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

Fatal Inheritance – Rachel Rhys

Historical Fiction
5*s

If there is ever a book to transport you to a different time and place, Fatal Inheritance is the one, you just have to look at that stunning cover!

Eve Forrester is living a somewhat unfulfilling life as a housewife in post war Britain. Her husband Clifford has his own business, he comes home to their small house in Sutton, reads the paper and to finish the day more often than not he turns his back on her in bed. Eve is one of those unfortunate women who have jumped out of the frying pan into the fire as she is trying to escape her hypercritical mother.

One day the postman delivers a letter, it’s from a solicitor who summons her to London to discuss a mysterious inheritance from a man she has never heard of, Guy Lester. Clifford of course is less than impressed to have to take a day off work to accompany his wife for this very important meeting, and he is positively aggrieved when it is proposed that his wife goes to Cannes to find out more. Eve however is up for an adventure…

This is a story that can be read on a number of levels. It explores the lives of women who have lived through the worst of times. They were the generation that had to mourn the loss of so many men, in Eve’s case there is a lost love and a lack of suitable men to fill his place which is why she settled on Clifford. The book brilliantly contrasts the lack of colour in England at this time with rationing still in force with the brilliance of the Riviera but doesn’t neglect to bring in the more shadowy side of the region’s recent history including the influence of the Nazis. It is also a story about inheritance and memories, of secrets and lies but most of all the spreading of one woman’s wings. All the individual elements are excellently and realistically portrayed which in turn makes the sum so much richer than expected.

Through her story we get to experience the opening up of Eve’s world. The book is full of glamour with film stars, writers and artists all making up the population of Cannes. Rachel Rhys gracefully documents the clothes worn by Eve’s more glamorous friends while seamlessly illustrating that fine clothes and fancy houses don’t necessarily make for a more fulfilled life. And, although there are of course some characters who may not qualify for the nicest on the planet, this story has some who seem genuinely lovely and manage to impart some lessons in how to get the most out of life, neatly balancing out the others.

At the heart though there is a solid mystery to drive the narrative forward and so as taken as I was with the characters, the descriptions of places, people and relationships, it was this that kept my mind busy as every possible solution was ruled out by a new piece of information. I’m pleased to say the actual answer was not only satisfying, it was perfectly revealed and I’m so glad the author allowed us to catch up with many of the characters at a point in the future, rounding the book off brilliantly.

I want to say a huge thank you to Tammy Cohen (aka Rachel Rhys) and Alison Barrow, on behalf of Doubleday who arranged for me to read a copy of Fatal Inheritance ahead of publication today, 26 July 2018. I am loath to say it since I won an auction dear to my heart which meant that my name appeared in Rachel Rhys’s first historical novel A Dangerous Crossing, but this book is equally as good, if not better…

First Published UK: 26 July 2018
Publisher: Doubleday UK
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

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

Simon Said – Sarah R. Shaber

Crime Fiction
3*s

This is a traditional mystery story set in 1996, where Simon Shaw is a Professor in forensic history at a college in Raleigh, North Carolina. His life is on a downward spiral having recently split up with his wife. He is suffering with depression which he is at pains to keep under wraps but his lack of interest in academic life has been noted by his colleagues and questions are being asked in some quarters about his abilities. Then a body is found on an archaeological dig at Bloodworth House by his friend David Morgan and it looks like he has a chance to use his skills to help him out. It doesn’t take long to realise that whilst the body is old, it isn’t all that old and Simon becomes obsessed with finding out more.

With the date of the body still under consideration the Police are called to the site but are unwilling to carry out too much in way of an investigation considering the perpetrator is most likely dead. It is at this point we meet Julia, a lawyer with the police whose job it is to consider the legal aspects of how to file the crime. After all it doesn’t take much by way of an examination to realise that it is a crime, the skeleton has a bullet hole through their skull and they had been hidden below the floor of the kitchen at Bloodworth House.

Simon soon becomes convinced that the bones belong to Anne Bloodworth who went missing in 1926 and was never seen again although there were rumours she’d run away because of a falling out with her father. Simon soon moves from a point of interest to obsession banishing the worst of his depression in research and Julia.

This was a competent mystery story that held my attention for the duration. The plotting was solid and the historical aspect very well presented although perhaps the contrast between life in the 1920s and 1990s would have been more distinct had Simon not been a bit fussy and pernickety for a man who is reportedly only in his 30s, but maybe that’s what being a Professor at such a young age does to you? The book did however underline that the life of heiress Anne Bloodworth, was maybe not all it was cracked up to be. The book came into its own when it became clear that someone wanted to halt any investigation into her life and Julia became far more involved with the case and her character was a really good addition to the book as her role is one not usually seen in this type of crime fiction novel.

The academic setting also made a pleasant change, we had academic in-fighting and jostling for position as a backdrop, I especially enjoyed the meetings which while differing in subject matter could mirror the petty concerns of work colleagues the world over, these adding shade to the storytelling.

While the dénouement wasn’t especially inventive, it was fitting which to me is far more important anyway. I did guess some, but not all the mysteries, I was better on the who than the why. Given that the first book in the series is possibly the weakest in that a wide range of characters have to be given backstories I thought that Simon Said was a proficient and interesting opener.

This book is the tenth in my Mount TBR 2017 Challenge having been purchased in June 2015 to qualify.
mount-tbr-2017

 

First Published UK: 2004
Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
No of Pages:  240
Genre: Crime Fiction – Mystery 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

They Did It With Love – Kate Morganroth

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction
4*s

This is the ultimate read for those who love a peek behind the curtains!

Sofie and Dean have moved from Manhattan to suburban Connecticut, an exclusive address, and one much to former bookseller Sophie’s delight, where there is a book club to join. Maybe if she knew what was going to happen next, she’d have reined in that enthusiasm a bit! Well to be fair she doesn’t seem too sure once she meets the other book club members, especially as the leader, Priscilla forgot to inform her that she needs a pair of shoes to be worn exclusively indoors, for book club meetings, on account of her white carpets and furniture complete of course, with a maid to serve cups of tea, which of course must on no account be spilled.

Priscilla is married to Gordon, a much mousier man than his bossy and controlling wife and within a moment of meeting her the state of her marriage is apparent:

Priscilla saw no hope. What she saw was her husband, Gordon sleeping beside her. Just looking at him she felt a surge of irritation. She’d reached the point where everything about him irritated her.

Susan is Priscilla’s best friend who has suspicions about what her own husband, Harry is up to but Priscilla is better at complaining about the neighbours than she is to being sympathetic:

‘Nothing,’ Priscilla repeated firmly. ‘If you kick up a fuss you’ll just drive him away. Besides, this kind of thing happens all the time.’
‘I know… but not to me and Harry,’ Susan said plaintively.
‘Apparently it does.’

Meanwhile Ashley second wife of Stewart has only been admitted to the Mystery Book Club because of her husband’s connections, they had preferred Pam the first wife! One of the newest members of the book club, before Sofie’s arrival is Julia,  whose husband Alex has got some ladies in the neighbourhood hot under the collar.

And then there is a murder…

This was a far better read than I anticipated with the book club meetings and various social drinks and dinners underpinning the book which I read with half-shocked amusement both sexes puffed and preened and jostled for position. The book chapters are entitled by the month, and almost always start with anxiety not to meet Priscilla’s wrath for not reading her choice of book. Sofie is exempt, being a true-book lover and already having acquitted herself quite nicely with her quiet confidence around the subject of mystery novels, has been accepted, whether she likes it or not. Further prompts are given throughout the chapters about the characters appearing, which is helpful with so many Stepford wife types.

The murder of course means that the focus switches to the detectives and as each household is questioned more secrets are uncovered.

‘I remember the interview, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which one she was. All the women out here look the same to me – every one is blonder and thinner than the next. It’s creepy.’

The husband of the murder victim wants Sofie’s help as she has already provided some clues, he badly wants the detectives to stop focussing on him, and Sofie feels this is something worthy of her attention. After all she is intrigued and sees an opportunity to emulate her heroine Miss Marple, decides to find the truth. So alongside the official investigation we have the amateur detective chatting to the other neighbours to try to uncover the events that led up to the killing.

With red herrings and misdirection aplenty this moves from being a fairly amusing book about spoilt housewives with far too much time on their hands, to a tightly plotted tale which never loses its sense of humour as so many secrets escape and when the truth is out, it would seem like life in their exclusive street will never be the same again.

This is a hard book to categorise, it is I suppose a fairly gentle mystery, possibly edging towards a cosy, but whatever it is, it kept me thoroughly entertained. The inclusion of The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie means that imagining how Miss Marple would perhaps behave if she was transported to twenty-first century wealthy Connecticut, is perhaps inevitable.

First Published UK: 18 Decmeber 2007
Publisher: Plume Books
No of Pages: 317
Genre: Crime Fiction – Mystery
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Death at the Seaside – Frances Brody

Historical Crime Fiction 4*s
Historical Crime Fiction
4*s

Well I came a little bit late to this party as this is the eighth of Frances Brody’s novels set in the 1920s featuring private investigator Kate Shackleton. I’m delighted to say it didn’t matter and I thoroughly enjoyed the character without needing the background from the previous books.

In this book Kate Shackleton is on holiday. She’s travelled to Whitby to visit an old school friend Alma, a woman she hasn’t seen for some time although she has met up with her daughter Felicity who is Kate’s god-daughter. The holiday begins well with Kate co-ordinating her plans with her assistant Jim Sykes and housekeeper Mrs Sugdon staying close by. Oh for the days when everyone was on holiday together and life was so much simpler!

Sadly Kate’s visit takes her past the jeweller’s shop where her husband proposed to her, sadly he lost his life during the war and there is a moment of poignancy before Kate decides to enter the shop to buy Felicity a present. What she finds instead of a gift is a dead body. In the 1920s phones were rare so Kate is forced to leave the jeweller’s shop and raise the alarm, this action, plus her being an outsider leads her to being suspected of committing the murder. Added to that Felicity has gone missing and Alma is frantic.

This is a solid mystery novel, in a wonderful setting at one of my favourite times in recent history, a time that lends itself to secrets required to maintain respectability to others, and we all know where secrets lead, especially in crime fiction! When Kate catches up with her friend Alma she finds her living in the most peculiar of houses, a grand place which is literally disintegrating around her and the man who owns the other half of the house! She also finds out that Alma rents a space on the pier and acts as the local fortune-teller, abiding by strict regulations about hours of occupancy to keep this position while a more genuine spiritualist can be found. All of which lends itself to a varied and colourful mystery, where any violence is ‘off-page’ and yet the strong character of Kate gives the book real structure and stops it slipping into fluff.

For the most part the book is narrated by Kate herself, she is a practical woman, but a ‘real’ woman, she misses her husband but doesn’t dwell too much on her loss, she is also open it would appear to another husband, but only if the right man makes the offer, she isn’t going to accept a life that won’t make her happy. And it appears that being a private investigator does make her happy, we get the feeling that she is better able to carry out her sleuthing when she is part of the community rather than in Whitby where she is an outsider but I’d need to read the other books to be certain. Because Kate is a practical woman, and one loyal to her friends, some of which lead to mini-adventures such as tracking down Alma who is busy ‘communing with the moon’ leading the local police to wonder if Kate knows about the local smuggling of whisky that they are trying to clamp down on but at least we have a woman who will climb a steep and unfamiliar hill in the dark with no wailing for a man to come and rescue her. The remaining parts of the book are narrated by Alma with very short sections by Felicity whose entries are much darker and more mysterious tone.

A very enjoyable read which despite the title made the perfect autumnal read. I was given my copy of this book by Little Brown Books, and I reciprocate with this honest review.

First Published UK: 6 October 2016
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
No of Pages: 400
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Books I have read

A Meditation On Murder – Robert Thorogood

Mystery 4*'s
Mystery
4*’s

When the publishers Harlequin asked me if I’d like a copy of A Meditation On Murder I nearly bit their hands off, I have watched the television series, Death In Paradise, from the beginning seduced by the echoes of Agatha Christie’s construction of a mystery coupled with the beautiful setting on the Caribbean island of Saint Marie. In fact my partner and I have an ongoing competition not only to guess the murderer in each episode, but to construct the reasons why, with very valuable points at stake. I was therefore thrilled to have the chance to read this book an episode based on the series, but not seen on TV (so I’m unable to use this for points) and written by Robert Thorogood, the creator of the BBC One TV series.

A Meditation on Murder is in the format of a classic ‘locked room’ mystery with the victim meeting his end in a room constructed of paper in the grounds of a hotel which contained five guests and the Spiritual Leader, Aslan Kennedy, the husband of the owner of exclusive retreat. Having been relaxing with headphones and eye-masks the murder was only discovered when the apparent murderer starts screaming. This fiendishly difficult puzzle is made more complex as the chapters progress where ever more apparent motives are raised, only to be dashed by even fewer opportunities for execution. The book recaps the evidence in the form of Richard Poole’s evidence board so the reader can make sure they haven’t missed any points along the way.

I thought I had the murderer sussed at one point, quite proud of myself I read on with the clues working in favour of my hypothesis I was certain that for once I had it all worked out, that was until the same scenario was presented to Richard Poole and I read the words:

Richard let this unlikely scenario hang in the air a moment.
“So thank you, Fidel, for your theory,– just for the record…   And nor could X be our killer, either”

So once again I completely failed to spot the murderer despite the liberal scattering of clues that had presented themselves to Richard Poole’s eagle eyes, masked as they were with the obligatory red herrings along the way.

I’ll be honest it is difficult to be objective about the characterisation in this book because I’m unsure how much of my prior knowledge I used while reading, but suffice to say Richard Poole a detective dispatched from Croyden to police the island was instantly recognisable, as was the rest of the team. Richard Poole is a man who is pedantic, hates the sand, the heat and the lizard that shares his shack but for these very reasons, he is the man to lead an investigation with his rigour around the minutest detail.

This was a really enjoyable read especially, but not exclusively, for fans of Death In Paradise which is back on our screens on Thursday 8 January 2015. A Meditation on Murder is published today, 1 January 2015.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

3*'s  Contemporary Fiction
3*’s
Contemporary Fiction

Meet Maud, she is in her eighties, suffering from dementia and looking for her dear friend from the Oxfam shop Elizabeth. Elizabeth is missing says one of the many notes she finds in her pocket, by her chair or on the hallway table, next to five undrunk cups of tea.

Anyone who knows someone who is in the early stages of this disease will find this quite hard to read at times. The confusion that rolls into the moments of lucidity is faithfully reproduced on each page as Maud scrabbles around her confused mind trying to solve, not one, but two puzzles. Where is Elizabeth and what happened to her sister Sukey. Married Sukey disappeared at the end of the war and has never been seen since. Maud’s daughter Helen bears the brunt of her repetitive questions regarding Elizabeth but the puzzle of Sukey’s disappearance is relayed to the reader through internal monologues detailing snatches of memory, far sharper than those of the recent past.

This was an engaging read but having finished the book and had time to reflect I’m not entirely sure on how much substance there was to the mystery aspects. Overall the ceaseless march of dementia was the overriding theme of the book and not any worse because of that but the puzzle felt more of a device than the purpose.

A clever book, in that it portrays the elderly protagonist as a person with a past, one with feelings for others as well as one who finds her condition frustrating. Emma Healey has managed to reveal the woman beneath the disease quite well as well as faithfully describing the reasons behind some of the behaviour that suffers of this disease present to the rest of the world.

For all that I found it quite a sad book to read. Perhaps this is because someone close to me is in the early stages of this disease, but maybe because ultimately there is nothing to celebrate, little hope for a happy ending.

I’d like to thank the publishers Penguin Books UK for providing me with a copy to review prior to the publication date of 5 June 2014.

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

The Ties That Bind – Erin Kelly

Psychological Thriller
Crime Fiction
5*’s

There is nothing more enthralling for me than reading about a writer researching a story, especially when the story being planned is about a murder!

Luke a journalist who blotted his copybook, is convinced his big break can happen if he can emulate the great true-crime book In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. When he decides to leave Leeds for Brighton it is with the taste of failure in his mouth following the disappointment of a lost opportunity he finds the perfect subject to research; gangster turned philanthropist, Joss Stone whose partner in crime, Jacky Nye was murdered in 1968. Jacky Nye was strangled and thrown into the sea only to be discovered washed up at West Pier some days later, all evidence as to what had happened erased. Luke is convinced he has found the perfect story and sets about his research, throwing caution to the wind when he is repeatedly advised to find a different subject. It soon becomes clear that perhaps Luke should have heeded these warnings.

This is a fast-paced book with numerous twists and turns as Luke tries to find those who know the answers to the long ago mystery, including the young woman in the red dress who was seen fleeing the scene. In this book, you don’t only get a fantastic plot but also vivid descriptions and a theme of redemption running throughout. This changes The Ties That Bind from a straight mystery to something more complex, a book that made me think about the atonement of sins, both large and small.

Erin Kelly is one of my favourite writers with her last book The Burning Air being one of my favourite reads of 2014. The change in subject in this book just serves to underline that this is an author who writes distinctly different books but always manages that special array of characters that walk off the pages and into your imagination, so clearly that you miss them when the book is finished. In The Ties That Bind there is an abundance of different characters, Joss Stone is a puzzle, why did he turn his back on the gangster lifestyle? Why is Jem, Luke’s previous partner so controlling, and why, despite despising his behaviour, did I feel a vested interested in his well-being? And what was the relationship with the recently deceased Kathleen Duffy, whose house Luke is renting, and Joss Stone? You’ll have to read the book to find out?

I am extremely grateful that the publishers Hodder & Stoughton provided me with a copy of this book to review. This book was published on 8 May 2014.

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

The Wronged Sons – John Marrs

Mystery 5*'s
Mystery
5*’s

Twenty-five years ago Simon walks away from his family in Northamptonshire leaving his wife Catherine no clues as to what happened to him.

Split between the past and the present in the form of the confrontation between Simon and Catherine Nicholson, this is one gripping tale. We know from the blurb that Simon has been travelling the world while Catherine was left wondering what had happened to her seemingly loving husband. I was hooked right from the start with poor Catherine searching desperately with hope fading for her husband, the police and friends initially supportive until with no sign or trail to lead them to him, they reluctantly they come to the conclusion that he is probably dead.

John Marrs has plotted this book perfectly with conversation in the present, intertwined with the events in the past switching neatly at just the right time to raise the tension. Told chronologically with Simon starting at the beginning of his journey as Catherine counteracts this with the realities of her life with young children without him. It soon becomes apparent that Simon is a man who has an excuse for every action he has taken throughout their years apart, not considering for one moment that he could have made different choices.

Both Catherine and Simon shock each other with the events that have shaped their years apart and unresolved issues cause anger to bubble as Simon seeks to explain why he left and what happened while he was gone. As we inch towards the present there are many jaw-dropping moments. If you pick up this book, expect to be shocked!

This is a book that firmly deserves to be defined as a page-turner.

The Wronged Sons Amazon UK

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

House of Evidence – Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson

Mystery 3*'s
Mystery
3*’s

Blurb

On a cold January morning in 1973, inside a stately old house in Reykjavik, blood pools around Jacob Kieler Junior from a fatal gunshot wound to his chest. Detective Jóhann Pálsson, an expert in the emerging field of forensics, is called to the scene and soon discovers something more unsettling than the murder itself: the deceased’s father, Jacob Kieler Senior, a railroad engineer, was shot to death in the same living room nearly thirty years earlier. The case was officially closed as a botched robbery.

Pálsson soon uncovers diaries that portray Kieler Senior as an ambitious man dedicated to bringing the railroad to Iceland no matter the cost. Sensing a deeper and darker mystery afoot, the detective and his colleagues piece together through the elder Kieler’s diaries a family history rich with deceit…

I love books with an element of recent history and those with a diary to read are even better! This book has a diary, Iceland (I’ve never read a book set in Iceland before), World War II and family secrets which is why it caught my eye.

When the police turn up at a house in Iceland they find the body of Jacob Kieler Junior on the floor having been shot. The only thing that appears to be out of place is a single chair. Detective Jóhann Pálsson soon discovers that Jacob Kieler the father of the deceased was found in remarkably similar circumstances in 1946 nearly 30 years previously. The police try desperately to work out the link between the two deaths with the help of Jacob’s (the father) diaries which span from 1910 to 1946.

I love stories with diaries and this one is well managed, the reader often knows what to look out for in the brief diary entries following revelations in the present (well 1973 but present as far as the book is concerned). Jacob trains to be an engineer and has a life goal to build a railway in Iceland. This may sound a bit dry, but despite not being a train-spotter of any description, the explanations of various problems with the railway were easy to follow and quite informative without overpowering the mystery of who shot the two men.

The policemen although leading the search aren’t particularly strong character-wise apart from the female detective Hrefna who is in charge of reading the diaries. There is also an incompetent one Egill, who has a penchant for dealing roughly with his suspects. It is the mystery that carries this story along especially the bit that spans World War II with interesting political and social opinions from an Icelandic perspective. An interesting book that had me intrigued throughout it’s 460 pages.

I received this book from Amazon Vine as it was one of their amazon crossing books from December last year. The translation is good, not too clumsy which is good as this can be quite a dense book in parts.

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

A Commonplace Killing – Sian Busby

Historical Crime 5*'s
Historical Crime
5*’s

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
4*’s