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

The Last Thread – Ray Britain

Crime Fiction
5*s

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

 

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

The Book of Forgotten Authors – Christopher Fowler

Non-Fiction
5*s

If you are looking for a gift for a bibliophile you can’t go far wrong with this wonderful book that I know I will treasure and refer to for years to come.

Christopher Fowler has collated ninety-nine authors who for one reason or another are no longer seen on the bookshelves of bookshops or libraries but somehow glimmer on our collective consciousness, and their works fluttered at the edges of many when he kicked this project off. Unlike so many such lists that are produced this collector of these forgotten authors has brought together a set of authors from the Victorian times up to the more recent, the entire range of genres taking in slapstick comedy through Sci-Fi, poetry, literary fiction and crime. Obviously with so many authors each one gets a brief mention detailing the often prodigious output, why they were popular and why they may well have fallen out of favour as the years rolled on.

As is likely with a collection of this kind there were many authors I knew, some whose name I’d heard of, but many that had never crossed with my life – the brilliance being I loved reading the author’s succinct comments about those I’d known while having a real interest in seeing what I may have missed out on with those unknown to me.

The second chapter covers Virginia Andrews which is included for those of us of a certain age, I honestly remember seeing this book in all the houses of my contemporaries for many years when they were the certain finds in charity bookshops.

It seems that the feverish hothouse atmosphere of life in the attic appealed to the temperament of teenaged girls, who clearly wanted to have their most macabre fears about sex confirmed and bought the books in their millions.

Many of the links indicate those authors whose work was used for TV or films or radio series including Leslie Charteris who wrote nearly one hundred of the Saint adventures:

Simon Templar, the man who used Catholic Saint’s names as false identities. He is the world’s greatest thief, but he uses his powers against despots and villains, although the police are forever trying to put him behind bars. He leaves his calling card at the scenes of his crimes, comprising a stick figure with a halo.

Some authors included were collectors who passed on the baton to others following their demise including Harry Hodge who was the author of Notable British Trials series which included one of the criminals, Madeline Smith, who has popped up in much of my reading around poisoners. Madeline Smith was put on trial for poisoning her lover with arsenic laced cocoa. A latter contributor to the series was John Mortimer who provided the 1984 collection.

Apart from the wonderfully surprising mix of authors interposed between the authors themselves there are chapters that cover subjects as diverse as The Forgotten Booker Winners, The Forgotten Disney Connection and my favourite The Forgotten Nonsense Writers which includes a wonderful piece about the trick book Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames – The D’Antin Manuscripts, the English-language nursery rhymes written homophonically in nonsense French. Even the manuscript’s title, when spoken aloud, sounds like “Mother Goose’s Rhymes” with a strong French accent, a copy of which had graced my bookshelf as a pre-teen but that I’d completely forgotten about.

This truly is a book that will resurrect unique memories for every bibliophile as well as providing a wealth of information as well as a long list of books to seek out from their forgotten place in English literature. I will leave you with another author in the Forgotten Nonsense Writers, Hilaire Belloc and his Cautionary Tales for Children:

squarely aimed at terrifying middle-class children into good behaviour with gruesome moralistic poems which included… and Matilda who Told Lies and was Burned to Death.

The latter a poem my mother was often found to be quoting to the young Cleopatra amid some transgression and for which hearing about Matilda yet again meant I probably should have had a heavy dose of counselling to omit the memories – sadly this book bought them flooding back but also noted

It rather makes you wish for modern-day versions: Darrell who Stared at his Phone and was Crushed by a Cement Mixer.

I was honoured to receive a copy of The Book of Forgotten Authors as part of the blog tour promotion – this review is my heartfelt and honest thanks to all involved.

First Published UK: 5 October 2017
Publisher: Riverrun
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

CHRISTOPHER FOWLER

A typical example of the late 20th century midlist author, Christopher Fowler was born in the less attractive part of Greenwich in 1953, the son of a scientist and a legal secretary. He went to a London Guild school, Colfe’s, where, avoiding rugby by hiding in the school library, he was able to begin plagiarising in earnest. He published his first novel, Roofworld, described as ‘unclassifiable’, while working as an advertising copywriter. He left to form The Creative Partnership, a company that changed the face of film marketing, and spent many years working in film, creating movie posters, tag lines, trailers and documentaries, using his friendship with Jude Law to get into nightclubs.

During this time Fowler achieved several pathetic schoolboy fantasies, releasing an appalling Christmas pop single, becoming a male model, posing as the villain in a Batman comic, creating a stage show, writing rubbish in Hollywood, running a night club, appearing in the Pan Books of Horror and standing in for James Bond.

Now the author of over forty novels and short story collections, including his award-winning memoir Paperboy and its sequel Film Freak, he writes the Bryant & May mystery novels, recording the adventures of two Golden Age detectives in modern-day London.
In 2015 he won the CWA Dagger In The Library award for his detective series, once described by his former publisher as ‘unsaleable’.

Fowler is still alive and one day plans to realise his ambition to become a Forgotten Author himself.

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

White Bodies – Jane Robins

Psychological Thriller
5*s

I can’t deny I was excited to hear that Jane Robins whose non-fiction books The Magnificent Spilsbury and the case of The Brides In The Bath and The Curious Habits of Doctor Adams  I thoroughly enjoyed and which sit proudly on my bookshelf, was writing a psychological thriller. I also can’t deny that I am reading far fewer books in this genre, because many fail to delight me in the way that they once did. But boy did this one work. The plot was tight, the writing engaging and the characters were weird enough to be chilling but normal enough to be believable.

Callie and Tilda are twenty-seven year old twins with Tilda being the more outgoing and outwardly successful of the two, Callie somewhat hampered by an obsessive nature who dwells on every conversation, every look and every perceived slight to the nth degree. It is Callie that waits for invitations for movie nights with her sister but rarely meets up with Tilda’s fun-loving friends. So imagine her excitement when Tilda introduces her to her new man, Felix. But Callie’s overwhelming need to make sure her twin is safe means that she is on her guard.

It isn’t long before Callie hears and sees things that convince her that Tilda is in an abusive relationship and she trawls an on-line forum, obsessively, for confirmation and advice.

This is one of the creepiest psychological thrillers I have ever read. The premise is similar to many others in the genre – these are not people on the whole that you’d want to spend any length of time with, but there are so many aspects of their behaviour that you will have come across in your friends, family or colleagues that all the way through, I had a feeling that this could be true. This genre really does work best when you believe – a bit like fairies – and because it feels so real, as Callie goes searching for clues, it is impossible to separate the truth from the fiction. Added to that the bizarre but sadly only too believable on-line tales that draw Callie into endless discussions about abusive men, the story becomes not only claustrophobic but has a hue of ghastly inevitability.

White Bodies was absolutely compelling, it was one of those wonderful books which from the moment I read the first page I was sure I would enjoy. I don’t know what it is that makes some books far more ‘readable’ than others but this was one of them. What I do know is that this book is solidly underpinned with brilliant writing. Since childhood, I have been drawn to stories about twins, although I sincerely hope that some aspects of twin behaviour, mentioned in this book were dreamt up in Jane Robins’ imagination! Of course there are twists, that is what the genre is all about, but the author hasn’t gone all out to do a complete about face, the book hanging solidly together from the first to the last page and the book doesn’t rely on the twists for a great reading experience, there is much more to enjoy!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Touchstone who granted my wish to read White Bodies which will be published in the US on 19 September 2017. UK readers apparently have to wait until after Christmas to read this book, which is somewhat bizarre as the author is British and the book is firmly set in the UK. Anyway despite the wait, if you enjoy a good psychological thriller, and live in the UK, mark this one down as To Be Read and if you are in the US please note your cover is different to the one above – enjoy!

First Published UK: 28 December 2017
Publisher: HQ
No. of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

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

Persons Unknown – Susie Steiner

Crime Fiction
5*s

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 

 

 

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

Her Deadly Secret – Chris Curran

Psychological Thriller
5*s

A character led psychological thriller that packs a real punch.

Joe and Hannah Marsden’s fourteen year old daughter has disappeared. Lily hasn’t returned from school and although at first the police were sure she’d turn up soon we first meet Joe as he returns from giving a press conference to appeal for her to get in touch. Hannah didn’t attend, doesn’t want Joe near her and anyway we all know that the police watch the behaviour of those who are part of the televised appeals.

Loretta is the Family Liaison Officer assigned to the Marsden family there to support them through the difficult time, but also to observe, and there is plenty of observations to make that’s for sure. Hannah is distraught, completely poleaxed by her grief whereas Joe secretly wants to escape the confines of the now claustrophobic house but he also wants to know what has happened to Lily.

Our final narrator is Rosie Weatherall, a mysterious addition to the storyline, she is watching the news story of Lily’s disappearance unfold with horrified interest as it reminds her of the disappearance of her elder sister Alice. Rosie’s father has recently been released from prison, convicted of killing Alice fifteen years previously. After struggling to accept that her adored father, a widely respected classical musician could have ever committed such a crime, her mother finally convinced her that it was the case, the evidence was squarely against him.

With secrets bursting to be set free, Her Deadly Secret makes for full-on compulsive reading ably assisted by our three brilliant narrators; Loretta, Joe and Rosie. All three are searching for the truth but that’s not easy when those in the know are masters of deception.

A good psychological thriller has characters you can believe in, even when they may behave in strange ways due to the abnormal circumstances they are plunged into. I absolutely believed, although of course my suspicions were on high alert for criminal behaviour, that these were genuine people. Books in this sub-genre should also follow the unwritten rules of crime writing that the outcome can’t come out of left-field. It is even better when there are some red-herrings to keep the reader wondering. I’m pleased to state that all these conditions were met, and more. Even the minor characters, such as Lily’s own secret boyfriend was believable all the more so because many of these held conflicted beliefs which is always one of the biggest problems for a writer to convey without losing credibility for their creations. But we all can believe one thing, whilst suspecting another from time to time, people generally struggle with two conflicting views are presented to them. This is illustrated through one character in the book, who reports another to the police, and then soon apologises to the suspect, realising that what she thinks she saw, could have in fact been viewed in an alternative way. There are many more such examples which for me only had me all the more wrapped up in the family’s nightmare. Added to that was the wonderful backdrop of Hastings, Loretta’s family life and a religious community called The Children of Light which all served to round this off as an immersive read.

I’d like to thank the author and publishers HaperCollins UK for providing me with a copy of Her Deadly Secret, this honest review is my belated thanks to them for the book and the brilliant reading experience which examines the ripples caused for years when a child is murdered. Back in July when Her Deadly Secret was published, the author kindly wrote a guest post for me on how she finds inspiration for her books which you can read here. If you like the sound of this book, it is currently at a bargain price in eBook format so I’d snap it up quickly while I will be adding the author’s previous two books, Mindsight and Her Turn to Cry to my wishlist.

First Published UK: 21 July 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins UK
No. of Pages: 304
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

 

 

 

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

The Other Mrs Walker – Mary Paulson-Ellis

Historical Fiction
5*s

It’s lovely to read a book that offers up something fresh and Mary Paulson Ellis resoundingly met that brief for me with this tale that weaves a mystery from the past with family secrets. I got the feeling that many families although not having the exact same story, there are many that have similar skeletons lurking in cupboards which share some of the same elements.

Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name…

Margaret Penny returns to Edinburgh after some thirty years away and returns to her mother’s home. She is not given a warm welcome, or even a proper bed but given that she feels she has no choice except to leave London, she has to take the scant comfort on offer

Margaret’s mother is part of a circle of women who attend funerals for those who have no-one else. This idea in itself can’t help but warm your heart although I may prefer to go it alone than to have some sour-hearted old woman turning up because she’s on a rota! Through this circle Margaret gets a temporary job locating family for those who are deceased, an odd job, but one that will ultimately save the council money as someone has to pay for the funeral.
Margaret’s first job is to locate a name for an elderly woman who died alone in a flat. In the cold flat with whisky pooling on the floor are a few belongings, including a beautiful green dress. With little in the way of paperwork Margaret embarks on a treasure hunt to find a name, and family for the deceased.

I loved the way this story was constructed. The story flips backwards and forwards with dates that range from 1930s to the present day, this is historical story-telling at its best; those small details so beautifully drawn, delighted me. Possessions are important to the Walker family and the handling of these often insignificant objects pervades their storyline. The descriptions of war-time London were outstanding and easily transported me to the era and the magical gift of an orange, its peel being one of the objects which links the episodes within this complex tale.

The characters were brilliantly drawn, three-dimensional with quirks that differentiate them easily but best of all we see many determined women who do not dwell on the past, or rail against the present, no, they are forever picking themselves up and forging onwards.

If you want a book to savour, one that is full of imagery despite being so dark that it is no wonder that the Walker family treasured their few flashes of colour with their oranges and jade green dresses, then you will enjoy this read. That said, because of the many themes along with the moving backwards and forwards in time, further complicated by the gaps in the timeline left to be filled by the reader’s imagination, it is a book to read when you can concentrate. I was lucky enough to read this in one hit and so got swept along in the storyline from London to snowy Edinburgh and from one claustrophobic household to another, and I loved every minute of it.

First Published UK: 10 March 2016
Publisher: Picador
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US (currently unavailable)

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Stranger in the House – Julie Summers #20booksofsummer

Non-Fiction
5*s

This non-fiction book takes a look at the women, be they wives, mothers, sisters or daughters who welcomed back their menfolk from the Second World War. How did these women adapt to the men who returned from battlefields or prisons? How did they begin to cope with all too apparent trauma that returned with them?

Stranger in the House is a collection of reminiscences about life in the immediate aftermath of the war and of the long term consequences of readjustment. There are interviews with wives, widows, sisters, daughters and granddaughters showing how this war cast a very long shadow indeed. Julie Summers has also raided the historical archives to give us the mother’s view – these poor women had often already lost members of their family in the First World War, how brave they must have been to send off their sons to another conflict.

This is a book full of details, clearly carefully researched and full of real accounts from the women who had lived, not only through the upheaval of war itself, with sometimes many months with no idea whether their loved ones are alive or not, to the aftermath with damaged men returning to families, sometimes children who didn’t recognise their fathers and all this with severe rationing in place.

“When their war ended, our war began.”

Of course the men themselves had an enormous adjustment to make and it seems like those in charge had accounted for the fact that support was needed for these fractured families following the huge failings of the First World War but this concentrated on practicalities like housing rather than what was really needed which was emotional support for the men and women who had to pick up the pieces of their lives.

The structure of the book is that the chapters relate to all the different subjects from the aftermath of war, communication and the variety of different relationships the women had with the men that returned from war.
One of the early chapters focusses on the contrast between those men stationed where the Army Post Office were able to deliver and those who weren’t. The men and women who had received regular communication on the whole fared much better than those who hadn’t.

“Letters for us stand for love, longing, light-heartedness and lyricism. Letters evoke passion, tenderness, amusement, sadness, rejoicing, surprise. And none of this is possible without the Army Post Office”

Of course some of those letters told of children born while the men were away, and not all of these could be explained in the husband’s absence. These families had a whole different struggle when the men returned and the author didn’t shy away from this difficult subject.

There is a particular emphasis within the book on those men who had been Japanese prisoners of war and it seems from the accounts in this book that many of these men were specifically ordered not to talk about their experience and of course these men often came back with serious medical problems to cope with too. The number of different voices, children at the time of their father’s return, who talk about rituals or issues over food and mealtimes is striking and so sad to read. The often factual accounts which are devoid of exaggeration or a wish for sympathy are all the more heart-rending because of that.

It is particularly touching that the last chapter speaks to the grandchildren of these men and often these children, not bought up to avoid any talk of the war, got the men to open up for the first time to their relatives and the families heard what the men had seen and heard during the six long years of war.

I don’t think I’ve read a book about war that more poignantly illustrates that for a whole generation the war was never really over.

Stranger in the House was my eighteenth read in my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

First Published UK: 2008
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Non-Fiction – WWII
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction 5*s

The year is 1843, the place is Ontario, Canada and the victims are Thomas Kimner and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Thomas had been shot whilst Nancy had been strangled.  James McDermott, Thomas Kimner’s stable hand and Grace Marks his maid were apprehended trying to escape to America and put on trial for murder. James McDermott was hanged whilst Grace was imprisoned for life. These are the facts that Margaret Atwood uses as the base of her multi-faceted novel to bring Grace’s story to life, whether her version comes close to the truth the reader will have to decide.

“I have of course fictionalized historical events (as did many commentators on this case who claimed to be writing history). I have not changed any known facts, although the written accounts are so contradictory that few facts emerge as unequivocally ‘known.’”

 By the time we meet her Grace has been imprisoned for quite some time. A model prisoner she is engaged as a maid to the Governor of the prison where she is being held. Petitions for her release have been a feature of those who protest her innocence but one man, the fictional Dr Simon Jordan wants to use her to explore her sanity, he has a goal to open a private clinic and a case study that gets attention could help him along this road. But is or was Grace ever insane? Why else would a young maid suddenly turn on her employers and become a notorious murderess? Or is there other elements to the story that the Victorian values of the day could not or would not see?

It is the conversation that Grace has with Dr Jordan that gives us her background, the long arduous journey from Dublin, the trials of living with a feckless father and younger siblings to care for and Grace’s ‘escape’ into working life as a maid, with friends who teach her the ways of the world. No one can say Grace’s story is anything but captivating and it’s bolstered by the picture of Grace recounting it whilst stitching at the table in the Governor’s house. Grace explains to Dr Jordan about the quilts that every young woman should have before she marries, the stories behind the different patterns these objects that were in every household having their own stories to tell. And of course the Doctor doesn’t know what is true and we are reminded of the uncertainty of the narrative by some fairly nifty switches from the first to the third person, denoting thoughts and words within the text itself. This gives the narrative a nebulous feel, the truth surely lies somewhere within the book, but it may be you have to decide where.

I was enchanted not only by Grace’s own story but the way that she uncovers the lives of many other women in the course of her conversations with the good Doctor. From her mother, to her friend and fellow maid Mary Whitney and Nancy the Housekeeper and mistress of Thomas Kimner then up the ranks to the daughters of the Governor who still covet a quilt for their own dowry but will have someone else carry out the minute stitching for them. Each is worthy of a story in their own right leaving me stuffed full of life-like characters by the time I turned the last page on Grace Marks and her story.

Alias Grace was my sixteenth read for my 20 Books of Summer 2017  challenge, a fine example of a true crime being used as inspiration for a novel, and a highly accomplished one at that.

First Published UK: 1996
Publisher: Virago
No of Pages: 560
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I opened the book and instantly felt at home with the story, I knew within a couple of pages that this book would suck me in, and it did. I adored the mystery of what happened to Audrey back in the fifties and I was equally enchanted by Jessie’s story in the present day, a life so different despite the earlier time period being easily within living memory.

So I suppose you want to know what it’s about? In the present day Jessie who has a teenage stepdaughter Bella, still so obviously grieving the loss of her mum and toddler Romy to contend with dreams of an uncomplicated country-life with her family. Her husband Will is more hesitant but can see that Jessie has fallen in love with Applecote Manor but will the house live up to Jessie’s hopes and dreams and build a better future away from dead Mandy’s ghost hovering in their London house?

Right from the start I warmed to Jessie who is honest about those gaps we all have between how we’d like life to be, and what the truth actually is. Later in the book she freely admits to posting pictures on Instagram portraying what she wants but there is something very dark and shadowy at Applecote Manor, a presence that Bella believes means that they will never be happy there. Is this teenage angst or does the house hold a secret? Well of course it does!

In the 1950s we meet four sisters, three born within a year of each other, the beautiful Flora, the athletic Pam and the serious Margot whose viewpoint dominates the past part of the storyline and these three are joined by the younger Dot who trails after her three elder sisters during a summer heatwave while they are staying at Applecote Manor. This is a summer that will have repercussions for years to come as innocence is lost.

And then there is Audrey who went missing five years before the summer we experience with the Wilde sisters and it is this that is the mystery that is the heart of this book.

There are so many themes packed into this deeply evocative story, from the bonds between sisters, the ghosts of the past who can cast shadows over lives, the difficulties in growing up, friendship and mothers all get an airing. Each storyline in the past is echoed in the present but not in an obvious way, it is the subtlety and the lightness of touch that makes this such an impressive read, with the beautiful Cotswold setting the pivot of the strands that paint the bright pictures from the hot summer in the past with the cold and wet days as Jessie struggles to build a future for her family.

Alongside the many themes this is also a difficult book to neatly fit into any one genre – it has a central mystery, a historical time period and there are times when the writing became so dark it could be considered domestic noir and it is a coming-of-age story. Whatever the genre, it is brilliant a book that I truly lived, I didn’t just picture the sleigh bed up under the port-hole window at the top of the house, I could swear I had lain down on it myself and I knew the characters, all of whom were honestly drawn, no-one was flawless and none were clichés and they were all distinct, even the secondary characters. All in all I feel sure enough to pronounce that Eve Chase is an author who has an enormous amount of talent so I have already ordered her debut novel Black Rabbit Hall which had high praise heaped upon it when it was published in 2015.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin who allowed me to read a copy of The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, this review is my heartfelt thanks to them and Eve Chase for a wonderful journey that had me experience the full range of emotions and I closed the book with a tear rolling down my cheek. Readers in the US will find this book under the title The Wildling Sisters.

First Published UK: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK
No of Pages: 336
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2017

Murder is Easy – Agatha Christie #20booksofsummer

Crime Fiction
5*s

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!

Murder is Easy /em> was my thirteenth read in my 20 Books of Summer 2017 Challenge.

First Published UK: 1939
Publisher:Harper Collins
No of Pages: 273
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US