Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Move to Murder – Antony M Brown

Non-Fiction
4*s

I honestly can’t recall when I first came to hear about this historical true crime which seemed to have all the elements of a fiction, far removed from the more mundane murders where the motive, opportunity and means soon become relatively clear, but it was many years ago.  I hadn’t however read any books on the matter although there have been more than a few written and was keen to learn more.

Antony M Brown has devised an interesting concept with the publishers Mirror Books

Cold Case Jury is a unique collection of true crime mysteries. Each one tells the story of an unsolved, historic murder in an evocative and compelling way. It tells the story dramatically, like a historical novel, exposes the strengths and weaknesses of past theories and allows the readers to make their judgement on what most likely happened. Although each book is perfectly self-contained, the author providing his view at the end, readers are able to deliver their verdicts on this website, making these the first truly interactive crime tales. Beautifully presented with uniquely illustrated covers, they also contain historic documents, map and images – some unpublished before. For lovers of puzzles, mysteries and crime stories, this new collection of Cold Case Jury books will not only bring a murder story to life – it will make you part of it

And this is one of the mysteries and I for one couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit on the jury from the comfort of my own house although I have to confess voting for my chosen suspect did feel more than a little odd to say the least! I’m not sure whether choosing a murderer albeit one that is dead should be on a par with voting for your favourite contestant on a reality show.

For those who haven’t come across this true crime the facts that have puzzled many over the years are as follows:

On 20 January 1931 Mrs Julia Wallace was found murdered inside her home in Liverpool, she’d been bludgeoned to death.
Her husband William had found her body on his return from a fruitless client meeting as his job as an Insurance Agent for the Prudential Insurance, as he’d been unable to open the day at the first try his neighbours who he’d asked if they knew why were soon to the scene.
The real mystery seemed to be who was the Mr Qualtrough who’d left a message at the chess club he’d attended the evening before. This was the man William Wallace had set out to meet, but not only did Mr Qualtrough appear not to exist, nor did the address 25 Menlove Gardens East. This fact was unknown to William Wallace and everyone he asked for assistance directed him to similar addresses located in one area of Liverpool.
The unsolvable part of the mystery is if the crime was committed by the most obvious suspect, the husband, then who made the phone call to the chess club and left the message for William Wallace? And how could he kill her when he was tramping the streets looking for Mr Qualtrough? If someone had lured him away then what was there motive?

The author lays out the facts, those discovered by the police at the time, the contemporary records of the trial of William Wallace and the unusual decision to free him on appeal due to lack of evidence. He also includes information that has come to light after the death of some of the key players. This is all set out well, and at the end we are given various suspects and how likely our author believes them to be viable, he also lays his own hat down with his preferred scenario.

This was a book that I would classify as more factual ‘true crime’ which was enjoyable for the lack of drama and sensationalism alone. This was the third in this series of books which are also featured on the Cold Case Jury website.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Mirror Books who allowed me to read an copy of Move to Murder which was published on 1 November 2018.

First Published UK: 1 November 2018
Publisher: Mirror Books
No of Pages: 247
Genre: Non Fiction – True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Don’t Make a Sound – David Jackson

Crime Fiction
5*s

David Jackson’s series featuring DS Nathan Cody is on my ‘must-read’ list and I was suitably thrilled to hear that he was making his third appearance on 3 May 2018.

This is one creepy book, no need for gruesome scenes for this author, instead he lets you imagine the worst from his well-chosen words.

A young girl, a mere six years of age, has disappeared from her bed and Nathan Cody is investigating. This investigation is high profile, no one wants to think that there is a child snatcher in the neighbourhood and yet it seems like whoever took Poppy was invisible as there is no trace. Yes no clues to follow and that means that Cody has to painstakingly follow a number of different theories simultaneously to see which one holds water.

We meet Poppy’s parents, Craig and Maria in the wake of her disappearance and we have Cody, DC Meghan Webley, FLO, Jason Oxburgh and data expert Grace Meade amongst others who under the tough leadership of DCI Stella Blunt of Liverpool’s police. We also have ten year old Daisy living with her parents Malcolm and Harriet, home-schooled she is a little lonely and has that peculiar manner of children who spend all their time in the company of adults. All these characters are acutely drawn with everyday events underscored by a level of tension that you simply won’t believe until you read this book for yourself. Never in my life have I had to hold my breath while reading about a game of darts!

Although this is one of my favourite genres, a good solid police procedural there is a strong element of the psychological woven through the storyline. As we observe the different relationships I found I was in on the action trying to work out why some were behaving the way they were, for instance, in the all too familiar media interview I felt I was on the other side of the camera, alongside the police watching and waiting for a sentence that would provide a key to unlocking at least something vaguely useful to explaining what had happened. Because the reader knows more than the police, a dicey device in any but the most assured writer’s keyboard, you’d expect the tension levels to be lower. Not so, I could feel my heart racing at far too many parts of this book to mention. I needed it all resolved, and as the levels increase unrelentingly until the truly outstanding ending. This book should come with a free ECG to make sure your heart is up to reading it!

I’m sure this would read very well as a standalone but I don’t recommend it. A Tapping at my Door, the first in the series, is one of my favourite crime books of all time, and the second, Hope to Die gives us more insight into Nathan Cody as well as being another full-on read so you’ll be missing out if you can’t wait and chose to start with this book but I’m almost certain you’ll need to pick up the previous two if you can’t wait.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Bonnier Zaffre for allowing me to read a copy of Don’t Make a Sound ahead of publication on 3 May 2018. Thank you also to David Jackson for giving my heart a workout, I can’t wait to see what will happen next. This is an unbiased review written by Cleopatra Loves Books.

First Published UK: 3 May 2018
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
o of Pages: 3528
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

Go To Sleep – Helen Walsh

 

Contemporary Fiction
3*s

Well… this is quite a difficult review to write because this read made for quite uncomfortable reading even though it is now over a quarter of a century since I had my first child but here goes!

Rachel is looking forward to giving birth to her first child. She’s probably not quite ok with being a single mother but she’s prepared, or so she thinks. She’s bonded with her bump and looking forward to welcoming her child into the world complete with a doting grandfather and his second wife. Ok, being the product of a one night stand isn’t ideal but having weighed up the odds, she’s decided not to inform the father who has a chance of a new life away from Liverpool.

In these early chapters we learn more about the baby’s father who she first met as a teenager. Reuben was black and Rachel believes that this was why her father didn’t like him, you see this is a book that is as much about Rachel’s life before a baby, as after and as the book roll on, this is something I appreciated more and more. This background gives the reader real context to her struggle with life after Joe is born.

Before Joe is born, Rachel works as a support worker for truanting children supporting them helpfully back to school or if not into alternative training so she’s no pushover, but has a life dealing with truculent teenagers prepared her for life with a helpless baby? This beginning showing a woman passionate about her work coupled with a splash of jealousy about the woman who is standing in for her during her maternity leave, gives us a great insight into Rachel’s character and what she feels is important in life. Rarely do we hear about the doubts a woman has stepping away from the workplace in such an honest way and better still the points made are done with subtlety.

Labour begins, in fits and starts and Rachel contacts the hospital, she’s turned away, she’s not far enough gone to be admitted. So we got to this bit and my long-buried memories surfaced…
I take out my mobile, ring the hospital. The voice that greets me tries to be reassuring but never gets beyond dismissive:

How far apart? You’ve had how many?

Suffice to say labour isn’t as Rachel imagined and then baby doesn’t sleep. The language fits perfectly with the frustration she feels with the gap between what she imagined life would be like, and the reality.

Evening. The lights turned down low, the ward calm and ordered, all the babies washed and fed and winded, all of them ready for sleep; all except Joe. Joe fights it, struggles, bleats. Unable, unwilling to settle, champing on my chafed and throbbing chest, he writhes and burns  and gets angrier and angrier. I am so tired now – desperately achingly tired.

This is an incredibly brave book to write, far from the sentimental picture usually portrayed of early motherhood. Life with a child that doesn’t sleep can be like hell on earth. I remember one awful night when I threatened to throw my daughter out of the window, words said in pure frustration and I hasten to add, not acted upon, but it is tough to be in charge of an infant in the dead of night who won’t be consoled. The author accurately portrays this and although I was horrified at some of Rachel’s actions as she was clearly suffering with postnatal depression as well as exhaustion, my judgement was tempered.

I’m glad I read this book long after the event, and perhaps this book should be given out to young women who believe that a baby will fit into their lives like a beautiful accessory but then, nothing can quite prepare you, so perhaps those of us can read with a wry smile, is the best audience after all.

Go to Sleep was my fifteenth read in my Mount TBR Challenge 2017, so I’m still on target to hit 36 books purchased before 1 January 2017, this one having been bought in April 2015 so fits the bill!

mount-tbr-2017

 

 

 

First Published UK: 2011
Publisher: Cannongate Books
No of Pages:  320
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Hope to Die – David Jackson

Crime Fiction
4*s

So DS Nathan Cody has his second outing in his native Liverpool and this time he starts without his partner DC Megan Webley who is still recovering from a serious injury but fear not she soon returns. The murder Nathan Cody is investigating is a particularly gruesome one and one that has no obvious motive. Mary Cowper is a church going teacher who was killed while walking her dog by the Anglian Cathedral. No matter where they look they can’t see why anyone would want this woman dead, she’s as inoffensive as they come.

Meanwhile we learn all about the childhood of a young boy, a grim upbringing policed by a strict mother and God. I have to admit I’m always a little suspicious of excerpts from seemingly unrelated voices within crime fiction but David Jackson has his narrative spot on in this instance. It is fairly obvious that this is our killer but I couldn’t fit the childhood voice to any of the characters we were meeting, and nor could I separate the sad stories from the narrator which tell of a deeply anguished childhood, with the revulsion I felt over the killings of the women.

Hope to Die doesn’t just concentrate on the investigation which needless to say is soon expanded as another woman is found dead, we also get to understand a little more about Nathan Cody’s demons which haunted him in A Tapping at My Door and continue in this episode. When Megan Webley returns to work we also have the gaps between the two books filled in, with Megan understandably confused by Cody’s absence during her recovery but she’s the better person and extends the olive branch. The fact that the pair had a romantic liaison some time before Cody joined the team only serves the tension to crackle at times both at home and at work.

We have a new female addition to the team the data analyst, Grace, who is keen to show what she’s made of after a life-time of being ignored by her peers and I was pleased that DCI Blunt the no-nonsense, yet capable of compassion, a woman who is almost motherly in her dealings with Cody, is still in charge. All this gives not only a good ratio of both male and female police staff but a wide range of characters to give a good depth to the investigation.

The pace is fairly fast particularly with the switches between the odd things that are happening to Cody away from the investigation and the information that is leaking out about the suspects, even if none of them appear to have a motive, there are lies and half-truths to be uncovered. You don’t want to start this book just before bed-time that’s for sure because not only will you be unable to relinquish your hold on the book as one more chapter turns into two, three and onwards, but because David Jackson creates a world which feels particularly unsafe for the unassuming and then throws some particularly weird activities into the mix… like clowns!

With tension aplenty, some relationship issues and an ending which will have you longing for the next book, this is not to be missed although I strongly suggest you read the first book in the series to get the most from the story arc. Hope to Die will be published on 6 April 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre who were kind enough to provide me with an advance review copy. This unbiased review is my thanks to them and the talented David Jackson.

First Published UK: 6 April 2017
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
No of Pages:  416
Genre: Crime Fiction – Series
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Put A Book On The Map

Put A Book On The Map #BookOnTheMap #Liverpool

dj-book-on-the-map

Today The Book on the Map is in Liverpool, a book that once you’ve read it, you will realise couldn’t possibly be set anywhere else. A Tapping at my Door not only has the perfect setting it also made my top ten list of books published in 2016 and so I was particularly thrilled when David Jackson and Karen from Go Buy The Book were both keen to put this particular book on the map!

liver-bird-single

Right first to the location: Liverpool is in the North West of England and was a key port city giving rise to the kind of diverse population that springs up when ships are docking or leaving on a regular basis with some of the oldest immigrant communities in the whole of the UK. In more modern times Liverpool was of course the home of the Beatles.

 

I have only visited Liverpool once and I have to admit the biggest thrill was to see the iconic Liver Birds atop The Royal Liver Building. These really are far more impressive in real life than the pictures. But before that, many moons ago, when I first left home, I shared a house with a ‘bunch of Scousers,’ in other words they were all from Liverpool. I have incredibly fond memories of those days but the very early ones were spent with me either trying to get them to repeat what they said, or smiling inanely; The Liverpool accent takes some getting used to. Fortunately I had regular practice when we settled down together to watch the omnibus edition of Brookside on a Saturday afternoon.

Well enough of the trips down memory lane, back to the book!

A Tapping at my Door

A Tapping at My Door

david-jackson
David Jackson

A Tapping at my Door is the first of my new crime thriller series set in Liverpool. Before that, I had written four novels in a different series set in a completely different part of the world – New York, in fact. The first book in that series (Pariah) was Highly Commended in the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Awards, while the most recent (Cry Baby) was an Amazon top 10 bestseller and listed as one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year. So why, you might ask, did I decide to embark on a new series?

One reason is that I was on the lookout for a new publisher, and publishers generally want something fresh, particularly if the existing books in a series are owned elsewhere. Another reason is that I felt I was missing out on local support for my books. Setting my novels here in the UK would, I reasoned, increase my chances of getting that important backing from shops and supermarkets in the area. Finally, I needed somewhere that would be easy to get to in order to carry out my research, and possessing enough interesting features to make it stand out as much as the characters in my books.

With all that in mind, Liverpool was the natural choice of location. I was born and raised there, and although I now live on the other side of the Mersey, I still travel in to Liverpool every day for my work as an academic.
As far as I am concerned, Liverpool has everything a novelist needs as a setting: the distinctive waterfront, with its Liver Buildings and Albert Dock; the Liverpool One shopping area; the Georgian Quarter, filled with more Georgian buildings than any other city outside London; the two cathedrals and two premier league football teams; the slavery museum; the Tate; the Beatles connection …

Of course, Liverpool has its darker, tougher side. There are areas of poverty and deprivation here to rival those of any other major UK city. There is also crime, without which I’d be short of material. But balanced against this is the one thing about the city that I don’t think is matched anywhere else: the humour and warm-heartedness of its people. That, above all, is what makes me want to write about Liverpool.

 

Karen from Go Buy The Book is well qualified to discuss this book as her favourite types of reading is crime fiction and she lives in Liverpool so I’ll hand over to her and her wonderful photos of actual places in this book. You can read her review of the book here

The setting of a book can be just as crucial as the characters and the plot. In the case of A Tapping at my Door by David Jackson, the use of Liverpool is so pivotal to the plot that it couldn’t really be set anywhere else.

 

waterstones-botm-dj
The former Waterstones where Cody was busking

Although the first location we encounter is Stoneycroft, the scene of a particularly gruesome murder, it is the second chapter where the city of Liverpool is really introduced. DS Nathan Cody is busking on Bold Street, a cosmopolitan area in the city centre, in front of the former Waterstones book shop, when he embarks on a high octane, if comical, chase through the city centre.

clayton-square-botm-dj
Clayton Square shopping centre where Cody’s guitar got stuck in the automatic doors!

Being from Liverpool, I found the description of the places he passes to be so well-written that I actually envisaged myself running through Central Station, over Ranelagh Street into Clayton Square and up the steps leading towards Lime Street.

 

 

 The steps leading towards Lime Street Station where Cody caught the flasher.

The steps leading towards Lime Street Station where Cody caught the flasher.

 

 

 

 

A member of the Major Incident Team, Cody works out of Stanley Road station. Situated in Kirkdale, in the north of the city, an area that has witnessed more than its fair share of crime, this is a complete contrast to where he lives in Rodney Street in the heart of the city centre. Known as the ‘Harley Street of the North’, Rodney Street is the home to doctors and dentists as well as many private residents. It is perhaps most well known for being, in 1809, the birthplace of William Ewart Gladstone, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In recent years, it has become a mecca for many television production crews with the likes of Foyle’s War and Peaky Blinders being filmed there.

 

Sheil Street
Sheil Street

 

Heading away from the city centre, the murderer strikes again in Sheil Road, near to Kensington, one of the busiest roads in the city.

 

This road is not a stranger to crime with numerous cases of anti-social behaviour and violence being reported over the past few years. Despite this, Sheil Road also contains one of the entrances to the 121 acre Newsham Park, opened in 1868.

 

One of the most iconic images of Liverpool – the Royal Liver Building – plays a vital role in the story. Construction of this building began in 1907 with the building opening a few years later in 1911. This Grade I listed building overlooks the River Mersey and stands at an impressive 90m tall. The building is probably most known for the two Liver Birds adorning each tower. Legend has it that while one looks out to sea, the other looks over the city, protecting its people. They must have been turning a blind eye as the killer struck!

 

liver-bird-building-liverpool

Book Reviews from around the Blogosphere
A Tapping at my Door

Rebecca Bradley

Bibliophile Book Club

damppebbles

Cleopatra Loves Books

There are so many brilliant reviews of A Tapping at my Door out there, if you have one why not share the link on twitter today to help put this book on the map!

the-booktrail-logo

Now don’t forget to hop over to see Susan The Book Trail to see the details of the book setting on her wonderful map.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Karen and David for this wonderful post bringing to life this brilliant crime thriller set in Liverpool which starts with an excerpt from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

All books featured in this #BookOnTheMap project will get a place on the Master Page listing crime fiction by their destination with links to the wonderful collaboration between authors and bloggers.

Please email me at cleopatralovesbooks70@gmail.com if you would like to participate in this feature.

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

The Museum of You – Carys Bray

Contemporary Fiction 5*s
Contemporary Fiction
5*s

What a delightful read with a vein of honesty running through Clover Quinn and her father, Darren’s story.

Clover has just completed her first year at secondary school and Darren has conceded that she no longer needs to spend her days with their elderly neighbour Mrs Mackerel and so with the long summer holiday stretching before her Clover decides on a project. Inspired by a trip to Liverpool’s Maritime Museum and having a conversation with one of the curators, she is going to sort through all her Mum’s belongings and find out all about her. Then she is going to display her findings in the second bedroom, complete with cards explaining each item in the display.

Carys Bray has perfectly captured the mind, and voice, of a twelve year old who is just realised that friendship at secondary schools are more judgemental than those at primary, that her father who is trying his best, doesn’t get everything right and that other’s around her have challenges of their own, and just sometimes Clover can help. Clover also knows that there is a mother shaped hole in her life, and all Clover has is a couple of blurry photos, the tale of how she was born on the kitchen floor with dear Mrs Mackeral in attendance, and then… nothing.

So the project starts, interrupted by the necessary job of going to the allotment, delivering the produce to her Grandfather and Mrs Mackeral who checks up on the progress of the scarf that Clover is knitting for her father. Mrs Mackeral is the comedic element to what is an emotional tale, no matter how up-beat the presentation, and whose malapropisms had me chuckling as they are flung about with abandon always at high volume.

Clover’s first job is to sort through the jumble of items that have been flung into what was her mother’s bedroom, although the hoarding spreads throughout the house, this is the worst area. Having inched her way through envelopes containing promotions for holidays, towels and bed linen it is a while before Clover finds any real essence of her mother but she’s determined to do so.

The brilliance of this book is that all the elements come together in such a beautiful package; the writing is evocative, it was as easy to roll back the years to engage with Clover as it was to sympathise with Darren over the enormous responsibility of caring for Clover since she was just six weeks old. His determination to both love and protect her comes shining through and yet of course we know that placing Clover at the centre of his world has had a knock-on effect on the rest of his life. The author hasn’t however given us a saint, Darren gets irritated, particularly by Uncle Jim who suffers from depression, with his Dad who no longer leaves his home happy to research all sorts of things on his computer and with the occasional passenger on his job as a bus driver, unsurprising as this wasn’t Darren’s plan for his life – long ago he was going to be living a different life entirely, but things change. Added to that we have the wonderful characters, all of them from Mrs Mackeral who I initially disliked, maybe a throw-back to my own childhood which seemed over-run with characters like this, to Uncle Jim and Dagmar who is lost in her own way but teams up with Clover on her trips to the allotment. But what I loved most of all were the truisms that turn up in the most unlikely places throughout this book:

One of the surprising things about adulthood is how few people accompany you there and what a relief it is to occasionally talk to someone who knew the child you and the teenage you , someone who had seen all your versions, every update and stuck with you through all of it. That’s really something.

I was worried that this book may be too saccharine for my tastes, but evidently not, this isn’t one of those that obviously makes a play for your emotions but creeps up over you until you can’t help but want the best for each and every one of the people that grace the pages, even those whose stories can’t be changed. It is a very rare book indeed that makes me shed real tears – this book was one of them!

I’d like to say a huge thank you to Random House UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Museum of You, this unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 16 June 2016
Publisher: Random House UK
No of Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

Did She Kill Him? – Kate Colquhoun #20booksofsummer

Book 10

Non-Fiction 5*s
Non-Fiction
5*s

Florence Maybrick is fast becoming the specialist subject I  would choose for Mastermind as she has popped up in several of the books I’ve read about poisoners, during my current fascination with this method of murder, as well as on her own in Mrs Maybrick written by Victoria Blake.

For those who are less familiar with this Victorian lady living in Liverpool and tried for murder in August 1889, in fact I was reading this 127 years to the day the verdict was passed. Florence had publicly argued with her husband in the spring of 1889 and then almost immediately afterwards he fell ill, seemingly rallied and then died. Shortly before his death the first hint of poisoning being the cause of his malaise were whispered in the well-upholstered corridors of Battlecrease House in suburban Aigburth, the house the family rented in order to keep up a suitable presence amongst their peers.

Battlecrease house

Battlecrease House

With arsenic being the suspected poison much was made of a dish of fly-papers found soaking by the maid Bessie in Florence’s bedroom and this added to whispers about the appearance and smell of the food sent to the sick room altering whipped up a hotbed of suspicion in the household. When the nursery nurse the fabulously named Alice Yapp, on opening a letter written by Florence to another man decided to hand it to a family friend, the die was cast for Florence and James’s elder brother Michael was summoned home to take control in the last days of James’s life.

I really enjoyed Kate Coluhoun’s book about this interesting crime the mystery of whether Florence did kill James, something which I think is still in question today. She starts the book by building up Florence with a more sympathetic characterisation than some authors have treated her to, but more than that, by using her imagination against a backdrop of superb research, treats the reader to a version of what life was like for the twenty-six year old American woman living the life as a wife to a cotton trader.

In a while she would call Bessie to take it to the post. For the present her tapering fingers remained idle in the lap from which one of her three cats had lately jumped, bored by her failure to show it affection.

Today, the twenty-six year old was wonderfully put together her clothes painstakingly considered if a little over-fussed. Loose curls, dark blonde with a hint of auburn, were bundled up at the back of her head and fashionably frizzed across her full forehead.

Of course Kate Colquhoun can’t know for sure how Florence felt for sure but her account seemed as likely as any other to me, and by writing in this style the book is far more readable than one where we are just presented with the known facts. The backing up of her attestations with historical accuracy especially in respect to the change of heart that the nation had as the trial proceeded was fascinating. Many commentators were convinced of Florence’s guilt at the start of the trial but opinion in some quarters at least turned, and the talking point became less about Florence’s transgressions and more about the facts. To help the reader understand these fluctuations the change in attitudes is painted using the arts as a barometer with regular notes on the type of romantic fiction Florence herself read, as well as the still well-known contemporary fiction. Paintings of the time are also looked at with an eye on how women were viewed at this time and the hints of how things were changing. This after all was at the start of the suffragette movement and this caused alarm for those who held the ‘old’ social mores in high regard.

After starting in such a sympathetic manner to Florence the end of the book, by contrast then almost re-examines the evidence from another perspective, re-examining the questions that had been given a plausible answer earlier in the book. I found this intriguing and of course underlines the fact that no-one really knows whether the pretty young woman tried to kill off her husband or whether circumstances conspired against her to make it look as though she might have.

This was altogether an interesting and thoughtful look at the life of a middle-class wife in late Victorian England where times were just beginning to change but too late for those who were stuck with a role that didn’t provide them satisfaction in the narrow role they were forced to live.

I’ve heard great things about Kate Colquhoun’s previous book Mr Briggs’s Hat so you can expect to see that one appear on my bookshelf to read and review soon.

Published UK: 15 October 2014
Publisher: Overlook Press
No of Pages: 419
Genre: Historical True Crime
Amazon UK
Amazon US

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

An Awfully Big Adventure – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

Book 2

An Awfully Big Adventure
Classic Fiction 5*s

Unfortunately I am away during Annabel’s from Annabel’s House of Books  reading week for Beryl Bainbridge: Reading Beryl but after falling in love with this author’s writing through Harriet Said, I put one on my 20 Books of Summer 2016! list.

An Awfully Big Adventure is set in 1950s Liverpool, a landscape still filled with rations and other post-war deprivations and the theatre. What a mix for this coming of age novel through less than rose-tinted glasses. It is therefore no surprise that Bainbridge chose to borrow her title from the classic play by J.M Barrie, Peter Pan where Peter has a throw-away line:

‘To die would be an awfully big adventure.’

With the title borrowed from a story about a boy who doesn’t want to grow the protagonist, Stella of Bainbridge’s creation is sixteen, far from grown up, yet with her first job as a stage hand in the theatre thrust amongst grown-up lives, a world she struggles to understand.

The setting is brilliant, the boarding house (and its occupants) is easily pictured amongst the bomb scarred streets and the lodgers who bear their own scars from the war. It was Stella’s Uncle Vernon who first proposed working at the Playhouse. Here is a man who champions her to the hilt while she, as is so often the attitude of girls this age, is embarrassed by absolutely everything about him. Despite the way he brags to his boss he is also worried and exasperated by her:

“Debating anything with the girl was a lost cause. She constantly played to the gallery. No one was denying she could have had a better start in life, but then she wasn’t unique in that respect and it was no excuse for wringing the last drop of drama out of the smallest incident.”

Vernon’s wife Lily is a more shadowy figure, forever at the edge of Stella’s life although towards the end of the book she ponders that:

‘it was unjust of her to disregard those thumb-sucking years in which Lily had held her close’

But away from the prying eyes and ears of Uncle Vernon and Lily, Stella visits the phone boxes around the theatre to ring her mother. The reader hears Stella reporting to her mother, but we only get to know that mother says ‘the usual things’

So it’s fair to say Stella is typical of her age, no more so when she develops a crush on the handsome director Meredith Potter, who at first pays her some attention but this is soon diverted by others. Ever the mimic Stella tries out a number of personas on him to try to recapture his interest, but it seems that her love is to go unrequited. In parallels to the play they are putting on at the Liverpool Playhouse when Stella arrive, one that Stella pronounces simplistically the plot is all about people loving someone who is in love with someone else, perfectly sums up the cast. There is much to love in the book as a whole, the symmetry being one of the biggest pleasures for me. The set-up at the beginning of the book which only becomes clear at the very end, is an example of the excellent structure that resounds throughout.

Although this reads a little more like a series of vignettes at first, the linking only truly becoming apparent at the end, individually as well as together each of these is vivid and simply fascinating. Fairly early on I realised that what is blatantly obvious to the reader has completely passed Stella by, and so only the sternest heart can’t overlook her slightly odd manner and have a little sympathy for the poor girl! But when she decides to make Meredith jealous, she sets in chain a sequence of events that slowly becomes apparent, making for a sublime ending.

I am now a firm Beryl Bainbridge fan, I love the darkness, the cleverness, the period details and the sardonic humour. Luckily, I have another title waiting to read on my bookshelf. I simply can’t believe it took me quite so long to discover such this national treasure.

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

A Tapping At My Door – David Jackson

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction
5*s

Prefaced by some lines from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven, rarely have I been so spooked by a book as I was on opening this book where Terri Latham is sat at home having a glass of wine when she hears a tapping at her door… I’m don’t have a particularly nervous nature but I was there, alongside Terri while she debated whether or not to investigate! There is no need to add that David Jackson is a master at setting a scene.

ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

Next we meet DS Nathan Cody at work in the Major Investigation Team who has just found out one of his old girlfriends has joined the team, even better they are to be partners – now that’s not awkward is it? The fact that Megan Webley is now engaged to someone else just ups the potential for problems and while I’m not saying there are none, the author is rightly restrained in keeping the personal life on the fringes of the action allowing the fabulous, and it is outstanding, plot to take centre stage.

I instantly liked Nathan Cody, a former undercover policeman, he clearly had dealt with a major incident in this role, but what it was isn’t revealed for quite some time. This explains his shortish temper, particularly with local reporter, suffers with insomnia and has a hint of recklessness about him but again, David Jackson doesn’t overplay these issues, they are there and clearly a concern, not least to Cody himself, but he does work as part of a team and there are minimal lone wolf moments.

In fact all the characters are beautifully drawn from the victims, suspects and officers and other randomers, every single one was distinct, note authors this always helps the reader keep the story straight, and yet utterly authentic primarily because like real people they aren’t acting a part they are made up of many different facets, so while Cody may bark at a reporter he is capable of helping an elderly man with some shopping moments later, a lovely touch that keeps the reader in tune with, and engaged with the character.

So we have a fabulous plot and great characters so onto the Liverpool setting. This was also very well done with its helpful explanation of the difference between the new touristy bits and those slightly rougher parts of town cleverly slipped into the story to give a sense of place and to me this felt distinct from any generic English city.

But best of all the writing comes with a good dose of wry humour which I love. This meant that despite some gruesome murders, I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book to those with weak dispositions, the book never felt depressing.
I can’t recommend this book enough, it is definitely going to be in my top ten reads of 2016, there isn’t one bit that could have been better!

I’d like to say a big thank you to Bonnier Publishing for my copy of this book, this review is my unbiased thank you to them. A Tapping At My Door was published on 7 April 2016.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Mrs Maybrick – Victoria Blake

Non-Fiction 4*s
Non-Fiction
4*s

I can’t write this review without stating how attractive this little book is being small and almost square it is really quite sweet, unlike its contents of course! So much so that I instantly felt an urge to collect others in this series on appearances alone and then I read it, and if the others are as well researched and clearly set out as this one, well I will need to fill an entire shelf with them!

I chose this book on the advice of the author when she mentioned Florence Maybrick in the comments section of my review of The Last Woman Hanged, the subject of that study was Louisa Collins who was accused of murdering two husbands in New South Wales in 1889. Florence Maybrick underwent her trial for the murder of her husband James Maybrick in August of the same year, the poison was the same, arsenic. I knew a little about Florence’s trial from the splendid read which was Victorian Murderesses but wanted to see what Victoria Blake would add. Quite a lot it would seem and even better at the end of the book she presents the arguments for and against on whether Florence was guilty as charged. I like a woman who stands by her research and the author didn’t disappoint putting her hat into the ring – which one you’ll have to read the book and find out for yourself.

Within the 100 plus pages the information is densely packed with information including the background to the case, the state of the Maybrick’s marriage, the scheming servants and the two-faced friends all get as thorough examination as the facts will allow. The book has two sets of plates full of pictures of not only the key players in this drama but some of the documents used to convict Florence too.

It is interesting to read that there were many women who wrote to the papers about Florence Maybrick as they did for Louisa Collins on the other side of the world only months earlier. The same complaints were made in that Florence was being tried by and judged by men, women not being allowed to vote at this time, let alone sit on a jury! There also appears to have been some similar conviction on the part of the doctors and the police that Florence was guilty giving weight to the feeling that the trial wasn’t fair and the doubts about the poison, and whether it was poison raged just as fiercely in Liverpool in 1889 as they had in Australia. Perhaps the fears of the population that those weaker than them could easily procure the means to kill them in extreme agony had a part to play in both women’s trials or perhaps this was seen to be an easy way to get out of a marriage in a time when options were limited? Either way this makes for fascinating and informative reading.

Learn more about Victoria Blake on her blog here