Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Missing Hours – Emma Kavanagh

Crime Fiction 4*s
Crime Fiction

Well Emma Kavanagh has done it again, by which I mean give me an entertaining and well-written novel and at the same time educate me about an area I am totally unfamiliar with; kidnap and ransom demands.

The Missing Hours is a mystery, it has elements of a police procedural where DS Finn Hale and his sister DC Leah Mackay are on police force firstly investigating the disappearance of Dr Selina Cole and then later, when a body is discovered, the brutal murder of solicitor Dominic Newell. Leah is drawn towards Selina’s story; why would a woman walk away from a playground where her two children are playing, and disappear? Finn feels her connection with this case when he, her superior, feels that the largest portion of resources should be pooled on the murder committed in Cardiff, may be related to her personal feelings, she is identifying just a little bit too much perhaps? But this isn’t a straightforward police procedural with elements of the psychology behind crime also being explored during this novel.

It took me a while to get into the swing of this book, as in her previous books, Emma Kavanagh has used multiple points of view, ranging from Heather, Selina’s daughter to the police, and different time periods to unveil the different strands of the story. Those illustrating the work that Selina carried out for the kidnap and ransom negotiations are covered in historical case files. These make for fascinating but from my perspective, a more remote type of interest, and I certainly learnt a lot about this little-reported crime and its resolutions in dangerous spots across the globe.

This book is a master in misdirection, I changed my mind numerous times about who was responsible for different elements but try as I might I couldn’t get any scenario to fit all the facts I was in possession of but of course Emma Kavanagh didn’t let me down and when all is finally revealed, I was reminder just how superb this author is at plotting a complex novel.

Maybe because many of the characters lived lives I find it hard to imagine, of live a lifestyle that depend upon them playing their cards very close to their chests either in the forces or carrying out difficult commissions to find kidnap victims, I didn’t find I connected terribly well with any of them except the two police officers. That isn’t to say these other characters aren’t well-drawn, I think it is probably that they were too realistic thereby while their actions were understandable, I just didn’t feel like I belonged in their world.

Perhaps because of the remoteness of some of the characters and getting to grips with the world of a company whose purpose is negotiating the release of those kidnapped it did take me far longer to get into this book than the author’s previous two novels – this isn’t a book to read for non-stop action as it does take a while for the pace to pick up. Once it did though, I was gripped and longing to know exactly who to believe made the dénouement totally worth the wait! A word of warning here though, this book ends very abruptly so much so that I actually thought I’d clicked over the last page, so readers who don’t like ambiguous endings may be disappointed with having to imagine what comes next! For those lovers of crime fiction who want something a little different from the twisted serial killer, this is a strong contender.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Random House UK who allowed me to read a copy of The Missing Hours ahead of publication on 21 April 2016. This honest review is my thank you to them.

Previous books by Emma Kavanagh


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

The Ballroom – Anna Hope

Historical Fiction 5*s
Historical Fiction

Anna Hope’s debut novel, Wake was a stand-out novel amongst many contenders who have written about the First World War and so it when I heard that The Ballroom was a book about mental illness, my fingers were firmly crossed that this would also receive insightful treatment – it does!

The Ballroom takes a look at three different characters, all whose home, temporary or otherwise is Sharston Asylum. We first meet Ella Fey, a young woman whose incarceration is following an incident at the mill where she worked and it is decided that she is suffering with ‘hysteria.’ John Mulligan, an Irishman who is suffering with melancholy, a man who thrives carrying out the hard work at Sharston where the physically capable male patients work in the fields, or as John does when we first meet him, digging graves. The other character lives in the staff barracks, Dr Charles Fuller a First Assistant Medical Officer who doubles up as Bandmaster for the weekly Friday dances where selected male and female patients meet for supervised association.

This is a well-researched book which takes a thoughtful look at the role of such asylums at the time that this book is set, in 1911. As much as the scenes at the beginning of the book are those that we are all familiar with, life in the asylum provided refuge for those simply unable to live in the community, in this instance that of the West Riding of Yorkshire. This was an asylum that catered for both men and women who were kept separated at all times unless they were deemed suitable to attend the weekly dance with a band made up from the hospital staff played from the stage and the patients hopefully lifted their spirits by dancing for a couple of hours. As is only to be expected though, given the subject matter, this tale is also an unbearably sad one at times.

In line with the subject matter Dr Charles Fuller is a man who is interested in Eugenics, a movement which was gaining popularity at this time and had many influential supporters. As the book starts he is keen on submitting a paper in support of segregation of the feeble minded but as the book continues obsessional thoughts take over and the line between sane and mad becomes ever more blurred. I will leave you to make up your own minds on which of the patients were best served by being committed to the asylum but it is clear that this wasn’t the answer at all for some of them.

The story is told by each of the three narrators; Ella, John and Charles each evocative in different ways and perfectly providing the reader with a picture of the summer of 1911 when the heat was unbroken, the fields filled with crops and the steamy and smelly laundry where Ella washed underwear and sheets, was damp and hot.

This is an outstanding novel, one that I’m sure achieved exactly what Wake did, which is to provide an unforgettable story at the same time as being highly informative. Anna Hope dedicated this book to her Great Great Grandfather who was admitted to Menston Asylum, which inspired The Ballroom, in 1909 and died there in 1918 which just made the story held within the pages, all the more poignant.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers Random House UK who kindly allowed me to read a copy of this book. This review is my honest opinion of The Ballroom which is going to be published on 11 February 2016

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

Your Beautiful Lies – Louise Douglas

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction

In South Yorkshire during 1984 the miners were striking and the squeeze on small mining towns was being felt by everyone, not just the miners but the shopkeepers too as police were drafted in from other areas to keep the peace. Tensions mounted within small towns where some miners continued to work while others stood on the picket line.

Annie Howarth lives in a secluded large house on the edge of the moors with her daughter Elizabeth and her husband William who is the Chief of Police and his elderly mother Ethel. One morning Annie’s brother Johnnie brings some dreaded news, Tom Greenway, who had been her boyfriend ten years ago, has been released from prison returned to live in the area. Tom had been convicted of manslaughter and at that time William had provided a strong pair of arms to comfort Annie along with all the trappings of a world unimagined as she lived amongst the other miners with her parents.

This books starts by feeling like it is a romance with an edge with what I consider to be a realistic look at the life of a young married woman in the 1980’s. At that time if a woman didn’t work outside the home, she was dependent on her husband and while William provided the material things in life he was not the most exciting of life partners, either out policing or in his study, a place where Annie wasn’t welcome. Annie’s relationship with her parents and her peers was badly damaged by Tom being convicted of manslaughter and in a small town memories linger her only companions now are the worthy and the good, wives of William’s colleagues and I had some sympathy with the dreariness of her days.

This soon turns into a much darker tale with everything changing when a woman is found murdered up on the moors and William has a murder to solve as well as the logistical headache of policing the pickets at the colliery. Tensions run high and William becomes increasingly concerned for Annie’s safety while she is torn by her feelings for the newly returned Tom.

The characters were well-drawn, I particularly liked Ethel who was not immune to the fact that all was not rosy between her son and daughter-in-law and unwittingly spills secrets that perhaps a woman not gripped by dementia would have been left unsaid. I was less fond of Marie, Annie’s mother but again this was an accurate portrayal of a woman determined to keep the status quo amongst a long-fractured relationship with her daughter.

Louise Douglas ratchets up the tension carefully while staying firmly in the time period. There are frequent mentions of phone calls made from phone boxes, bands from this era along with the quaint notion of letters arranging meetings. By the time I was half-way through the book, I was sure I knew not only whodunit but why; I was totally off-track as the shocking ending revealed.

I’d like to thank the publishers Random House UK for my copy of this book which was published on 14 August 2014.

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

Silent Witnesses – Nigel McCrery

Non-Fiction 5*'s

So another cold and rainy Sunday afternoon has given me the perfect opportunity to finish this interesting and highly readable book about A History of Forensic Science.

Nigel McCrery created Silent Witness, which aired on the BBC featuring a team of forensic pathologists, as well as the more light-hearted New Tricks, this time about retired policemen solving cold crimes (this series was a must-watch in my household!) The author started his working life as a police officer in Nottinghamshire and towards the end of this book he uses one of the cases he worked on to show how DNA profiling can be successful many years after a murder.

In his introduction the author launches straight in with details of a murder of a young girl with illustrations of how forensics can rule someone out as a suspect, as well as pointing justice in the direction of a perpetrator.

This book goes right back to the early forensics. It must be remembered that identifying someone from their corpse is probably not the easiest task! ‘Always remember you are absolutely unique, just like everyone else.’ Margaret Mead US anthropologist (1901-1978) Although arranged in order of chronological developments in real life some of the techniques overlap before the scientists come to an agreement of the best method.
Each chapter of the book not only details the advances in forensic science but also gives examples of how these discoveries were used in evidence in court. There is much to digest in this book but it is all presented in such a way that you don’t need any specialist knowledge to understand. I even kept track during the chapter on ballistics and for the first time understood how bullets can be tracked back to a particular gun.

Personally, my favourite chapter was on poisons ‘after all, they were an extremely convenient way of ridding yourself of an enemy whilst avoiding detection.’ Often used by women it took scientists much trial and error before they came up with conclusive proof that could be laid before a jury.  The chapter on poisons also features quite recent crimes including the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

A must read for anyone who would like an accessible insight into the work of forensic scientists through the ages.