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

The Arsenic Labyrinth – Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction
4*s

This is the third of the Lake District Mysteries and for once I am working my way through in strict order, something I’m glad I chose to do as the back story of how historian Daniel Kind left his teaching post at Oxford and his television career to live in a cottage there, while not key to the individual mysteries themselves, does of course work better when you the story arc plays out in the correct order.

I have to mention how thrilled I was to open the book to two family trees one for the Clough family and one for the Ichmore family. I love touches like this in books and although the significance of these families isn’t apparent for a while, once it was you can be sure I turned back to the beginning to acquaint myself with the details. After that we have an excerpt from a journal – something neither the police or Daniel have seen. Don’t you just love that feeling that we know something the investigators don’t?

Chillingly the journal starts with the words:

You’d never know it to look at me now, but once upon a time I killed a man.

So on to the mystery which starts with DCI Hannah Scarlett opening an old case file because local journalist Tony di Venuto, chooses the tenth anniversary to campaign for an investigation into the disappearance of Emma Beswick. For publicity reasons it seems like a good time to re-evaluate what Cumbria’s Cold Case Review Team know, and where they should look to see if any new information comes to light. This is a case that DI Hannah Scarlett knows well, she was part of the original investigation team working for Daniel’s father.

Along the way she visits the Museum of Myth and Legend run by local man Alban Clough and managed by his daughter Alexandra because Emma used to work there, and she had a relationship with Alexandra. What she learns isn’t so much about Emma though, but about the local folklore and the arsenic labyrinth, set in a remote spot of the lakes.

Part of what I love about this series is the well-researched information that that the author carefully weaves into the storyline. Nothing as clumsy as an information drop for this accomplished author, rather key information in direct relation to the mystery which is fascinating.

With the professional detective and an amateur side-kick both involved in the investigation, although not in any formal way, the reader is offered an insight into the different ways key bits of information can be found, and used to unravel the different questions that need answers. For light relief we watch a con-artist weave his artful magic on an unsuspecting, desperate and gullible B&B Landlady to get a more comfortable bed for a few nights.

For a book that I would classify as at the more comfortable end of crime fiction it is jam-packed with literary references, historical information, an ancient feud and of course a solid mystery. Because there are so many strands to these books it can seem as though it takes longer to get to the heart of the puzzle than you expect but it really is well worth the wait.

This series really is a satisfying read, a beautiful location bought to life against the backdrop of the flip-side which investigates the darker side of human nature. It certainly won’t be long before I read the next in the series, The Serpent Pool.

This is the 16th book I’ve read and reviewed as part of my Mount TBR Challenge for 2018. I am aiming to read 36 books across the year from those purchased before 1 January 2018. The Arsenic Labyrinth was purchased on 6 November 2017 thereby qualifying.

First Published UK: 2007
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 305
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

The Lake District Mystery Series

The Coffin Trail (2004)
The Cipher Garden (2005)
The Arsenic Labyrinth (2007)
The Serpent Pool (2010)
The Hanging Wood (2011)
The Frozen Shroud (2013)
The Dungeon House (2015)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Coffin Trail – Martin Edwards

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

I have finally started Martin Edwards’ famed Lake District Mystery series with The Coffin Trail, the first in the series. The title has been chosen for the name given to the tracks which were used to transport bodies from the remote village to one with a graveyard. The symbolism of bodies being strapped to the horses for their final journey is one that resonates throughout this book.

As the book opens we meet Daniel Heard and his girlfriend Miranda buying Tarn Cottage in the fictional village of Brackdale on a whim while visiting the area for a short break. Daniel has tired in his role at Oxford University but it is Miranda who is the driving force behind the move, after all as a freelance journalist she can submit her copy from anywhere. Daniel has visited the area before, the last holiday before his policeman father left home to be with another woman and while there he met, and became friends with, Barrie Gilpin who lived in Tarn Cottage. The cottage is being sold for a song because Barrie Gilpin was widely suspected by police and villagers alike to have murdered a young woman. He died of an accident before the murder was discovered and his poor mother was shunned by the locals.

Meanwhile DI Hannah Scarlett is wondering if she can get her career back on track after a disastrous collapse of a trial compounded by even more disastrous public relations. She finds herself leading a new team set up to examine whether advances in forensics can solve any of the old cases. With a retired detective to assist and her trusty partner they begin leafing through the old files.
As Daniel probes the villager’s memories about Barrie, treating this personal quest he begins to ruffle a few feathers to say the least and Miranda is none too pleased. With some loose ends to tie up about his father, who died without Daniel ever making peace, who was on the original investigation the claustrophobic nature of life in a remote village becomes ever more apparent.

I enjoyed The Coffin Trail which was first published in 2004 for being a ‘real’ police procedural series. There were no clever tricks but straightforward investigations by both Daniel and Hannah Scarlet into what happened to the young woman who was laid out on Sacrifice Stone, it can’t be accidental that this was the place for pagan rituals. There are lots of characters within this book and of course being the first in the series, more time is spent giving these a background to be built on later, this gave the first section of the book quite a slow feel, but with solid writing and the fabulous scenery that Martin Edwards captures, keeping me entertained, I certainly didn’t have a chance to become bored.

Once the investigation gets underway it appears that the crux of the matter is going to be examining those old alibis rather than the more straightforward DNA results that DI Hannah Scarlett’s bosses were hoping for. And we all know what that means, yes my favourite, old secrets and lies will be exposed! There is no doubt at all that plenty of skeletons, of the kind that hide in cupboards, are rattled. As secret after secret is revealed the inhabitants of Brackdale will most likely never be the same again.

After really enjoying the characters of historian Daniel Head and the fairly level-headed and yet not to be pushed around, DI Hannah Scarlett I am now looking forward to reading the second in this series, The Cipher Garden which fortunately already resides on my kindle! I have a feeling this is a series I can trust to give me a solid mystery in a straightforward style relying on the writing alone to be the entertainment.

First Published UK: 1 July 2004
Publisher: Allison & Busby
No of Pages: 228
Genre: Crime Fiction – Police Procedural
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

The Mistake I Made – Paula Daly

Psychological Thriller 5*s
Psychological Thriller
5*s

Having really enjoyed Paula Daly’s previous two books, Just What Kind of Mother are You? And Keep Your Friends Close I didn’t even read the synopsis of The Mistake I Made before requesting a copy so I have to admit I didn’t expect to find myself in a twisted version of ‘An Indecent Proposal’, but once there, despite a couple of early misgivings about how realistic this storyline was, I soon found myself hooked.

Briefly Roz Toovey has found herself in a financial mess, she works hard as a physiotherapist (which was Paula Daly’s career before she provided far more of us with a way to relax) but due to unforeseeable events and her ex-husband Winston’s poor money management, now finds herself with debts coming out of her earholes. The answer is then handed to her, a reasonably attractive wealthy man offers her a large enough sum of money to spend the night with him.  Roz weighs up the fact that he is married, and to someone she has met, but that needs to be balanced against the fact that the money could help her and her nine-year old son George get back on their feet

There are many reasons why I love Paula Daly’s writing which is laced with humour and despite the issues which unfold you are never far from a character you’ve met in real life – here is an example from Roz’s practice manager, Wayne when she is in the middle of a session with a patient:

‘Did you call that insurance guy?’ Wayne asked.
‘What? No sorry. Slipped my mind again.’
Wayne sighed dramatically, rolled his eyes and spoke in the way one would when reprimanding a small child. ‘Get it sorted, Roz. Everyone else has had their assessments.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Without that assessment, you’re not fully protected. The clinic is not fully protected, unless –‘
I’ll do it. Promise. As soon as I’ve got a free minute.

One of the other reasons is the setting; all three of Paula Daly’s books have been set in the Lake District, this time in Hawkshead where Roz boards the ferry to travel backwards and forwards across Lake Windemere, we get a real feel of the place, not only the standard picturesque part but a feeling of community that such a setting engenders and for Roz her lifeline is her neighbours the fantastic Celia and Dennis who help her in the little ways that mean so much, especially with George who is running into trouble at school as Roz’s precarious money situation become too difficult to keep under wraps.

So even though I heaved a sigh at Roz’s naiveté and felt exasperated for her not having taken the most basic steps to right a situation that had been brewing (like a good northern cup of mashed tea) for some time, I soon bought into the storyline and as close to the edge of my seat as possible without falling off, as the drama unfolded in the most spectacular way. This book really does have a bit of everything with the balance of good and bad perfect, the timing of the next revelation impeccable keeping the tension maintained whilst being thoroughly entertained by the mundane on the very page:

I pulled a daisy from the grass and passed it to George. He rolled his eyes. Too girly.
‘What did you do at school today?’
‘Science,’ he said.
‘Did you do an experiment?’
‘We put white blocks into different bottles to see what would happen.’
‘Different bottles of what?’
He shrugged. ‘Milk and Coke and stuff.’
I remembered the experiment. It was used to demonstrate the rates of decay o teeth, the idea being kids would make wise choices when deciding what to drink. The thrust of it appeared to be lost on George.

If you haven’t tried this author you really should!

I’m delighted to have received my copy of this book from the publishers Random House UK ahead of the publication date of 27 August 2015 in return for my honest review.