Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2018

The Arsenic Labyrinth – Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction
4*s

This is the third of the Lake District Mysteries and for once I am working my way through in strict order, something I’m glad I chose to do as the back story of how historian Daniel Kind left his teaching post at Oxford and his television career to live in a cottage there, while not key to the individual mysteries themselves, does of course work better when you the story arc plays out in the correct order.

I have to mention how thrilled I was to open the book to two family trees one for the Clough family and one for the Ichmore family. I love touches like this in books and although the significance of these families isn’t apparent for a while, once it was you can be sure I turned back to the beginning to acquaint myself with the details. After that we have an excerpt from a journal – something neither the police or Daniel have seen. Don’t you just love that feeling that we know something the investigators don’t?

Chillingly the journal starts with the words:

You’d never know it to look at me now, but once upon a time I killed a man.

So on to the mystery which starts with DCI Hannah Scarlett opening an old case file because local journalist Tony di Venuto, chooses the tenth anniversary to campaign for an investigation into the disappearance of Emma Beswick. For publicity reasons it seems like a good time to re-evaluate what Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team know, and where they should look to see if any new information comes to light. This is a case that DI Hannah Scarlett knows well, she was part of the original investigation team working for Daniel’s father.

Along the way she visits the Museum of Myth and Legend run by local man Alban Clough and managed by his daughter Alexandra because Emma used to work there, and she had a relationship with Alexandra. What she learns isn’t so much about Emma though, but about the local folklore and the arsenic labyrinth, set in a remote spot of the lakes.

Part of what I love about this series is the well-researched information that that the author carefully weaves into the storyline. Nothing as clumsy as an information drop for this accomplished author, rather key information in direct relation to the mystery which is fascinating.

With the professional detective and an amateur side-kick both involved in the investigation, although not in any formal way, the reader is offered an insight into the different ways key bits of information can be found, and used to unravel the different questions that need answers. For light relief we watch a con-artist weave his artful magic on an unsuspecting, desperate and gullible B&B Landlady to get a more comfortable bed for a few nights.

For a book that I would classify as at the more comfortable end of crime fiction it is jam-packed with literary references, historical information, an ancient feud and of course a solid mystery. Because there are so many strands to these books it can seem as though it takes longer to get to the heart of the puzzle than you expect but it really is well worth the wait.

This series really is a satisfying read, a beautiful location bought to life against the backdrop of the flip-side which investigates the darker side of human nature. It certainly won’t be long before I read the next in the series, The Serpent Pool.

This is the 16th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. The Arsenic Labyrinth was purchased on 6 November 2017 thereby qualifying.

First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

The Lake District Mystery Series

The Coffin Trail (2004)
The Cipher Garden (2005)
The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007)
The Serpent Pool (2010)
The Hanging Wood (2011)
The Frozen Shroud (2013)
The Dungeon House (2015)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Three-Martini Lunch – Suzanne Rindell

Historical Fiction
5*s

Unlike the author’s debut novel The Other Typist, Three-Martini Lunch doesn’t rely on one somewhat unreliable narrator to tell the tale, instead we see different viewpoints in this story of a set time and a place. The time is 1958, the place is New York and the world is that of writers and publishers. What more could a book-lover wish for? Well if you like a martini, you could always attend the lunches where they were obligatory for anyone invited by those with power.

The first character we meet is Cliff who is passionate about becoming a writer. Sadly, he lacks the talent to match his passion and so despite his father being high up in a leading publishing company, he is yet to become a published writer. Cliff was the least favourite of the characters although as I got to know his back story I wasn’t completely without some sympathy for him, at times.

Eden is a young woman who has moved from the Midwest complete with a letter of introduction from a professor to set her on the road to her ambition to become an editor. Sadly for Eden lady editors are few and far between in 1958 and she has more than the obstacle of her sex to overcome.

Miles is a young man, also a keen writer but he has his colour to overcome as well as some issues even closer to home, with a bully for a step-father and a whiff of scandal about what his father may have done during the war.
On one level this is the story of secrets, betrayal and consequences but somehow that didn’t feel like the ‘point’ of the book. The three characters and how their lives intersected and separated, their personal struggles and the faces they turned to the world, were just as fascinating so that it felt as though we had at least three books in one.

The absolute triumph of the book is the characterisation. There is a whole bundle of issues, but the author resists the old clichés and the main parties are all fully fleshed, real people. Even the secondary characters get attention with Miss Everett the woman who employs Eden at Torchon & Lyle publishing house to become a secretary for Mr Turner, editor, is brilliantly depicted.

With the basement cafes and literary parties where the accommodating secretaries can eat and drink their fill in exchange for acting as waitresses whilst circling the high-powered, or nervous writers, are so well depicted that this is a book that really transported me to another world, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Of course those secrets are never too far from the surface and because as the reader, I was in the know, by the last part there were moments where I felt like I was watching a train crash, the inevitability not serving to dampen the tension but raise it to unbearable levels as I waited to see what everything would look like in the aftermath.

A superb read that was almost saga-like in feel and one in the hands of an author who knows how to set a scene and let it play out. I could almost believe I was present at one particularly memorable Three-Martini lunches where the deal that was done was to have consequences for all involved.

Three-Martini Lunch was my thirteenth read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been bought in September 2017 and as it is my own copy, it is worth another third of a book token.


First Published UK: 19 May 2016
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 350
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Coffin Trail – Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

I have finally started Martin Edwards’ famed Lake District Mystery series with The Coffin Trail, the first in the series. The title has been chosen for the name given to the tracks which were used to transport bodies from the remote village to one with a graveyard. The symbolism of bodies being strapped to the horses for their final journey is one that resonates throughout this book.

As the book opens we meet Daniel Heard and his girlfriend Miranda buying Tarn Cottage in the fictional village of Brackdale on a whim while visiting the area for a short break. Daniel has tired in his role at Oxford University but it is Miranda who is the driving force behind the move, after all as a freelance journalist she can submit her copy from anywhere. Daniel has visited the area before, the last holiday before his policeman father left home to be with another woman and while there he met, and became friends with, Barrie Gilpin who lived in Tarn Cottage. The cottage is being sold for a song because Barrie Gilpin was widely suspected by police and villagers alike to have murdered a young woman. He died of an accident before the murder was discovered and his poor mother was shunned by the locals.

Meanwhile DI Hannah Scarlett is wondering if she can get her career back on track after a disastrous collapse of a trial compounded by even more disastrous public relations. She finds herself leading a new team set up to examine whether advances in forensics can solve any of the old cases. With a retired detective to assist and her trusty partner they begin leafing through the old files.
As Daniel probes the villager’s memories about Barrie, treating this personal quest he begins to ruffle a few feathers to say the least and Miranda is none too pleased. With some loose ends to tie up about his father, who died without Daniel ever making peace, who was on the original investigation the claustrophobic nature of life in a remote village becomes ever more apparent.

I enjoyed The Coffin Trail which was first published in 2004 for being a ‘real’ police procedural series. There were no clever tricks but straightforward investigations by both Daniel and Hannah Scarlet into what happened to the young woman who was laid out on Sacrifice Stone, it can’t be accidental that this was the place for pagan rituals. There are lots of characters within this book and of course being the first in the series, more time is spent giving these a background to be built on later, this gave the first section of the book quite a slow feel, but with solid writing and the fabulous scenery that Martin Edwards captures, keeping me entertained, I certainly didn’t have a chance to become bored.

Once the investigation gets underway it appears that the crux of the matter is going to be examining those old alibis rather than the more straightforward DNA results that DI Hannah Scarlett’s bosses were hoping for. And we all know what that means, yes my favourite, old secrets and lies will be exposed! There is no doubt at all that plenty of skeletons, of the kind that hide in cupboards, are rattled. As secret after secret is revealed the inhabitants of Brackdale will most likely never be the same again.

After really enjoying the characters of historian Daniel Head and the fairly level-headed and yet not to be pushed around, DI Hannah Scarlett I am now looking forward to reading the second in this series, The Cipher Garden which fortunately already resides on my kindle! I have a feeling this is a series I can trust to give me a solid mystery in a straightforward style relying on the writing alone to be the entertainment.

First Published UK: 1 July 2004
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 228
Genre: Crime Fiction – Police Procedural
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in 20 Books of Summer 2015!, Book Review, Books I have read

Every Secret Thing – Emma Cole

20 books of summer logo

Historical Fiction 3*s
Historical Fiction
3*s

Having enjoyed a couple of Emma Cole’s novels written under her more popular pen name, Susanna Kearsley, I was keen to try this novel which promised a more ‘thriller’ angle to her normal historical novels and even better this one has a historical angle with a mystery to boot.

This book starts so well quickly moving the narrative onto the crux of the mystery to be solved.

I first met Andrew Deacon on the morning of the day he died.
It bothered me, afterwards how little I remembered him. Someone who changes your life the way Deacon changed mine should, by rights, be remembered, imprinted indelibly onto your brain.
‘I have a story I could tell you,’ he said. ‘A Story of an old murder, but one still deserving of justice. 

Kate is a journalist covering a trial at the Old Bailey for her paper back in Canada when she met Andrew Deacon on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral although at first she was dismissive, as he left he intimated he knew her Grandmother, she had to know more. Kate uses her journalistic training to track back through the years meeting the key players as she goes.

I loved the first third of this book, where Kate talks to her Grandmother Georgie and discovers the age old truth that she hadn’t always been old, in fact when she was young and had a role to play during World War II. There was a lot to enjoy and learn about especially as Georgie was recruited to work for the British Security Coordination in New York and the descriptions of her life as a young woman in an unknown country were fascinating.

Unfortunately for me, much of the remainder of the story was one of espionage with Whitehall heavily implicated in the mystery that Kate is determined to uncover. I had trouble believing that Whitehall would be interested in keeping secrets so many years after the event but those who like conspiracy theories will probably enjoy this section much more.

I’m not entirely sure what year the book is supposed to be set in but I’m guessing at the end of the nineties although the book was published in 2006. The portion of the book set in the past is inserted into each present day chapter as a recollection from the past rather than a dual-time line novel and this worked really well in linking the past events with the present.

There were some interesting characters but it was Andrew Deacon’s story which touched my heart as we followed him through time starting with his sudden death and then skipping back to his life as a young man working for the Intelligence service.

As well as switching time periods the book also criss-crosses countries featuring England, Canada, the US and Portugal with the main story told from Kate’s perspective told in the first person, with regular portions in third person narrative from Andrew Deacon and those who knew him.

An interesting story and although I didn’t entirely buy into the spy portion of this book, there was plenty to enjoy from some really wonderful characters counterbalanced with some despicable ones who’d used the war to further their own lives, seemingly oblivious to the sacrifices being made by so many.  This is a book which has something for everyone, a historical angle, a thriller along with a sprinkling of romance.

This is the second read for my 20 Books of Summer 2015! Challenge, see the books chosen and read so far here