Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Zig-Zag Girl – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction

When two boxes which have an unbecoming odour are left at the station’s Left Luggage in Brighton the police are called. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is called to investigate as once opened the contents reveal parts of a human body. When the third and final part is located with a message addressed to Edgar as ‘Captain Stephens’ he remembers a magic trick called the Zig-Zag Girl, not the immediate notion that may spring to any regular policeman’s mind, but Edgar had been part of a special unit during World War II that was made up of a contingent of magicians. Calling themselves The Magic Men their aim was to trick the German’s into thinking Scotland was better defended than it was.

In 1950’s Brighton the world moved at a different pace and Edgar is left to investigate with only a few minor admonishments from his superiors to solve the mystery, and fast. Edgar starts to meet up with the other members of The Magic Men a task that began easily enough as the famous Max Mephisto is currently top of the bill at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, and as the two men catch up on the intervening years we are also treated to the life of a travelling showman with his itinerant lifestyle full of landlady’s in B & B’s and showgirls and the pressing worry that variety shows are no longer the draw they were before the war.

I enjoyed this tale, on the one hand it is a classic mystery story, not too much blood and guts with all the nasty action pretty much taking place off page, and partly a portrait of a different lifestyle in an age when it was still so important to many to give the right impression. Edgar’s mother for instance isn’t impressed with his choice of career, she would have much preferred him to become an academic. The war changed the lives of The Magic Men and not all for the worse, with companionship in this relatively cloistered unit giving Edgar a different outlook on life especially at first when it was completed with a blossoming romance, but things didn’t end well for The Magic Men and after one final failed trick they had disbanded.

I have to admit, I loved Edgar, his lack of grandeur and his obvious hero-worship of the more world-weary Max was touching as was his sense of loyalty towards other members of The Magic Men, Tony and the Major, as well as the elderly Diabolo all of whom were intriguing characters and despite not being drawn in any great amount of depth were great secondary characters.

I have enjoyed Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series rooted as they often are in the past and I was hugely impressed with the way the writing in this book effortlessly transported me to 1950’s Brighton conjuring up a different kind of magic to that of the magicians.

I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus Books for allowing me to read a copy of The Zig-Zag Girl in return for my honest opinion. If you like a complex mystery, learning about a different way of life and a well-told tale, you will probably enjoy this book.

Elly Griffith’s previous books

The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead

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

Victorian Murderesses – Mary S. Hartman

Historical Crime 5*'s
Historical Crime

There is something quite fascinating about women who murder, and judging by the amount of contemporary reporting of the details about the cases featured in this book, nothing much has changed over time. In this book the author has selected an Englishwoman and a Frenchwoman for each chapter based upon the circumstances, rather than the method of their crimes. All the women featured are from the middle-classes and a certain amount of conjecture is used to paint a picture of this class of women from the details of their cases the reasoning of the author being that these women’s lives weren’t documented or studied in the way of the lower classes and so using these cause celebres can give us a glimpse behind the drawing room curtains of their lives. I’m not completely convinced by this argument but for some of the broader details it works, for instance the chapters that touch upon contraceptive gives us an idea of how widespread or acceptable this was in Victorian England for the middle-classes.

The beauty of this book is threefold; the details of the crimes committed the resulting investigation and if appropriate trial, the popular opinion at the time of the guilt or innocence of those accused using contemporary media and lastly the particular social issues that may have led these women to act outside the law and kill another person. Each case presented was interesting and appeared to be well-researched, although one of the downsides of reading this kind of book on the kindle is that following the notes as you go along is very time-consuming so I tended to wait until I’d finished a chapter to catch-up on these. The fact that there were two women per chapter means that the reader does need to concentrate once the initial setting of the scene has happened, as the author switches between the two subjects to compare and contrast the difference between the two societies in a number of different spheres, including popular opinion and expectations.

The author states in the preface:

These accused daughters, wives and mothers have little to teach any would-be twentieth-century practitioner about the art of murder; nearly all of them bungled badly in the ac, and those who got away with it relied upon methods that required special circumstances and relations between the sexes which no longer obtain.

And that is precisely what makes this study so interesting, women can no longer act coy in the witness box, but they could, and were expected to, in Victorian England and so many of the more salacious details are hinted at rather than baldly stated both at the trial and the resultant reporting.

The cases cover the years 1840-1890’s and the subjects covered are:
Marie Lafarge and Euphemie Lacoste which covers the use of arsenic in matriomony
Madeline Smith and Angelina Lemoine who were both between school and marriage when they were accused of killing their lovers
Celestine Doudet and Constance Kent who were both spinsters when they murdered
Florence Bravo and Henriette Francey the so called new women who were defying the old order of society
Gabrielle Fenayrou and Adelaide Bartlett both wives of shopkeepers who were reported to have committed adultery
Florence Maybrick and Claire Reymond who were allegedly victims of the double standards held at the time.

I found this book both interesting and informative although the language at time is quite dry, this is a study rather than a book for entertainment but one that I will be seeking a physical copy of on my bookshelf to supplement my Victorian crime selection.

This book was originally published back in 1976 but has been re-released in 2014 for a new generation of readers by Dover Publications who were kind enough to give me a copy of this book in return for my honest review.

My recommended further reading:

The Suspicion of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale – Constance Kent is the chief suspect in the The Murder at Road Hill House and features in chapter three of this book.
Death at the Priory by James Ruddick – The murder of Charles Bravo is the subject of this non-fiction book which explores all the possible culprits to this horrific murder by poison. (chapter four in this book)
A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley – an excellent look at the fascination that we have with a ‘good murder’ and the reporting that fed this desire.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Not Guilty – Christine Gardner

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime

I chose this book because of my interest in historical crime, particularly those committed by women. Society, prefers to view the women as nurturing, caring and delicate. When a woman is violent it challenges that view and there is a need to find a cause, someone or something else to blame.

In 1910 Camellia McCluskey murdered her three young children; Dorothy, Ida and Eric using a shocking amount of violence. This book examines the documents relating to her trial in Bendigo, Australia.

Christine Gardner uses the reports in the newspapers along with the documents from the trial to invite the reader to decide whether the verdict reached by the courts was a just one. I like to read the contemporary views of the time, after all the newspapers reflected what the local community of the time were saying. Both the court and the papers were keen on working out what would motivate a mother to behave as she did and her common-law husband George’s behaviour was put under the spotlight. Camellia and George’s relationship was fraught to say the least so there was plenty for the community to mull over.

This is a short book that presents the evidence in a factual manner although I did feel the author did occasionally slip at times leading the reader to come round to her view of the Camellia, although having read the later evidence once Camellia was out of sight of the judge, I think most people would be in agreement with her.

This wasn’t a case that I had come across before and I found this book an interesting and informative read, although it the death of those poor children was particularly shocking.

Posted in Books I have read

Death At The Priory – James Ruddick

True Crime (historical) 4*'s
True Crime (historical)

Poison was a familiar murder weapon in Victorian England with many a tale abounding of arsenic used to gain a fortune, do away with a rival or an inconvenient spouse.

In this book James Ruddick believes he has uncovered the real truth of the perpetrator of Charles Bravo’s death by poison in 1876. Charles Bravo was a rich man who suffered an agonising death spread over three days. Poison was the culprit and the inquest into his death lasted a lengthy five weeks with journalists sending stories to all corners of England’s vast empire, but no-one was ever convicted of his murder, the problem was there were just too many suspects.

This is a fascinating portrait of the time as well as being a real life murder mystery. Ruddick begins by detailing the facts as they were presented to the inquest; scandalous evidence that included adultery and abortion. Reading between the lines there was also the more prosaic truth of the hardships of a Victorian woman, even if she was rich which Florence Draco was. Her companion Mrs Fox was not, and worse she had three young sons to support. Both women could be considered victims of circumstance and both were suspected, but never charged with, Charles Draco’s murder.

In the second part of the book Ruddick examines the evidence and details his efforts to trace the descendants of all the main parties in an attempt to flush out the truth. Does he succeed? Well some of the discrepancies highlighted in the book I had spotted by reading the evidence in the first part so the sceptical part of me is sure that others had probably spotted these before he did. I’m not entirely convinced about some of the ‘evidence’ that the families provided although one crucial piece does shed a different light on the matter. On balance I agreed with the author in his assessment of the probable perpetrator of the crime.

This was well-written and informative read and was an interesting read which included a fascinating portrait of Victorian Britain.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Quiet Dell – Jayne Anne Phillips

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction

Quiet Dell tells the story of Harry Powers a man who made contact with a widow Asta Eicher, in 1930’s West Virginia through the personal columns of the paper and ended up being arrested for her murder and those of her three children.

Jayne Anne Phillips raises the tension by devoting the first part of the book by letting the readers view the Eichner household in the run up to the fateful meeting between Asta and the man she knew as Cornelius Pierson, one of his many aliases, as we view them through the eyes of Annabel, the youngest artistic daughter, Charles Boyle a former boarder with the family and Asta herself. Although we are aware from the synopsis that the family die, this realistic picture of the family only serves to make the outcome all that more horrifying.

The second half of the book is told from the viewpoint of the fictional Emily Thornhill, an unmarried journalist in her mid-thirties who goes to West Virginia to cover the trial. Emily’s character is a great medium, if a sometimes confusing one, as we witness her falling passionately in love and seeing ghostly visions but reacting in an entirely reasonable manner when she is confronted with the reality of the actions of the accused. Emily tries to understand why Harry Powers acted as he did but I’m not sure that she really succeeds in her quest although, neither did the Judge trying the case.

The author does a fantastic job of weaving fiction with fact in this book which is complemented by primary evidence in the format of photos and excerpts from the newspapers of the time. This book is very much written in the style of the times it is set in with period details and particularly the attitudes of the women who for the most part needed the security of marriage, at times the dialogue seems a little too precise in the effort to underline the fact that this was set over eighty years ago.

I received a copy of book in return for my honest review from the publishers Random House UK, ahead of publication date of 24 April 2014.

Posted in Author Interview

Interview with Alan Veale, Author of The Murder Tree

The Murder Tree

The Murder Tree introduces an unlikely pair of  heroes: the American daughter of a wealthy businessman and a Manchester-born  librarian working in Glasgow. Each have their share of domestic strife to deal  with, while sharing a thirst to find out the truth about a 150 year-old murder. But deaths are still taking place today as far afield as New York, and trying  to dig through the roots of this unique family tree becomes more hazardous than  either Chrissie or Billie could imagine.

It was a particularly bright but quiet morning on Anderston Quay, yet still too early for the day shift to begin their labours around the harbour. The sun was ascending leisurely above the tenement houses to the south and east of the Clyde, polishing away the gloom of the previous night and casting long shadowy fingers from a multitude of ships’ masts that towered over the cobbled old wharf. Stately schooners grunted in sullen protest at their less wholesome neighbours as the river’s brackish waters reached the ebb, and nuzzled the wooden hulls against each other. Like a forest of elm trees in a winter wind, the tangle of spars and lines swayed to their own peculiar rhythm as the rooted vessels rode fretfully under their cabled restraints, murmuring their protests at the turning tide.
Another sound approached from the north: soles of leather slapping against unyielding cobblestones, tripping a little unsteadily under the impatient progress of their mistress. The slight figure of a young woman, curiously hunched forward under a light grey woollen cloak, rounded the corner of Finnieston Street and blinked against the sun’s dramatic appearance.

When did you first become aware of the Sandyford murder?

I first got to hear the story around November 1992. I was taking a short coach holiday in Scotland and I’d taken a book to read with me – ‘Heaven Knows Who’ by Christianna Brand, which gave a contemporary account of the trial of Jessie McLachlan, and the events leading up to it. This was one of two books that had recently been passed on to me by an elderly friend of my then wife’s family who was losing her eyesight. She was a lovely Geordie lady named Chrissie MacPherson, who died long before I came to write the novel, but that should explain the choice of name for my main character, and the dedication at the beginning of ‘The Murder Tree’.

I always wonder how an author chooses the character’s names and this is one of the best answers I’ve heard.

What prompted you to turn this historical crime into a book?Alan Veale -small photo

Christianna Brand’s version of events read to me like a good old-fashioned mystery story – with a surprising twist at the end. I had written several scripts for the stage, and my creative instincts told me that the story of Jessie McLachlan could be given a fresh treatment. The problem was that I did not feel it was right for the theatre. I had recently performed in a play written by Jeffrey Archer that featured a trial and the background events preceding it. Unfortunately I did not feel that his story worked well in that medium, and I was put off going down the same route. A visit to Glasgow and the murder scene the following year helped to form the outline of the plot that was to become ‘The Murder Tree’, but somehow I felt that a screenplay would be easier to work on than a novel. How wrong I was! I kept making notes and working on scenes, and bringing them in and out of a drawer many times over the next two decades. But it wasn’t until my children were older, divorce had lost its sting, and I had taken early retirement from the Civil Service that I decided the time was right to use my notes to create a novel.

 Did you prefer writing the present day parts or the historical sections? Jessie

I think the correct answer to that one would be the present day scenes. But I say that simply because they were in part easier to write. I have a busy imagination, and it can be fun playing God and have the power of life and death over the characters I create. Also, Glasgow as a backdrop to the present day inspired me to feel comfortable about the places I took those characters. It really is a fascinating city, and whenever I have been there I have been greeted by so many friendly faces. There is no evidence of the pictures painted by the television series of ‘Taggart’, and I could imagine Chrissie and Billie walking those streets without any feeling of threat – other than from the past…

But I also like a challenge – otherwise ‘The Murder Tree’ would never have been written! Selecting the relevant scenes from the past was certainly that. I was mindful of a need to be as accurate as possible about the nineteenth century incidents, as anyone reading my book with a historical knowledge might have cause to complain if I had misrepresented the facts for artistic licence. I was also aware that I should not be too heavy on the detail from the past, so I tried to keep the court scene as tight as possible, without losing the inference of culpability against Old James Fleming. The dialogue on this occasion was largely adapted (and anglicised) from the original trial notes as recorded by William Roughead.Fleming

I am one of those readers who pick up on historical inaccuracies but as far as I was concerned you did a fantastic job of keeping the past authentic.

I imagine there was a lot of research needed since this book was based on an actual event, did you do all of this first or was it done while you were writing?

On reflection, I would think it was around fifty-fifty. It is true to say that I spent around twenty years with this project getting a dust off now and then, usually to re-read material, and then to work on a plot outline or consider re-writing a particular scene. I also visited both Glasgow and Edinburgh during that time, and collated photographs with other documents I felt might serve some purpose.

But once I had made the decision that this was going to be a novel, the work began in earnest. I had time on my hands and a healthier bank balance, so I took the research very seriously. Again I visited the murder scene itself, and made the longer trip to Inverness. I felt it necessary to visit the key scenes in person so that my descriptions were as complete as possible. Even a short holiday in New York came in useful.

How long did it take to write The Murder Tree?  Did you set yourself a writing schedule, if so what did this look like?

It took longer than I thought it would! But then I should qualify that because this was such a steep learning curve for me. Writing a novel was more technically demanding than I expected, and while I actively looked for help and advice, at the end I still had to find a way of re-writing scenes that at one time I had felt sure were pretty near perfect. They weren’t of course. Ernest Hemingway is often quoted as saying “The first draft of anything is shit”, and he was right! In real terms it probably took me around a year to complete that first draft, and then another twelve months re-writing it. Once I was absolutely sure I had got it as tight as it could be I sent it off to a professional copy-editor for final ‘tweaking’. She then sent it back with a long list of recommendations for further re-writes… And she was right to do so – on the whole. Once I had taken on board most of her comments (including a good helping of praise), I was ready to publish.

No – there once was an effort to have some kind of schedule, but it was impossible to stick to while juggling other duties involving work and teenage children!

Is Billie based on anyone you know?  He is a fascinating man and the perfect person to pair up with Chrissie!

Ah, there’s the rub… The short answer is yes, but I’ll give you the long answer first!

To begin with, you have to remember that my original outline for ‘The Murder Tree’ started off as a screenplay, and unlike books, such scripts rely heavily on dialogue. If I had started off writing a novel I might have let Chrissie be a more dominant main character, and followed events principally from her point of view. A book can do that because it allows us inside a character’s head, but I was accustomed to writing dialogue to tell a story, so I was committed to giving my female lead a male counterpart who would act as her foil, and prospective romantic interest.

With the medium of film or television in mind I started out visualising actors that I felt might suit the characters I had created, thus helping me to work through a scene in my head that I could then write about. In my early drafts I imagined Billie to be a Scot, and the first actor that sprang to mind was Robbie Coltrane. I think that was where the smoking element came from, because Robbie was playing a chain-smoking character in ‘Cracker’ at the time. Some of his style of humour is also still evident.

But certain elements were not right. Size matters. As I re-visited my plot and the characters therein I found that I needed both Michael and Edward Fersen to be big men. For me, I needed a contrast to complete the picture, so Billie had to be physically around average height or below. Bye-bye Robbie!

Billie’s part became more important as the plot developed over time. I found myself using my own experiences to shape this man’s personality. I was a Mancunian, so why not make Billie more like me? There was no reason why an Englishman might not work and live in Glasgow, so there was my answer – I built Billie’s character around myself – and found the whole story that much easier to write!  Physically there are some differences: I am nearly six feet tall, and around sixteen years older than Billie, plus I don’t smoke, and have never worked in a library. But I’ve haunted several!

What a brilliant insight into this wonderful character.  Now you’ve mentioned  Robbie Coltrane and Cracker I can see the connection in the sense of humour which was one of the points that made me love the character so much, plus I as a child I wanted to work in a library, but that was before I realised you couldn’t sit and read the books all day!

Are there any villains in your family tree? I have done a little research on my family and haven’t turned up anyone remotely criminal, much to my disappointment!

None that I’m aware of, Cleo! But it’s a subject that holds out so many possibilities, don’t you think? The television series ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has dug up many curious family skeletons, and somehow it does seem disappointing if we only find that our ancestors led rather simple, blameless lives. During my library talks about ‘The Murder Tree’ I do ask my audience to consider how they might feel if they researched their own family tree and came up with a potential connection to a murder story such as Jessie’s from 1862. If you put yourself into Chrissie’s situation, how would you react?

I know it probably would be quite unnerving, to put it mildly, but I do wish my ancestors had done something exciting.  The most interesting character was a taxidermist in rural Essex who wrote long letters to the local paper!!  I watch Who Do You Think You Are? avidly because I find the unfolding of a past that at best the descendants have an inkling about, amazing. 

What made you come up with the concept of a website to complement the book? I really enjoyed reading this and felt unlike similar ideas your website actually adds something to the reading experience, you can’t beat the pictures of the actual house where Jessie was killed!

Basement Plan

I attended a writers’ festival in York in 2012, and one of the authors I met there had written a book on self-publishing, which I bought as the concept made a lot of sense to me.  I am fairly hopeless at new technology myself, but one of the recommendations he made was to create a website to promote my work. I appreciated how relevant such a suggestion was in today’s competitive environment, and a personal friend of mine made a living designing these things, so it seemed the obvious way to go. I also realised that a website would allow me to provide so much more detail about the original crime than I could feature in my novel, and also to add the little biographies that I had created for my characters during the writing process. Some of the readers of my earlier drafts commented that the names, dates and numbers of characters described could be quite confusing, and therefore it made sense to provide a separate source of reference using a dedicated website. The designer is Mirandi Van Staden, who also did an excellent job in creating the book cover from my own description.

If after all Alan’s answers to my questions above you are still wondering whether you will enjoy this book visit the website The Murder Tree and see what it is all about.  As I read this book on kindle I didn’t realise there was a website until the end, and I’m not sure quite what made me check it out, but I’m glad I did!

Now onto my most important question as someone who has read The Murder Tree:

You hinted in your comment to me that there was going to be another book; is it going to feature any of the same characters?  I think I may be a little in love with Billie Vane.

A second novel is in the early stages of research and plotting, and because the feedback from ‘The Murder Tree’ has been 99.9% positive, I feel it makes sense for book number two to have some continuity. So yes, two (and possibly three) of the characters will make a second appearance. The subject will again be an historical mystery and investigation (based on a true story), and this time the central character will be Billie Vane! (You heard it here first…)

Well on that very happy note I want to thank you for providing wonderfully informative answers to all my questions!

Here is a taster of what a happens when Chrissie’s father is flying across the Atlantic,  before her life is altered forever….

His attention shifted to the small video screen set into the seat in front of him. Another reminder of the chaos that had just entered his life: a representation of the northern hemisphere, framed in a touch screen box, gave a course across the Atlantic for all one hundred and eighty two passengers presently in Economy Class. Alternating with an on-screen message of welcome from Continental Airlines was a reminder of the miscellany of entertainment channels awaiting the passengers aboard Flight CO17. Fersen shook his head in resignation and raised his hand in front of him, idly considering if he should simply turn the damn thing off altogether.
But then the picture on screen changed as if part way through a movie, the image now displaying a city street with elegant Georgian buildings, proudly flanked at ground level by iron railings. Into view in the foreground came a plodding horse shackled to a two-wheeled cart, with a man and a young lad of about fourteen at the traces. Their clothing was old-fashioned: simple work-shirts and trousers with heavy boots, while the young lad also appeared to be wearing an apron. At the back of the cart sat several large metal churns, a couple of wooden crates, and some enamel jugs. Fersen watched in fascination as the lad leapt off the cart, grabbed a heavy jug off the back, and climbed the steps to ring the bell of a stone-fronted building with a heavy front door. The screen in front of him was too small for much detail, but he thought he could just make out the number 17 etched in gold leaf onto a glazed panel above the door.
Then it felt as if turbulence had hit his ribcage. The city street scene was clearly depicted on all three monitors in front of him: a triple image that brought shock recognition of the house Fersen had left in anger just a few hours ago.
Beads of sweat now leaked from every pore. He sat transfixed while the focus gradually shifted past the cart, past the boy as he stood waiting patiently on the steps, and on to the handle of the door itself. Now oblivious to the detritus of the twenty first century that surrounded him, Fersen was totally absorbed by a parallel world of long ago – yet still so familiar. He caught his breath as the door swung open, and witnessed the look of surprise on the milk-boy’s face. Framed in the doorway stood the corpse-like image of an old man: a stooped figure in a black coat, waistcoat and winged collar. The face filled the screen, cold black eyes that looked directly into Fersen’s heart while the thin lips moved silently. He stared back, his own mouth moving in a similar pattern. A spasm of pain surged through his upper body and his hands clutched the left side of his chest. He squeezed his eyelids together in a vain attempt to shut out the images on screen. But then his mouth was forced to open wider as his lungs made a futile bid to function without oxygen.

The Murder Tree – Amazon UK

The Murder Tree – Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Martyr – Rory Clements

Historical Fiction 4*'s
Historical Fiction

What do you know about the Spanish Armada or Queen Elizabeth I?
Ask me about Henry VIII and I can tell you loads including the helpful rhyme for remembering the fate of his six wives, divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived! But his second daughter Elizabeth, well I knew very little apart from she was the Virgin Queen and there was a big battle involving a huge number of Ships, Francis Drake was involved and there were lots of politics. And there is my gripe, I’m not a political person which is why although I love history, and yes probably knew a little bit more than I have stated here, I have never been motivated to learn more about this period.
So why did I choose this book? Well 2014 is the year when I am going to read more widely and so I took a chance!

This book by Rory Clements grabbed me from the start, this isn’t just a book about the endless politics, or the Spanish Armada it is about people, and I love reading about people and the lives they live, their hopes and their fears.

John Shakespeare is an investigator and we meet him investigating the murder a well-connected young woman, the mystery of which he delves into throughout the book. The Setting is Elizabethan England where the likeable John Shakespeare is supposed to be working with the notorious Richard Topcliffe. Shakespeare doesn’t approve of Topcliffe’s vicious methods and there is already bad-blood between the two men. This only increases as they are both chasing the same Jesuit priest around the web of London safe houses.

This is not a book for the squeamish, there is plenty of violence within the pages as I’m sure in such uncertain times this was indeed a reality of life. Within the pages there are whores, a stolen baby, the Queen vacillating whether to order Mary Queen of Scots to death and a determination to stamp out and the Catholics still brave enough to follow their faith in England.

This book is the first in a series of six books (the latest, The Queen’s Men is due to be published in January 2014) I will certainly continue reading as I enjoy a tautly plotted novel with plenty of action and as a bonus it is a fantastic way to learn more about this period of history.

I received a free copy of this book from as I am part of their reader review panel, please use the link to see other reviewers opinions or to read an extract from the book.
Books by Rory Clements

The Heretics (published in paperback February 2014)
The Queen’s Men (published in hardback January 2014)

Spanish Armada
Spanish Armada

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Challenge

The Medea Complex – Rachel Florence Roberts

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime

The beginning of this book took me by surprise, for a horrible moment I thought this was going to be a poorly researched voyage into the late nineteenth century; I was wrong, this book was a mixture of authentic details of life in the changing world of lunatic asylums along with a gripping mystery about what really happened on the fateful day when Lady Anne Stanbury killed her son. So why my initial hesitation? The language used was more modern than would usually be found in historical novels which I initially found quite off-putting. Anne uses colourful language, but she was incarcerated for being insane so this is entirely fitting with the illness and later on as she makes steps towards recovery the use of profanities declines.

The story is told from multiple viewpoints including her Dr George Savage’s daily notes on his wealthy patient. Dr Savage is a leading psychiatrist at Bethlem Royal Hospital where he alone can be the one to free Anne from the hospital. The doctor is walking a thin line, as in his eagerness to see Anne become well enough to leave the hospital he starts counselling her husband, Edgar. Edgar is using alcohol as a crutch as he struggles with opposing emotions about his wife and needs all the help he can get!

For the reader who enjoys their historical mysteries to be well-plotted with a firm grip on the newest ideas of the times this is well worth a read. I confess that I had some quibbles about the language used and minor historical facts at the crux of this book were well researched providing an enjoyable read on a subject rarely covered.

When Rachel emailed me about this book I was intrigued. I suspect I know more than most people about infanticide and mental illness during this period as I was a proof-reader for my daughter’s dissertation on this very subject. As in many areas I became interested in the books and articles she carted backwards and forwards to university and soon progressed to on-line historical newspapers which covered these tragic cases. One of the related subjects that I picked up along the way was that of baby-farming. Amelia Dyer the chief perpetrator makes an appearance in the Medea Complex and although I didn’t quite agree with the context it did go some way to sum up the complex morality in late Victorian England which is neatly echoed by this accomplished debut.

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

Related books click on the covers to read my reviews

Caversham Lock

The Ghost of Lily Painter

Caversham Lock
The Ghost of Lily Painter
Amelia Dyer: The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money

The Medea Complex was my fifth read for the COYER challenge
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Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

A Commonplace Killing – Sian Busby

Historical Crime 5*'s
Historical Crime

I was thrilled to be offered Sian Busby’s last book before she sadly died in September 2012. I first came across this author when I read The Cruel Mother which was a thought-provoking piece of writing.

Before you read this a word of warning; the foreword written by Sian Busby’s husband, Robert Peston, is incredibly touching and had me in tears.

A Commonplace Killing is a deceptively hard-hitting book. No scenes of gruesome violence are written on the page it is worse than that; Sian Busby writes eloquently about the time when the old rules were swiped aside leaving a grubby stain on the country.

Set in Holloway, North London Lillian Forbisher narrates half the story detailing the lead up to the murder. The other half is narrated by the voice of the loveable Divisional Detective Inspector Jim Cooper. With the war over 1946 had become a time where the murder of a tart in a bad area was now a commonplace matter but still one where Jim Cooper wanted the right results, after all this was a time when if convicted the perpetrator would hang.

Sian Busby certainly worked hard to research the time not just how Holloway looked, but how the country acted, the unrelenting continuation of rationing and the necessary queuing, the lack of real jobs for the men returning all give the impression of a nation who have won the war but simply can’t believe that life will improve. Our protagonist Lillian is trying so hard to believe her life can get better while her poor husband Walter is struggling to adapt to life back home and DDI Jim Cooper is worried that love has passed him by.

I found this understated book a fascinating portrait of post-war Britain, the writing was engaging and the key(s) to the murder was skilfully revealed.

I received my copy of this book from the publisher in return for my unbiased review

Historical Crime 4*'s
Historical Crime