Tír na nÓg a drop in centre for men is right at the heart of this, the second book in the Sergeant Claire Boyle series. With the realistic Dublin setting as a backdrop the lonely men who visit the centre make for a refreshing change which more than justly follows up on the author’s debut novel Can Anybody Help Me?
The drop in centre is run by Tom who gave Liz Cafferky a job when she was down on her luck and so she is unable to refuse when he wants her to do a TV interview to raise the profile of the drop-in centre with the aim to garner donations. There’s a downside for Liz though, she has become a bit of a media star and now she’s getting unwanted attention.
Meanwhile Claire Boyle is back at work following her maternity leave and feeling that all too familiar feeling of guilt despite her husband Matt staying at home to mind the baby. That’s until one of the drop-in centre’s regulars is murdered then her mind is focussed on the investigation.
I love this author’s work, it should be classed as a police procedural, after all there is an investigation with a solid mystery with the obligatory red-herrings and devilish plotting but we are also treated to a far more in-depth view of those civilians caught up in the investigation. By that I don’t mean a cursory this is how a major crime investigation impacts my life but we are given full insight into Liz Cafferky’s life beforehand too. This gives the book a totally different feel to the more traditional police procedural, a welcome one that gives this book a feeling of weight. Of course this approach wouldn’t work if the other secondary characters weren’t also fully fleshed out and there is something appealing about the care and compassion shown towards the visitors to Tír na nÓg that had me feeling quite sentimental at times. These are real people, not cardboard cut-outs and the interactions between themselves is as equally heart-warming, on the whole, after all this isn’t a book populated by saints!
You could be forgiven for expecting that with so many character-led scenes that the tension dips as we join the men in a game of cards or a chat but it really doesn’t, the feeling of foreboding is lurking at the edges whilst Liz tries to put her dodgy letters to the back of her mind and wonder instead at her new media personality the reader is still pondering a murder and a stalker so there really is a lot going on! I am thoroughly impressed by the author’s skill at keeping the tension high whilst at times, particularly at the end allowing me the release of the odd tear as that is how much I cared about some of the people I met through this book.
If I had one minor criticism it’s that Claire seems a little bit harder and so a little less approachable than when she appeared in Can Anybody Help Me? but then she’s had a baby, and so her slightly more brusque style is understandable.
This was a brilliantly entertaining crime fiction read that I pulled off my bookshelf as I wanted to read something I fancied for a change, not a review copy and not a book to fit into a certain challenge and it proved to be the perfect ‘because I want to read it’ book.
First Published UK: 2 July 2015
No of Pages: 352
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I was contacted by Ray Britain to see if I would be interested in reading his book with a view to writing a review, not least because this is a book written by someone who has been on the front-line of policing. You can read my interview with Ray Britain here. That’s not to say I didn’t approach the book with some degree of trepidation as the author was at pains to stress that his novel would reflect real-life policing and I wondered if the reality would quash the exciting storylines, after all most of us realise that what we see on TV and read in some (not all) novels can’t possibly reflect the more painstaking aspects of policing in modern Britain. I needn’t have worried at all, the author has the mix of reality and fictional plotting perfectly balanced and the knowledge that this could be ‘real’ made the resulting read more meaningful.
Our protagonist is DCI Doug Stirling and we first meet him on top of a bridge working in a voluntary role negotiating with a youngster who is about to commit suicide. Not the early damp start to the day that anyone would enjoy and yet the author had me in the moment from the first page willing Doug to be able to save a young life. It’s not to be and we see the stress the DCI is under especially when the Police Complaints Commission become involved in what seems like a never-ending investigation into what happened on the fateful day. Doug tries to put it behind him and due to a lack of professional officers he is working on the gruesome death of a man found murdered in a burnt out car but ordered to keep a low-profile while he’s under investigation. This is where the story really hots up and the mystery thickens by the minute, especially when a firm identification of the victim is made.
The Last Thread is an outstanding debut with an exceptional plot which is complex yet not so much so that I ever lost any of the threads, let alone the last one! The characters are well-rounded, perhaps a little too earnest at times but of course they are modelled on those who are dedicated to the job and not the detectives of old with a permanent pint in their hand and a life full of angst to forget. There are a couple of the rottener types of detectives to keep the book spiced up and the author also provides some of the office banter that keeps far less intellectually puzzling working lives turning up and down the country.
Best of all for me is this book is set in Worcestershire, something I was unaware of when I agreed to read it and as those of you who follow this blog know, I love reading books set in places I’m familiar with and my brother lives in Worcester so this book fully qualifies, and passes the test as I could easily recognise some of the settings described so well by the author.
The Last Thread was a great read, I’m delighted to note that the title implies that Doug Stirling will be returning, soon I hope as a book written from someone who has lived the life but can also tell a cracking good tale is just what this crime lover needs.
First Published UK: 17 September 2017
Publisher: Ray Britain
No of Pages: 536
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Set at the time of the solar eclipse in 1927 with a cast of variety hall entertainers we are treated to a splendid mystery of the death of one of their number. Coming close on the tails of two other accidents Kate Shackleton has the job of unravelling the truth.
This is only the second of the Kate Shackleton series I’ve read, this episode being number nine in the series, but so well-drawn are the key characters that I feel I already ‘know’ them well. Kate is a business-like as usual ably supported by former policeman Jim Sykes and her housekeeper cum investigator, Mrs Sugden. Kate is ahead of her times in running her own PI business but not so far out of it that she comes across as unrealistic, there is no doubting that we are in the 1920s.
With show business being the backdrop to this novel we are treated to fabulous singers, ventriloquists, dancers, comics and acrobats all performing under the watchful eye of Trotter Brockett the man in charge of the whole shebang. Being of a cautious nature when Selina the star of the show is invited to watch the eclipse at Giggleswick School in Yorkshire he gives his permission on the proviso that she is back in time for a rest before the evening show. Selina invites her co-entertainer Billy Moffatt to accompany her and asks Kate to arrange transport, by helicopter no less. Selina is from an Italian family who are big in the ice-cream business and is a fantastic singer drawing crowds to the kind of show that is beginning to feel the threat of the moving picture especially as rumours about that soon the pictures will be accompanied by sound. Anyway the helicopter ride to Giggleswick is to follow a party at Selina’s house which is full of showbiz glamour and the trio joined by journalist who are attending to write a piece and to take pictures of the momentous occasion set off. Sadly tragedy strikes and Kate is employed to find out what happened, and of course why.
Although this is definitely at the cosy end of the crime fiction genre, it isn’t all lightness, jokes and fluff. The historical details set this apart with an appearance in this book of soldiers who fought in WWI and the injuries physical and mental that they returned with. But don’t fear not, there is a solid mystery, complete with the obligatory red-herrings to keep the reader entertained as Kate turns down blind-alleys in a bid to find out if the suspicious death that occurred on her watch was murder or not.
With more than a nod to the Golden Age writers the ending is spot-on in its execution with all the panache you’d expect from a showbiz tale which gave this reader no end of satisfaction even though, for once, I’d worked out (or luckily guessed) which of the many colourful characters should be in the hot seat for thorough questioning.
I was very grateful to receive a copy of Death in the Stars from the publishers Little Brown and this review is my unbiased thanks to them and to Frances Brody for thoroughly entertaining me with her latest Kate Shackleton story.
First Published UK: 5 October 2017
Publisher: Little Brown
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
The Kate Shackleton Series
Dying In The Wool: 2009
A Medal For Murder: 2009
Murder In The Afternoon: 2012
A Woman Unknown: 2013
Murder on a Summer’s Day 2013
Death of an Avid Reader 2014
A Death in the Dales 2015 Death at the Seaside 2016
Death in the Stars 2017
Having returned to the Vera series with Silent Voices after far too long a break I welcomed this unattractive, blunt and uncompromising woman into my life not in any small part due to her brilliant detection skills.
The victim in this book is a social worker, found dead in a sauna by our very own Vera, yes an unlikely habitat for our steely detective, but even Vera realises she is mortal and had taken the advice to get some exercise and swimming appealed the most.
Vera is very much hoping that Jenny Lister died of natural causes but it isn’t to be and I chuckled to watch her brazen it out to her colleagues who were called to the scene to investigate the murder, not that they’d let even the merest whisper of surprise escape their lips in front of the formidable Detective Inspector.
Ann Cleeves gives us a puzzle with plenty of suspects, nearly everyone who appears could be viewed with suspicion, whilst managing to be thoroughly entertaining at the same time. With characters to become involved with, not least Vera’s sidekick, Joe Ashworth who finds Vera’s demands are in direct conflict with those of his wife during the course of this book this really does fit the bill as a modern police procedural. The sub-genre is one where I firmly believe the key investigator, in this instance Vera, needs to move the investigation along, despite real-life, this isn’t really a team sport and certainly not easy when the clues seem to point in different directions. Vera is the power behind the investigation without relegating her colleagues to idiots, they are just don’t shine quite as brightly as she does! The other secret of a success in this genre is to ensure the reader is invested in the investigation and the asides to the rest of the team are inserted just often enough to make sure that everything is explained well without ever entering that dangerous whiff of being patronising.
I like my crime books to have some humour and Vera’s very dry variety fits the backdrop of murder incredibly well with the perspective changing from third person to first so that we ‘hear’ Vera’s opinions in the raw so to speak, as well as watch others jump to attention to do her bidding, she really is an imposing character. I’m also a fan of probing the stories behind the headlines and at the time of publication of Silent Voices, there were lots of stories in the UK papers about Social Workers and their perceived failings. The author is thereby allowing the readers to feel they had their finger on the pulse of the debate whilst also encouraging a look at the issues from a number of viewpoints, not distilled into a bald headline which can’t ever take in the complexities of the whole issue.
One of the biggest draws of this particular lead character is her undisguised love of the drama of a murder investigation which really pulls the story forwards and how refreshing to have a Detective inspector who isn’t so hung up on the politics of the force that she is afraid to take risky decisions. The plot is unbelievably tangled with the reader needing to concentrate almost as much as Vera on the minutiae of information to be even within a whisker of a chance of solving the crime, and it is brilliantly executed – no saggy middle for Vera Stanhope, well not in the book although I would imagine stumbling across a dead body in the sauna is probably gives her just the excuse she wants to hang up her swimsuit!
I was delighted to read Silent Voices as my twenty-fifth read in the Mount TBR challenge, especially as I realised that I originally purchased this book way back in May 2012! The bonus is that I am lagging behind having just read number four in the series so have four more to enjoy to catch up!
First Published UK: 4 February 2011
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
This taut claustrophobic mystery is preceded by a hundreds of starlings falling from the sky during a baseball match giving the inhabitants of Mt. Oanoke in Pennsylvania something to talk about until a much bigger story comes along.
The bigger story is just as unwelcome as having the pitch covered with the corpses of birds. Nate Winters popular teacher is accused of something terrible. Nate isn’t just popular with his pupils, the parents love him, and he is one of their own. Alecia his wife doesn’t know what to believe and nor does his best friend Bridget but this is a story that isn’t going to fade away.
This is a slow-burner of a novel and although it isn’t confusing, there is an awful lot to get to grips with, including child neglect, grief, autism, self-harming, bullying and the list goes on while in the foreground the reader experiences through a man accused, wrongly in his assurances to anyone who will listen, and the way this has a ripple effect throughout the whole town.
This is a book that takes you into a modern school somewhere whose setting is familiar to many but the division of students happens on social media as well as in the classroom. The sympathetic teacher who persuades these near adults to write journals doesn’t have the context of those who follow their lives in this hidden world where alliances are made and rumours strengthened to reality.
I love small town settings and the author really does bring Mt Oanoke to life. This former thriving town where so many of the inhabitants were employed by the mill is now a shadow of its former glory and it’s hardly surprising that many of the teenagers are looking for an escape route. This is a place where eyes are everywhere, except of course when they are needed to see the importance of what is going on, a place where the accused stays with a local police officer as he has nowhere else to go and a place where what happens in the school has consequences for the whole community.
The storyline switches backwards and forwards, fortunately not over a huge time-scale but enough for each of our four main protagonists; Nate, Alecia, Bridget and Lucia to give some background to their reality as well as providing some context for the main storyline. This is a great technique for providing the reader with plenty of different opinions and scenarios to mull over, but possibly it caused it to become overly wordy in places although there is no doubting it helps to add layers of tension and an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness for all four characters which of course is echoed by the setting itself.
I was caught up in the plot, I wanted to know what had happened, and not just to those birds, and as the story wove itself backwards and forwards it was clear that very little of the storyline could be divided into black and white and certainly not the characters.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Titan Books who provided me with a copy to read for review purposes.
First Published UK: 26 September 2017
Publisher: Titan Books
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction Amazon UK Amazon US
Tiltton University is not the quiet place of learning all the staff and students could hope for when the construction workers move in to build a new performing arts centre. And then work stops because there is something buried in the site that ruined everyone’s day.
Kramer walked slowly in the direction Stephens had indicated. Then he stopped short. His face drained of colour and he gulped twice. He could see it clearly — a bone sticking up out of the dirt he’d been preparing to move.
Tilton police detectives Donna Crandall and her partner Ron Zuniga are called to the scene and it isn’t long before the bones are sent off to be dated. The result is that the skeleton is that of a young man, and he died some forty years ago but he didn’t bury himself so it must be murder but how on earth do you go about investigating a crime that old?
Never fear because the detectives have Joel Williams, The Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at Tilton University, a former detective now academic, is only too willing to use his skills to assist. Before long the Police and the campus sleuth have a name; Bryan Roades a twenty year old who went missing in the 70s. Could his determination to emulate his heroes in the investigative journalism world on the campus newspaper have led to someone wanting him out of the way?
This is my first Joel Williams story although this is actually Margot Kinberg’s third book in the series featuring the academic detective and I’m pleased to report Past Tense reads perfectly as a stand-alone novel. The crime aspect was one of my favourite tropes; I love it when those who commit a crime think they are home and dry only for them to be caught years after the fact. This is particularly true in this novel as the article Brian Roades was working on was about women’s lib and of course attitudes have changed dramatically in the past forty years, so I suspect if anything the uncovering of the truth had far more impact than it may have done if he’d been allowed to write his story back then, but that of course is mere speculation on my part!
Margot Kinberg structures the novel well always keeping the mystery in clear line of sight and thankfully her investigative professor is a normal man, without angst and is somewhat self-effacing which gives the book a less aggressive feel than some modern crime novels, not that life as part of the campus staff is without its petty rivalries, this is no cosy mystery! I always imagine life in academia to be somewhat rarefied, however with this book written by someone living that life, I’ve been totally disabused of that opinion but it is an illusion shattered by some great characters and some fabulous dialogue that helped establish the setting, and opinions, for the modern angle of the crime and its discovery as well as giving enough references to take us back twenty years to the heart of the crime.
I have been a long-time reader, and admirer of Margot’s blog, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist… and I have to admit to being slightly apprehensive about read this book – what if I didn’t like it? But not to fear, I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery, the plotting and the writing style, a book without gratuitous violence but not so sanitised that it felt too sugary for this crime loving reader. I will definitely be keeping up with Joel in the future and I’m looking forward to my next visit to Tilton University.
Past Tense was my seventeenth read in the Mount TBR challenge and I’m pleased to announce is my last review of the backlog dating from June!
First Published UK: 1 November 2016
Publisher: Grey Cells Press
No of Pages: 428
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series Amazon UK Amazon US
I’ve got a real treat for you today because Caimh McDonnell is visiting to entertain us all with his guest post. I first hosted Caimh when he published his first novel, A Man With One of Those Faces and his very funny post won him many fans. Since then I’ve also read The Day That Never Comes, the second in the Dublin Trilogy and I was delighted to hear we were turning back the clock to 1999 in Angels in the Moonlight (the prequel) to meet Bunny as a younger man. Without any more ado, I well let Caimh entertain you…
The slacker’s guide to not looking like an idiot
I’ve a terrible confession to make; I am an absolute sucker for a blooper. It is to my eternal shame that I will sit through one of those awful shows entirely dedicated to pointing out things that are wrong in famous films. You know the ones, they spend an hour picking out continuity errors and historical inaccuracies that nobody in their right mind actually notices while watching in the cinema. Still, there’s something satisfying abo
ut seeing other people’s mistakes, whether it be Star Wars (stormtrooper walloping his head on a doorway), Braveheart (Scots wearing tartan 300 years before its conception) or Transformers (somebody actually making that god-awful cacophony of pointless metal punching mayhem).
Thing is though, when you become an author, you quickly realise that you’re the poor fool who has to make sure you’re not dropping clangers left, right and center. With that in mind, I humbly present to you my slacker’s guide to not making yourself look like an idiot:
1/ Avoid reality entirely
It’s not an option open to all of us, but where possible, try and find your version of ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ – that way, nobody can come back at you with unhelpful facts like how their Auntie Marge lives on the forest moon of Endor and according to her Ewoks are in fact tall, hairless creatures and not cute and cuddly teddy-bears that will sell really well as merchandise.
2/ Where possible, make your characters idiots
They always say to write what you know, so if you don’t know anything – write that. Where authors get into big trouble is giving their characters a level of expertise that they themselves do not possess. Don’t make your central character a forensic scientist just because you’ve watched two and a half episodes of CSI. Side note: I have actually met a bona fide forensic scientist and apparently, they do not solve all their cases through the use of musical montages. Turns out, you can’t believe everything you see on TV.
3/ Take the path less travelled:
The thing about setting your novel in 19th Century London is that absolutely loads of really clever people have done a ton of research into the minutiae of the life of an every day Londoner at that time. On one hand, that means that gives you a near limitless supply of source material to use for research. On the other hand, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to read a near limitless supply of source material, but it takes absolutely ages. My advice is to seek out the unpopular and undocumented; the dark ages are a cracking time, Belgium is an excellent place. Nobody knows or cares about either so you can get away with pretty much anything.
4/ The Future:
The great thing about the future, is that it hasn’t happened yet, which makes it very hard to get wrong. It should go without saying though, avoid that tricky beast known as ‘the near future’. The problem with that is, before you know it, it’s ‘now’ and then not long after, it’s ‘back then’. People get really angry when they don’t get the future that you promised them – I speak as a member of the ‘where the hell is my jetpack?!’ generation.
5/ Use your own past:
If you absolutely have to use the past, use a bit you lived through. I set my latest book in Dublin with the action taking place in 1999. The clever trick there is that I left Dublin in 2000. That way, all I have to do is remember what life was like before I moved abroad and I’ve got a reasonable chance of not screwing up. For example – mobile phones. I know back in 1999 we had them but they were fairly rare. That fact is burned into my memory as my boss gave me his so that I could be on-call while he and the wife went away for a ‘dirty weekend’(people still had dirty weekends in 1999 – even with people they were married to). I still vividly remember how I dropped his prized Nokia while running for a bus and then stood there helplessly as it spun on the ground, the bus hurtling towards it. Miraculously, both the phone and I survived this. Side note: his wife is a bona fide forensic scientist, small world.
So, while you can’t avoid being wrong entirely, you can at least try and make your mistakes look like deliberate artistic flourishes. Failing that, just have really big robots endlessly punch each other and readers will be far to engrossed in waiting for the sweet kiss of death, to notice how you’ve put airbags in a car that doesn’t have them. I hope this helped, although if it did, I think you might be in big trouble.
Caimh’s books are marketed as crime fiction combined with humour and this prequel to the first two books in the Dublin Trilogy is no different although I’d say that the humour element is targeted which suited the sadder elements of this book far better. Fear not though, I still laughed plenty of times at the brilliant scenarios and one-liners, even if a tear also managed to escape my beady eye once or twice.
Back in 1999 that comparatively near past, life was different. There were mobile phones but there were bigger worries about planes falling from the skies when the date clicked over into the millennium and Bunny is squeezing his too large body into his too small Porshe. In 1999 Bunny was working with his partner Gringo when they were tasked by DI Fintan O’ Rourke to stake out the local Mr Big who was in charge of the local estate. Bunny and Mr Big had history, in a good way, because Mr Big was rescued from a burning building as a child by Bunny, but times are a changing and with a number of raids on security vans and intelligence indicating a big diamond robbery is in the offing something has to be done.
The crime fiction element of this book felt tighter than in the other two books, perhaps because despite the fact that we have plenty of laughs from Bunny’s one-liners, there seemed to be less reliance on the humour with both elements truly complementing each other and Caimh’s skill as a writer becoming ever more apparent. The background of Dublin is ever-present with the scenes moving from the housing estate to rural outskirts of Dublin with just enough details to paint a picture.
In particular I loved the scenes with Bunny on the pitch with his hurling team who are based at St Judes – little Deccie stealing my heart with his adoration of his coach, if a little off-beam in his efforts to help
“You heard me, Deccie, didn’t I say to him before the match, just stay in the goal? How hard is that?” “He has no understanding of the nuances of the game boss.” “You’re not wrong, Deccie, you’re not wrong” “D’ye want me to tie his leg to one of the posts again, boss?” Bunny gave the child a look. “No, Deccie, remember we talked about this. Ye can’t do that.” “Yes, boss. Sorry, boss.”
With Gringo not only being Bunny’s working partner but also his best friend, we have the sad situation of his marriage falling apart and Gringo himself letting things slip just at the time when Bunny is making headway in his own personal life with a lovely girl called Simone. But this is crime fiction and it may be a while before we can skip to the happy ever after part.
So with a tight plot, a wide range of human emotions and some brilliant secondary characters which include nuns who you really want to meet – this book is, if anything even better than the previous two. By the end you’ll understand a little more about who Bunny really is and if you had doubted it before, that he’s a top bloke!
I’d like to say a big thank you to McFori Ink and Caimh McDonnell for allowing me to take part in this blog tour and for allowing me to read Angels in the Moonlight which made me both laugh and cry, this review is my unbiased thanks to them.
First Published UK: 26 August 2017
Publisher: McFori Ink
No. of Pages: 320
Genre: Crime Fiction Series Amazon UK Amazon US
About the Author
Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats. Born in Limerick and raised in Dublin, he has taken the hop across the water and now calls Manchester his home.
He is a man who wears many hats. As well as being an author, he is an award-winning writer for TV, a stand-up comedian and ‘the voice’ of London Irish rugby club. His debut novel, A Man with One of Those Faces was released in 2016 and it is the first book of the Dublin Trilogy series. The follow-up, The Day That Never Come was published in 2017. Both books are fast-paced crime thrillers set in Caimh’s home town of Dublin and they are laced with distinctly Irish acerbic wit.
Caimh’s TV writing credits include The Sarah Millican Television Programme, A League of Their Own, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. He also works as a children’s TV writer and was BAFTA nominated for the animated series ‘Pet Squad’ which he created.
During his time on the British stand-up circuit, Caimh has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He has brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and Near East (Norwich).
With this, the follow-up to Missing Presumed, being marketed as a literary crime novel, I have to confess I’m not entirely sure what that is, but if it is a multi-layered story that touches on real-life issues as well as having a crime at its centre, with an involved and intricate plot, then this fits the brief.
DI Manon Bradshaw has moved from London back to Cambridge, in part for Fly, her adopted twelve-year-old son in an attempt to keep him away from being stopped and searched purely based on his colour. They live with Manon’s sister Ellie and her two-year old son Solly, oh and Manon is five-months pregnant and assigned to the cold cases. It’s fair to say the whole family are struggling to find their feet when a man named Jon-Oliver is murdered in a nearby park. This sets off a whole chain of events which couldn’t have been predicted.
While this doesn’t have the feel of a standard police procedural, at times feeling as much a commentary on the time we live in, I was hooked right from the start. The storyline is linear with the main part running over a few weeks starting in December with each section featuring the date and chapter headed up by the name of the narrator and where necessary the place because whilst for the most part the action is in Cambridge, some takes us back to Kilburn, London. Normally where we have multiple places and narrators I put a warning into my review about how this isn’t one to read when you are tired but I have to confess I started this one night expecting to read a dozen or so pages and struggled to put it down, even the fact that I was exhausted that particular night didn’t strain my brain. Instead my warning is the short chapters are deceptive and it is only too easy to say I’ll just do one more and then I’ll turn out the light only to find yourself bleary eyed and still going!
Why did I enjoy this so much? Well the plot is tight, and yes it’s complex especially as the connections between the characters are not what you normally get in a police procedural. I loved the characters, I felt that Manon was a more sympathetic character in this book, not quite as abrasive as she is actually outside the investigation and her love for Fly, her adopted son really brings out a different side to her personality. In fact I had a lot of sympathy for a number of the characters whilst others I’m pleased to say got their just deserts. Persons Unknown was involved and had plenty of clues, including the obligatory red-herrings that had me suspecting everyone at one time or another. Having won me over with some of the key characters I was thoroughly engaged, needing to know whether x had visited y at z time to prove my theory or otherwise, which is always the mark of a good book.
When the characters are so well-defined it can be the case that the plotting is looser, but not in this book with both aspects having an equal weighting although perhaps there was a coincidence or two which felt a little too convenient they in no way spoilt my enjoyment.
There is no doubt in my mind that Susie Steiner’s next book will be on my ‘must read’ list she has really proved herself to be a writer of many talents indeed. If character led crime fiction is what floats your boat, this series is on my highly recommended list.
I received my copy of Persons Unknown through Amazon Vine.
First Published UK: 29 June 2017
Publisher: The Borough Press
No. of Pages: 368
Genre: Crime Fiction Series Amazon UK Amazon US
Famous trials: Grace Elizabeth Fox, April 1953, by Sir Charles Hamilton Morley
Grace Elizabeth Fox rose from her bed and dressed with the aid of her young Attending Officer Mary Swann at 6.30 AM on the morning of 23 April, 1953. She ate a light breakfast of toast, marmalade and tea, then she busied herself writing letters to her family and friends. After a small brandy to steady her nerves shortly before 8.00 AM, she spent the following hour alone with the Chaplain.
So starts Before the Poison the tale of a fictional murder trial in 1950s England as seen through the eyes of Chris Lowndes a composer for films, who has returned to his native Yorkshire after decades living in the US. Recently bereaved he buys the remote Kilnsgate House unseen as somewhere to compose music and to recover from the loss of his beloved wife Laura.
It doesn’t take Chris long to discover that Kilnsgate House was the scene of a murder some fifty plus years before. On 1 January 1953 Dr Ernest Fox and his younger wife Grace, aged forty, were entertaining two old friends, waited on by their maid Hetty Larkin. The fire was roaring and despite rationing the menu comprised of roast beef, mashed potatoes, roast parsnips and Brussel sprouts followed by that very English desert rhubarb pie and custard. Outside the snow began falling and it didn’t stop, the party was going nowhere and the guest bedroom was made up for Jeremy and Alice Lambert. That night Ernest died and the remaining four inhabitants waited with his body two days until the police and the mortuary van could get to the house. With what he gleans from Grace’s life and learning that his brother was at school, next door to the prison when Grace was hanged, her life and perhaps more importantly the question of her guilt, or innocence, becomes something of an obsession.
With my love of historical crime, this fictionalised account of a murder trial in the 1950s hit just the right note with the details about the key players really coming alive, it was hard to believe that all this was fictional perhaps because the author had clearly done his research so the details were spot on with key references such as Albert Pierrepoint, the most famous of hangmen, adding hooks to hang the case on. With our protagonist being a composer the numerous references to music are completely in sync with the story unfolding and provide a gentrified backdrop to a story that delves into the past to a time where perception was everything. Fictional this may be, but Peter Robinson makes good points about why a woman may be suspected of murder, particularly if it was thought that the woman didn’t hold the highest of morals.
The story is of Chris in 2010 researching the crime, the details of the murder and the trial are presented in excerpts from the book, Greatest Trials and later on some diary excerpts that give further context to the key player’s life. This made for tantalising reading with the details forming a natural part of the story-telling, a clever device that allowed Chris’s narrative to focus on his next step in his discovery.
I haven’t read any of the Inspector Banks books but if they are anywhere near as absorbing as I found Before the Poison to be, I need to check them out sooner rather than later.
Murder is Easy was first published in 1939 with the opening scenes set on a train where a retired police officer, Luke Fitzwilliam hears a fantastical tale of a village where a murderer is reducing the population. To be honest Luke Fitzwilliam, in this day and age would probably have studiously avoided Lavinia Pinkerton’s eye and never heard the story of how she was going up to report her suspicions to the detectives at Scotland Yard. But these were different times and Luke Fitzwilliam is reminded of his own spinster aunts and sits and listens to the list of names which includes the next intended victim, Dr Humbleby, never letting the scoff in his head mar what I imagine to be his kindly features.
Imagine his surprise when reading the obituaries a few days later he sees that his travelling companion was knocked down by a car soon after they parted company – of course these days the spinster aunt would have to depend on kindly friends or relations to spread the news of her demise on social media. Not only that. Dr Humbleby reported as to having died of septicaemia. Our esteemed retired detective was a little bit bored now that he’s retired and a plan is made. He will stay at the home of a friend’s sister and pretend to be writing a book about witches and superstitions of the area. Hard to pull off successfully today as a quick google search would blow his cover to smithereens, but possible, after all who would look unless they were worried about their dastardly deeds being discovered?
Once in the town he is delighted by his pretend cousin Bridget Conway who is engaged to the frightfully rich Gordon Whitfield and as the house is large and not being the only servant, she shares his home in Wychwood under Ashe still acting as his secretary until they are married. It doesn’t take Luke long to find quite an impressive list of key suspects using the second spinster to have a leading role, Honoria Waynflete, who is both observant and knowledgeable and Luke suspects she already has a suspicion about the identity of this serial killer who uses a different method of murder for all his victims. Not for this killer the outright violence of a knife or a gun, no, young tear away Tommy Pierce fell from a library window whilst engaged to clean it and the servant Amy Gibbs swallowed hat paint instead of cough medicine in the night and was discovered in the morning when she wasn’t up and about laying fires and preparing breakfast.
Agatha Christie’s novels really do recreate an era that has long passed and although the mysteries are ingenious I can’t help but feel it is something of the nostalgia for something that has been lost forever that makes her books quite so appealing and it’s in the details that this is underlined. Who would honestly believe that a retired detective could pop up in a village, have his suspects, and there are quite a few, talk to him, often at length without his cover being blown. Meanwhile we have a young woman debating marriage to a man she doesn’t love to gain security seeing it as swapping one job for another – secretary or wife – as Bridget says it’s the same job description, but being the wife pays better.
I thoroughly enjoyed Murder is Easy although I confess I was a little worried because I do have a penchant for a certain Belgium and his little grey cells but without his pronunciations to make me giggle like a schoolgirl, I could really work hard at solving the puzzle and find the killer. It didn’t work, I failed miserably!