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

After You – Jojo Moyes

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I read Me Before You way back in 2013 and loved it. You are right, this isn’t crime fiction and nor is it particularly gritty but even though Jojo Moyes was telling the story about a young woman who falls in love with her boss, a quadriplegic, I found it an irresistible read.

In 2015 Jojo Moyes bought out a sequel, called After You and I considered whether to read it and decided it would ruin the original for me (something that I always dread with sequels) and so I ignored it. And then… in 2018 a further episode to Louisa Clarke’s life was published called Still Me. At this point, a colleague read the entire trilogy after hearing about Me Before You and asked my advice on if it was worth a read. I said yes and then she raved about the other two books, and I cracked and decided to listen to After You as an audio book. My previous rambles on audio books will confirm that light-hearted contemporary fiction is my preferred listening fare.

So how was it? In short I loved it. The narrator Anna Acton is perfect for telling the next episode in Louisa’s story as she learns to live with the emotional fall-out from Me Before You. The narrator manages to get the humour to come across in her voice without it ever feeling forced and the sadder parts are also almost underplayed allowing the author’s words to work the magic and complementing them rather than overegging the pudding so to speak.

Louisa isn’t the same young woman she was. She’s more thoughtful and suffering but she also has something special to offer. What I love is although she’s undoubtable a ‘good person’ she isn’t so good it’s sickly. Jojo Moyes created a ‘real’ woman character and then has developed her, realistically to deal with the next chapter in her life.

What makes Jojo Moyes such a wonderful author – I am now a confirmed fan – is that she manages to take her readers (or listeners) through the entire gamut of emotions and I travelled unashamedly through Louisa’s despair, her hope for others and then bit by bit herself, her sympathy, her embarrassment and her joy. They are all held up for examination and our inspection. I may be considerably older than Louisa but in many ways the story she tells is a timeless and relevant to us all.  Yes, there is romance and love and all those nice things which are all made entirely palatable with a rich seam of humour to take the edge off the sweetness. I have walked and listened to Louisa laughed at her observations, winced at the embarrassment of wearing an awful Irish costume as part of her job in the airport bar, loved it when she got one over on the pompous boss and wept alongside her when life unfairly conspires against her.

I loved meeting Louisa again as well as catching up with the Traynor’s and some new characters too, all as rich and as powerful as the original book, perhaps more so because on the surface the ingredients appear to be less obvious. In fact I loved it so much that I hadn’t finished this one before I bagged the audible version of the next book in the series, I wasn’t going to miss out any longer.

First Published UK: 24 September 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books
No of Pages: 411
Listening Length: 11 hours 8 minutes
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Suspect – Fiona Barton

Psychological Thriller
5*s

There can’t be many parents alive who have sons and daughters of a certain age who don’t feel mixed emotions should that child in any way be considering some time ‘travelling.’ It happened to me although my darling daughter had been to uni and lived independently while working and saving to go on her own adventure. On the one hand I was thrilled that she wanted to see how others live and at the same time to expand her own horizons and gain some experiences that I never had. On the other is that unease that it is so far away, in a place where the culture and rules are different and with the knowledge that not everyone you meet in life wishes you well.

I was therefore very pleased that those worrying days are now in the past but I can’t deny that aspects of The Suspect bought back those unstated fears so perhaps if you have a child either contemplating or travelling at the moment, postpone reading this one.

Alex has always wanted to travel with her very best friend and during the last year at school they planned their trip including all the must-see places in Thailand within its detailed itinerary. Then her best friend had to pull out but Rosie who lived down the road was able to find the money which meant Alex had someone to go with and after all an adventure is an adventure, right? And then things go wrong. No one hears from either Alex or Rosie on the day of their A Level results, or afterwards.

The story, as in the previous two books is told in part from the viewpoint of the reporter Kate Waters although perhaps this is the one story that gets far too close to home for comfort as her son is also travelling in Thailand. Also present is the police officer Bob Sparkes and for once we have an author who doesn’t go in for the outright hostility between the two professions but illustrates a more pragmatic relationship between the pair. We also hear from the parents of the two girls. Multiple viewpoints have become far more common in crime fiction but this is an author who uses them to the best advantage. Not once did I feel we were swapping the point of view to deliberately raise the tension (although there is no doubt that there is plenty of that too) but as the stories become more and more entwined these multiple viewpoints alongside Alex’s secret emails paint an entirely different picture than the telephone calls and social media postings had of the truth about the girl’s trip.

This was totally gripping and I felt that the viewpoints of all the mothers that featured in this book were real women. There are times when I feel the primeval emotion we feel about our children are often overblown, here we had the mixture of emotions that I’m sure is far more realistic and the book was all the more powerful for it.

I really don’t think the books need to be read in order, each working exceptionally well as a standalone read but as they are all five-star reads as far as I’m concerned I’m not sure why you wouldn’t!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Random House UK for giving me a copy of The Suspect ahead of publication on 24 January 2019. This unbiased  review is my thanks to them and the author for such an engaging read.

First Published UK: 24 January 2019
Publisher: Bantam Press
No of Pages: 384
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Previous Books by Fiona Barton

The Widow
The Child

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

To Catch a Killer – Emma Kavanagh

Crime Fiction
5*s

Emma Kavanagh manages to write crime fiction almost in the tone of someone who has experienced the very events herself. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given her background as she spent many years working as a police and military psychologist, training firearms officers, command staff and military personnel throughout the UK and Europe. In other words she knows how people behave in moments of peril!

To Catch a Killer opens in the middle of just such a moment, the kind of moment that I suspect I am alone in being able to thankfully say, I have not experienced in real life. Just as well because the book scared the bejeebers out of me! The memory of a day, one just like any other until the day DS Alice Parr answered a call on the radio to assist a paramedic save the life of a woman who had her throat cut. Warning, do not read this book if you are squeamish or eating your dinner, that feeling of being in the moment results in those heart-thumping moments you get viewing hospital dramas – you know it is fiction but even so…

Once the victim has been taken to hospital of course the police have to work out who the perpetrator of such a crime is and given that the attack took place in a London park, in the morning, how could they commit such a bloody crime in broad daylight with no one spotting what was going on?

So the reader has plenty to ponder and be warned although initially you may feel the pace is reasonable, it soon becomes quite fast and furious and given that the plot is complex, you need your wits about you. In other words this is a book to set aside some time to really get the best out of it. Fortunately to offset the blood and gore we have two female police officers who work well together, Polly’s somewhat less serious nature while not detracting from the crime does give the reader some smiles to lighten the load along the way.

We also get to visit another location, unusual in British crime fiction which normally tends to stay fairly close to home with a big deal being made if officers cross into the next county. In this book they have to get on an airplane to carry out some of the investigating which adds a whole different feel to the storyline.

The result of all this is an immensely satisfying crime fiction novel that really held my interest throughout and although I did manage to work out a tiny bit of the puzzle, the rest worked their magic and left me reeling at the outcome. This is the first in a trilogy that will feature Alice Parr a fact I was unaware of until I read the cliff hanger at the end which I have to confess isn’t my favourite way for a book to end as I suspect I will have to recap before the second book is published, but I will definitely be making sure I read a copy.

I therefore must say a huge thank you to Orion Publishing Group for allowing me to read a copy of To Catch a Killer prior to publication on 24 January 2019. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 24 January 2019
Publisher: Orion
No of Pages: 416
Genre: Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Other Great Reads by Emma Kavanagh

Falling
Hidden
The Missing Hours
Killer on the Wall

 

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
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