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The Fourteenth Letter - Claire Evans

Phoebe Stanbury is about to marry into the rich, and excentric, Raycraft family. Yet on the evening of her engagement party and naked man slashes her throat, stopping only to say to the young Benjamin Raycraft ‘I promised I would save you’. The next day William Lamb goes to meet a client, one he should not have met. There he receives a message to deliver to his employer, and a mysterious casket. When he delivers the message he sets in place a series of events that will alter his life forever.

 

There is something reminiscent of steam punk to the novel. The Raycraft family live in a fantastical house, with automatons, electricity, lifts and a rudimentary dishwasher. All of which is the stuff of science fiction for the rest of the inhabitants of 1881. It lends the book a tinge of the fantastic as a result.

 

There is a wide-ranging cast of characters. William Lamb is at first much like his name, meek and shy. Having been somewhat coddled against the real world by his aunt when he is faced with Savannah Shelton and others who have less than the best intentions towards him,  he doesn’t always step up to the mark. I found myself willing him to find some courage and mettle from somewhere, and that he does as the story progresses. Savannah Shelton is a completely opposite character to William, she overflows with mettle, and determination, a necessity after a hard life. She is a welcome balance to William. I also particularly liked Detective Harry Treadway, ostracised by his colleagues, he is determined, honest and conscientious. There are a whole host of heroes and villains to assist or thwart William, some slightly Dickensian, others markedly less so.

It took a while for the story to develop. There seemed to be little happening, or little that connected all the characters, but slowly the story comes together. The last third of the novel goes at a faster pace, pulling the strands together. I had guessed the thread of the story. It is quite a convoluted storyline, and a little more pared down explanation would perhaps help but even if the reader lets a lot of the minutiae wash over them, the gist of the what has happened is still clear.

 

Claire Evans used to work in the television industry and that shows in her writing. It was easy to envisage The Fourteenth letter as a serialised adaptation, lots of the scenes could be taken swiftly from page to screen.

 

This is an interesting, deeply plotted novel, not pure historical crime fiction, not completely steam punk either, there’s a balance of both met well. I’ll be interested to read more from Claire Evans in the future.

Force of Nature: A Novel - Jane Harper

Five women set out on a trek through the Bush, part of a corporate retreat. Only four of them return. AFP officer Aaron Falk has to find out what happened to Alice, and whether it’s linked to his latest case, a case where Alice was the whistleblower and chief witness.

 

Force of Nature is a welcome return for Aaron Falk, introduced in The Dry. I liked Aaron even more in this novel, there is a little more about his relationship with his father revealed but he still has an air of mystery surrounding him.

 

There is something claustrophobic about the story, despite it being set in the Girlang Ranges of Australia. The bush and the peaks close ranks on the women, making them and the reader feel more contained that would be expected. This sense of claustrophobia is also enhanced by the limited cast of characters.

 

The story alternates between the five women and their trek into the Ranges and to the present day and Falk and his colleague Carmen’s investigations into Alice’s disappearance.   I liked this style of narration and thought it worked well, building up the layers of the story. There were some strands of the story I would have liked to see develop more, but enough took place to keep me interested.

 

All of the women have issues and facets of their personality to dislike. Alice in particular is not portrayed as a nice person and this obviously reflects on the story as her interaction with the others unfolds. As the story progresses we see the relationships and social structure of the group break down, and the effect such a breakdown has on the situation the women find themselves in.

 

An entertaining read. I look forward to reading more from Jane Harper in the future.

Foreign Bodies - Martin Edwards, Various Authors

A coronet of the guards is murdered, his body absent from the crime scene. A Countess pleads with Hungarian police to protect her from her revenge seeking brother-in-law. A bed-ridden man manages to procure drugs even though he has no visitors. These are some of the stories to feature in the new collection of translated classic crime short stories.

 

This is a varied collection and as with most collated works, some of the stories were more appealing than others. There are some that remain in the memory, others that are recalled when the book is picked up again. The stories vary in length and tone, the authors nationalties cover the globe.

 

There is one name that will be recognisable amongst many in the collection which have passed by English speaking readers. I can finally say I have read something by Anton Chekov as the first story of the collection, The Swedish Match, is by the man himself.

There is an art to writing a good short story, particularly evident in a crime or mystery story. The author has few words to play with, must quickly set the scene, lay out all of the suspects, leave enough red herrings and reveal the culprit, all in the space of what would amount to a couple of chapters in a novel.

 

Some stories stand out more than others. Particular favourites include Footprints in the Snow by Maurice Leblanc, The Spider by Koga Saburo, The Venom of the Tarantula by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay and The Puzzle of the Broken Watch by Maria Elvira Bermudez.

 

There are obvious influences from crime-writing stalwarts. Both Footprints in the Snow and The Venom of the Tarantula have shades of Holmes and Watson about them, for example, as does The Return of Lord Kingwood. Be sure to read the introductions to each author by Martin Edwards which provide an interesting overview of the writer, and which often note influences.

 

These are stories written before the advent of forensic evidence and fingerprints. It was detection and sometimes pure, old-fashioned luck, that solved the case. Many of them are puzzle murders, where logical thinking wins the day. When reading the stories it is easy to imagine the wonder and entertainment they created for contemporary readers. The twists have to be more logical, yet unforseen, though some, as in The Spider, would have appeared almost fantastical.

 

An interesting collection and a great introduction to translated fiction from the past. I’ll be looking out for more work by many of these authors should they become available.

The Doctor's Wife is Dead: A Peculiar Marriage, a Suspicious Death, and a Murder Trial in Nineteenth-Century Ireland - Andrew Tierney

1849 and Mrs Langley, the doctor’s wife, is dead. But why had she been made to live in the attic of her home and why had she previously been sent to live in a poor part of town? The Doctor’s Wife is Dead follows the trial of Dr Langley and the reactions of family and friends to the treatment of Mrs Langley.

 

At first I wasn’t totally engaged with the book. There are many people to feature in the lives of Dr and Mrs Langley, and it was difficult to differentiate between family members, legal advisors and inquest jury members. In fact I started to read the book then put it to one side for a while. But I picked it up again and found that this time I wrapped up in the melancholy tale of a wife seemingly cast out by her younger husband.

 

There is a lot to find interesting in the book. The social morals and ideals of the 19th Century are more immediate when told by way of an actual family. The book manages to veer away from the salacious and whilst the author endeavours to remain impartial, the reader inevitably draws their own conclusions.

 

The story is just as much a treatise on domestic violence as it is an examination of the place in society women held in the 19th Century. Whilst there are many differences between then and now the tale of Dr and Mrs Langley is still as relevant today, sadly.

Dr Langley appears from the testimony of witnesses and from his own letters, to be a controlling, narcissistic man, who married his older wife for her money. He is conniving and deliberate in his treatment towards her. Whilst domestic abuse was prevalent in the 19th Century, laws were only just coming into being to protect women, and the burden of proof and social stigma attached to any such allegations was still high. Even by today’s standards the Langley case is shocking and sad, for contemporaries it would have been scandalous, the details of it even reaching Westminster.

 

This is an interesting look at a case that is both of it’s time and of the moment.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves - Rachel Malik

Elsie Boston is not keen on opening up her farm and her life to a stranger. But a Land Girl is coming to Starlight farm to help Elsie during the war. Little does Elsie realise that Rene Hargreaves will change her life irrevocably.

 

There is a gentleness to the story, one that allows the reader to be pulled along with the story. Time passes by swiftly, so much so that months or years can pass in a single chapter. This speeding up of time means that the story has a slight surreal quality to it. One minute Rene Hargreaves has arrived at Starlight Farm, the war in full swing, then the next the war is over, though it seems that Rene is still only the new girl.

The relationship between Rene and Elise is hinted at, discreet suggestions dropped in chapters to show how their relationship develops from strangers, to friends, to something deeper and more life-altering.

 

Elise is portrayed as a simpler, quieter soul, one who would prefer to be left alone with her animals and work, and later with Rene. Though not a people person she is well liked by those she knows. She is somewhat coddled by Rene, who prepares them for any moves they have to make, organising and sorting so that Elsie is not worried. However it does appear that Elsie has an inner strength and drive that doesn’t always have the opportunity to make its presence felt. It almost felt as if Elsie was from another age at times. Rene is a more complex character. Arriving at Starlight with her own secrets, her past is slowly revealed. I have to admit as much as I warmed to Rene as the book progressed, for she a determined, kind, hardworking woman, the fact that she left her family always cast a shadow over her, and made me unable to like her as much as I wanted to.

 

The story is engaging. During the first half of the novel not much happens yet everything happens. We see Rene and Elsie meet, become friends, become inseparable. We see them go through winters and summers, through personal trials and through the everyday mundane aspects of life. The book is well written, the prose at times almost poetic, with a cadence that lulls the reader. The second part of the novel is more matter of fact, with a tone that is both different and recognisable.

Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is loosely based on the life of Rachel Malik’s maternal grandmother which made the story all the more fascinating for me. I found myself carrying out internet research after I had finished the book, keen to see if I could find out anything about the real Miss Hargreaves.

 

Don’t pick up this book if you want lots of action and adventure. Do try it if you want a gently told tale that takes you away to another time and place, and that works its magic on you slowly.

Somebody at the Door - Raymond Postgate

It’s a cold January evening in 1942 and Councillor Henry Grayling steps off the evening train carrying £120. Hours later he is dead, and it’s down to Inspector Holly to establish a list of suspects. As he investigates it becomes apparent that many of fellow passengers on the 6.12 from Euston had their own reasons for wish Councillor Grayling dead.

 

The more I read of the British Library crime classics the more I get drawn into the wonderful echo of the past they provide. They are fascinating little glimpses into the way of living from a that few of us today would recognise. Somebody at the Door is no exception.

 

Set during the Second World War, the story is not just a murder mystery but also a look at how lives continued at home whilst the war was being fought overseas. There are scenes set during bombing raids, where conversations continue as bombs and bullets sound out in the night, where the response to such events is a mixture of relief at survival and an almost nonchalent acceptance that such events will occur.

 

The story is less a detective story but rather one of character analysis. The story progresses as if each suspect is being ticked off that list. As a suspect is highlighted his or her history is told as a story. There are few scenes of actual interaction between a suspect and Inspector Holly. Rather, each suspect is dealt with almost like a short story, tying them to Councillor Grayling in some teneous or more direct link, dependant upon the character. Some characters are more likeable than others. There are ones who the reader will hope to be the culprit, once their story has been read, others where the reader will hope they aren’t the guilty party.

 

There were some parts of the novel where I felt that the story wasn’t progressing as quickly as I would have liked, and that too much time was spent on the back story of a character. That said, I did enjoy the novel as I assessed or dismissed each suspect intent as I was on unmasking the killer before the big reveal.

 

British Library crime classics are great, atmospheric steps back in time, from the beautiful covers to the language contained in the pages and Somebody at the Door has both a beautiful cover and transportative language that takes you back to another age. There are just over 50 classics in the collection and I can’t wait to tick them all off my list.

Miss Buncle's Book - DE Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s finances are in dire need of a boost. She’s discounted keeping chickens or letting in paying guests. She of course can’t let go of her maid so she resorts to one of the only avenues of income available to her. She writes a book. Little does she realise the effect her book will have on the residents of her village and on her own life.

 

This book is a delight from start to finish so much so that it was only the fact that there are two more books to feature Barbara Buncle that stopped the last page from being bittersweet.

 

Miss Buncle’s Book works its magic over the reader, much like Disturber of the Peace does to the residents of Silverstream. The title of the fictional book is apt for it does indeed disturb the peace of the village, and disturbs Miss Buncle’s life in unforeseen ways.

 

It is a joy to see the effects the book has over the residents slowly unfold. Life imitating art imitating life, the differing reactions of the residents who are all portrayed in the eponymous novel reveal more about themselves than they are aware. Little does Miss Buncle foresee that the fictional actions she creates will be mirrored in the real lives surrounding her.

 

There are hints at the financial situation of the depression in the novel. Miss Buncle’s finances have seen a hit as her dividends pay out less and less. Looking at the few occupations and cost cutting exercises available to her she turns to writing, seen in the 1930s as a viable source of income for a woman. There are other hints, mothers making clothes for their children, poor widows looking to snare rich husbands to pay off bills and new clothes wondered at in the straightened times.

 

The novel also takes a jovial look at the novel-writing business. There are comments on the fact that bad reviews are just as good for upping sales as good ones, that word of mouth sells and the fevered state writers can find themselves in when inspiration strikes.

 

Miss Buncle’s Book is a commentary on the role of women, on the financial crisis of the time and on how we can often see ourselves reflected in literature. It is a comedy of manners, a romance and insight into life in a small village and the changing role of women in the 1930s.

 

This is a warm, all-encompassing, funny book, with characters that shine from the pages. I loved it. I’ll be seeking out more novels by D E Stevenson soon. Highly recommended.

This Could Change Everything - Jill Mansell

Essie’s life changes dramatically when a joke round robin, meant only for the eyes of her friend, makes it to everyone on her email list. That email list included her boyfriend’s mother, who happened to be the subject of the round robin. Essie finds herself jobless and homeless but is luckily saved when Zillah steps in and offers her the flat above her home. Essie soon makes friends with Zillah and her other neighbour Conor. And when Essie gets a job in the pub across the road she thinks she’s set. Then she meets Lucas, though things aren’t as easy as all that….

 

I’ve always found Jill Mansell’s books a joy to read, This Could Change Everything is no different. Funny, moving, warm and wonderfully entertaining, it was a lovely way to while away a few hours.

 

The characters are all well drawn. Zillah is a wonderful character, kind, generous and mischevious, and is Essie’s saviour when she gives her a place to live, and a new friend in Conor, who also has a flat in the same building. Essie’s friend Scarlett brings humour to the story. Paul, Essie’s ex-boyfriend is juxtaposed excellently by Lucas, both of whom torment Essie in their own way.

 

The book is peppered with humour, Scarlett often provides light relief with the scrapes she gets herself into. There are also very moving, thought-provoking scenes as Zillah offers her own kind of make a wish treats. She, in particular, shows that kindess and thoughtfulness are often the most important things we can offer to others.

 

Jill Mansell books are a literary cuddle. You can’t help but feel warm and cosseted whilst lost in the pages. I picked This Could Change Everything up early one morning and turned the last page that same evening.

 

This Could Change Everything is a lovely book to while away a winter evening or to read during a hazy summer day. I’m already looking forward to the next book from Jill Mansell.

 

Recommended.

Anatomy of a Scandal: A Novel - Sarah Vaughan

For Kate the trial of charismatic MP and close friend of the PM, James Whitehouse could be the chance to right wrongs and make her mark as a QC. For Sophie Whitehouse the case is causing her world to crash down around her. For not only has she to contend with the fact her husband is accused of a heinous crime, she has to contend with the fact that she may not have really known him at all.

 

This is not your usual crime novel. It’s not your usual thriller.  It’s not even your usual marriage thriller, though it is in part an anatomy of a marriage. There is a crime involved of course, for James Whitehouse stands trial. This is, as the title suggests, an anatomy of a scandal, a breakdown and a minute look at both sides of a high-profile case. It is also an exploration into the question of consent. It is the anatomy of what constitutes that little word ‘no’. Of the myriad ways in which people can justify abhorrent actions because they have decided what no means, for them and for others. It is the anatomy of a society, of acceptable norms and the casual judgments people make on others. The reader will, more likely than not, make a judgement on the case of R  v Whitehouse as they read the evidence. It will, hopefully, make us all think a little more about rape and consent and the blurring of lines used as an excuse by some to justify and legitimise their actions.

 

This is a very timely novel, with the issue of consent and the abuse of power by many high-profile figures. That said, this is not a new topic, the issue of abuse of power and the almost hidden idea of relationship rape one that has been around for a long time, and is now becoming more exposed to society.

 

The writing is assured, compellingly so. There is nothing salacious, for the story goes behind the tabloid headlines that draw in those who are keen for scurrilous gossip and as a result makes the reader think more about the people behind this scandal, fictionalised though they may be.  All the characters are well drawn and make immediate impressions, though those impressions will obviously differ for each reader. Kate is driven, motivated by something more than a love of the law. She may appear to be withdrawn, detached and even cold but I found there was something that immediately drew me to her. Similarly with Sophie, who despite being a very different character to Kate, was a character I liked, though she was not without her own faults. It was an interesting facet of the story to see these two characters develop. As for James, he is deemed to be a charmer, used to winning over people to see things his way, his charm having stood him in good stead for his role as MP.  Whilst appearing to be the archetypal figure of public office, there is more to him than meets the eye. He is an ideal fictional embodiment of increasing number of public figures accused of similar crimes.

 

The story flits between characters and time periods, each one headed with the name of the character and the date. This works well, as we are able to learn more about each character on a more intimate level and the non linear progression means that the story becomes more layered and deeper as a result.

 

There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this story. Except James. And the fact that the story was needed, that society’s notions of consent and the right people have to control their own bodies, that those who abuse their power have so little to rein them in, is still such an issue.

 

Anatomy of a Scandal is a book I can easily see transferred to the screen, it easily lends itself to being at least a tv drama series. I can also see it gracing many a bestseller list.

 

Sometimes words like gripping, assured and engrossing are trite and overused. Here they are apt. I look forward to reading more from Sarah Vaughan in the future.

The House - Simon Lelic

Jack and Sydney can hardly believe their luck when their offer on their dream house is accepted. So they have to take the house as seen, and so it’s full of the previous owner’s possessions. And so what if it isn’t actually Jack’s ideal home. As long as Sydney is happy that’s the main thing. Then Jack discovers something in the attic, something that shouldn’t be there. And things begin to unravel drastically.

 

I have to admit that when I started to read this book it didn’t grab my complete attention. But I continued to read and found that I wanted to find out more. The story is told from the view point of Jack and Sydney, each chapter headed with one the character’s names, a witness statement in a more fluid and unofficial form. This style of narration worked well, I liked gleaning information from different viewpoints to round the story out. It also allowed the reader to get to know the characters more. There were issues with both Sydney and Jack. Products of their upbringings, Sydney was standoffish, and prickly but also passionate about certain situations, including helping Elsie, a young girl she befriends. Sydney sees herself reflected in Elsie and wants to change history by helping her. Jack is more needy, more keen to please, and is devoted to Sydney.

 

As the story progresses more is revealed about Sydney’s past and the physical abuse she suffered as a child. The reader is guided through a series of events from the past and slowly shown how they collide with the present. I had guessed how things would proceed but it was interesting to see them played out. The murder doesn’t happen immediately and indeed is just a small part of the story. I thought this worked well, the death was a necessary part of the tale but doesn’t overshadow the bigger picture.

 

There were some things that seemed obvious, or obvious to me, that lessened the effect. That said this is purely a personal thing. This book has been described as spooky though I didn’t find it as such. I’m not a fan of horror for example, not because I don’t like being scared, but I’m too sensible. I get fed up with characters going down a smoky dark alley instead of towards the town and help for example. So when a scene in the novel depicted Jack investigating a noise downstairs, I just thought ‘why doesn’t he just put the big light on?’ That said, there are many things in here that aren’t as expected, such as what is found in the attic – and I won’t say more for fear of spoiling it. So, in all honesty, I’m glad that I didn’t find the novel spooky.

 

I liked the writing style, sometimes jovial, sometimes serious. This and chapter layout meant for me that I found myself reading the novel quite quickly, the chapters lending themselves to the justification of ‘just one more’. There are clues aplenty in each person’s narrative and also in what each may omit to write down. I also have to say I really liked the ending. It finished exactly as I think it should have.

 

Reading this back it may sound like I didn’t enjoy this novel but I did. I’ve heard this book described as a marmite book; you’ll either love it or loathe it. I like to be different. I didn’t love it but I certainly didn’t loathe it. I liked it. My enjoyment grew the more I read, and towards the end I was eager to get back to it. I found it an interesting and entertaining read.  And if you read for entertainment and the book you are reading entertains, then job done.

Tattletale - Sarah J. Naughton

Mags has not seen her brother Abe for years, not since she left the family home as a teenager. Now Abe is in a coma and Mags is flying half way around the world to be at his side. There she finds Jody, Abe’s fiancé . Mags wasn’t aware that Jody existed and the more she learns about her relationship with Abe, the more she feels that the circumstances surrounding the events leading to Abe being in hospital don’t add up. Mags is determined to find out the truth. What happened to Abe to put  him in the coma?

 

It took me a little time to get into this story by Sarah J Naughton. At first it seemed that little was happening, other than the introduction of the characters and the immediate reason for Abe’s coma. But there was a sense of tension from the outset, a tension which was sustained and indeed increased as the story progressed.

 

The characters immediately forge impressions on the reader. Impressions that do change as the story develops. I wasn’t keen on Mags to begin with. She is prickly, argumentative and still clinging on to some form of self destruction. Jody conversley is too timid, needling in some respects. As the story progresses the characters of the women develop, expanding as explanations for their actions and character emerge. Even Abe is a fully rounded character, though he never ‘appears’ on the page other than in the recollection of others.

 

The story is told in alternating chapters, from the viewpoint of specific characters and also in flashback. The writing is engaging. As I said at the beginning of this review, there is not much ‘action’ at the start of the story but the writing is such that the sense of tension is palpable and the reader does want to find out more. There is a sense of claustrophobia about the story, lent by the fact that it revolves around so few characters. Also if you usually skip the prologue to a book I’d advise you not to in this instance. What happens before chapter one is intregal to the story.

 

The latter third of the novel is where the story really steps into gear. Whilst I found that the story kept me reading throughout it was the latter stages that held my attention the most. The story comes together very well and has a fitting end.

 

All in all I enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more from Sarah J Naughton in the future.

Mystery in White - J. Jefferson Farjeon, Patience Tomlinson

It’s Christmas Eve 1937 and the snow that had been falling for the last few days has increased. Five passengers on a train find themselves stranded in the snow near the village of Hemmersby. Deciding to leave the train and try to make it to the village station they soon become lost in the snow, saved by finding a house. The house however is deserted, though fires are lit and tea has been made. The passengers must find out why the house is empty when it emerges there is a murderer on the loose.

 

The British Library Crime Classics series features a whole host of novels long forgotten since their original publication. The craze for Christie esque stories and a hankering for a bygone time ensure that there is always an audience for such stories and there is something gently reassuring about them. There are no forensics to aid with detection, no computer searches or DNA data banks. Most of the murders aren’t gruesomely described and the perpetrators are found by old-fashioned deduction and a little luck.

Mystery in White is an example of a locked room mystery. A limited cast of characters are thrown together, stranded in the snow in deserted house. A house where it is apparently mysterious things have occurred.

 

This isn’t the usual murder mystery as the murderer and the victim are both unknown. There aren’t really any clues to follow but supposition from one the five passengers stranded together in a deserted country house. The story is a mixture of crime with a hint of a ghost story about it, a slightly strange amalgam that took me some time to get used to. There were asides and tangents that eventually pulled together but the denouement was interesting.  The cast of characters were a mixed bunch. Some annoying, some seemingly adding little to the story and others who add a warmth and depth to the story.

 

The book was an interesting insight into the interests and believes of some people from the 1930s, the way of life, language and styles always fascinating. Whilst not my favourite of the books I’ve read from the series so far, and not as engaging as I would have hoped, there is a charm to the novel which I have come to expect from a British Library Crime Classic and Mystery in White fits in with what I would call a good Sunday afternoon read.

A Rising Man - Abir Mukherjee

1919 and Captain Sam Wyndham has arrived in Calcutta. There to take up a new role in the police force, Sam is also hoping it is the chance to escape a loss from his past and to put the horrors of the war behind him. He’s unprepared for the colourful maelstrom that is Calcutta, with its mix of cultures, religions and language. Soon thrown in at the deep end, Sam has to investigate the death of a government official whilst facing political obstructions and revolutionary rumblings.

 

There is something wonderfully absorbing and transportative about Abir Mukherjee’s writing. Whilst I was reading I was in Calcutta in 1919. I could feel the heat, imagine the smells and sounds of a bustling city. The sense of decorum and reserve, of the stiff upper lip of the Empire merging and sometimes conflicting with rich cultural and relgious heritage of the local Indian population is almost palpable. The geography is portrayed in such a way that the reader can visualise the surroundings, the great rivers, poorer houses and imposing British buildings juxtaposed against the shrines and temples built before the Empire arrived.

 

The time period is not glamourised. The story is woven with the undercurrent of political and social uncertainty, a mixure of the result of the recently ended war, the rising resentment of the Indian population to the presence of the British and the sometimes overt racist overtones of those in power. Sam is a conduit to these, he’s an outsider and so is used to show the reader the tensions of the city and it’s residents and the social changes of the time.

 

It’s 1919 so of course there are no forensics, no fingerprint technology to help track down the culprit. Sam and Surrender-not have to use skill, tenacity and sometime  simply pure luck, to work out who the murderer of the government official is. The writing is skilled, quickly drawing the reader into the story, inviting them to make their own assumptions and conclusions as to the outcome of the investigation.

All the characters are well drawn, individual enough to stand out and each intregal to the story. Alongside the main criminal storyline another great part of A Rising Man is seeing the friendship and working relationship between Sam Wyndham and Surrender-Not Banerjee develop.

 

A Rising Man has been winning many awards this year and it is easy to see why. There is something refreshing about Abir Mukherjee’s Sam Wyndham, the writing is fresh, humourous and engaging  and the reader feels invested in both the story and in the characters.

 

Abir Mukherjee is a rising star in the historical crime fiction genre. This is the start of what I hope to be a long series and I’m looking forward to reading more tales of Sam and Surrender-not very soon.

The Hating Game: A Novel - Sally Thorne

Lucy doesn’t like Joshua. Joshua doesn’t like Lucy. Whilst she is nice to everyone, except him, he appears nice to no one. The trouble is they both work in the same office. Across from each other. So the work days are spent playing games, the staring game, the HR game and the hating game. One day things take a turn. A new job has been announced and both Lucy and Joshua are candidates. Lucy has to either win the game or resign….

 

I picked this book up to take a quick look and I was soon caught up in the story. The writing style, humour from the outset and well drawn characters instantly appealed. I could tell that the book would be fun and it was. It’s the sign of a good book when the reader is sad that they have to say goodbye to the characters. Such was the case with The Hating Game.

 

Set in an unnamed city, and very much character based, the book is peppered with humour. I often found myself smiling and giggling throughout and often laughing out loud, or at least trying to contain those laughs whilst out in public. The banter between Lucy and Joshua is a pleasure to read.

 

The characters are all wonderfully portrayed, each one adding something to the story. Lucy is diminutive, a caring person with wild hair and the desire to make people like her. She is ultimately lonely, missing her parents, who also add witty scenes to the novel. Joshua is grumpy, tormenting and tactiturn and is fabulous to read. The reader is aware that there is more to the relationship between Lucy and Joshua than the characters would admit. As the story progresses it is highly entertaining to watch that relationship progress and alter.

 

Whilst it may be apparent to some how the story will end, for me it was not about the ending, it was about the journey there. I had immense fun reading The Hating Game. It is a book to just sit down with and enjoy.

 

Books are written for a variety of reasons and read for a variety more. Sometimes we want information, sometimes to be challenged. And sometimes we want to be entertained. To be caught up in a story for a short while and just have fun. And The Hating Game is such a book.

An Act of Silence: A gripping psychological thriller with a shocking final twist - Colette McBeth

Linda Moscow is shocked to find her son Gabriel in her kitchen one morning. It emerges that he has been told to report to a police station after a woman’s body was found in an allotment at the back of his home. He has come to her for help. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s compromised her beliefs for her only child. But the past has a way of catching up with a person, and Linda’s past is catching up with her.

 

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed The Life I Left Behind I was keen to read An Act of Silence, the latest novel from Colette McBeth.

 

The story is not as it first seems and develops differently than I would have expected. It is difficult to say too much without giving away the crux of the story.

 

The story moves between time periods and focusses on a different character. This allows the story and characters to develop in layers, as slowly more and more is revealed about the past and how it has influenced the present.

 

Many of the characters are not particularly likeable, though they have reasons for their actions which makes them more understandable, and in some cases more acceptable. As the story progresses the characters become more rounded, more real and more poignant or repulsive as a result. Linda for example becomes less cold, less detached and more compassionate, loving and broken as the story progresses. Her son, Gabriel is a strange mixture of a boy unsure of his mother’s love, and a man not willing to take responsibility for his own actions.

 

The storyline revolves around abhorrent acts that have sadly become ever more real, as more and more cases occur and emerge in real life. The fact that this was fiction mirroring fact made it all the more impacting and emotive.

 

If I’m honest I’m not a big fan of stories that use narrative techniques such as mistaken identity, cover ups and conspiracy theories (and I’m not saying which one was used in this novel as I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone). That said, the more I read of An Act of Silence, the more I was drawn into the story, the writing strong and taut, compelling me to read.

 

This is not a typical whodunit. It’s more of an examination as to why people act as they do, be it motivated by self-preservation, revenge or love.

 

This is a story about secrets, and the lengths people will go to in order to protect them. A timely narrative on things that have for too long remained unspoken, it is also a tale that shows the truth will out eventually, not matter how much we try to keep it hidden.

 

I look forward to reading more from Colette McBeth soon.

Rocco And The Nightingale - Adrian Magson

Inspector Lucas Rocco has finally got used to the quiet way of life in Picardie, away from his work in Paris and the organised crime he used to combat. When a petty criminal is found murdered near his village, Rocco is surprised but believes the culprit will soon be caught. He’s soon taken off the case, much to his chagrin, in order to babysit a Gabonese minister. On top of all that he finds out someone has taken out a contract on his head. Now Rocco must protect the minister and track down the assassin, before the assassin finds Rocco…

 

This is the first book by Adrian Magson I have read and whilst Rocco and the Nightingale is the latest in a series it can easily be read without having read any of the other novels.

 

I loved the setting of the novel, both the location and the time period. It played like a black and white 60’s French movie in my head. I could image the countryside, the Citroens and mopeds driving through villages, the older village women, the cafes filled with men smoking and drink coffee and the young women with their sixties clothes and gamine hair cuts. Whilst there was violence in the story this seemed tempered by the time period. There was a more laid back atmosphere to the book, concentrated  more on old fashioned detective work and less on forensics, though these were touched upon.

 

All the characters were well drawn. Rocco was a likeable character, interesting to read. It was clear he had some history, history that now shaped his present, but he came across as a fair minded and fair handed man, someone who may not be afraid to bend the rules but would do so only for the right reasons. The relationship between Rocco and his colleagues was a pleasure to read and I could see how they could possibly develop in the future.

 

The crime itself is slightly different in that we know who has committed the murder and we hear from the assassin throughout the story. It is very much a cat and mouse tale but at some point the cat, unknowingly becomes the mouse.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Rocco and the Nightingale.  Whilst I would like to read about a past Rocco, seen in Adrian Magson’s previous novels, I do hope that there will be the opportunity read more about present Rocco in the future.