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

The Hidden Legacy by G.J. Minett – Paperback Publication Day

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

I first posted this review in November of last year when Graham’s debut novel was being published in eBook by Twenty7 books, an imprint for debut novels. This book wowed me in so many ways, something which I confirmed by writing another review for A Great Crime Novel Recommendation in memory of book blogger Maxine at Petrona Remembered.

Well today The Hidden Legacy is out in paperback so now is your opportunity to get a copy and read this book for yourself – if you need persuading here is my exuberant review from November!

Every now and again a book really hits all the individual spots that make perfect reading experience for me, this is one of those books!

In 1966 in a school playground in Gloucester, there is a horrific crime committed by a young boy, just eleven years old. Two points hit already; I lived near to, and in Gloucester from the age of nine and didn’t leave the area until I was nineteen so I have a geographical point of reference and I’m really interested in children involved in crime, in fact I only had an exchange about this matter with the learned Margot Kinberg on one of her posts earlier this month. Anyway back to the plot; John Michael Adams was sent to trial and the media went into a frenzy calling him ‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’, and as the book continues, we see that this interest never truly fades away, with every related story or supposed sighting of the grown man, causing a re-hash of the crime complete with his picture and his tag-line. So here is point three, how crime reporting effects both the victims and the perpetrators is also an interest of mine – why do some stories become big news whilst others get barely a mention?

In 2008 Ellen Sutherland, receives a solicitor’s letter from a firm in Cheltenham, some way from her home in West Sussex. Reeling from divorce and busy running a business as well as carrying out the multitude of tasks and pointless conversations that are involved in bringing up two children she is unimpressed that she has to visit the office in person, especially as she has never heard of her benefactor, Eudora Nash. She wants to ask her mother whether she knows who Eudora is, but Barbara is in a home suffering from dementia and so unlikely to be able to solve the mystery. Point four, and this is a biggie, I really enjoy a story where the past comes crashing into the present, and it is this that drew me to this book in the first place. When there is a proper and realistic mystery too as there is in The Hidden Legacy– well a book gets a bonus three points!

Ellen travels alone to find out what her legacy is and to her delight it was worth the drive, a beautiful three bedroomed house complete with contents, but she is no closer to finding out why it was left to her. Already puzzled and confused her suspicions are aroused when from stage left a journalist, the wonderfully portrayed Andrew O’Halloran, appears on the doorstep. At this point Ellen begins to keep her own secrets and starts her investigation into Eudora’s life for real. On returning home she recruits her friend Kate (point eight, I like my protagonists to have friends and ones who are real people not just bystanders) for a road trip the two women travel to Gloucestershire to rifle through the old lady’s papers and to talk to the locals.

And if you want to know any more you are going to have to read the book for yourself. Rest assured the plot is devious and sneaky and thoroughly believable. The writing style is engaging, I really didn’t want to put this one down for anyone or anything, there are plenty of red herrings, detours and locations as the action spreads up to Inverness, through Gloucestershire taking in West Sussex on route, and best of all age old secrets that are ultimately uncovered without descending into farce. So as you see, even if some of the subjects I like to explore in my reading aren’t the same as yours, there is an enormous amount for any reader to enjoy. In fact when I finished writing my review up I went onto Goodreads to get the cover picture for the book and was astounded to see this book currently has a high rating of 4.53, unusual for a debut that as far as I know hasn’t undergone massive hype prior to its publication (in e-book format) on 5 November 2015. This time slip thriller is definitely going to end up on my Top Ten of 2015, enthralling yet giving the reader a reason to explore the effects of a crime on everyone involved – and I will award my final point for this reason.

If you want less gushing and more facts about the book, here is the synopsis

ONCE YOU KNOW, YOU CAN’T FORGET

Ellen has received a life-changing inheritance. If only she knew who had left it to her . . .

1966. A horrifying crime at a secondary school, with devastating consequences for all involved.

2008. A life-changing gift, if only the recipient can work out why . . .

Recently divorced and with two young children, Ellen Sutherland is up to her elbows in professional and personal stress. When she’s invited to travel all the way to Cheltenham to hear the content of an old woman’s will, she’s far from convinced the journey will be worthwhile.
But when she arrives, the news is astounding. Eudora Nash has left Ellen a beautiful cottage worth an amount of money that could turn her life around. There’s just one problem – Ellen has never even heard of Eudora Nash.
Her curiosity piqued, Ellen and her friend Kate travel to the West Country in search of answers. But they are not the only ones interested in the cottage, and Ellen little imagines how much she has to learn about her past . . . Amazon

Paperback Published UK: 25 August 2016
Publisher: Twenty7 Books
No of Pages 448
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale

Non-Fiction 5*s
Non-Fiction
5*s

I do love Victorian true crime and Kate Summerscale managed to stumble across a fairly obscure one in 1895 West Ham, that of a young boy, thirteen year old Robert Coombes who was accused of murder and stood trial at the Old Bailey on just that charge.

The beauty of Kate Summerscale’s books are the minutiae of detail that surround the actual substance of the book, and this one is no different. The crime in this instance isn’t the puzzle that we met in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, rather this is a book about the attitudes of the day both in the media and those in the legal profession. It also looks at the contemporary view of the medical profession on inherent wickedness including a fairly popular one that considered children little more than wild animals to be tamed.

Robert and his younger brother Nattie Coombes had gone to watch the cricket at Lords in the aftermath of the murder as well as going to the seaside and playing in the vicinity of their home. However as the accused they could not defend themselves in court:

The law barred defendants from testifying, but since Fox, Robert and Nattie had no legal representation they were entitled to question the witnesses that Baggallay called.

Can you imagine boys of thirteen and twelve who had never been in court before having the wherewithal to question witnesses that accused them of murder? I can’t!

The media was less concerned with this fundamental flaw in the proceedings and were instead highly concerned in the ‘penny bloods’ that Robert devoured. When one journalist at St James’s Gazette was tasked with reading the publications he stated the following:

The task was ‘repulsive and depressing’, he said; the writing ‘brutalised my whole consciousness’, reviving ‘the fundamental instinct of savagery inherent in us all It disgusts, but it attracts; as one reads on the disgust lessens and the attraction increases. ‘The Coombes boys, he concluded, ‘with their intelligence scientifically developed at the expense of the ratepayers, had been wound up to regard murder as a highly superior kind of ‘lark’ by a sedulous study of the worst kind of gory fiction and cut-throat newspaper’.

This of course was one of the first generations of children who had been educated at the Board Schools set up in each district. It seems from this piece that there was a general feeling that this money was wasted on the poorer members of society. The biggest concern however was around the number of the publications of penny bloods that were found in Robert and Nattie’s home, their influence was considered by some as the chief catalyst in the murder – not so very different to our own newspapers in recent years lamenting various films and games that were also a big attraction to teenage boys. In fact there were a number of media reports in this book that could quite easily be transported to today’s press with only minor alterations needed to update them!

This book isn’t just about the murder and the trial though it goes on to follow Robert through his life to see what life for a child murderer looked like in Victorian England. The answer may not be quite what you expect! All through this time Kate Summerscale draws comparisons to other happenings of the day, other crimes that filled the courts, the life of those who lived in the same area as the Coombes boys. Nuggets of priceless information abound the pages with subjects quite wide-ranging while always linked the central story but give lovers of historical facts like me a treasure chest of facts to wonder upon.

Each male patient was allocated an ounce of tobacco a week, drawn from the government stock of contraband seized by Customs & Exercise officer.

With so much to absorb, particularly as my maternal ancestors moved to West Ham around the turn of the Twentieth century and in particular one of the newspaper reports featured in this look at crimes at this time involved distant relatives of mine, there was much to keep me entertained and engaged from beginning to end. The End notes are a delight all of their own:

The sun rose at 3:53 a.m. that morning according to the London Standard of 8 July 1895 and set at 8:15 p.m. The Standard of 9 July reported that the temperature on Monday rose to 81 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

leaving me in no doubt at all regarding the quality of the research undertaken by Kate Summerscale.

I am very grateful for the publishers Penguin Press for allowing me to read a copy of The Wicked Boy ahead of publication on 5 May 2016 although I’m equally excited to receive my own copy which is on pre-order so I can cross reference the end notes side by side with the main chapters for ease. This review is my own, unbiased opinion.

Other Books by Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace