In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.
One of the fascinating things I find looking back over these posts is some months seem to have far more varied types of reads than others – I’m beginning to suspect September has that whiff of ‘back to school’ about it with an urge to broaden my horizons being evident.
You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.
In September 2014 though it was very much an old favourite which is the winner. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie had me caught up in what may have been express travel in the 1930s when the book was written but seemed to be anything but to a modern reader. I loved the range of characters, the level of research undertaken by Agatha Christie to make sure the details were correct, as well as pitting my inferior little grey cells against Hercule Poirot’s vastly superior ones.
The plot is ingenious, and I can only imagine how it was received as this book doesn’t really meet the conventions of crime fiction for the time it was written. With a cracking pace alongside a despised victim the pleasure was all about seeking to fit the clues together into a fitting scenario. The ending has to be one of the best ever with all the travellers called to the fine dining car as Poirot outlines two possibilities of what could conceivably explain what happened in carriage number 2. I can’t imagine a more perfect finale.
Just after midnight, a snowdrift stopped the Orient Express in its tracks. The luxurious train was surprisingly full for the time of the year. But by the morning there was one passenger fewer. An American lay dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.
With tension mounting, detective Hercule Poirot comes up with not one, but two solutions to the crime. Amazon
In September 2015 I was blown away by The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, a fabulous historical novel of the like that could only have come from the pen of this incredibly talented author.
Set in the 1940s this book tells a story in reverse starting with 1947, travelling back to 1943 before ending at the beginning with 1941.
Knowing the ending, or at least part of it, before you get to the beginning of a story lent this book a peculiar feeling of poignancy, as well as inevitably giving the reader a few ‘ahh’ moments as the actions of our main characters begin to make a little more sense once we know what had happened in the past. This way of revealing the story also meant that I wanted to go back to the beginning, willing the 1947 part to go just that little bit further, to give me some sense of completeness to the character’s lives that hold the promise of a future never to be told.
This was simply superb and reading my original review makes me want to pick up the story again while still hoping that the ending/beginning will somehow reveal something different…
Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.
This is the story of four Londoners – three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the war and lived life at full throttle, now dresses in mannish clothes and wanders the streets with a restless hunger, searching . . . Helen, clever, sweet, much-loved, harbours a painful secret . . . Viv, glamour girl, is stubbornly, even foolishly loyal, to her soldier lover . . . Duncan, an apparent innocent, has had his own demons to fight during the war. Their lives, and their secrets connect in sometimes startling ways. War leads to strange alliances . . .
Tender, tragic and beautifully poignant, set against the backdrop of feats of heroism both epic and ordinary, here is a novel of relationships that offers up subtle surprises and twists. The Night Watch is thrilling. A towering achievement. Amazon
September 2016’s entry is a psychological thriller; Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst. I love it when friendship is the basis of this sub-genre as these are often more complex than any romance.
In Before I Let You In there are three friends, Karen a psychiatrist, Eleanor a mother to a young child with relationship problems and Bea a single woman whose problems stem from the past. And then Jessica walks in for an appointment with Karen and seems to know all about Eleanor!
The plotting was superb, and despite me having an inkling where the fishy smell was strongest, there was plenty to ponder over, actions to be contemplated and of course trying to fix the pieces of the puzzle into a whole picture. If you enjoy a psychological thriller which features realistic characters and a strong storyline, you should definitely consider reading this one.
Karen is meant to be the one who fixes problems.
It’s her job, as a psychiatrist – and it’s always been her role as a friend.
But Jessica is different. She should be the patient, the one that Karen helps.
But she knows things about Karen. Her friends, her personal life. Things no patient should know.
And Karen is starting to wonder if she should have let her in . . . Amazon
2017 saw me wowed by another historical fiction, this time The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis.
Margaret Penny returns to Edinburgh after some thirty years away and returns to her mother’s home. She is not given a warm welcome, or even a proper bed but given that she feels she has no choice except to leave London, she has to take the scant comfort on offer. Margaret takes up a job offer to locate the family of the recently deceased to save the local council spending money on their funerals.
One of Margaret’s first jobs is to sift through the belongings in one flat of an elderly woman. With a beautiful green dress seeming out of odds with the rest of the detritus of a life the hunt begins.
This is a book full of themes which while at times quite a dark tale flicking backwards between the 1930s and the present day from London to snowy Edinburgh as well as moving between one claustrophobic household to another; I loved every minute of it.
Somehow she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name . . .
An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the floor.
A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back in the city she thought she’d left behind, her future uncertain, her past in tatters.
She soon finds herself a job at the Office for Lost People, tracking down the families of those who have died neglected and alone.
But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know, is just how entangled her own life will become in the death of one lonely stranger . . . Amazon
There was a clear winner for this year’s entry for the five star award and that was The Shrouded Path by Sarah Ward. I’m not sure how this author keeps producing crime fiction set in Derby of such high quality but, this number four in the DC Connie Childs series, is even better than those which preceded it.
With the tale split between the past in 1957 and an equally evocative present, the mystery has its heart in an old railway tunnel near Bampton. A girl went into the tunnel never to reappear and it seems that now someone wants to be certain that the secrets from the past stay firmly hidden.
One of my favourite aspects is that all the characters are great, they are all genuine people, police as we like to imagine our local police force to be; caring and diligent with an absolute drive to get to the truth. And boy do they show their tenacity in this novel.
The past won’t stay buried forever.
November, 1957: Six teenage girls walk in the churning Derbyshire mists, the first chills of winter in the air. Their voices carrying across the fields, they follow the old train tracks into the dark tunnel of the Cutting. Only five appear on the other side.
October, 2014: a dying mother, feverishly fixated on a friend from her childhood, makes a plea: ‘Find Valerie.’ Mina’s elderly mother had never discussed her childhood with her daughter before. So who was Valerie? Where does her obsession spring from?
DC Connie Childs, off balance after her last big case, is partnered up with new arrival to Bampton, Peter Dahl. Following up on what seems like a simple natural death, DC Childs’ old instincts kick in, pointing her right back to one cold evening in 1957. As Connie starts to broaden her enquiries, the investigation begins to spiral increasingly close to home. Amazon
Five of the Best 2018