Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Neighbour – Fiona Cummins

Crime Fiction
4*s

The Neighbour is one creepy novel that even though it confused, and I’ll be honest frustrated me at first, kept me gripped so that I had to keep on reading until I was able to put all the pieces of the puzzle in their place.

The Lockwood family move into their new house 25 The Avenue in Essex in the woodland behind the house a body has been discovered, the fifth in recent times. Not the best omen for a new house I think we can all agree? Garrick and Olivia and their two children have moved into the house due to some difficulties of their own so they have no option but to stick it out through the media interest and local speculation. Garrick’s conviction that the murderer will soon be found soon seems to feel a bit optimistic to say the least.

The bodies themselves have been found with painted faces and the media have named the killer the dollmaker, something that the police are keen to discourage, especially as there is a toymaker living in the area. With everyone under suspicion and the killer close at hand the links between the victims has to be made in order to work out who it is.

I have to hand it to Fiona Cummins because she won me over. The initial total confusion I felt at the different time lines and multiple voices soon evened out into a more cohesive plot, but I did need to stick with it.

Fortunately for the reader, the police presence is led by DCI Clive Mackie, and the team includes the likeable detective, Wildeve Stanton. She is the one who I bonded with as she worked tirelessly hunting the murderer even though she is grieving after a very recent loss. For once the detective’s personal problems isn’t code for any flaky activity, Wildeve is a sensible woman not given to flights of fancy or bending the rules out of shape. With the DCI facing being pulled from the investigation the tension in the police joins that of the inhabitants of the Avenue.

The setting is very atmospheric, the story did give me the creeps which is fairly unusual for me – it takes a lot to scare me but the thought of Olivia living in amongst all of this suspicion not only about the murderer but within her own house too. With different secrets hiding behind all the doors within the Avenue it seems like everyone has something to hide, something to lose and lies to tell. This just served to make the book feel all the more claustrophobic.

I have to admire Fiona Cummins skill in both plotting such a complex thriller. That combined with the skilful writing made the reading of the book a fairly edgy experience.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read an ARC of The Neighbour which was published on 4 April 2019.

First Published UK: 4 April 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Classic
4*s

I added Lady Audlley’s Secret to my TBR back in 2015 after hearing that it contained echoes of the real crime committed by Constance Kent, a case picked up and written about in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale along with the knowledge that the author set the book at Ingatestone Hall in Essex following a visit there. Back in 1860s my ancestors lived in Ingatestone, not at the Hall I hasten to add, although one or two of them may well have scrubbed the scullery in their time, but this of course meant it was a sure fire in to be added to as part of my Classics Club challenge.

The Gatehouse of Ingatestone Hall

Although I wasn’t at all disappointed that it won The Classics Club Spin #17 I was a tad concerned that a Victorian sensation novel might feel a bit dated given my contemporary tastes of recent years. I needn’t have worried, reading this book confirmed that a story told well, makes for great entertainment no matter when it was written. The language was straightforward and easy to read although it did feel longer than many contemporary novels that is probably because it was originally written in instalments for her lover’s magazine in 1861 and even when it was published in 1862, it was split into three parts.

The book starts by taking us to the courtship of the beautiful and childlike blonde Lucy Graham by the somewhat older widower Sir Michael Audley who falls deeply in love with her and hopes she feels the same. She wisely promises nothing but agrees to become his wife which is a major step-up in society since she is currently the governess for a local doctor.

She had been the chief attraction of the race-course, and was wearied out by the exertion of fascinating half the county.

For you see Miss Lucy Graham was blessed with that magic power of fascination by which a woman can charm with a word or intoxicate with a smile.

Soon afterwards we meet up with Sir Audley’s nephew Richard who is meeting his friend George Talboys, who has returned from Australia having made his fortune in the gold rush. Despite his absence of three years he is keen to see his young wife who he left with a mere note following a bit of a row. George and Heleen Talboys had a baby but he doesn’t seem to have the same pull on dear old George’s vision of a happy homecoming. Anyway Richard and George meet up but a notice in the newspaper puts a spanner in the works and they soon have to make a trip to the Isle of Wight on the trail of the missing Helen.

This story is above everything else, fun. I could spend an age explaining that it became popular, if not revered in the way the ‘serious’ novelists of the time were, because it played on the Victorian’s fear that the home wasn’t always the safe haven that they liked to pretend it was. It is here that the parallels with Constance Kent were drawn. A respectable family, a step-mother and murder all play their own part in Mary Elizabeth Bradon’s dramatic tale. But I won’t do that, nor will I add more than a sentence about the breakdown of the old order by pretty young women seducing foolish old men thereby usurping the old order of things.

The characters are all seen through our omnipresent narrator’s eyes and ears, and yes, there is a certain amount of stereotyping some of them. Fortunately, I’m not a snob about such things, after all stereotypes are created for a reason and there is enough drama and subversion of the ‘old order’ to quibble that the rough husband of Lady Audley’s maid, Phoebe Marks is a bit of brute with no redeeming characteristics when at the heart of the novel is a woman whose beauty doesn’t translate to the ideals of the day.

The omnipresent narrator is there from beginning to end but once Richard Audley’s story begins we are also treated to less remote view of the scenes that unfold.

“You seem to have quite a taste for discussing these horrible subjects,” she said, rather scornfully; “you ought to have been a detective police officer.”
“I sometimes think I should have been a good one.”
“Why?”
“Because I am patient.”

But if you are expecting the fair Lady Audley to give you some insight into her secret, you will be disappointed, that is a matter of deduction for the reader and even if you reach the truth before our amateur detective Richard Audley, you will need to continue to find out how it all ends, surely the purpose of a good book. However if you’d like you might like to reflect on the pronouncement made in this sensationalist novel, take note that this was written over one hundred and fifty years ago – what would Mary Elizabeth Braddon make of the modern woman’s opportunities?

To call them the weaker sex is to utter a hideous mockery. They are the stronger sex, the noisier, the more persevering, the most self-assertive sex. They want freedom of opinion, variety of occupation, do they? Let them have it. Let them be lawyers, doctors, preachers, teachers, soldiers, legislators — anything they like — but let them be quiet — if they can.

Once again I’m delighted with my Classic Club read, I meanly knocked a star off because it was a bit long-winded in places and so far I’ve given all my classic reads the full five stars, but in all honesty this has ignited an intent to read more books by this author and more books in this genre.

Lady Audley’s Secret is number 2 on The Classics Club list and the fourth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

 

First Published UK: 1862
Publisher: Penguin
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Classic Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Restless Dead – Simon Beckett

Crime Fiction
4*s

From the very first page where we are treated to a graphic description of what happens to a body when it is immersed in water, to the last page, there is no doubting the research that has gone into making the descriptions of our narrator, David Hunter, forensic anthropologist, feel absolutely realistic.

Composed of over sixty per cent water itself, a human body isn’t naturally buoyant. It will float only for as long as there is air in its lungs, before gradually sinking to the bottom as the air seeps out. If the water is very cold or deep, it will remain there, undergoing a slow, dark dissolution that can take years. But if the water is warm enough for bacteria to feed and multiply, then it will continue to decompose. Gases will build up in the intestines, increasing the body’s buoyancy until it floats again.
And the dead will literally rise . . .

David Hunter’s role at the university is under threat, he now suspects that he has been blacklisted as an advisor in murder investigations and without the kudos this role brings, his new contract for work at the university is in question. Added to this he has been invited to a house party in the Cotswolds for the weekend by his dear friends, only to find that they are trying to set him up with a woman. He dutifully packs his bags with more than a whiff of reluctance and then as he is about to leave he gets a call from the police about a badly decomposed body they’ve found in the Backwater’s Estuary in Essex.

Although this looks to be a fairly open and shut case of the suicide of a local missing man, the police and David Hunter still try to definitively identify the body despite obstacles being put in their way by the father of the suspected victim. Alongside this investigation there is another into a missing woman who had links to the named man and then by a series of unfortunate events David Hunter finds himself personally involved with some of the interested parties in the case.

The first section of the book moves slowly from an action perspective but fully lays the ground for a whodunit of massive proportions. If you’re reading preference tends more towards the action side of crime fiction then you will not be disappointed by the way the pace picks up in the second half of the book where the danger comes up close and personal.

Rarely does a crime fiction book so intrinsically entwine the setting so totally into the story. The Restless Dead would simply not have been the same book without the danger of the wetlands, the creeks that criss-cross the landscape with water rushing in on those unaware of the dangers of this particular location. Added to that we have the atmosphere and eloquent descriptions of the houses, and their inhabitants set alongside the dangerous tides.

I will now admit that I have only read the first book in this series, The Chemistry of Death, and it was clear that I’d missed some excitement in the intervening three books, but in no way did this spoil the enjoyment I got out of reading The Restless Dead which had me gripped by the series of mysteries to solve which kept my theories in a total sense of flux.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Random House for providing me with a copy of The Restless Dead ahead of the publication date of 6 April 2017. This review is my unbiased thanks to them, and the talented author Simon Beckett for keeping me entranced in the world of decomposed bodies, mysteries aplenty, a few broken characters and a smattering of love interest all in a region set apart by virtue of its unpredictable landscape.

First Published UK: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Penguin Random House
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Special Girls – Isabelle Grey

Crime Fiction
5*s

Isabelle Grey has been brave in taking the contemporary issue of child abuse and grooming by those in power in The Special Girls. Not an easy topic by any standards and yet this only too believable tale doesn’t avoid the other side of this crime, those men that have been falsely accused in the full glare of the public eye.

Dr Tim Merrick, a young psychiatric registrar is found brutally murdered while supervising a camping trip of eight girls suffering with eating disorders, the main question being asked was why he wasn’t, as he was supposed to be, supervising the girls at the camp in Essex. The girls were chosen from Professor Edward “Ned” Chesham’s clinic at St Botolph’s hospital in London as those who had made good progress as a reward and a way of learning how to enjoy life with tree climbing, swimming in the lake and other healthy pursuits.

With the adults at the camp with a firm alibi Grace Fisher has no option to take a look at the young charges but with such fragile girls, they simply can’t be investigated in the normal manner which presents something of an issue for the capable Detective Inspector. With the motive unclear Grace does what she can to get the investigation off the ground, however she has barely started when she is asked to head up a Metropolitan Police review into a cold case involving Chesham himself called Operation Mayfly. Soon she is interviewing her old boss who ran the investigation into a sexual assault involving Chesham some twenty years ago.

I was delighted to see the unusual friendship witnessed in the previous two books in this series between Ivo the crime reporter on the Courier and Grace Fisher is still going strong even while questioning the wisdom of this pairing. It isn’t as though Grace isn’t aware of the recent phone hacking scandal and the resultant need to keep any contact between the Police and the press strictly above-board.

The Special Girls, while focussed on an uncomfortable subject has its attention on the effects of the crime rather than the details of the crime itself, except where absolutely necessary. The power games within the police are exposed because of the political hot potato that this particular crime has become which goes against Grace’s belief that the police are there to protect the public, not themselves. We also here from the father of one of the girls under Ned Chesham’s care, in what feels like an authentic look at life with a daughter with an eating disorder. None of the elements are overly laboured but together the political and the personal are built into a crime that is not only a whodunit but reflects contemporary views and issues in an incredibly effective manner.

There is of course a fair bit of Grace’s personal life which feeds back to the main story arc that began with her being ostracised by her old force when she made a complaint about another officer, one who happened to be her husband. This time around it seems as though Grace has finally found her feet but how far can she do to appease her superiors and protect those who she feels require it.

This series is definitely worth following and The Special Girls has ensured that it stays on my ‘must-read’ list as I can’t resist intelligent contemporary crime fiction which is based on proper research thereby avoiding the clichés that some in this genre space fall into. Not only that it was an interesting read with perfect pace and clever plotting without forgetting that readers love a cast of characters that they believe in.

The Special Girls will be published today 6 April 2017 by Quercus who allowed me to read an advance review copy of this book. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages:  384
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous books by Isabelle Grey

The Bad Mother
Good Girls Don’t Die – Grace Fisher #1
Shot Through The Heart – Grace Fisher #2

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Jeweller’s Wife – Judith Lennox

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

In the best tradition of saga novels The Jeweller’s Wife has at its centre a complex couple, a fabulous house, sumptuous jewellery and enough of those seven vices to keep the momentum turning.

Having opened in Cairo just as the Second World War was going to start young Juliet is in dire need of money and takes her fifteenth birthday present from her father to a jeweller to sell it. Henry Winterton was in the shop looking for rare gems, but he didn’t just walk away with the pearls, he had married nineteen year old Juliet within two weeks and bought her to his home in Essex. Grand Marsh Hall on the edge of the Blackwater salt marshes in Essex, a large home for Juliet to learn new skills as a wife, and before too long a mother, but it doesn’t take long for that old adage ‘marry in haste repent at leisure’ to become increasingly insistent. It’s fair to say Henry Winterton is not an easy man to live with. Fortunately the family jewellery business on London’s best street keeps him busy.
Judith was in a way a woman born before her time, or perhaps a woman who was born before time allowed her to fulfil her personality. With Henry so difficult from the beginning she made friends with her sister-in-law, Helen and as her children grew used her artistic talents for the good of the local school and putting on concerts at the house.

Nearby to the women with their comfortable lifestyle is a young woman who lives in a cottage on one of the islands. Frances has twins and feels like she’s been imprisoned away from her family and friends, she knows why she’s a secret but that doesn’t mean she is happy about it. Frances’s story reminds us of the perils of biology at a time when options were few and reliance on the father of the child to do the right thing was the only way to survive.
Of course in any saga that spans more than thirty years there are gaps in the story as the story is moved forward to take in the younger generations as they also find their own way in life. It is here, as the choices, both good, and bad, of their parents begin to have a real impact and Juliet realises that some of hers are at the heart of the somewhat fracture family.

The setting is superb, the unpredictable water rushing in and out of the salt marshes makes for a treacherous and somewhat bleak landscape, the perfect backdrop for a story which has its fair share of low-points for most of the characters although with some artists in the family the ever-changing tides could provide inspiration.

After a slowish start where the scene was set I was really drawn into this read, following the two generations as they suffered all manner of calamities, especially in the latter chapters which brings the story up to the 1960s and a changing world illustrated by the need of one young mother to work as well as have a child. A world where unlike poor Juliet, it was possible to walk away from a marriage that looked sure to bring nothing but unhappiness.

The writing style seemed a little bit remote at first, describing scenes rather than from the point of view of any particular character, but I realise this is probably because of the numerous books that I now read in the first person present tense and in time got to appreciate the wider viewpoint that this afforded the reader.

This is an enjoyable saga for those readers who want to be absorbed in another world; in fact perfect autumnal reading.

I’d like to thank the publishers Headline for allowing me to read a copy of this book. This honest opinion is my thank you to them.

First Published UK: 8 September 2016
Publisher: Headline
No of Pages: 512
Genre: Historical Fiction (family saga)
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

Shot Through The Heart – Isabelle Grey

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

This is the second book in the Grace Fisher series, and before I start this review, in this instance I really do think you need to start at the beginning, so if you haven’t done so read Good Girls Don’t Die.

This book opens with a superb set-up where we meet Russell Fewell driving his van through Dunholt a small Essex town on Christmas Day. In the back of the van are presents for his children on top of a rifle. Meanwhile DI Grace Fisher is enjoying a game of scrabble with her colleague Lance, and his partner Peter having eaten lunch in her new Essex home; and then she gets the call that there has been a shooting, five people are dead as is the shooter. Even more significant as far as wrapping the case up quickly is the news that one of the victims is a serving Police Officer.

Grace and Lance start the investigation, there is no query over the suspect but Grace wants to know where the gun came from and what precipitated the tragedy, one that the town won’t forget in a hurry. As she starts probing it seems that corruption among her fellow officers may have had a part to play and never one to shy away from the difficult stuff, as we found out previously, she isn’t prepared to brush their actions under the proverbial carpet, even if it is possible career suicide.

We also have some narration from a teenage girl who lost her best friend in the murderous spree, someone who sees the crime and its effects from a different perspective. Robyn Ingold lives apart from her classmates in relative isolation with her parents who carry out the more traditional country pursuits. The family of three are a close-knit group and her parents do their best to support her as she mourns her friend Angie.

Into the mix we meet up again with Ivo Sweatman, a crime journalist who is well aware of the problems Grace experienced with the Kent Police Force, before her move to Essex. These old links means that he is someone she turns to when she’s unable for various reasons to ask the questions that she needs the answers to. I was slightly wary of this somewhat symbiotic relationship in the previous book, far less so in this one where for Grace, following the legitimate path of investigation is only going to raise suspicions and hostility unless she knows all the facts.

This is a somewhat controversial book and one that I found disquieting at times, maybe because I struggled to truly accept Grace’s belief that the cause for the shooting was somehow outside the gunman’s control. Nevertheless you can’t fault the plotting, the scene setting or the level of tension that the author manages to create in this complex novel. There are plenty of dilemmas both personal and professional to keep the readers brain alert and questioning. Isabelle Grey’s work writing television dramas was abundantly apparent and I can easily see this one being transformed to the small screen. With a range of characters, most of whom are hiding different magnitudes of secrets it isn’t hard to see why the tension among them all runs so high, something that pleasingly translated into my reading experience.

TI highly recommend this series and can’t wait to see what impact the outcome of Shot Through The Heart has on the next episode.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Quercus for allowing me to read a copy of this book prior to publication on the 24 March 2016. This honest review is my thanks to them.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Blackwater – James Henry

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

Well James Henry has worked hard to shake off the shadow of Inspector Jack Frost who he brilliantly recreated in the three prequels he wrote following the demise of their creator R.D. Wingfield. In Blackwater there isn’t a whiff of Jack, although as these books are set in the 80s, the policing isn’t quite what we expect in these more enlightened times. This has the added advantage that the police are far more interested in actual action than meeting targets and getting overly involved in the politics of policing, although the whiff of them is just blowing faintly on the breeze!

Our chief protagonist in the force in Blackwater is Detective Inspector Nicholas Lowry, a sympathetic character who is struggling with his approaching fortieth birthday albeit with fortitude. His decision to stop smoking whilst those around him continue with abandon and to give up his position on the Boxing team is giving his boss serious cause for concern. Nick Lowry is married to a nurse, Jacqui, and although he may not fully understand why, his marriage isn’t as healthy as his New Year’s resolution. Conveniently our book covers the time the clock strikes midnight on 31 December 1982 and before too long a headless corpse is discovered on the salt marshes of Blackwater.

Meanwhile we get to hear from some smugglers with a shipment who have lost their way but are determined to start 1983 with the money they were promised but luck isn’t on their side. The discovery of the corpse has delayed them further and without the name of the buyer, it looks like they may have a long wait. Without mobile phones to handily use to pass on messages through the food-chain to explain themselves, life quickly becomes very complicated.

James Henry brilliantly gives us a sense of time period and place. The complexities of Colchester’s CID co-operation with the smaller, and often cut-off West Mersea police force are engagingly recreated for our pleasure. With the larger force at least making a nod towards more progressive policing, West Mersea are very much stuck in another time, where knowing someone is a ne’er-do-well, is reason enough to arrest and charge them for the next available crime. The author gives us some of the much loved products and historical facts to reinforce the time, without going over the top and trading on reader’s nostalgia. The setting helps here too, Colchester is a garrison town and the army features strongly as tensions rise between them and the locals, any patriotic goodwill from winning the Falklands War certainly doesn’t trump the soldiers spending their Christmas leave on using their wages to woo the local ladies.

The plot is complicated and with quite a few characters, including a very promising young female officer, to keep track of this isn’t a book to read if you don’t have plenty of concentration. Fortunately each change of view or place is helpfully signposted by giving the date, time and place, take note dear reader, especially at the beginning or I fear you may get in a terrible muddle! The switches frequent the viewpoint ever changing and with both actual and moral crimes being committed you do want to know what is what. With a steadier hand than our original two smugglers though, James Henry brings this to a fitting conclusion in the very model of a proper police procedural, with the loose ends tied up but leaving one thread to enable him to give us another episode, hopefully in the not too distant future.

I was given a proof copy by the author well ahead of the publication date of 14 July 2016 and I’m afraid I couldn’t wait until nearer this date to sample the goods!!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Face of Trespass – Ruth Rendell

Psychological Thriller 4*'s
Psychological Thriller
4*’s

This is one of Ruth Rendell’s stand-alone novels, one of those where she chooses a subject to be pitied and then reveals exactly how flawed the human race is.

It cheers people knowing others are unhappy, don’t you think?

Gray Lanceton had started his literary career with promise, well enough that he’d had more money to spend than he thought but for the last three years he hasn’t written a word. Living in a hovel on the edge of a forest his only contact the milkman and his once a week foray to the bank to withdraw four pounds to live off and to the library to choose a selection of books. What went so wrong? What happened to the young man who appeared to have life at his fingertips? Gray had met Drusilla, a young bored and beautiful wife to a wealthy older man but before the story starts the affair had finished; Drusilla had made one demand too far.

It was a pity, he thought, that uncomplicated joy lasts so short a time, that it must always give way rapidly to practicalities and plans.

The beauty of Ruth Rendell’s books is how she draws damaged characters so very well and in so few words, this book is less than 200 pages but deeply satisfying from the first to last page. We get an impression of Grey through his own despairing eyes but later get an impression of what he was from his friends and most revealing of all, from his step-father.

Inside each one of us is a frightened child trying to get out. The measure of our maturity is the extent to which we are able to keep that child quiet, confined and concealed.

The Face of Trespass was written in 1974 and as always with these older books I loved the detail of the period, where you went into a bank to withdraw money, one where four pounds could last someone a week? That barely buys me two cups of coffee! The sense of place, this book is set in Essex, where Rendell lived and worked, along with the convoluted travel arrangements Grey had needed to visit Drusilla in the days when they met while her husband, Tiny, worked and entertained and it was partly to this end that he had moved to the hovel before everything ended and he is left with the telephone that sits squat reminding him of happier days and yet tempts him with the ease of contact.

all the joy she’d brought him seemed to shine. If he could have her without demands, without complications! It was impossible – yet to hear her voice just once?

This was an enjoyable tale in a voyeuristic sort of way, I felt like I was watching a play, the scene set in the hovel before the action, including some farcical moments, got underway and then building up to a neat denouement.

I was saddened to hear Ruth Rendell had died on  2 May 2015 after a career as an author spanning from 1964 to the present with her latest book, Dark Corners, due to be published later this year. She will be sorely missed.

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

Good Girls Don’t Die – Isabelle Grey

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction
5*’s

For anyone who thinks that the good old police procedural has had its day, think again. Isabelle Grey has come up with a cracking new novel which is the first in a new series featuring Detective Sergeant Grace Fisher.

Grace Fisher left her last posting in Maidstone after being driven out for grassing up a fellow officer, losing her job, home and husband in the process. Taking a demotion she joins the Major Investigation Team in Essex and starts on the day a student is reported as missing following the end of year exams. Anxious that her past hasn’t followed her Grace is keen to make her mark, but reluctant to tread on anyone’s toes in the process during the investigation into Polly Sinclair’s disappearance she meets up with an old friend who is a journalist on the local paper.
When a body of another student is found and the media turn on the police details only known to a favoured few are soon splashed across the local paper. Grace is under suspicion for leaking the news and Grace is soon fighting to avoid disciplinary action.

This is an intricately plotted story which has a number of threads that held my attention from beginning to the end. As in any good detective novel the red herrings are carefully placed and far from obvious, the motive believable and above all populated by a great range of characters. Grace is an appealing protagonist and one who despite her unfortunate start in Essex is more normal than many who populate this genre. Her partner Lance is equally affable although understandably cautious about Grace and the range of secondary characters from victims to suspects and everyone in between all realistically portrayed. As in real life there are the public faces and the private faces, none more so than the hack from the national paper The Courier, Ivo Sweatman who is easily the best secondary character to grace the genre for years.

I love the way the media activity is seamlessly integrated into the storyline with Ivo chasing his headlines in a ruthless manner which mirrors contemporary news stories rather too well. Ivo is clear that while the Senior Investigating Officer may want the truth he is chasing the story and sad though it may be, the longer the police take to find a suspect to charge the story will keep rolling, and as we know it doesn’t take long for the media to turn on the police. Isabelle Grey hasn’t ignored social media either keeping this story right up to date.
Isabelle Grey’s training in screenwriting shines through, this is well-written and engaging which despite the number of different lines of enquiry being followed as well as some sub-plots both past and present, is easy to follow where a lesser writer could have tripped themselves up on the knots.

This is a series I will be following without a doubt, particularly as the first book of the series can be far too much background and not enough present, this author has provided just the right combination of both. I’d like to say a big thank you to the publishers Quercus for allowing me to have a copy of the book ahead of publication on 9 October 2014 in return for this honest review.

Previous Books by Isabelle Grey:

Out of Sight

In a village in south-west France, a young Englishwoman, Leonie, meets a quiet, withdrawn man called Patrice. He has no wife, no child, and refuses ever to get inside a car.
Leonie is certain she can help this man, that her love will heal his emotional wounds. But Patrice will not tell her anything about his past. So she decides to search herself – unaware of what she’ll discover.
Five years before, Patrice was living in London. He was called Patrick, and he had a wife and child. And one fateful day in July changed his life for ever.

The Bad Mother

Recently divorced, Tessa Parker runs a successful B&B in a seaside town. During a surprise visit from Australia, a long-lost aunt lets slip a family secret that unsettles her fragile world.
In shock, and feeling betrayed by her whole family, Tessa confides in her ex- husband just as he reveals he has a new woman in his life.
Struck unexpectedly by jealousy; balancing her own turmoil against the demands of parenting, Tessa tries to trace her birth father, with devastating results. Yet she fails to see how this is a crucial moment in her children’s lives. If she gets things wrong, the consequences could be fatal.