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

Kindred – Steve Robinson

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction
5*s

Genealogical mysteries are a rarity and so the chances are that you haven’t tried one, if not then Steve Robinson is the author to go to. This is the fifth in a series of books where the protagonist Jefferson Tayte (or JT) uses historical records to uncover secrets from the past. Often these forays into long forgotten events get him into trouble. But JT has his own genealogical mystery, he was adopted as a child and has no clue who his own ancestors are.

In Kindred JT finally has a clue, and a friend, Professor Jean Summer, to accompany him on his trip which is to Munich. Clutching a photo of the woman he believes may be his mother he is off to find out more about the building the woman in the photo is pictured against. It doesn’t take long for him to discover that this building belongs to Johann Langer an old and very ill man. Granted an interview with the man in hospital Langer tells the pair the beginning of the story of his friendship with Volker Strobel during their boyhood in Hitler’s Youth.

I’m not going to relay the whole story, you really should read this for yourself, but it’s told through Langer’s eyes over a number of years taking the two boys to adulthood, and it is just so very realistic, it is almost painful. This story of two boy’s war is set against JT’s struggle to find out the ending to the tale, not an easy task as it becomes very clear that someone doesn’t want them to know the truth – nor are they subtle in the way they give their warnings. With JT getting himself into dangerous situations having read the previous episodes I knew only too well how important finding out the truth is but, JT, you really do need to be a little more careful whose cage you rattle!

I don’t know if I have the right words to convey just how exceptional this book is; the storytelling was perfect, maintaining the tension with legitimate delays while documents were sought and meetings arranged but not to the point where it felt like a device. The friendship between JT and the Professor was well-drawn, with convincing scenes between the pair, dinners eaten, although perhaps less food than our protagonist would wish, and realistic exchanges of opinion – I like this pair working together. Obviously because of the time it was set and their background at times this story meets a historical reality that is hard to face, this isn’t a book that shies away from the reality of the war, including the concentration camps. At these times the absolute authenticity of this book felt very raw because I never doubted the truism that it portrayed.

This is by far the best of the entire series although I got into that awful quandary, especially towards the end, where I wanted to find out what happened but desperately didn’t want the book to come to an end. Thank you Steve Robinson for an absolutely wonderful story, set in both time and place to perfection.

I now need to say a huge thank you to the publishers Thomas and Mercer who allowed me to read a proof copy of Kindred ahead of the publication date of 12 April 2016, this review is my thank you to them.

If you haven’t read any of this series but you like historical fiction with a difference here are the books in order – I strongly suggest you start at the beginning although each one, including this latest one can easily be read as a stand-alone.

In The Blood
Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.

To The Grave
A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.

The Last Queen of England
While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.

The Lost Empress

On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route between Canada and England. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.
When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’s victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.
Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.

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

The Lost Empress – Steve Robinson

Mystery (Genealogical) 5*'s
Mystery (Genealogical)
5*’s

On 29 May 1914 having left Quebec for Liverpool, the Empress of Ireland, an ocean liner sank following a collision with SS Storstad, a Norwegian collier. Of the 1,477 people on board that night 1,012 people died, the largest Canadian maritime loss of life in peacetime, one hundred years later Jefferson Tayte is trying to track down the true fate of Alice Stillwell a second class passenger on the liner.

Empress of Ireland

The Lost Empress is the fourth in the Jefferson Tayte series where the affable genealogist who is more prone to taking on more dangerous assignments than is surely normal for a profession, has an assignment that takes him across the Atlantic to England in search of the truth about the Admiral’s daughter. Armed with a locket in possession of a descendent of an Alice Dixon living in the US who has a strong suspicion that Alice didn’t die on 29 May 1914 as the records indicate but if not why does no-one know?

I have enjoyed all the stories featuring JT, he is a likeable man who has turned to making genealogy a business despite not knowing his own birth family, this story arc continues in this episode but otherwise each book can be read as a stand-alone with each book concerning a different period of history and its own dangerous adventure it finding the truth. This book is no different, within hours of landing in England, JT is turned away by the first name on his list, the descendent of Alice Stillwell, leaving only slightly perturbed, he is used to this kind of behaviour, he is nearly run off the road in a seemingly calculated move. When he gets to the next name on his list he finds that the man has been recently murdered but all is not lost the friendly policeman agrees to let JT help with the investigation in case it is related to the one hundred year old mystery.

JT’s investigation leads him into many areas including spies during WWI and those tasked to catch them, the Secret Service Bureau. Spying was dangerous, if caught it was a matter of high treason and the sentence was to be shot by firing squad at the Tower of London. Steve Robinson adds colour to JT’s tale by alternating chapters from Alice Stillwell with his present day investigation, a device that has worked well in all these books and lifts the subjects from pure research into a character that the reader can relate to.

Another fantastic episode and once again an informative and well-researched read especially as it details activities that were never mentioned as part of the history of WWI I learnt at school!

I’d like to thank the publishers Amazon Publishing for my copy of this book which I received in return for this honest review. The Lost Empress will be published on 21 October 2014

Previous books by Steve Robinson featuring Jefferson Tayte:

In The Blood
Two hundred years ago a loyalist family fled to England to escape the American War of Independence and seemingly vanished into thin air. American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is hired to find out what happened, but it soon becomes apparent that a calculated killer is out to stop him.
In the Blood combines a centuries-old mystery with a present-day thriller that brings two people from opposite sides of the Atlantic together to uncover a series of carefully hidden crimes. Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and will stop at nothing to find them.

To The Grave
A curiously dated child’s suitcase arrives, unannounced and unexplained, in a modern-day Washington suburb. A week later, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte is sitting in an English hotel room, staring at the wrong end of a loaded gun.
In his latest journey into the past, Tayte lands in wartime Leicestershire, England. The genealogist had hoped simply to reunite his client with the birth mother she had never met, having no idea she had been adopted. Instead, he uncovers the tale of a young girl and an American serviceman from the US 82nd Airborne, and a stolen wartime love affair that went tragically wrong.

The Last Queen of England
While on a visit to London, American genealogist Jefferson Tayte’s old friend and colleague dies in his arms. Before long, Tayte and a truth-seeking historian, Professor Jean Summer, find themselves following a corpse-ridden trail that takes them to the Royal Society of London, circa 1708.
What to make of the story of five men of science, colleagues of Isaac Newton and Christopher Wren, who were mysteriously hanged for high treason?
As they edge closer to the truth, Tayte and the professor find that death is once again in season. A new killer, bent on restoring what he sees as the true, royal bloodline, is on the loose…as is a Machiavellian heir-hunter who senses that the latest round of murder, kidnapping, and scandal represents an unmissable business opportunity.

I wrote a post last year about the rise of a genre in response to those of us who are interested in genealogy which you can read here which includes brief reviews for the previous JT books.

Posted in Books I have read

The Murder Tree – Alan Veale

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime
4*’s

Based upon fact that in 1862 Jessie McLachlan was tried for murder of her friend, another servant also named Jessie McPherson this really is a unique read because this isn’t just a rehash of a crime rewritten for people like me who are fascinated by such things. The Murder Tree is, if anything, more weighted towards Chrissie Ferson and her companion Billy Vane than what really happened that fateful 4 July 1862 in a house in Glasgow.

A great genealogical mystery underpins The Murder Tree with a very determined Chrissie Fersen on the trail in Glasgow determined to find out what links her to the murder of a servant Jessie McPherson, in 1862.

Having suffered a great loss in her life the seemingly tenuous link between her family and the terrible murder that took place at 17 Sandyford Place appears to be just the right kind of focus she needs to take her mind off recent events. Billy Vane a local librarian also needs a distraction in his life and so when wealthy Chrissie meets him with a fantastical tale of ghosts they decide to solve the mystery together.

This book covers the murder, a family mystery twisted by lies both past and present, ghosts along with a smattering of madness and even a surprising smattering of romance all carefully mixed to produce an engaging read. I say carefully mixed as this combination could easily have gone badly awry! I’m not a lover of the supernatural and early on I did wonder if this would undermine the book for me; it didn’t I couldn’t wait to find out, well… everything!

I like books based on true stories and although the author makes it clear that this is a work of fiction the inclusion of some of the statements from the trial added a layer of intrigue for me.

To my delight this author has provided a fantastic The Murder Tree website which is the best example I have come across. This is a great addition to this book with pictures of 17 Sandyford Place, a family tree as well as notes about the author.  In answer to the author’s question posted there, this reader would certainly love to read a second book.

I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in return for this honest review.

The Murder Tree Amazon UK

For other examples of Genealogical crime read my previous post that lists some books available in this fascinating genre

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Marriage Certificate – Stephen Molyneaux

Genealogy  4*'s
Genealogy
4*’s

I love family history and one branch of my family tree originated in Essex, in fact my grandmother grew up in Leytonstone (which is the next stop on the underground to Leyton) so this book which centres around Peter, an amateur genealogist who comes across a marriage certificate at an antiques fair in Essex was one of those books I simply had to try.

Once Peter buys the certificate for £5.00 he is determined to discover more about the couple, Louisa Crockford and John Williams who married in 1900. Who were the couple? What happened after they married and why was their marriage certificate up for sale when surely it should have been kept by their family?
This story alternates with that of Rosetta Ince beginning in 1898 and Peter’s search in the present. In the past we get to know more about the young draper with ambitions to own her own shop, her hopes and her dreams and the understanding that as a woman at the turn of the century she couldn’t have the marriage and the career it just wasn’t possible.

The groom is off to fight in the Boer war in South Africa. This is not a war knew much about but Stephen Molyneaux’s writing certainly appeared to be well researched. When Rose moves to the Isle of Wight the bond between her and Lousia remains strong with letters and the newly invented postcards made their way between the two women.

I really liked this book, it was strong on the historical aspect which is important to me. It also realistically portrayed quite how easy it is to make assumptions when researching family history, although Peter had more lucky finds than I ever have had! There were plenty of sad moments and I got quite involved, wanting to know the full story. The book concluded on a twist, which although not entirely unexpected, rounded off the story nicely.

This book didn’t have the thriller aspects of my favourite genealogical mystery writers Steve Robinson and Dan Waddell it was an informative and enjoyable read.

Read more about Family History in Fiction in my related post.

 

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