whose sister goes missing one autumnal day in 1982.

Anna Flores’ sister, Gabriella went missing, in fact we only see her reflected through her younger sister’s adoring eyes but it’s now thirty years later and Anna’s mother has died and it is time to clear the house and sort through the family possessions. Anna sadly returns from Athens to attend the funeral but finds herself needing to confront what happened all those years ago.

Split between the present day and 1982 this is every family and uniquely the Flores family. Somehow this author has summoned up the 1980s without resorting to constantly naming the brands of the day or key events of the time but rather more exceptionally, by evoking the attitudes of those times.

We have Esther Flores, mother to two daughters, Gabriella and Anna and wife to Albert Flores who owns a second-hand shop which offers house clearance services. Now I don’t know about you but in another life I can think of no better way than to go poking around through the books, photos and sentimental items collected by a homeowner – I have to admit, I’m not up for the heavy lifting of furniture or cleaning up but the building a picture of a life lived, sorting the valuable from the rubbish, would be perfect for the nosiness I have about other people’s lives. Esther doesn’t like it when Albert does a house clearance as he is away from home far too much as but she has her friend Rita who brings her crime thrillers to read and offal from her husband’s butcher shop to feed her family.

At first any conflict in the family is seemingly benign with Gabriella pushing against her mother’s rules by dying her hair black and wearing unsuitable clothes at which point Albert steps in as the peacemaker without overly upsetting either party. Meanwhile Anna is young enough to observe all that is happening but when the whispering starts between her mother and father her attempts to eavesdrop fall far short of informing her of what has happened. Gabriella now has secrets from her and she feels she’s been pushed to the edge of the family.

And then Gabriella disappears on her way home from school one night, she’s agreed to meet Anna at the shop, House of Flores but she never turns up and in the intervening years there have been few clues to follow.

Told in alternating time periods between the events of 1982 and Anna’s present life carrying out the one last house clearance her mother had agreed to, Anna starts to put some of the pieces of the puzzle together. Reconnecting with those residents who are still alive, including of course Rita who had remained a steadfast friend Anna is able to reconcile the events of the past to some degree.

This book, despite not being the psychological thriller I had expected from its title was definitely a page-turner but of the less manic variety than the genre normally provides; indeed I would say this is on the edge of what is traditionally called women’s fiction exploring as it does families, secrets, friendship, community and love in a vivid and evocative way. I adored it all, the descriptions of Anna’s grandparents coming to visit, the two girls exchanging looks as the same old stories are told, visit after visit, the gentle love and respect her parents demonstrate for each other and their children gave me a feeling of nostalgia for what were arguably simpler times for children.

An assured debut that has me eager to see what Jenny Quintana will offer next.

I’d like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan who sent me a copy of The Missing Girl, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.

First Published UK: 18 December 2017
Publisher: Mantle
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Frost at Midnight – James Henry

Crime Fiction
4*s

For those who loved R.D. Wingfield’s original crime series featuring DI Frost, James Henry has recreated this dishevelled detective in earlier times; Frost at Midnight is the fourth prequel in the series.

It’s 1983 and Denton CID are confronted with a dead body on top of a tomb in the local graveyard, the case is instantly a PR nightmare as the body is Rachel Curtis, a domestic violence victim who acting under coercion was jailed for murder but had now been released early. Added to the now increased workload there are more immediate problems as Detective Sergeant Waters is getting married and he’s unable to attend the rehearsal with his best man Detective Inspector Jack Frost.

With the police station in a state of flux a the officers get to grips with the new-fangled computers and pagers everything is taking longer than it used to – Jack isn’t the only one who is sceptical of the use of these new additions to crime fighting. Superintendent Mullett, as ever, has his priorities at total odds with Frost and it is only thanks to the habitual nifty footwork in ignoring his orders that the team have any chance of solving the crime.

Meanwhile DC Sue Clarke has finally reached the end of her tether; looking after a baby and having Frost sleeping on her sofa following the death of his wife is not compatible with a good life. Sue wants to return to work but Mullett aka Hornrim Harry is reluctant. And then a prostitute goes missing leaving a young boy to fend for himself and CID need all the help that they can get.

I’ve enjoyed all the prequels that James Henry has written and found that the language and the characters have been kept faithful to the original books. The sense of time with all the accompanying misogyny and racism along with the emerging new technologies are present and correct and a huge amount of my enjoyment is on a nostalgic level. The plotting is well thought out with the sense of urgency mounting as the team try to wrap multiple strands of the investigation up before the wedding takes place. It isn’t just dead bodies and missing women, there is also the mystery of the missing money left by a newcomer to Denton in a cement mixer along with the ever-present worry of where Frost’s next meal is coming from! On that note the Frost in this book is more chaotic, even shabbier and perhaps a little less sharp although he has time to woo a couple of ladies (I’m really not sure of the appeal here) as he deals with his changed personal circumstances. In a modern crime book there would be trips to the force doctor and supportive colleagues discussing grief but this is 1983 and there is no doubt Frost is struggling without a single nod to mental health.

I’d like to say a huge thanks to Random House UK for allowing me to read a copy of Frost at Midnight which is another excellent prequel, one that kept me thoroughly entertained as Denton once more comes to life with all its myriad of characters and Frost’s caring and clever mind fighting to the fore.

First Published UK: 17 May 2017
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Frost books Prequels and Originals

First Frost: (DI Jack Frost 1) (James Henry)
Fatal Frost: (DI Jack Frost 2) (James Henry)
Morning Frost: (DI Jack Frost 3) (James Henry)

Frost At Christmas: (DI Jack Frost Book 1) (R.D. Wingfield)
A Touch Of Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 2)  (R.D. Wingfield)
Night Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 3) (R.D. Wingfield)
Hard Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 4)  (R.D. Wingfield)
Winter Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 5) (R.D. Wingfield)
A Killing Frost: (DI Jack Frost Book 6)  (R.D. Wingfield)

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

Winter Garden – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

Classic Fiction
2*s

So far I have really appreciated the dark humour Beryl Bainbridge winds through the previous novels I’ve read; An Awfully Big Adventure, Sweet William and Harriet Said, but sadly any such flashes of brilliance in Winter Garden were overshadowed by either a weak plot or one that I simply didn’t ‘get’.

Douglas Ashburner is a lawyer, married or many years with two adult children when he is persuaded by Nina, who he is conducting a clandestine affair with, to join her on a trip to Moscow with the Soviet’s Artist Union. Douglas duly tells his wife he is off to the Highlands fishing, and arrives at Heathrow to meet his fellow travellers at the airport complete with his fishing rod.

The other members of the party are Bernard a minor celebrity in the world of art, and Enid a less well-known artist. Having to indulge in a certain amount of subterfuge regarding their true relationship Douglas finds himself sat apart from Nina during the flight, the book being set in the 1980s air travel was not the regimented affair it is today. Nina had asked Douglas to put her medication in her suitcase which doesn’t arrive in Moscow with the rest of the party. The failure to track down his case causes Douglas more than a bit of worry as he is going to have a devil of a job explaining why it got lost at an airport when it should be with him in Scotland.

If I’m honest after we reach this part of the book, I struggled to make much sense of anything further. Nina mysteriously disappears from the entourage with various excuses and explanations being given for where she is, mainly led by Olga, their translator for the trip. The weird occurrences keep happening with a particularly odd nocturnal encounter on a train trip to Leningrad, none of which are furnished with any real resolution that makes proper sense although I think I know what we are supposed to believe, the problem is I’m not sure!

What I did find interesting is the descriptions of Soviet Russia which come complete with the biting cold weather, not good news for Douglas as he misplaced his hat along the way although he does carry a pink scarf of Nina’s to keep the cold out of his ears. These descriptions of various engagements, viewing of graveyards and paintings include Beryl Bainbridge’s legendary wit, I was particularly fond of the visit to Stalin’s birthplace and the Russian characters we met. I’m really not so sure about Douglas who seemed incredibly naïve, and not just about his affair, particularly considering he’s supposed to be a lawyer. As Nina was off page she was fairly insubstantial although this aspect was nicely balanced by Enid who had some real depth. The trouble is interesting people only take you so far when these are pretty much disconnected from a plot.

Winter Garden was my second read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017.

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

A Deadly Thaw – Sarah Ward

 

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

The second in the Francis Sadler series set in the fictional town of Bampton in Derbyshire is written in Sarah Ward’s trademark style of an easy read in a book full of complexities.

After being released from prison Lena Fisher moved back into the family home with her younger sister Kat. The two girls had been close up until the close of their teenage years in the 1980s when Lena withdrew and pulled away from her sister but following her release from prison the two live in the large house bequeathed to them both following the death of their professional parents. Despite Kat’s ambivalence towards the house, because Lena feels a connection, the prospect of it being sold is slim and Kat’s job as a counsellor simply can’t fund the repairs desperately needed to stop the house crumbling further.

Once again the novel has its roots in the past with the convicted murderer, Lena Fisher, committing her crime in 2004. Lena murdered her husband by suffocating him in their marital bed and served twelve years in prison for her crime. The problem is that a man found in a disused World War One mortuary, fabulously named Hale’s End, appears to be the very same Andrew Fisher – now that’s a mystery as one man simply cannot die twice!

But before the body is formally identified Lena goes missing causing Kat to worry. Kat herself is sure she is being watched and maybe followed, and that feeling only intensifies when she is given strange gifts by a teenage boy. The first such gift is a gun dating back to the war. Meanwhile unsurprisingly the local police force are themselves being investigated into how a woman was convicted of killing the wrong man, so tensions are running high as DI Francis Sadler, DC Connie Childs and DS Damian Palmer find they need to delve back to the past in order to have any chance of working out what has happened in the present. As an aside, although DI Sadler gets to give his name to the series, in A Deadly Thaw the police’s actions are mostly seen through Connie’s eyes, herself a complex character and although there is rivalry between her and Damian Palmer the book doesn’t get bogged down in endless police politics, yet accurately reflects a close working relationship with all its pitfalls.

As I found in the Sarah Ward’s first book, In Bitter Chill, not only is the plot complex, the characters are a delight. Although I found Lena the most difficult to understand there is a wide range of people that walk and talk like real people do! The author takes real care to ensure that not one of the characters feels like they’ve been designed to move the plot along, these are people who matter in their own right and when we are not looking are moaning about the day they’ve had or that they forget their umbrella! As a reader we get the full picture through the eyes of Kat and the police. This author is determined to keep you hooked with the chapters often ending on a revelation which because the time period and often the point of view changes you have to hold that thought until you catch up with the thread a few chapters later. Sarah Ward owes me some sleep – I simply couldn’t put this book down.

Sarah Ward is most definitely in the bracket of female writers of crime fiction that use issues as a theme to underpin their storylines but manage to do it without reiterating every other page what that is. These are books that get under your skin as well as giving you a fantastic puzzle to solve. I’m really hoping we will be seeing more of Francis Sadler and his team before too long.

First Published UK: 30 August 2016
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

The Twins – Saskia Sarginson #20booksofsummer

Book 14

Contemporary Fiction 3*s
Contemporary Fiction
3*s

This is a tale spanning from the early 1970s to the late 1980s told through the eyes of identical twins Isolte and Viola. Their mother Rose is a free spirit their father is a mystery. Rose has bought her girls up in line with her free and wild lifestyle, but on their move from a commune in Wales to the Suffolk countryside she decides to stop home schooling the twins and send them to the local school. Their home-made clothes and unconventional education don’t help the twins to fit in with their classmates, something not helped by them being kept down a year and therefore attending the local primary school instead of the secondary along with their peers. With no friends the girls roam wild in the local woods and meet up with another set of identical twins, Michael and John.

The author has structured the book so that the narrative not only switches between Isolte and Viola but also in time periods too at times it takes a while to work out which twin is narrating, however I did enjoy the patchwork style of building up what happened in the girl’s past against their lives in the present. This naturally lends a feeling of tension to the storyline as pieces of information are revealed and explains why the twins are haunted by events in 1972 before they left Suffolk to start another new life in London with their aunt.

This is a haunting tale and there is no doubting the writing ability of Saskia Sarginson which led to this book being chosen as one of Richard and Judy’s  Book Club in the Autumn list of 2013, but if I’m honest although I wanted to know more, the gaps in the timeline caused far too many questions for my liking which combined by the slow pace meant that I was not as enthralled by this book as her later novel The Other Me.

I am a big fan of dual timeline stories but in this instance the story set in the 1970s was of far more interest than that of the 1980s where one works as a fashion editor for a magazine whist the other is hospitalised through anorexia. Part of the problem with the present tale was there simply wasn’t much action as both girls in different ways, ruminated on the past which led to the unravelling of their childhood. What was interesting in this section was to see how the two reacted to these same events in different ways and how the long buried secrets still effected them both fifteen years later.

What Saskia Sarginson managed exceptionally well was the time period. The occasional, mention of brands and attitudes of the two time periods, caused sparks of nostalgia which worked particularly well with the author using these references sparingly to evoke the time without it becoming a book about ‘Do you remember when x happened?’ or ‘Do you remember when we used to do y and eat z?’ The scenes set in the Sussex countryside in a cottage with an outside privy was also exceptionally well done; I had no problems at all visualising the two girls with in a dank cottage eating foraged produce whilst their mother rustled up another misshapen dress for them to wear.

This is book had an original feel to it and will definitely appeal to those who are interested in twin stories with not one but two sets to examine in this wide-ranging story.

First Published UK : March 2013
Publisher: Piatkus
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Author Interview

Q & A with James Henry Author of Blackwater

Blackwater book jacket

Back in March I received a copy of this book from the author and simply couldn’t wait until closer to publication date to read it – yes my strict scheduling was broken for this author who also wrote the prequels to the Inspector Frost series, which he executed with the spirit of R D Wingfield.

You can read my review to Blackwater here and even better it’s published today!

I’ll start with the obvious question:

When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? Did you write stories as a child?  

I never thought about writing until the opportunity presented itself (with First Frost), and then it was more to see if I could, rather any burning passion to do so.

What were your five favourite childhood books?

Richard Scarry’s The Great Pie Robbery, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Fantastic Mr Fox, Comet in Moominland, Moominland Midwinter.

Oh yes! All of those were in our house too!

You wrote the three excellent prequels for R D Wingfield’s Inspector Frost series: Were you asked to or did you volunteer?

Thanks. I volunteered. I am a fan, the TV had drawn to a close and the author had sadly passed away. It is a rare privilege to be associated with the great R D Wingfield and his fantastic creation, Jack Frost.

Blackwater is set on the Essex shoreline particularly around Mersea Flats and your writing really evokes the sense of place. Is it somewhere that you have spent a lot of time?

Yes, I love it there. I have been windsurfing off West Mersea for over twenty-five years, but also visit on still days to walk on the sea wall at Cudmore Grove.

Where did the inspiration for DI Nick Lowry come from? Is he based on someone you know?

He’s not based on anyone I know (though like Lowry I keep my sherry in the fridge, but that’s where the similarity ends). His name is borrowed from the writer Malcom Lowry, a favourite of mine.

How would you introduce Nick Lowry at a party?

He’s not the party type!

Being a teenager in the 1980s I particularly enjoy stories set at this time so what one thing best evokes the 80s to you?

The music. A lot of it was truly dreadful, but on the other hand it was undeniably a varied decade, if you think about it.

It was indeed and there are some bars of music (good and bad) that instantly conjure up that time for me.

I felt quite sorry for WPC Jane Gabriel at the beginning of the book since she really is subject to the male whims of her colleagues who either dismiss her or see her as a sex object? This aspect of the book really did hammer home quite how far attitudes have changed. Was it a deliberate choice to make her quite so attractive to highlight this?

Yes – that and I wanted a new recruit from another industry/environment. Gabriel was a model and so was familiar with the drawing stares – the fact that she cannot escape this even behind a uniform made it an appealing attribute to her character.

Which book set in the 80s would you recommend to me?

It would have to be A Touch of Frost.

The pace of this thriller is far faster than Frost’s more meandering way at solving a case; which is easier to write?

Frost was easier to write, as there are (very good) precedents. Although the prequels aren’t by any means the same, the originals provide a guide to follow, with regard to structure.

Do you have a writing schedule? Perhaps you have a target of a set number of words per day?

In a way – I know how much I need to do in a month…and have deadlines (which I consistently miss).

With Colchester being a garrison town some of the members of the armed forces are under observation in relation to suspected drugs smuggling. How much research did you have to do to get the scenes where the Police force and the armed forces have different priorities right?

I didn’t research too deep, as that would have affected how I drew the characters and how they might interpret situations. That said I did get a general overview from people who were there at the time, and the whole book is influenced by stories I picked up on by dint of living in the area. For example in the 1930s Colchester Police had a boxing team that won the European Championship. The team was run by a Chief Constable who was keen to recruit sportsmen like Sparks in Blackwater. Whether they actually sparred with the army, I have no idea, but it seems feasible from a fictional point of view.

Where do you write?

On the train when I commute into London, and in very untidy room in Essex.

Are there any more books in the pipeline and do they feature DI Lowry?

There are. I’m just about to start…

The information I received with Blackwater says you work in publishing and enjoy long lunches? What do you do? Are there any openings as I like long lunches too!

Ha, yes I do work in publishing as an editor. The long lunches are infrequent now, but enjoyable when they occur… shout when you’re in town and we’ll what we can do!

James Henry_MG_5361

Thank you James for answering my questions with such good humour, I wish you every success with Nick Lowry and look forward to that book you are about to start…

Publication Date UK: 14 July 2016
Publisher: riverrun
No of Pages 496
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

The Frost Prequels
First Frost
Fatal Frost
Morning Frost

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Dead Hour – Denise Mina

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

I really enjoyed the first book in the Paddy Mehan trilogy: The Field of Blood and the slightly overweight, under confident trainee journalist in the sexist environment of the news room in 1980s Glasgow really got under my skin. Denise Mina has come up with an incredibly appealing combination of a thriller mixed with a hint of nostalgia at a particular time in history when everything was changing.

The Dead Hour is set about three years later and Paddy riding in the ‘night call car’, the one that follows the police radio around the city looking for newsworthy stories when they are called to one of the better areas in Glasgow. It seems to be a case of domestic violence, one that the attending police officers aren’t too interested in and despite being disturbed by the woman’s appearance there isn’t a great deal to call in about this on, and well the woman didn’t want Paddy’s help and the man had pressed a £50 note into her hand which Paddy hasn’t declared… until the next morning when a woman’s body is discovered. She was murdered; brutally beaten, tortured and left to die, Paddy has to readjust what she saw against this new knowledge.

What follows is a well-timed mystery set against the back-drop of this Scottish city largely struggling with poverty. Paddy is the only wage earner in her household, and the family’s position looks more precarious when the newspaper is forced to make cuts to the workforce. With office intrigue, a personal life that is over-shadowed by her Catholic upbringing and a fierce ambition which is at odds with society’s ideas of what should be important to a young woman.

I loved the 37 short chapters that move the story along at a pace which simply begged for just another one before I closed the book and although the underlying storyline wasn’t quite as compulsive as the previous one, there was never any doubt that this was a story being told by an assured writer. There are plenty of opportunities for Paddy to put in her black throwaway lines that make these books such a joy to read.

“It was Lord of the Flies without table manners.”

And of course there is plenty of references to the eighties, that decade of superb fashion:

“Paddy saw short ra-ra skirts and ski-pants and nipped waists. It was a bad time for big girls.”

But running through the book is the scourge of drugs, a less welcome aspect of the decade which is possibly why I didn’t enjoy this story quite so much. Reading about drug dealers and their petty rivalries and the effects on those who fall under their spell just isn’t really my cup of tea, although I’m sure that Denise Mina has accurately captured them in all their glory as she has done with the local police who have a whiff of corruption surrounding them.

“You’re only a year older than me. How come you dress like Val Doonican?”
He sat back and smiled at her, pulling his V-neck straight. It wasn’t his usual toothy matinee-idol smile but a coy asymmetric face crumple. “I’m a polis. This gear is cool in the polis.”

As this book ends on a bombshell, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be reading the last episode of this trilogy, The Last Breath, in the not too distant future and I can tell you I big plans to investigate the entire back-catalogue of work. After all if I can be captivated by a book that focusses on my least favourite aspect of crime I know for sure that this is one author that will be forever on my watch list!

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Pictures of Perfection – Reginald Hill #20booksofsummer

Book 3

Pictures of perfection.jxr
Crime Fiction 5*s

What a delightful novel for me to have picked more or less at random from this wonderful author as part of my 20 Books of Summer challenge and one that couldn’t fail to remind me how well this talented author wrote exceptional tales in his many diverse books. This is the fourteenth book in the Dalziel and Pascoe series, and as with any series they are probably best enjoyed if you read them in order although many, this one included, can be read and appreciated perfectly well as a stand-alone novel.

Despite the book opening with a truly terrifying scene in Pictures of Perfection Reginald Hill has given us a slightly gentler read than some others in the series, although don’t be deceived, at its heart are some very black truths along with some almost prophetic happenings!

Two days before the opening in 1980s rural village of Enscombe in Yorkshire, the local bobby (yes as recently as this the local policemen still lived in the villages) goes missing. He didn’t return from his day’s leave and there is no sign of where or why he might have left. Sergeant Wield is called to the scene, he turns up in style and begins the investigation. Not long afterwards and Superintendent Dalziel gets wind that there is something amiss so he and DCI take a visit to lend a hand.

All the while those opening scenes were in my mind but I had little joy in linking this event to the half-truths and misdirection that was being played out in Enscombe by a whole host of delightful characters. We have a beautiful artist is the love object of many of the male inhabitants, the spinster who runs the hall while her father the geriatric squire is regretful that the laws of inheritance have dictated that this should actually go to Guy with his flashy cars and dress sense. Not to be out-done with have the highly religious café owner who serves her delicious cakes with an aside of bible texts, while the vicar is waiting for eviction from the vicarage when it is sold off to make money for the church. One thing the village is in agreement about is that their local school should remain open, with this in mind there is the ubiquitous fund-raising which comes with a plan B, the sale of the village green.

There is so much to delight in within the pages of Pictures of Perfection, from the links to Jane Austen both ostentatious in the excerpts at the beginning of each chapter and slightly more subtle references within the themes themselves, to the moment in history that the book evokes; this was probably the last moments where ‘village life’ could be portrayed in this manner without those who live in such places laughing at the cliché of ‘Olde Worlde Britain’ that it evokes, one where everyone knows each other better than they know themselves often bound by a common enemy or two.

You’ll be pleased and reassured to know with all the periphery views to enjoy within the pages of this novel, there is also a proper plot with a full-blown mystery or two to be solved so my favourite policemen, complete in triplicate; Wield, Pascoe and Dalziel get to business and each in their own way bring pieces of the puzzle back to the police house for examination. Meanwhile the preparations continue around them at the Hall for the ‘Day of Reckoning’, a village tradition where the rents due to the Squire are paid, and it is here that the opening passage is seen from a different perspective. While I never doubted that the trio would solve the mystery of the missing bobby, I did wonder if they would come to a conclusion for the meaning of the Hall’s motto fuctata non perfecta; fear not, all the loose ends, even those in Latin are sewn up, neatly or otherwise!

This was a perfect addition to my 20 Books of Summer challenge the only downside to reading this book on holiday was that I didn’t have ready access to a dictionary – reader, I confess, I needed one more than a few times!!