Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Dead at First Sight – Peter James

Crime Fiction – Series
4*s

Well here we are already up to number fifteen in the Roy Grace series. I have followed Roy’s story from the very first book and my patience has been rewarded because following the author’s move to Jersey to live, our little island is a location used within this novel.

The initial crime is one of those where the victim is perhaps is afforded less sympathy, that of the internet romance scam. We’ve all read the stories where a woman or man of advancing years is romanced and before they have a chance to meet in person some awful event unfolds where money is required to be sent to ensure that cupid’s arrow can complete its journey. When the money runs out or the victim becomes suspicious, they then suffer the indignity of realising the romance wasn’t real, and they’ve been fleeced.

I have to admit despite the appearance of Jersey (including a very good scene in a restaurant that I visit) I wasn’t quite as hooked with this book as I have been in the past. Perhaps it was that age old problem I have when the perpetrators are known to the reader – I just don’t get the same kind of enjoyment from novels written this way – or maybe it was the other issue I have with criminal gangs – again this kind of offending doesn’t quite capture my interest in the same way as figuring out an individual’s motivation. Those minor personal preferences aside there is no doubting that there is plenty of action within Dead at First Sight, the romance scam only being the opener for far bigger and more exciting crimes to come!

One of the aspects that I enjoy in this series is seeing Roy Grace’s life outside the office although sadly Cleo was reduced to a bit part within this novel with no important scenes in the mortuary this time. We do have the development of Roy’s sons and there is definitely potential in that arena to keep the personal aspect of the book as interesting in the future as they’ve been in the past.

Peter James has to be commended for his ability to keep the books real without boring the reader stupid with adherence to policy and procedure. Again within this book I got the feeling that the author has really listened to the older and experienced detectives and gives a real flavour of what they find difficult in modern policing without ignoring the reasons why some of the changes were vital. As always this just stays the right side of real especially as our fictional detective is still having problems with his superior Cassian Pewe! Could Roy be becoming jaded with Brighton and Hove? Only time will tell.

So even though this probably was my least favourite of all the Roy Grace novels, I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have missed it for the world. I love meeting up with the ‘old friends’ on the team, having a credible plot with a thoroughly nice detective at its centre and I therefore begin my countdown to the sixteenth book in the series!

I’d like to say thank you to Pan Macmillan for allowing me to read a copy of Dead at First Sight before publication on 16 May 2019.. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented author Peter James for another entertaining foray into crime fiction in Brighton & Jersey!

First Published UK: 16 May 2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
No of Pages: 448
Genre: Crime Fiction – Crime Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Roy Grace Series in order
Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead
You Are Dead
Love You Dead
Need You Dead
Dead if You Don’t

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

When the Sky Fell Apart – Caroline Lea

Historical Fiction 4*s
Historical Fiction
4*s

One June day just two weeks after those who had decided to evacuate had left on a boat to the mainland, the sky in Jersey was ablaze, the Germans were bombing and poor Clement Hacquoil, the local butcher is set alight. Watching from the side-lines is ten-year old Claudine whose own father has left the island to fight the war against the Nazis.

This shocking opening sets a scene that is only two believable with the author using the German bombs as a way of introducing some of the main characters that populate this often heart-breaking tale. Dr Carter is an English doctor who if he’d followed the orders should have departed on the boat but is needed on an island which still has a sizeable population left. Edith is an older local woman who is on hand to help the injured butcher with her knowledge of plants which can help the sick and the injured. The locals under Edith’s watchful eye remove Clement from the beach and take him to the hospital but he is too sick to attempt to leave on the last boat out of the island before the German soldiers arrive.

Jersey was under German occupation for five long years. Years where food was short, the remote location and the sheer number of German soldiers which meant that there simply wasn’t enough food to go around. This shortage is mentioned regularly throughout the book in a number of ways including the variety of hot drinks and dishes the islanders made in place of their pre-war favourites; acorn coffee anyone? Potato peel pie? Mmm…

In When the Sky Fell Apart the Commandment in charge of the island is a real brute who has the local population and his own men jumping to ever changing rules. Of course in reality the rules were long, and often petty designed to stop the islanders seeking to defend themselves whilst the Germans busied themselves with the help of the prisoners of war to fortify the island with bunkers, tunnels and sea walls that are still evident today.

So while the story is based on a historical event that left a long shadow, the book is peopled by those of the author’s imagination. And she has created a really good cast. The key members being Maurice, a man with a sick wife, Edith the local healer, Dr Carter and Claudine who all see the war and the occupying soldiers through the prism of their own war years. The characters are varied, at different stages of their lives and all battling their own personal battles because of even a war didn’t stop all other battles small and large that people face in life. I liked all the characters because each one had their good points, and at times not so good. The shifting alliances underlining what people need to do to survive in extreme circumstances. This really is a book where the human element is as strong as the true events that it is depicting and I found both elements equally compelling.

While the years of the war roll by we get to see the personal battles and the way our key characters interact with each other and their neighbours on the island and with so much to engage the reader, the book avoided that mid-book slump that historical novels can be particularly susceptible to. I think it helps that the author was born and bred in Jersey with the local names rolling off the tongue, or perhaps that should be page!

Some of the events this book is based upon are very familiar to me and have also been captured in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society but the story itself is far more than historical events, this is a book where I cared about the characters and willed them to have the best war years possible, and hope that when it was all over, their post year lives were spent in tranquillity.

I’d like to thank the publicist FMcM Associates for sending me a copy of When the Sky Fell Apart ahead of the paperback publication.

First Published UK: 24 February 2017
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
No of Pages:  360
Genre: Historical Fiction – WWII
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016, Book Review, Books I have read

Standing in the Shadows – Jon Stasiak

Crime Fiction 3*s
Crime Fiction
3*s

Tom Nowak is a photographer for the Jersey Evening Post, the local newspaper, but he does freelance work too and is planning his first exhibition of his work. He lives with his girlfriend, a nurse and life is certainly better than it was now that the break-up with his wife is in the past and on the mainland, Tom is free to appreciate the different way of life offered in Jersey.

When his oldest childhood friend comes for a visit a walk is planned in the local woods. Nothing odd there, a perfectly normal Sunday activity. Tom as always takes his camera and when viewing the photos back later, can see shadowy figures that weren’t visible to the group at the time they were posing. The next day a body is found, in the same spot that the group of friends stood and Tom is dispatched in his role of press photographer back to the scene. By the time he arrives it is common knowledge that this is a murder enquiry, the dead woman a Polish woman who’d moved to Jersey for a better way of life.

Now before I go any further with this review, I need to restate that I am not a fan of the paranormal, at all. Rarely do I keep reading when this phenomenon rears its head, but I kept going for two reasons: This book is set where I live and I rarely get an opportunity to read a crime novel set on an island with very little crime, and secondly, this is my last of my 20 books of summer 2016 – yes I know summer is long over but I was determined to make my way through the books I selected before the end of the year!

In short it appears that Tom is receiving predictions of murders through his photographs and he becomes more and more obsessed with the idea that he can help prevent more murders (the bodies keep coming) and give comfort to the grieving families. Although as I kept reading I got annoyed with Tom, as does his girlfriend, and friends as endless pages are taken up with his feelings, endless justification of letting his life slide as he reviews and re-reviews his photos which for me was fortunately broken up with accurate descriptions of an island that has been my home for over a quarter of a century.

Although the author doesn’t even attempt to describe the local politics in this book he covers many other truisms about Jersey like the fact that one of the private boy’s schools looks more like Hogwarts, than Hogwarts; when we have visitors arriving by plane, we all leave town at the expected landing time because the time to drive there is usually a perfect match to how long it takes for people to disembark and pick up their bags; we all have Jersey airport arrivals as a favourite webpage not least because of the fog which disrupts life constantly!  For those of us who live here for real, we’re lucky and don’t have a vast number of crime but the drunks in the beautiful park opposite the hospital are a permanent fixture, when I came to the island their predecessors were glue sniffers and the couple that won’t, or are unable to abide by the shelter rules sleep behind cars in the car-park around the corner, these truisms are deftly worked into the plot. However, because the story is local some of the author’s beliefs feel a bit too personal, as Tom remarks early on, you have to check that who you are speaking to, is not related to or friends with, the person you are making snide remarks about here. I definitely found it harder to be objective about details which would probably wash over me if the setting wasn’t one I know so intimately.

So although the plot dragged for reasons which I will put down to my antipathy for the paranormal aspects I was pleased I persevered because the ending was both a surprise and made some of my complaints about earlier sections of the book irrelevant thus boosting my overall enjoyment. Those of you who don’t have issues with ghosts and Ghoulies may enjoy this atmospheric read even more than I did.

First Published UK: 20 December2015
Publisher: Independent publishing
No of Pages: 322
Genre: Crime Fiction – Paranormal
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Beast of Jersey – Joan Paisnel

True Crime 3*s
True Crime
3*s

This is an interesting book about the crimes of Edward Paisnel known as Ted, who was imprisoned for thirty years in 1971 for a string of sex offences on the island of Jersey. Those of you who visit my blog regularly will know that this is where I live and of course I’d heard of ‘The Beast’ over the years but I hadn’t read this book, written by his wife (although it was ghost written by two journalists Alan Shadrake and John Lisners)

The crimes committed by Ted Paisnel (pronounced Paynel) spanned eleven years and as his later modus operandi was to sneak into the bedrooms of children and take them outside to assault them the islanders were, as you can imagine terrified with some allegedly going to sleep with guns under their pillows. As the island is only 9 miles by 5 it seems incredible to believe that it took the police so long to apprehend their culprit and this book is in many ways an explanation why Joan didn’t know or suspect what Ted was up to. Of course these crimes were committed throughout the 60s and into the early 70s and life was very different then, crucially in the fact that there was no DNA testing available to the officers and at that time, the dual police system that still operates was run by the Honorary Police who are volunteers from each parish and they are the ones who have to charge a suspect with an offence. The idea is that these volunteers know all the comings and goings within their parish and are therefore able to provide background information but it appears none of these men suspected Ted of the crimes being committed.

In the end Ted was caught by jumping a red light while being followed by a police car – when finally apprehended in what sounds like a terrifying car chase, but as a local and knowing the roads mentioned clearly couldn’t have lasted that long, he was found to have items on his person that were odd, the main one being the mask that so fetchingly adorns this book cover!!

The book isn’t by any stretch of the imagination well-written, it is littered with typos and often repeats itself (maybe as a consequence of the two journalists writing separate parts in a rush to capitalise on the recent lurid headlines?) There is a focus on the ‘black arts’ which Ted was supposedly a member of and apparently there was a big contingent on the island at that time, although no-one else was arrested and Ted never gave any names of other members of this supposed coven. I believe this aspect came from some of the books he owned and a supposed ‘alter’ in a hidden cupboard – which was probably just a space saving device and a convenient place to keep the clothes he wore on his night-time outings, a presence of an ornamental toad was explained by his mistress as a present she’d bought him in a gift shop. Another interesting element is the insistence of Joan that Ted must have suffered from schizophrenia, something that we now know doesn’t only manifest itself in supposedly Jekyll and Hyde behaviour, but probably bought her some comfort and allowed her to live as part of a small community where Ted’s name had become synonymous with evil. There are other interesting snippets to try to explain why when he was so nice to the children at the children’s home that Joan ran with her mother why he committed these awful offences but again unfortunately it is now widely recognised that men that commit these types of crimes don’t usually come with ‘monster’ stamped on their forehead.

I’m not sure that this book would appeal to many people but I did find it incredibly interesting from a local standpoint – I lived in Jersey when Ted was released from prison in the early 90s and remember the controversy caused by his return (as a consequence he moved to the Isle of Wight where he died a couple of years later) It was also interesting to see how difficult policing was forty years ago, even on a small island, because of the limitations of policing at that time without the tools now available nowadays they simply had a variety of descriptions from his victims to go on. That said they gave it a good shot even having detectives seconded to the island from Scotland Yard, ironic really that it was a motoring offence that solved the crime!

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Last Boat – John F Hanley

Before I moved to Jersey, like every other child in the British Isles I learnt a lot about World War II in history lessons, but I never realised that the Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans.  This happened when it was deemed by Ministry of War that the islands were indefensible. Now it may be that I wasn’t paying attention being more concerned with growing the hole in the sleeve of my jumper or whispering to my friends but I was truly surprised that it hadn’t been mentioned (I was quite good at and very interested in history)

Living here the signs of the occupation are still around and whenever we have guests to stay we go to the War Tunnels which demonstrates what life was like in the islands at that time.  Jersey War Tunnels

This means that being offered a free book to review which centres on the very cusp of that time, June to July 1940, is always going to be a fascinating read, but there is so much more to this book than familiar surnames and place names (although I love that part too)

Historical Fiction 4*'s
Historical Fiction
4*’s

So here is my review:

The Last Boat is the sequel to Against the Tide and as the reader I was plunged straight back into Jack Renouf and his adventures along with all the other characters met in the first book. In all honesty I hadn’t realised how much I missed them all. The Last Boat brings an extra depth to these characters, Jack himself is a year older, a little wiser but still a young man with a lot to learn about life, love and himself.

The book starts in France in June 1940, Jack having left his studies due to the war is involved in the rescue of some of the thousands of Allied soldiers from the beaches around Dunkirk. This book has switched from swimming to sailing, the timings of the tides become crucial to the various missions that litter the pages as Jack begins to realise what type of man he really is. I found myself much more involved with the characters, I actually shed a tear before I was halfway through the book as actions and decisions in the past begin to have very real consequences in the present.

Living in Jersey and having often thought about the sheer enormousness of the decision the locals had to make; to stay and live under German rule or go and leave everything they knew behind, balancing the safety of their loved ones on an uncertain set of scales. John Hanley has done a fantastic job of bringing the scenes to life, those when it was clear the islands could not be defended along with the queues to register for evacuation.

So in conclusion don’t read this without reading Against the Tide, the characters you meet there will explain a lot in this story. Expect a more thoughtful book; the Famous Five mad missions, hiding and carrying out daring deeds, are all still there, but this time the magnitude of what is at stake is far more apparent. I loved it. there is something for everyone within the pages of this book, pure history, the story of a young man finding his way in the world along with some boat-fixing and various other mechanical skills I never knew I wanted to know.

John Hanley has provided some useful timelines and notes at the end of this book which I wish I’d realised whilst reading as they provide answers to some of the questions I had. I was even more delighted to discover that there is to be another episode to find out what happens to Jack and the others.
I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for this honest review.

See my review of the Against the Tide by clicking on the book cover.  I now wish I had asked for a physical book rather than the e-book as the symmetry  in the two covers look amazing.

Against the Tide

Read more about The Last Boat  and John F Hanley from HBS Author’s Spotlight or if you’d like to see a little bit more history regarding the Occupation look at the Jersey War Tunnels

Posted in Weekly Posts

WWW Wednesday (September 25)

WWW Wednesday green

Hosted by  Miz B at Should be Reading

To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?

I am currently reading Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore

I am about half-way through this book and despite my fear that this wouldn’t be for me. I am really enjoying it. The stage act of the mediums in the early twentieth century is fascinating and I have got caught up in trying to work out what happened to Dacre, Lady Amelia’s brother. This is a fantastic bargain at 99p on Amazon.co.uk

Equilibrium

Epiphany and Martha are sisters with a stage mediumship act in Edwardian London. When they are asked to give a private spiritualist reading at the home of Lady Adelia Lyward to find out the truth about her brother’s death, Martha must face up to her past. For two years ago, her affair with Lord Rafe Lyward ended in pregnant disgrace, and her attempted suicide in the River Thames. But there is more at stake than Martha’s anonymous return, for Epiphany bears the burden of restoring the equilibrium, not just to the Lywards but to her sister and ultimately to herself.

The Historical Novel Society review “recommends “Equilibrium” to readers who enjoy historical fiction with spiritualist influences.” Amazon

Find more about the other books Evie Woolmore has written here

I have just finished The Bridesmaid by Jenny Scotti which features the murder of a 16 girl in an English village populated by the worst kind of villagers

The Bridesmaid

Click on the cover to read my review

Next I plan to read The Last Boat by John F. Hanley. This book is based in Jersey at the time of the German Occupation and follows on from his first book Against the Tide.

The Last Boat
Read a little bit more about these books and the author by clicking on the book cover