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

The Last Day – Claire Dyer #BookTour #GuestPost #BookReview

I was delighted to be invited to take part in this blog tour especially as the author generously offered to write an exclusive post.

Read what Claire Dyer has to say about polyamorous relationships!

The love triangle bug

Like many authors, I’ve caught the love triangle bug.

It all started when I took part in one of those ‘sum up your book in three words’ things on Twitter. I’d just begun the novel that was to become The Last Day and replied, ‘Crazy Love Triangle’ but I didn’t really know at that stage how this particular love triangle would play out.

I’d also been aware of features in the press about polyamorous relationships which seem, on the face of it, supremely glamorous but, being a monogamous type, I do struggle to understand how these might actually work out.

But, in the spirit of tapping into the zeitgeist, I wanted to blend the two and so in the novel I have my three main characters living in the same house as one another and all loving each other in slightly different ways, the result of which is that decisions get made and choices are taken that change their lives forever.

And, what I also decided to do in The Last Day was to alter the standard dynamics of the love triangle and make my two heroines like each other. As Vita says about her husband’s new lover, ‘… it would have been easier if I’d hated her’ but she doesn’t. What I wanted to do in this book was to talk above love in its many colours and so in my love triangle, there are no clear lines. In fact, it’s less of a triangle and more of a Venn diagram with a number of interlocking sections.

However, let’s just think about some other love triangles. There’s Scarlett, Ashley and Rhett in Gone With the Wind; Ilsa, Rick and Victor in Casablanca; Bella, Edward and Jacob in The Twilight Saga; Bridget, Mark and Daniel in Bridget Jones’s Diary and the huge array of triangles in Jane Austen’s novels, including: Elizabeth, Darcy & Wickham; Marianne, Brandon and Willoughby; Elinor, Edward and Lucy, and let’s not even get started on Shakespeare! The list, it seems, is quite endless.

What is it that makes love triangles so beguiling? Personally, I love writing them because they’re a challenge: can I write from three different points of view and make each one so that the reader believes in them and wants what they want, so that if there is a ‘happy ever after’, even if someone has to lose out in the end, the reader is on the side of all three?

The plot possibilities of love triangles are infinite and that’s what makes writing them such a wonderful thing to do.

 

My Review

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

The Last Day is a poignant and beautifully written novel and although it is quite different to my normal choice of reading matter, I loved it.

The synopsis had me wondering what I’d let myself in for. We have Boyd in his forties moving in with his wife along with his twenty-seven year old new girlfriend. The cynic in me doubted whether this was really a likely scenario but what Claire Dyer excels at is characterisation, and boy did these characters get under my skin.

Boyd and Vita have been separated for six years and the reader has to wait quite a while to find out what their last day consisted of before the decision was made to go their separate ways. Honey the young girlfriend works with Boyd at his Estate agency along with the steadfast Trixie. Honey is far more likeable than I’d imagined she would be but like all of the protagonists in the book has secrets. As the book progresses I wondered which one of these was going to blow the roof off the set-up. Boyd, Vita and Honey are people with faults and pasts, but they are also incredibly real and ultimately ‘nice’ people. If you are looking for a tale of discord, this isn’t the book for you.

The story is told from different viewpoints with each chapter devoted to one or other of the characters. This is done so very well as we slowly get to know all the different aspects to each one. I’ll admit I was drawn in by the excellent writing; this was one of those books that I started and knew that I would enjoy whichever direction the book followed. This isn’t a typical tale of dysfunction, it is actually a sympathetic portrayal of marriage, love the way life changes and grief. Now I usually steer well clear of books concerning grief because this is a topic I don’t like to dwell on but perhaps because the grief in this novel is not raw and the characters concerned have an understanding of the journey they’ve been through, I found it in accordance with my own experiences in some of the smaller details. I certainly think it helped that the author somehow manages to acknowledge that everyone grieves differently.

This is a reflective book which if I were reading those words in another person’s review I’d take to mean slow, but this book isn’t. Instead it is one of those rare novels book that allows you to think about what you’ve read, sometimes by reading between the words, a difficult skill to pull off but so very effective when it is done as well as it is in The Last Day. I doubt whether there will be many readers that don’t happen upon a situation or characteristic that they recognise either in themselves or someone close to them.

As I said earlier the characters make this book, there is a certain amount of looking back which I think is common once we get to a certain age, but plenty to keep the reader entertained with the emotions that lie behind the characters actions. There is a mystery, a secret – or two or three – and a bit of danger to spice things up so there is no time to get bored. I was very sad to say goodbye to all the characters but particularly Vita and her pet portraits as she entertained me with her no-nonsense attitude, one that hides a multitude of complexities.

I’d like to say a big thank you to The Dome Press who provided me with an advance copy of The Last Day. This unbiased review is my thank you to them. Even better I realised that I have one of this author’s previous books The Perfect Affair on my kindle and it now won’t be long before I read that one too.

First Published UK: 15 February 2018
Publisher:The Dome Press
No of Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books – Martin Edwards

Non-Fiction
5*s

There are many of us that are lovers of crime fiction and I’m sure quite a few of us cut our teeth on Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie but did the genre of crime fiction suddenly jump from these writers to the modern proliferation of serial killers and psychological novels which will ensure none of us trust any type of girl, EVER.

This comprehensive look through the first half of the twentieth century of crime fiction gives us insight into the authors who gave our ancestors what my grandmother would call the ‘willies’ which I can absolutely assure you she didn’t mean what those of you sniggering at the back are thinking.

Not only has Martin Edwards ably and coherently filled in the gaps, he has arranged the book under a number of headings making it the ideal book for using as a reference guide. We have the obvious chapters covering the birth of crime fiction, with A New Era Dawns followed by The Birth of the Golden Age followed by some that deal with humour in crime fiction; Making Fun of Murder, those that deal with Justice, The Justice Game and my favourite; Fiction from Fact. This means that although the book runs in rough chronological order the books that appear under one heading may have a cross-over date wise with previous chapters. Be warned there are 102 books listed as actual titles with a synopsis and where they fit into the headings but many more books are referred to in passing so it really is like going down the rabbit hole and filling up your reading lists for years to come!

The books that are described more fully are those that Martin Edwards feels are the ones that on the whole have been forgotten gems. Many of the titles I’d never heard of as was the case with author’s names. Some of the authors included have large lists of titles but there is a special slot for those who only published one book too. Martin Edwards is the master of whetting the reader’s appetite without spoiling the story, if you are looking for a book that tells you what the solution to a puzzle is, you are in the wrong place.

Fortunately, many, although not all, of the books can be bought from the British Library Crime Classic Series which is a bonus as these attractively packaged books will make one very smart collection on any crime fiction lover’s bookshelf and of course these books also include a foreword by Martin Edwards too. But as much as I am almost as big a fan of book lists as I am books, this isn’t just a book list. This is a book that informs us of the history of the genre, it is a book that talks about the authors who contributed and one that reveals the changes in taste as the country went through the turbulence of both World Wars and the needs of the population at that time to escape into a puzzle, one that had an answer to provide certainty when everything around seemed very uncertain indeed.

This is an absolute gem of a book that I can easily see will be referred to time and again, not only when I read a piece of classic crime fiction but to remind myself of the roots of the genre. It has already informed me of some books that I included on The Classic Club listing under this sub-genre and when they are done, I know where to look for some more!

I bought my copy of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books in June 2017 making it eligible for one of my TBR 2018 reads. It also gains me another third of a book token!

First Published UK: 28 June 2017
Publisher: British Library Publishing
No of Pages: 288
Genre: Non-Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Black Rabbit Hall – Eve Chase

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

Eve Chase has penned a brilliant story which flips between events at the somewhat dilapidated house Black Rabbit Hall in Cornwall between 1968 and the present day; one where long buried secrets are eventually uncovered.

In 1968 the house is the holiday retreat for the Alton family. Amber and Toby are fifteen year old twins with two younger siblings Barney and Kitty are four and five, full of the wonder of young children. Their parents Hugo and Nancy are a solid couple, still in love but Easter 1968 changes everything for the entire family.

Many decades later Lorna is looking for a wedding venue. Happy holidays in Cornwall draw her far away from the home she shares with Jon in Bethnal Green to find the perfect location. The place where she used to explore country houses with her recently deceased mother. The draw of Black Rabbit Hall in all its shabbiness confuses and worries Jon.

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of dual timeline stories and unlike many both storylines in this novel are equally appealing. In the past we hear about events mainly from Amber’s viewpoint at the tail-end of what has been an uncomplicated life living in a family where love abounds. In the present, although Lorna has finally found a man to depend on, it is clear that her life hasn’t been quite so uncomplicated, her relationship with her mother certainly on far less solid ground.

The author brings the house to life vividly and completely. Items left in draws, or of importance to the Alton children turn up later on in the story giving the reader sharp points of recognition that resonate.

There are so many children’s things, seemingly left where they were thrown. In the corner of the room, partially covered by a blanket, is a dappled grey rocking horse the size of a small pony. Beneath its front hoofs, a dolly’s cradle. Closer to the door, a mildewed pile of books: The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Milly Molly Mandy, Rupert Annual 1969… A shiver tingles up her spine – she’d read and loved many of these books as a child: an instant bond with the departed children, one that transcends both time and class.

The style of writing is that the book moves backwards to the Alton’s story and forward to Lorna’s often leaving the reader on the brink of a key revelation, a trap to keep her reader’s turning those pages the frustration only momentary as you are instantly plunged into another heart-rending moment at another point in time. Eve Chase is almost like a magician, she points you in one direction having firmly shut off the obvious avenue of where the story will lead, only for this misdirection to be revealed for the trickery that it is much further down the line.

Be warned Black Rabbit Hall will wring every drop of emotion from you. I was left full-on sobbing at the end which was pitch-perfect for all that had gone before. A beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga. This was the author’s debut novel a book I bought having chosen her second book, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde as one of my Top Ten Books published in 2017. Which one is better? They are both are simply wonderful – firm favourites with this reader and hopefully Eve Chase will conjure up another wonderful story for me to read sooner rather than later.

Black Rabbit Hall was my fifth book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in August 2017 it is worth another third of a book token.

 

First Published UK: 2 July 2015
Publisher: Michael Joseph
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

The Dark Angel – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction
5*s

Well I just love this series with the balance between the look at old bones, and often new ones too, with the ongoing drama in Ruth Galloway’s own life along with that of DCI Harry Nelson and the rest of his team.

In The Dark Angel rather than Ruth’s boss Phil taking to the television we have an Italian archaeologist who is about to reveal some Roman bones to the audience when something interrupts filming. Desperate to provide some authenticity to his dig and tempt the TV crew back, Dr Angelo Morelli invites Ruth to Italy to lend a helping hand. Ruth is in a bit of a rut, her mother died recently and there has been some other unwelcome news in her personal life and anyway Kate could do with a holiday so she decides that Italy is the perfect answer. Inviting her friend Shona and her son Louis the party board the plane for Italy and Angelo’s apartment in a hilltop village.

Meanwhile in Norfolk Nelson is warned that a man jailed for a heinous crime ten years previously has been released. Mickey Webb made some wild threats at the time he was jailed aimed at Nelson but it seems that he has come out of prison a reformed character and one who has found religion, and a good woman to boot.

Italy has plenty of history and of course although Ruth is there to look at some Roman bones the party have hardly made themselves at home before they are informed that they are staying in the home of a former hero of the Second World War when Italy was occupied. And this is exactly why I love this series, no matter the crime, and there are I’m pleased to report, there is one, there is so much detail to enjoy on the periphery to the storyline all told in such a ‘chatty’ manner it is listening to a friend. That combined with catching up with the latest escapades which entertain me enormously while bones are tested, theories are expounded and suspects questioned.

With events happening in two different countries, both personal and criminal, the action moves quite swiftly despite the somewhat more relaxed holiday feeling to brighten the darker moments in Italy.

Elly Griffiths has compiled a great character in Ruth. She is intelligent without being condescending, worried about her appearance but also not overly envious of those with looks. She has turned into a pragmatic single mother to Kate and yet she is no angel – the asides when Louis breaks glass after glass in the apartment provides a wry smile from anyone who has ever had to spend an extended amount of time with a child that doesn’t behave like your own. She has moments of fierce introspection and yet she is obviously a capable and inspirational forensic archaeologist – someone I’m sure would fascinate me if she was a real live breathing person.

This is a series where you should start at the beginning as the story arc becomes more and more integral to the enjoyment of the books as the series goes on and to be honest the ‘non-crime’ sections are a bigger proportion in this episode than the previous books but if you are already a fan, you are in for a real treat.

Dr Ruth Galloway Books in order

The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead
The Ghost Fields
The Woman in Blue
The Chalk Pit

 

First Published UK: 8 February 2018
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

A Patient Fury – Sarah Ward

Crime Fiction
5*s

I knew from Sarah Ward’s first book featuring Connie Childs that this was going to be a series that had me hooked and I can now safely declare that the third book, A Patient Fury, confirms my prediction. In this episode Connie Childs is more driven, contrary and tenacious than ever before and so for all her faults it is impossible not to admire her.

Connie has been off work for quite some time but she’s now re-joined the team having recovered from her injury during a recent case, so what if at her most introspective she wonders if it is too soon? Then while she’s just finding her feet she is called out by DI Francis Sadler to a fire in Bampton. A house has gone up in flames and the occupants are all feared to be dead. No officer likes a fire, and Connie is no different but when she can’t accept the sequence of events provided by the Chief Fire Officer it looks like sparks are also going to fly between her and her boss. DI Sadler really isn’t up for Connie’s side investigations and nor are the victim’s family.

On one level this series is a solid police procedural set in the fictional town of Bampton in the Peak District. I was lucky enough to read my copy whilst on a weekend break near the non-fictional town of Leek which confirmed that the author has provided the reader with a setting which is in keeping with the reality of the area. But above that Sarah Ward gives us a plot that is both credible and yet audacious. The lines of enquiry are followed but there is more beneath the surface than trying to find the answer to the three main questions: means, motive and opportunity, the lid is also lifted on family life, the parts that we often don’t want to acknowledge.

Connie Childs narrates a good proportion of A Patient Fury but as in the previous books, we also hear from someone on the edge of the investigation, Julia, who is connected to the family who lived in the burnt house. Julia is an interesting woman, a giver of tours underground for school children and the like by day and the tour guide for ghost walk’s around the area by night. She has also lost a parent in mysterious circumstances in the past so whilst most of the book is linear, we also have flashbacks to the early eighties. Regular readers of my reviews will know that I find the collision between past and present irresistible.

This is a book full of red herrings and that of course the puzzle is one of my favourite aspects of the crime fiction genre. There is no cheating and although I had my suspicions on whodunit I wasn’t entirely sure why and although I don’t usually mention the ending – this one has the justness that early proponents of the genre would have delighted in just as much as I did.

Despite there being lots going on in this book both in terms of diverse investigations (mainly the diversity is Connie going her own route) and the number of characters, the writing is both clear and compelling. The author has allowed one of her detectives to move to another Police Authority which works well and allows a new character to step into the team mixing up the dynamics most satisfactorily and will hopefully allow the series to continue to grow and delight for many more books yet. If you haven’t read this series and you love well-written crime fiction, I suggest you add them all to your bookshelf.

A Patient Fury is the fourth book I’ve read for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 having been purchased in September 2017 so I gain another third of a book token!

Previous Books in the DC Childs Series

In Bitter Chill 
A Deadly Thaw

First Published UK: 5 September 2017
Publisher: Faber & Faber
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Books I have read, Books I want to Read, Five Star Reads, Mount TBR 2018

Dead Souls – Angela Marsons

Crime Fiction
5*s

I am a huge fan of the DI Kim Stone series set in the Black Country and so it is to my immense shame that it has taken me quite so long to getting around to reading the sixth book in the series. Fortunately this explosive episode will spur me on to reading the next one which is ready and waiting on my kindle for my future enjoyment.

When routine demonstration dig for forensic archaeologists turns into a something far more practical than expected. Bones are found in the examination site and Macedonian forensic archaeologist Dr A. summons our feisty and tenacious DI to the site. Unfortunately given that DI Kim Stone has had a difficult relationship with the neighbouring force’s Detective’s, Tom Travis, for nigh on five years so she is not overly impressed when he turns up claiming that the investigation should be led by his team. Certain that Woody will back her plea for her team to continue Kim Stone is less than impressed when she’s ordered to work alongside Travis as a new model in joint investigations, pooling resources to get results.

What happens next is a tests Kim’s patience and professionalism to the max.

The joy of reading a series is to meet up with old favourite characters as much as it is to ‘solve’ the particular crime being investigated and Angela Marsons doesn’t disappoint. Although Kim is busy working with Travis to unearth (no pun intended) the old bones, her team are forced to work on without her. A suspected suicide, the horrific attack on a Polish immigrant and road traffic accident force see DS Dawson and DS Bryant pair up together for the first time which leaves PC Stacey Banks on her own in the office. I think it was an exceptionally good idea to mix the team up, with Bryant not around to rein Kim in we see another side to both of them allowing a move away from Kim’s personal problems and see Bryant appreciating other skills apart from his boss’s and it was fabulous to have Stacey in the limelight for a change, again allowing us to see her outside her usual unflappable self.

There really wasn’t much of a chance to take a breath as essentially we’re following three strands of storylines – trying to work out why the bones were on an ancient tenant farmer’s land, meeting with a vile racist intent on moving immigrants out of his area and seeing Stacey investigate under her own initiative. What would Kim Stone think?

The plotting is superb with the answers to some of the questions seemingly obvious, but of course only once I had the answers! Angela Marsons isn’t afraid to tackle some difficult subjects in her books and nowhere more so than in this one, and yet although she doesn’t shy away from exposing hate crime she does so with what I felt was some level of understanding of the subject matter so that I didn’t feel that this was a writer using the storyline as some kind of bandwagon to leap upon but something that has been researched and digested before being offered up to her readers.

I started by saying that I have the next book, Broken Bones, ready to read and I can assure you that after this explosive and exciting read and having reminded myself why I have recommended this series to so many others, I won’t be leaving it too long before reading the next in the series.

Dead Souls was my third book of the year for my Mount TBR Challenge 2018, having been bought in April 2017 it is worth another third of a book token which means I now have one book in the bank!! 

Previous Books featuring Kim Stone
Silent Scream
Evil Games
Lost Girls
Play Dead
Blood Lines

First Published UK: 25 April 2017
Publisher: Bookouture
No of Pages: 414
Genre: Crime Fiction Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Close to Home – Cara Hunter #BlogTour

I was delighted to be asked by Poppy from Penguin to be part of the blog tour for this debut crime novel which was published in December 2017. Close to Home introduces DI Adam Fawley in this nail-biting crime fiction novel. But before we get to my review I asked the author Cara Hunter why she chose Oxford as the scene of the crime.

Why is Oxford such a capital of crime?

It’s all Morse’s fault, of course. The books started it, but it was the TV series starring John Thaw that really sealed the city’s fate. And since then, of course, we’ve had Lewis and Endeavour too. If you believe even half of what you see there can’t be a (thinly disguised) college that hasn’t lost at least half a dozen dons to murderous revenge or professional rivalry. Don’t get me wrong, I am the most immense fan of the whole franchise, but it does make Oxford a mite crowded for anyone wanting to set their own crime series here. I could have chosen somewhere else, of course, but I live in Oxford, and whoever it was who said ‘write what you know’ is dead right. That was one important reason I wanted to set the Fawley books here; the other is because there’s a lot more to Oxford than ivy-clad quads.

Being a university town definitely shapes the sort of place this is: there’s a big student population, and a high proportion of academics, many of them from overseas, and some of them (like the students) only here for a few years. And surrounding the ancient beautiful centre you have a ring of very different communities, from the industrial area round the Cowley car plant, to the genteel suburb of Summertown, to areas like Osney and Jericho, which bear witness to the city’s industrial past (the two-up-two-down Victorian cottages in Jericho originally housed workers at the nearby Oxford University Press).

These different ‘satellites’ have their own distinctive atmosphere and appearance, but even if the geographical areas are clear and self-contained, the same doesn’t go for the people. I’ve always been intrigued how much intermingling there is here between very different groups of people – how many connections there are that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. It makes this beautiful city a rich and diverse place to live and work in, but it also makes it fertile ‘terroir’ (as the French say), for conflict, misunderstanding and tension. Everything you need, in fact, for the perfect crime….

Cara Hunter January 2018

My Review

Crime Fiction
5*s

Wow! This is one of the most nail-biting crime fiction novel I have read for quite some time. DI Adam Fawley presides over a police investigation into eight year old Daisy Mason’s disappearance one summer night while her family were holding a barbecue. No-one saw her go but how can a child disappear into thin air?

This was a compelling read, a real page-turner with twists and turns aplenty. These and many of the other well-worn phrases apply to Close to Home and once again I’m going to struggle to explain what exactly this book offers that makes it stand out from a crowded genre.

I really liked the use of different types of written material in the book, within pages of Daisy’s disappearance the news is out and the twitter feed, oh so realistically created is recreated on the page, just check out those twitter handles, the sentiments shared in the 140 characters and compare them to everything you see, even if you don’t want to, on your own social media feed. A few pages further on we have the transcript of a police interview with a suspect, we have bulletin’s from the media, a birthday message and a story written by a child, all of which adds to the texture of the book, it tells a story without needing to verbalise some of the conflicting views the reader themselves may have.

The characters are also well-formed. I have a feeling some will be universally disliked but Adam Fawley is a likeable detective, not an alcoholic although he does have a bit of baggage, but who doesn’t and it’s the kind of problem which is likely to produce a hefty amount of sympathy. He has a good team who are in the main supportive of each other, a fairly inoffensive bit of rivalry between a couple of officers but not the angst ridden teams with endless pressure piled on from above that is the normal crime fiction fare.

The plotting is meticulous, I actually went back to the beginning to check some facts and I’m convinced that this book has undergone some rigorous editing to make sure that all the strands line up perfectly. The reason why I mention this aspect is because the storyline switches direction a number of times with a piece of evidence turning everything about-face and yet the structure of the book means it has gaps. We see one part of the investigation while elsewhere another piece of evidence is being investigated and so the simultaneous actions taking place are partly told with the answers not necessarily being revealed for a few pages.

All of this gives a fresh feel to this crime fiction series because I am delighted to announce that DI Adam Fawley will be back in the summer in Cara Hunter’s second novel In The Dark, a book that I am really looking forward to reading.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin for providing me with a copy of Close to Home thereby allowing me to get hooked on another crime fiction series! This unbiased review is my thanks to them and Cara Hunter for presenting me with a puzzle to entertain me.

First Published UK: 14 December 2017
Publisher: Penguin 
No of Pages: 385
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Cara Hunter is a writer who lives in Oxford, in a street not unlike those featured in her series of crime books. Her first book, Close to Home, was picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and this is her second featuring DI Adam Fawley and his team of detectives.

To find out more about Cara Hunter, follow her on twitter @CaraHunterBooks.

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

The A.B.C. Murders – Agatha Christie

Classic Crime Fiction
5*s

Hercule Poirot in this, the thirteenth book written about him by the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, is according to our dear friend Captain Hastings, a wee bit bored with no juicy crimes to solve. How fortunate then that he should receive an anonymous letter from someone signing themselves A.B.C.

I can’t say any more about this book without commenting on the then relatively unused style of alternating between a first person narrative by Captain Hastings and third person narrative provided by the same Captain Hastings but pertaining to be from another character. Needless to say we are now used to our author’s playing games with viewpoints but back in 1936 when the book was first published it was quite unexpected, but apparently well received.

Of course despite Hasting’s speculation that the event foretold in Andover may well be a burglary, Poirot is sure it will be murder, and of course he is right. Mrs Alice Ascher is killed in her ‘cheap’ tobacco and paper shop and left on the counter is a copy of the ABC railway timetable.

One of the things that has most enchanted me re-reading these novels is the very thing that passed me by when I first discovered them as a child. Whilst the murder mystery itself easily stands the test of time there is something about the everyday items and attitudes that surface now and again which instantly makes you realise this was first read, possibly by my grandparents when they were far younger than I am now! I mean you barely hear about maps nowadays let alone a book of railway timetables that people actually went and purchased! Although apparently my internet research indicates that there was a reprint done in 2010 named abc Guide for railway enthusiasts.

After Mrs Ascher’s death Inspector Crome, aware of the anonymous letter which saves the drunken errant husband of the deceased woman from suspicion, is condescending towards Poirot but he manfully rises above it, resplendent with his dyed hair and full moustache. Soon Poirot gets another letter indicating that the next murder will happen in Bexhill and challenging Poirot to solve the case. It’s fair to say the police don’t have a clue and nor does it seem that Poirot has much idea which direction to proceed except to chase around the country by train to the destinations given in the letters, but he has the victim’s family and friends to keep him busy while he waits…

A little later in the book it is commented on that each of the victims, I don’t think I’m giving much away to say we got passed the letter C, had their own little drama going on that would make for a good story, and it’s true. One of the delights is the varied age and disposition of the victims and their families which almost defies the long-held belief that Agatha Christie isn’t great at developing her characters as she certainly packs enough into this little book to satisfy this reader. A particular mention has to be given to  the wonderful Doctor Thomson who is intent on profiling the killer – again who knew that such methods were around in the 1930s?

Of course with the crimes happening up and down the country although always in places where a traveller has a convenient railway station to alight and depart from, the traditional gathering in the drawing-room to reveal the killer isn’t quite possible, but fear not, Hercule Poirot and his little grey cells does not disappoint in the dénouement.

So this book having been purchased in Bath in November 2017 is the first entry on my Mount TBR Challenge 2018 and earns me one-third of a book token.

 

 

First Published UK: 1936
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 331
Genre: Crime Fiction – Classic
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Anatomy of a Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Anatomy of a Scandal is being published at a time when both sides of rape trials are under enormous scrutiny in the press. While I was reading this book, two men were acquitted because full disclosure hadn’t taken place, some commentators believe this is partly caused by the drive to secure more convictions in rape trials. What no-one can deny that this crime is usually committed without witnesses and I don’t envy any jury having to sift fact from fiction or maybe hazy memories when so much is at stake for both alleged victim and perpetrator. Coupled with the rape are the many scandals that seem to provide a backdrop to our country from those who hold the highest offices in the land, at Westminster. So the combination of Ministers and rape, well this could come straight from the newspapers of today, except of course the book is very well written!

Over the years my love of courtroom drama has increased and so when I heard of this book back in the summer, I was desperate to get my hands on a copy; Dear Reader, this book did not disappoint in the slightest.

James Whitehouse is a loving father, an Oxford graduate and a Tory MP, in fact the Prime Minister is one of his oldest friends. James is married to Sophie and has been for many years when he is arrested for the rape of one of his assistants but Sophie is convinced it’s all a terrible mistake.

Kate is the prosecuting attorney, out to make a bigger name for herself she knows that if she can persuade a jury to find James guilty then she can ride high off the back of it. Sex crimes is her speciality although she is realistic about the low conviction rate, she’s determined to win this one.

The story unfolds through the three sets of eyes and ears: Sophie’s, Kate’s and James and as each one seeks to convince us of their truth, the shadows from the past are creeping back into their lives creating a complexity about the truth that is nebulous and yet not about to disappear anytime soon.

Sarah Vaughan is an accomplished writer, she had my feelings about the characters shifting almost imperceptibly as I struggled to work out what I should believe. The plot, just like a real trial, isn’t just about the truth, it also confronts our own moral stance from the obvious What were you wearing? Doing? Thinking? or in other words those questions aimed at the alleged victim by the defence team, to the more subtle question of privilege and the jury’s own prejudices.

The plotting was superb especially given that the story reaches back through time the author managed to keep a sense of place and time without causing confusion, which I’m sure is far harder than she made it look. I was also completely convinced by the characters they spoke and acted realistically given that this was a time of enormous stress for them all, albeit for different reasons.

Anatomy of a Scandal might be presented as a rape trial, and of course it is, but there is far more depth to this novel than I expected. The roller-coaster isn’t just about the verdict, it is also about marriage, friendship and moral dilemmas making for a highly satisfying read.

Anatomy for a Scandal
is obviously perfect reading for a book group, I can see that this book will generate much discussion and debate around the subject matter and the way the trial progresses.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers, Simon & Schuster UK, for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book. You really did the right thing in purchasing this brilliant, intelligent and thought-provoking book. This unbiased review is my thank you to the publishers and of course, Sarah Vaughan, who I sincerely hope is busy writing something new for me to enjoy.

First Published UK: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

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

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I’m going to start this review with a serious confession – I requested this book by accident, without even having read the blurb so when it appeared on my shelf I was let’s say ambivalent at best about reading – thank goodness I didn’t realise how long it was (592 pages) before I put it on the spreadsheet that must be obeyed! Well this was the best mistake (and there are a few to choose from) in 2017!

For all that it’s hard to explain just why I loved it so much without giving away any more than the synopsis, so please bear with me while I alternately gush and mush this review.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of Cyril Avery’s life, from before he was born in 1945 until old age creeps in 2008 and a bonus piece beyond. Yes, I know that sounds like a saga, and it is, but not like any saga I have ever read. What it does have in common with that now unfashionable style is the depth of character that is gained by the sheer length of time covered, but John Boyne has decided that we will only catch up with our protagonist every seven years which means that the first time we meet him, he is a school boy living with his parents Charles and Maude in Ireland. But do not think that a seven-year old boy has nothing worth hearing, the scene is being set with an event that Cyril will carry forward with him and this characterises the beauty of the book; it might be a long book but nothing said ever feels like a filler, each part has either a meaning or its importance will become apparent later on.

I was drawn into the story right from the start with one of the most memorable openings I’ve read in a long while and although I didn’t have any preconceptions (that’s what happens if you choose a book with no more knowledge than the most famous book for children which the author had written) the style was far funnier than those absent preconceptions had anticipated.

But for all they never fought. Maude’s way of dealing with Charles was to treat him like an ottoman, of no use to anyone but worth having around.

That’s not to say this book is one big hoot, it definitely isn’t, to read it is to ride the highs and the lows of Cyril’s life with him as this shy, solitary schoolboy grows into a teenager and then to a man where he becomes a civil servant and beyond where he ventures out of Ireland.

The work itself was incredibly boring and my colleagues a little irritating, the engines of their days fuelled by personal and political gossip.

Sitting next to the vacuous and highly unfocused Miss Ambrosia

She generally had at least five men on the go, everyone from barmen to dancehall entrepreneurs, showjumpers to pretenders to the Russian throne, and had no shame in juggling them like some nymphomaniacal circus act.

The everyday scenes have imprinted themselves on my mind and I was soon willing things to work out for Cyril, because here we have a man who every time things seem to be working out, life has an uncanny knack of knocking him off his stride.
Of course just like in real life, some characters only appear for one of the seven year sections alongside Cyril, whilst some appear then fade into the background before reappearing, and some, sadly are with us for a few sections before disappearing completely. What never happens is that you are bored of any of the rich array of men and women who walk alongside Cyril.

And yet for all that this is a book which has something important to say, most obviously about Ireland and the position the church held, and the way they treated women and other sections of society, but along with the markers to show the passing of time, none of this is driven home in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way.

To bring this rambling and frankly unstructured review to a close, I will just say that I adored this book. I was deeply annoyed that I read it in the run up to Christmas, a time when it was necessary to put the book aside and engage with the three-dimensional people and do endless chores, all the time longing to get back to Cyril Avery and his tragedies and triumphs, the heart-breaking moments which are underpinned with its almost playful look at the absurdities of life.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, allowing me to laugh and yes, sob, with Cyril Avery, this review is my thank you to them and of course the accomplished John Boyne. I just have to say if you read this book, and it is at a bargain price on kindle at this very moment, then do read the afterword by the author which is touching and heartfelt and explains where the inspiration for this book came from.

First Published UK: 17 February 2017
Publisher: Transworld
No of Pages: 592
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US