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

The Lost Man – Jane Harper


Crime Fiction  5*s

 

Having come late to the party with Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry, I was determined not to be left behind by her latest novel, The Lost Man, a standalone read set in the outback of Australia.

The Lost Man had me swept along into an entirely different place, a different lifestyle and that daunting and dangerous landscape. This a book that will evoke a whole range of feelings in its readers and because of that it is not for the faint-hearted.

 We start with a description of a headstone, the marker for a legend that has been mutated during the years since it was placed there to mark the place where The Stockman died and on the day in question there is another body close to the headstone, another casualty to a lifestyle which is beyond ordinary comprehension.  Cameron Bright was the middle sibling of three brothers and his elder brother Nathan, and the younger, Bub, gather at the site where he perished through lack of shelter from the overbearing sun, or was the story of his death quite that simple?

Jane Harper is a master at showing (and definitely not telling) and she takes us on a tour, into the house where Cameron ran his  to the family he has left behind, two small girls whose daddy went out shortly before Christmas to fix something on his land and never returned. Cameron was man who knew the land, it was where he was born after all and now his wife Ilse is left to cope without him. Fortunately Uncle Harry is around as is the boy’s mother although as is only to be expected the house almost hums with confusion and grief.

What Jane Harper does that is even more explosive though is to start peeling back the layers of this family. Nathan pretty much takes centre stage as we journey with him back in time and slowly, oh so slowly but perfectly so, we learn the truth about an event many years ago that is still making its mark today.

I really couldn’t tell you what I enjoyed most about this book – was it the brilliant descriptions of a place? It really is testament to the author’s prowess that she managed to conjure up the heat and power of an open landscape of the outback in Queensland, when her reader was sat with the wind and rain howling across a small island on the other side of the world. I haven’t ever been to Australia and if I did the outback would probably not be my chosen destination, and yet for the duration of this book, I was very much there in the house with Isle and her girls Sophie and Lo. I watched Cameron’s mother Liz weep in the deepest of darkness when the generator was switched off by Harry at night-time.  Perhaps the legend of the Stockman had something to do with the appeal, or equally the unravelling of a mystery that is dark, don’t for one moment imagine that the grim scenes at the beginning of the book mean you’ve passed the worst, there are shocks still to be revealed.

In conclusion I loved this book because it covers a great deal of ground, there are deeply upsetting moments but perhaps in keeping with the characters that inhabit the real-life place, there is something very measured about the delivery. No over-hyped action scenes here, just the truth which is sometimes a whole lot worse.

I’d like to thank the publishers Little Brown for allowing me to read a copy of The Lost Man, and to Jane Harper for moving me with this incredible novel. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

 

First Published UK: 22 November 2018
Publisher: Little Brown
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

First Published UK: 22 November 2018
Publisher: Little Brown
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

First Published UK: 23 October 2018

Publisher: Little Brown

No of Pages: 384

Genre: Crime Fiction

Amazon UK

Amazon US

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

The Lies We Told – Camilla Way

Psychological Thriller
5*s

Having somewhat overdosed on psychological thrillers during the last few years I vowed to cut down during 2018 and it’s one of the few bookish resolutions that I’ve kept, but… and there is always a but; I started to miss the rollercoaster ride that this sub-genre produces so well and I so I treated myself to a copy of a book by an author who’d previously wowed me with her book Watching Edie.

If anything The Lies We Told was even better!

The opening scene is that of a young mother who finds the corpse of the family budgie – the killer is her young daughter Hannah. But that is all in the past and the dangerous daughter is left behind while we move to Clara’s story in the present.

Clara lives a ‘normal’ life. She’s happy, a working woman with a lovely boyfriend who she’s planning to move in with when he suddenly disappears. Clara does all the normal things: checks with his friends, drives down to see his family and looks in pockets & drawers to try to find clues, but there are none. What Clara does find, of course she does, that Luke wasn’t quite the man she thought he was.
Some things are excusable though, Luke’s sister Emily had disappeared without a trace some twenty years ago. From the little Clara knows this caused untold anguish certainly to Luke’s parents, Oliver and Rose Lawson, and to a lesser extent to Luke and his brother Tom who were all left to wonder what had happened to Emily.

This is a classic psychological thriller. We have a mixture of characters, all nicely distinct and most with a little bit of good, and a little bit of bad inside them – half the fun of this genre is to work out as you are reading how the stresses of the story, and this one has enough tension to make you feel like you are walking on a high wire, are influencing your view of their actions. After all if your boyfriend went missing and then you found out that he wasn’t quite the Mr Perfect you thought he was would you cut your losses there and then, or would you feel that you had to help in any way possible to help his family find out what has happened – even if that means keeping the biggest secret of all, that Emily has returned?

The story rattles along, the psychopathic child inserting herself into the story line at regular intervals even though there is no obvious place for her – has she completely transformed? Surely not, this is a psychological thriller after all and that means that scary bad personality traits only go in one direction, yes to even more dark and scary places!

Camilla Way is the absolute best at pulling all the seemingly disparate strands together and although I confess I had worked out some elements given some well-placed clues, I was still a mile from the whole truth. The ending was perfect, not quite the resolution the reader might expect but satisfying enough to allow this one to close the book with a smile.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins
No of Pages: 385
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

The Murder of Harriet Monckton – Elizabeth Haynes

Historical Crime Fiction
5*s

I like reading non-fiction books especially about true crime, even better if they are back in the past; I think this is because it feel less like I am trying to gain entertainment from someone’s tragedy, and if it is new to me too, well that is the icing on the cake. The problem with some non-fiction true crime is that you don’t get a real feel for some of the characters, often the victim who is often dead before we meet them and unless they’ve been murdered for their own dastardly acts they can appear as nameless victims. It is for this reason that my preference for true crime is that which is presented as fiction using the crime itself as inspiration. This is what the incredibly talented Elizabeth Haynes has done with the story of The Murder of Harriet Monckton.

Harriet was living in Bromley Kent, she was a single woman of 23 years old; a school teacher and observed to be a devout Christian attending the local Chapel regularly. It turns out that Harriet was also around six months pregnant when she died from ingesting Prussic acid on 7 November 1843 and her body was found in the privy behind the chapel the following day. A sad end and one that because the vessel containing the poison could not be found, the only conclusion was that this had to be a murder. But who would want Harriet dead?

Elizabeth Haynes tells us at the end of this magnificent book that she has used the two inquests held as well as newspapers from the time to recreate the key characters in the book. She has done magnificently well. Every single person we come across works as an individual, and as a collective taking up their positions in their small town, they are at times terrifying in what they are willing to see, to acknowledge and to challenge. I cried for Harriet who had so much to offer but was sadly one of those women who was taken advantage of, and lost her life because of it that comes through whether or not you take the history that the author has created to be credible or not.

Bringing the forgotten back to life is the real triumph when fictionalising a real crime. No one was ever tried for Harriet’s murder, in fact once the coroner had finally concluded the inquest some two years after her death any traces of her life seem to vanish alarmingly quickly. Elizabeth Haynes states at the end of the book that she couldn’t leave this young woman without telling her story – and I heard that story loud and clear. In the hands of this undoubtedly talented lady, we are presented back with a fully rounded woman, with hopes and fears, with errors of judgement made and plans for a better future made – the facts that are contained in the recording of her life are fed into a story that can be taken at face value and read as an example of a life lived, in 1843, in Bromley so minutely were the details recreated for our consumption.

If you haven’t already guessed, I adored this book for the premise, the skill in recreating a life, the rich story that has been served up to the reader and the characters that leap off the page, The Murder of Harriet Monckton will most definitely be a book that will appear in the top ten published this year.

First Published UK: 28 September 2018
Publisher: Myriad
No of Pages: 437
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Books by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest Corner (2011)
Revenge of the Tide (2012)
Human Remains (2013)
Under a Silent Moon (2013) – DCI Louisa Smith #1
Behind Closed Doors (2015) – DCI Louisa Smith #2
Never Alone (2016)

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

The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths

Psychological Thriller
5*s

What an absolutely fantastic book, the perfect autumnal read in, this a creepy psychological thriller, a standalone book by the very talented Elly Griffiths.

I’m a typical book lover so an author who inserts a book inside a book is onto a good thing. Even better if you do as Elly Griffiths has, and insert a fictional Victorian gothic thriller into a modern crime thriller book.

Clare Cassidy is an English Literature teacher at Talgarth High, a modern building annexed onto Holland House the last residence of the famous author R.M. Holland. Even before Clare went to teach at the school she was a fan of R.M. Holland’s writing but having access to his untouched study has only increased her interest and she’s planning to write a biography about him. In her day job, which includes adult creative writing lessons, she uses his text The Stranger to lead and inspire her classes. Then a close friend, another teacher is found murdered and it seems that the murderer is also a fan of our Victorian writer as a quote from The Stranger is found by the body.

I really can’t stress how brilliantly Elly Griffiths has fused the old and the new in this novel because she doesn’t appear to use any novel techniques; the book open s with the start of the gothic thriller with other excerpts appearing throughout the book, but somehow even with references to ghosts and the strangeness of the supernatural, I was so completely immersed in the book that I pretty much unquestionably believed all that I was told for the duration of the read.

The modern investigation is told from multiple viewpoints which include Clare, the detective DS Harbinder Kaur who is an acerbic quirky character who soon became my favourite of all the characters in the book, Clare’s teenage daughter Georgie also gets a stay and decide whether we also disapprove of her older boyfriend or not. And this is the thing, throughout the book the Victorian melodrama of suspicious deaths and references to a missing daughter brush-up not only against the absolute brutality of murder, but the everyday modernity that is life; what do we think of an Indian gay detective? Does it matter that a grown woman lives with her parents? Should a fifteen year old be dating a twenty-one year old? What does that say about him? Her Parents? and on, and on – some aspects of the book appear deliberately inserted to make the reader question the viewpoint that they are prodding at. To add to the cast of interesting characters we have Henry Hamilton a Cambridge scholar who has some of his letters and we have Harbinder Kaur’s work partner Neil and the aspiring Jean Brodie, Bryony Hughes, believe me a more mixed yet fascinating bunch of people your unlikely to meet.

As for the mystery itself? Well I guess it isn’t the hardest to crack but nor is this a book where it’s obvious from the start – there are plenty of red-herrings to keep you on your toes and don’t forget there are also mysteries to be solved in the past too! There is entertainment to be had on every page from the literary references to bonkers behaviour and ghosts haunting the stairways!

When the wind is howling and the nights are dark you’ll have to go a long way to find such a perfect atmospheric read.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Quercus for sending me an arc, and the author Elly Griffiths for a thoroughly entertaining read, this review is my unbiased thanks to you all.

First Published UK: 1 November 2018
Publisher: Quercus
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Fatal Promise – Angela Marsons

Crime Fiction
5*s

The pull I have towards crime fiction isn’t necessarily because I like studying murders or reflecting on the darker side of human nature or even that I have a desire to be a detective, it is more because the range of human emotions is there on a page for me to read, reflect on while at the same time having a mystery to unravel. Angela Marsons uses her latest book to demonstrate, amongst other emotions, grief. The team lost someone dear to them at the end of book eight, Dying Truth and we see them all cope in their different ways with their loss. There is anger, bitterness, sadness and guilt but despite all these human emotions, there is a job to do and they roll up their sleeves and do just that. This in turn gives Fatal Promise a slightly reflective feel, but at this point in the series that is no bad thing at all.

It all starts with a body… doesn’t it always? But this time the body is someone that is known to our intrepid Kim Stone – Doctor Gordon Cordell is found in the woods and so the team have no option but to revisit the case where he originally came to their attention. Although not the most likeable man on the planet, it is hard to see who would want him dead.

Meanwhile as the team had been assisting other teams while Kim Stone was out of action and Stacey who is, I must say becoming a very satisfying character in her own right, is keen to keep hold of one she started, it’s a missing girl and her instincts are screaming that someone should be looking for her.
These books get harder and harder to review. I love Kim Stone’s character, she’s strong and decisive, not keen on being told what to do but conforms enough for the reader to find her bullishness believable. Going back to my first paragraph, modern day crime fiction novelists have a challenging job. Not only do they have to come up with one plot that is credibly thought out and gives the readers enough clues to allow them to feel that they have a chance of solving the crime, they also have to keep the story relevant to the times we live in. No longer can we have maverick detectives spreading their misogyny or the like wherever they go, the readers know that the previous generation of detectives would spend their lives on courses or being put out to pasture, but nor of course do we want to read about someone who only cares about politics, we need our detectives to care about the victims, so that we do too.

Angela Marsons always gets the plotting spot on, and this is no different, in fact having two plots running side by side not only gives Stacey her time in the spotlight but also adds a layer of realism to the juggling of priorities which we know must go on in policing. The author also has the pacing right, some of her books have more of an urgent feel about them than others, and this is perhaps more on the reflective side given what’s come before, but her books always hold my interest and I know I’m in for a real treat.

If you haven’t started this fantastic series, I really urge you to do so, although for once I do recommend that you start at the beginning because they just keep getting better and for me there is no better place to contemplate the variety of experience, we have run down estates to post boarding schools, we have the big tragedies and the every day smaller disappointments and of course we have love and loss!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Bookouture for allowing me to read a copy of Fatal Promise before it is published next week on 19 October 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and Angela Marsons for another entertaining, and thought-provoking, episode in the Kim Stone series.

First Published UK: 19 October 2018
Publisher: Bookouture
No of Pages: 386
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books featuring Kim Stone
Silent Scream
Evil Games
Lost Girls
Play Dead
Blood Lines
Dead Souls
Broken Bones
Dying Truth

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

And So It Begins – Rachel Abbott

Psychological Thriller
5*s

An entire rug woven with complicated relationships is the best way to describe And So It Begins, the first psychological thriller to be shared from the pen of the hugely talented Rachel Abbott.

Mark, Evie and Cleo (great choice of name) are all too bound up in each other’s lives for any sort of common sense to prevail, and there is a dead wife hovering over Mark’s shoulder to ensure the intensity is driven to the highest level.

But first lets go to where it begins. A phone call from a woman in distress alarms the local Cornish police and so Sergeant Stephanie King races to the impressive house of Mark, or Marcus North. It isn’t the first time she’s been there, last time his wife was found dead, in the basement. This time it is Mark that’s dead and we know who did it, Evie, his girlfriend, the mother of his daughter. She freely admits that’s the case but our tenacious Sergeant wants to know why.

Mark was married to Mia, hence the impressive house, the money was hers. But his sister Cleo didn’t approve, she barely disguised her dislike of Mia who didn’t give Mark the encouragement and praise he deserved (in her eyes) over his photographic genius. Mia died in what is assumed to be a tragic accident having tripped up running downstairs by an undone shoelace – see our mother’s always warned us that this could happen!

While Mark is in the depths of depression after Mia’s death, Evie walks into the gallery managed by Cleo that showcases his art. She wants to commission a series of photos of herself for her father. Cleo seeing an opportunity to make money and raise Mark’s profile insists that he meet with the young woman with connections, and it is from here that we move towards those opening pages.

This story was pleasingly partly set in the courtroom where Evie stands charged either with murder or manslaughter and it is here that we begin to see how the relationship between the three has been based upon secrets and lies.

Rachel Abbott’s books are so satisfying. This is an author who is able to tell a story and one that is relevant to contemporary life. Her characters, as in the previous books, are fully rounded and although I wasn’t particularly a fan of my namesake I can’t deny she was interesting! Great characterisation isn’t just confined to the key protagonists, from the police, to the lawyers and those that only get a brief look in through the story, they are all ‘real’.

There is no doubt that this is an engaging tale and one that I read compulsively, I needed to know if what I believed was the truth at the beginning was actually the truth but as my reading progressed, like all good psychological thrillers, the writer made me change my opinion, time and time again. However this isn’t a book of trickery, you know the type, when you finally turn that last page and contemplate what you’ve read, you feel like the writer has been playing with you. Not Rachel Abbott, the clues were there, no trickery involved, you just need to look at the puzzle through the right prism.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the author for arranging an advance copy of And So It Begins to be sent to me. This unbiased review is my thanks to her for a hugely absorbing and entertaining read. This is one psychological thriller that you don’t want to miss!

First Published UK:  11 October 2018
Publisher: Wildfire
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

A Jarful of Angels – Babs Horton

Crime Fiction
5*s

I’m not really sure how to categorise this book so I’ll simply say that as a tale of childhood with all the grim realities of adults misunderstanding you the poverty of life driven to the edges by the magical world that only children can create and yet realism seeps through as an adult watches the world filtered through the eyes of children.

Iffy, Bessie, Fatty and Billy live in a small welsh village, the sort that those of us who grew up as late as the seventies can recognise as being every and any small town. There are the local characters, the woman swapping gossip and keeping secrets and the men who roar in the background. There is the local haunted house, I have yet to find a child yet who was free to roam who didn’t have the local haunted house, the graveyards and the like to give themselves a jolly good scare each and every time boredom threatened.

The our children play in the remote town, in the shadow of the pits, in the long hot summer of 1963. They find a garden full of dancing statues, they peer into mad Carty Annie’s wares and they visit the shopkeeper for the sweets that they will suck so hard that they cause burns on their tongues. As the heat rises they are rained on by frogs and they find a skull and they find a jar full of angels. But what does it all mean, if anything? And then by the end of the summer just three of the four children remain, one is missing.

Thirty years later Will Sloane one of the policemen who searched for the missing child, returns to the town. Over the years he has been haunted, as policemen often are, by the case that was never solved. The clues that he is able to uncover lead to interlocking mysteries that beg to be unravelled but it is up to our retired detective to find the right key.

The story itself is everything a mystery story should be, but what lifts this tale head and shoulders above others is the lyrical prose and its powerful evocation of a world not yet forgotten but now I fear out of reach. It is a world that lends itself to the unsaid, the rampaging gossip counteracted by secrets kept well hidden, the adults barely alluding to the terrible things that they know.

Although I didn’t grow up in the Wales, I did spend my formative years just across the boarder albeit at least a decade later than when this story is set. Rarely have I read a book where the children are so well portrayed, so much so that it took me back to my childhood, the excitement at the start of the summer, the adventures that we would have, real or imagined and the characters that played their part in the experience. There were the predictable yells to come home for dinner, to adults wholly unconcerned with how your day had been spent their lives working to a different rhythm full of gossip and sighs and of course those adults who you stayed clear of, the reason to do seldom voiced, its knowledge spread almost by osmosis.

Babs Horton has created a very special book in A Jarful of Angels, one that transcends any real genre and one that means that her brilliantly created characters came to life through her magical prose.

First Published UK:  2013
Publisher: Babs Horton 
No of Pages: 292
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best (September 2014 to September 2018)


5 Star Reads

In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.

One of the fascinating things I find looking back over these posts is some months seem to have far more varied types of reads than others – I’m beginning to suspect September has that whiff of ‘back to school’ about it with an urge to broaden my horizons being evident.

You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.

In September 2014 though it was very much an old favourite which is the winner. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie had me caught up in what may have been express travel in the 1930s when the book was written but seemed to be anything but to a modern reader. I loved the range of characters, the level of research undertaken by Agatha Christie to make sure the details were correct, as well as pitting my inferior little grey cells against Hercule Poirot’s vastly superior ones.

The plot is ingenious, and I can only imagine how it was received as this book doesn’t really meet the conventions of crime fiction for the time it was written. With a cracking pace alongside a despised victim the pleasure was all about seeking to fit the clues together into a fitting scenario. The ending has to be one of the best ever with all the travellers called to the fine dining car as Poirot outlines two possibilities of what could conceivably explain what happened in carriage number 2. I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.

Blurb

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. An American lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.
With tension mounting, detective Hercule Poirot comes up with not one, but two solutions to the crime. Amazon

In September 2015 I was blown away by The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, a fabulous historical novel of the like that could only have come from the pen of this incredibly talented author.

Set in the 1940s this book tells a story in reverse starting with 1947, travelling back to 1943 before ending at the beginning with 1941.

Knowing the ending, or at least part of it, before you get to the beginning of a story lent this book a peculiar feeling of poignancy, as well as inevitably giving the reader a few ‘ahh’ moments as the actions of our main characters begin to make a little more sense once we know what had happened in the past. This way of revealing the story also meant that I wanted to go back to the beginning, willing the 1947 part to go just that little bit further, to give me some sense of completeness to the character’s lives that hold the promise of a future never to be told.

This was simply superb and reading my original review makes me want to pick up the story again while still hoping that the ending/beginning will somehow reveal something different…

Blurb

Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.

This is the story of four Londoners – three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the war and lived life at full throttle, now dresses in mannish clothes and wanders the streets with a restless hunger, searching . . . Helen, clever, sweet, much-loved, harbours a painful secret . . . Viv, glamour girl, is stubbornly, even foolishly loyal, to her soldier lover . . . Duncan, an apparent innocent, has had his own demons to fight during the war. Their lives, and their secrets connect in sometimes startling ways. War leads to strange alliances . . .

Tender, tragic and beautifully poignant, set against the backdrop of feats of heroism both epic and ordinary, here is a novel of relationships that offers up subtle surprises and twists. The Night Watch is thrilling. A towering achievement. Amazon

September 2016’s entry is a psychological thriller; Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst. I love it when friendship is the basis of this sub-genre as these are often more complex than any romance.

In Before I Let You In there are three friends, Karen a psychiatrist, Eleanor a mother to a young child with relationship problems and Bea a single woman whose problems stem from the past. And then Jessica walks in for an appointment with Karen and seems to know all about Eleanor!

The plotting was superb, and despite me having an inkling where the fishy smell was strongest, there was plenty to ponder over, actions to be contemplated and of course trying to fix the pieces of the puzzle into a whole picture. If you enjoy a psychological thriller which features realistic characters and a strong storyline, you should definitely consider reading this one.

Blurb

Karen is meant to be the one who fixes problems.

It’s her job, as a psychiatrist – and it’s always been her role as a friend.

But Jessica is different. She should be the patient, the one that Karen helps.

But she knows things about Karen. Her friends, her personal life. Things no patient should know.

And Karen is starting to wonder if she should have let her in . . . Amazon

2017 saw me wowed by another historical fiction, this time The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis.

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 takes up a job offer to locate the family of the recently deceased to save the local council spending money on their funerals.

One of Margaret’s first jobs is to sift through the belongings in one flat of an elderly woman. With a beautiful green dress seeming out of odds with the rest of the detritus of a life the hunt begins.

This is a book full of themes which while at times quite a dark tale flicking backwards between the 1930s and the present day from London to snowy Edinburgh as well as moving between one claustrophobic household to another; I loved every minute of it.



Blurb

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 . . .

An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the floor.

A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back in the city she thought she’d left behind, her future uncertain, her past in tatters.

She soon finds herself a job at the Office for Lost People, tracking down the families of those who have died neglected and alone.

But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of one lonely stranger . . . Amazon

There was a clear winner for this year’s entry for the five star award and that was The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward. I’m not sure how this author keeps producing crime fiction set in Derby of such high quality but, this number four in the DC Connie Childs series, is even better than those which preceded it.

With the tale split between the past in 1957 and an equally evocative present, the mystery has its heart in an old railway tunnel near Bampton. A girl went into the tunnel never to reappear and it seems that now someone wants to be certain that the secrets from the past stay firmly hidden.

One of my favourite aspects is that all the characters are great, they are all genuine people, police as we like to imagine our local police force to be; caring and diligent with an absolute drive to get to the truth. And boy do they show their tenacity in this novel.

Blurb

The past won’t stay buried forever.

November, 1957: Six teenage girls walk in the churning Derbyshire mists, the first chills of winter in the air. Their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting. Only five appear on the other side.

October, 2014: a dying mother, feverishly fixated on a friend from her childhood, makes a plea: ‘Find Valerie.’ Mina’s elderly mother had never discussed her childhood with her daughter before. So who was Valerie? Where does her obsession spring from?

DC Connie Childs, off balance after her last big case, is partnered up with new arrival to Bampton, Peter Dahl. Following up on what seems like a simple natural death, DC Childs’ old instincts kick in, pointing her right back to one cold evening in 1957. As Connie starts to broaden her enquiries, the investigation begins to spiral increasingly close to home. Amazon

Five of the Best 2018

January 2018
February 2018
March 2018
April 2018
May 2018
June 2018
July 2018
August 2018

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

Love As Always Mum xxx – Mae West with Neil McKay

Non-Fiction
5*s

Fred & Rose West’s crimes were shocking and I well remember the days at the end of February, beginning of March 1994 when the papers were full of nothing else than the awful rising count of bodies found in a garden, and under a cellar floor, in Gloucester. As the details unfolded I felt a personal pull; I had lived near and in Gloucester, I’d certainly walked along Cromwell Street and Heather West was the same age as me, or would have been if she hadn’t been killed and buried under a patio.

In 2011 Neil McKay’s drama documentary Appropriate Adult was shown on UK TV. This looked at the effect that sitting in on the interviews between Fred West and the police had on the woman designated his ‘appropriate adult.’ The writer had gone to great lengths to look at the psychological impact on the people involved in the investigation. Mae, the eldest surviving daughter of Rose and Fred West was involved in the project and he persuaded her to tell the world what it was really like growing up, and what the last twenty plus years have been like being the daughter of probably the most notorious of all female serial killers. His assistance with the book mean that while Mae’s own words shine through the structure and overall feel is that this is a well-written and thought out book.

Because of my early interest I have read most if not all of the books written about the crimes but I was very interested to hear how Mae came to terms with the realisation that her mother had been far more involved than Mae had wanted to believe. I truly believe that when we obviously recoil from the crimes that their parents committed we forget that the children in the house at the time were innocent and yet they bear the scars not only of their upbringing but also the scars of people’s reactions when they find out who they are. This is a side of crime and the awful ripple effect that is rarely examined.

I’m not going to pretend this is an easy read but I’m glad to say it doesn’t dwell on accounts of the murders themselves, although of course they do feature, rather this is Mae’s account of things she remembers from childhood; Heather and her younger brother Stephen feature largely here because of the first three children of Rose and Fred West were close in age. Mae is at pains to impress that while there was abuse and other unsavoury things going on at home, they also celebrated birthdays, had a lovely sit down Christmas lunch and were turned out to school in spotlessly clean clothes and Rose took the children to school she picked them up at home time. In other words her childhood wasn’t so very different to mine, or I suspect any other child’s in the same era. Mae also puts to bed the lie that the West children knew no better than the way they were bought up. Even as children, as children generally are, they were aware where the differences between their homelife and those of those of their peers. They were embarrassed by ‘sex noises’ leaking into the street and the fact that their father compulsively stole, and abused his daughters.

The extracts from Rose’s letters add another psychological study which is impossible to solve although Mae gives her views on what the letters sending her love from inside prison to the life her daughter was building with such a terrible shadow hanging over her.

What most impressed me is that Mae manages to get across that just because she was played a very bad hand in the cards of life she has her own aspirations, she has passed the right values onto the next generation as have her sisters who she remains close to. I say to those who criticise her decision to write this book, who are we to judge and perhaps if you remove the sensationalism surrounding the author and read the words, this is a study of a number of psychological issues.

First Published UK: 6 September 2018
Publisher: Seven Dials
No of Pages: 461
Genre: Non-Fiction
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads, The Classic Club

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

Classic
5*s

This book was chosen for one of the entries for The Classics Club list as I’d heard so much about it from so many admirers and so I had to see what Jean Brodie had to say about herself, I wasn’t disappointed.

As the book opens we meet Miss Jean Brodie as she is with her ‘set.’ The ‘Brodie Set’ is a group of ten-year old girls who she taught at Marcia Blaine School for Girls. It’s the early 1930s and Miss Jean Brodie declares to her willing listeners that she is in her ‘prime.’ What that means for a woman in these inter-war years is that she is ready and willing for new experiences, she loves art and she wants to be loved. Sadly the man who she loves is married.

Miss Brodie sees her role with these chosen girls to guide them to love life and to love learning and as far as she’s concerned the way to get the most out of life you don’t need to worry too much about history or maths, you’re much better listening to the story of her own lost love, Hugh who died in the war. She takes them to galleries, concerts and for walks around Edinburgh but it is the lost love that dominates the girls imagination in the early section of the book.

“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

Having first met the girls at ten we see their personalities reflected through their teacher’s eyes, and each other’s. Considering the book is so slim, it has quite a lot to say – I can’t get the fate of poor Mary MacGregor who everyone dismissed for her stupidity but became a useful scapegoat by them all, out of my head.

Mary MacGregor, lumpy, with merely two eyes, a nose and a mouth like a snowman [and] at the age of twenty-three, lost her life in a hotel fire’.

When they move to the senior school the girls still meet with their mentor, having tea with her and her lover and the story takes a turn because of the shadow of disgrace should any impropriety be discovered which will most definitely ruin Miss Jean Brodie’s prime. It is when the girls become women that the betrayal occurs but it is left to the reader to decide how they feel about the betrayer and the betrayed.

What I was expecting from Muriel Spark’s chief protagonist was a woman making a difference in a world that still had such rigid expectations, an unconventional character who had passed down this way of being to the next generation, a feminist and a lover of life. What I actually got was something far less obvious. Our chief protagonist goes on holiday to Italy and over the years that the Brodie Set are in existence comes back to extol the way Fascism has transformed the country, for the better in her view and as the girls get older she becomes more obsessed with the idea that one of the girls, Rose, should have a love affair with the man who she loves but was sadly married to another. All very odd and unnecessary!

This is one of those books that is truly a classic because it creeps into your mind and takes up residence. It is a slim novel but one that has absolutely had me mulling over its sheer depth. There are layers of meaning, a brilliant depiction of the class distinction in 1930s as well of course the special restrictions placed upon the woman of that age.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is number 1 on  The Classics Club list and the eighth of my fifty choices that I’ve read and reviewed.

First Published UK: 1961
Publisher: Macmillan 
No of Pages: 144
Genre: Classic Fiction
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