Books

Murder at Elm House – Helena Dixon

If there is one thing you can rely on it is the fact that Kitty Underhay, the main protagonist in these stories is that she isn’t far from a dead body or two! Her Grandmother implores her to stay out of trouble and stick to running The Dolphin Hotel in Dartmouth, but Kitty now with ability to drive can go further afield now.

In this the sixth instalment, Kitty finds herself visiting Mrs Craven, one of her grandmothers friends and someone who always has their nose into everyone’s business. Kitty finds her quite a challenge and her acid tongue can be quite cutting. Recuperating from an operation at Elm House, Mrs Craven is convinced that something untoward is going on.

There are a lot of comings and goings at strange times of the night and whilst residents should be recuperating there seems to be a high amount of deaths. Kitty cannot help but investigate especially when it seems her attempt to find out what happened to her mother interests many people and puts her forefront of some rather unsavoury characters.

All of these threads that Kitty is investigating along with private investigator, Matt Bryant, who Kitty is now officially stepping out with seems all rather random and unrelated, but as the story goes one the body count gets higher and it seems that perhaps what Kitty was looking for was closer than she first thought.

Still featuring Alice, Kitty’s faithful employee at the hotel and one of my favourite characters for her forthrightness when it comes to Kitty’s behaviour coupled with her unwavering loyalty as well, they make an interesting duo when they investigate together. Dolly, Alice’s sister is working at Elm House and seems she might have innocently seen some of the answers to many of the questions that Kitty and Matt have. I do hope we get to see more of Alice and Dolly in future novels.

As the story reaches it conclusion, of course there are many questions answered, but still Kitty is seeking the truth about her mother and it looks like we might need to wait a bit longer for that one. And as for the fordable Mrs Craven, perhaps the events at Elm House might mellow her? I of course like everyone else will have to wait and see.

This is a delightful series of cosy mysteries set in Dartmouth, Devon in the mid Nineteen Thirties, full of humour, warmth and a bit of romance amongst the body count and the scrapes that Kitty and Matt find themselves in. I recommend you start at the beginning and catch me up!

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

Murder at Elm House is published on 7 June 2021.

Links to my reviews of the previous novels can be found below:

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel – Helena Dixon

Murder at Enderley Hall – Helena Dixon

Murder at the Playhouse – Helena Dixon

Murder on the Dancefloor – Helena Dixon

Murder in the Belltower – Helena Dixon

Books

February Roundup

12 months ago we were just starting to worry about this ‘thing’ out there in the world but now we are 12 months on and who knew! The constant has been reading over that time and it has continued in February with a real eclectic mix of books to lose myself in. I hope you have had the same feeling.

I must be one of the only people left on the plant who has yet to watch Bridgerton – I wanted to read the book first: Julia Quinn – Bridgerton: The Duke and I and what a delightful fluffy, fizzy escapist read it was with in my opinion little reference to the regency setting it is based in. No matter. I am now primed ready to watch and then I know I can pick up the second book when I just simply want to escape and not worry much about the writing, the plot and the glaringly modern references in an historical romance book.

Sticking with the historical theme, led me to Nancy Revell – The Shipyard Girls on the Home Front, the next in the series and it is so wonderful to be able to just walk through the front doors of these girls houses and join in with everything happening to them. Even if some of it isn’t that nice and there is a war going on, but it is now 1944 and the ending seems in sight.

I went even further back with Helen Fripp – The Champagne Widow which is definitely going to be one of those books that will be mentioned a lot. I knew nothing of the champagne houses in France other than their names and that I am not particularly fond of the drink. But this was a magical book, which taught me so much about such a fabulous women in the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars. A debut novel which fizzed with promise and delivered.

I always want to learn something when I am reading books that are based in a particular period of history or are based on real people and events and whilst the event that this book is based on was real, the setting and the time period have been changed. Emma Stonex – The Lamplighters take us to a lighthouse on the edge of Cornwall, to a mystery that will keep you awake at night and wonder during the day – where did they go and what really happened? This book is getting lots of press at the moment and is certainly one I would recommend if you want to be enthralled by a mystery.

Whilst holidays might seem a long time ago and there is some doubt as to the reality of getting one in in 2021 it is always great to escape abroad without the long haul flight. Of course with Robert Thorogood – Murder in the Caribbean you don’t really want a murder when on holiday but at least you can escape to the blue skies and warm waters of the fictional St Marie. Just solve the murder quickly so you can enjoy the rest of your break.

If you want to stay a bit nearer to home then of course Rachel Burton – The Summer Island Festival is the place to go. Relive your past music tastes and enjoy the Isle of Wight when it isn’t hosting the thousands for the main event held there. A smaller event is a bit more familiar of is it becoming too familiar and is it all going to fall apart.

Running away can be the only way to solve things sometimes and in Jane Lovering – Home on Folly Farm it was the perfect answer for Dora that is until her sister arrives bringing the past with her. Peace is shattered and so it seems is the future. This author was new to me and this was an enjoyable departure from real life with some great characters that get under your skin immediately! I will look out for more.

So that was February, some new, some old and some sheer joy. I hope March keeps the momentum up.

 

Books

Murder in the Belltower – Helena Dixon

Kitty Underhay is spending Christmas at her relatives home Enderley Hall, hopefully without the dead bodies that littered the place the last time she was there for a visit.

Alongside Kitty is her dependable maid Alice, taken from the Dolphin Hotel that Kitty runs alongside her grandmother in Dartmouth.

Now that Kitty is officially stepping out with Captain Matthew Bryant, she is delighted that an invitation has been extended to him as well. To make up the eclectic house party along with Kitty’s Aunt, Uncle and cousin; there is Hattie, a distant relation of Kitty’s Uncle, Lord Medford. Simon Frobisher; a botanist, The Cornwells; two Americans wanting to experience an English Christmas and Victor and Juliet Vanderstrafen who it turns out know Matthew Bryant from his previous work.

It seems this mix of people and the transudations in the house are going to make for an interesting Christmas.

When some village disputes make there way to a cocktail party given at Enderley Hall it isn’t long before a dead body turns up.

Enter Inspector Greville, it seems there is much to this death and when rooms are mysteriously searched and it appears someone might be watching Kitty, it only seems inevitable that another body is going to be found.

But this time it looks like suicide and it seems that Kitty cannot resist all the intrigue and questions she has and when she thinks Matthew is keeping something from her, she turns to sleuthing, ably assisted by Alice who innocently with her downstairs gossip possibly hits on a clue or two herself.

This really is a wonderful example of a murder mystery set in a country house. Who are all these people thrown together? What secrets are they holding? And is their behaviour a true reflection of who they really are?

Helena Dixon carefully weaves the tale and the mystery to it’s denouement in true Christie style and you could briefly imagine that Poirot was sitting in a corner nodding sagely at Kitty. All the characters are there to be liked and loathed in equal measure and you get a real sense of setting and place as the story progresses.

Whilst each of these books can be read as standalone, there is a common thread running through them all, of course there is the burgeoning relationship between Kitty and Matthew but also the disappearance of Kitty’s mother. I implore you to start at the beginning they are an absolute joy to read.

I cannot wait to see what Kitty gets up to next.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

Murder in the Belltower is published on 1 February 2021.

 

Books

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith – Ben Schott

Without a doubt I am a fan of Jeeves and Wooster, first brought to my attention from the television series with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in respective roles. I think it is the only time I have actually gone and read a book (in fact more than one J & W story) after watching the programme.

But to this, a ‘homage’ to the great Wodehouse with all what you would expect in a tale of Wooster ups and downs, aunts and Gussie Fink-Nottle’s, Madeline Bassett’s and the Drones Club. If you had a tick list of everything to be included in the book then this ticked all of them.

Having caught up with Schott’s first tale I find myself back with Bertie and him being K.C he is called upon a gain to help His Majesty’s Government. There are some rather unsavoury sorts in black shorts infiltrating the academic world and we are taken to Cambridge via a swift snifter to catch up with the goings on with at the Drones club.

We encounter the fairy like Madeline Bassett who is uncertain of her current beaus commitment to her and eyes up Bertie from a distance.

Aunt Agatha one of the more feared of Bertie’s aunts has a few choice words about his matrimonial status and seeks to rectify it. But when a scheme to perhaps put Aunt Agatha off reveals more than it should it seems Bertie might be able to escape with his status in tact.

Some dodgy turf accountants, taxmen and newt lovers, Bertie finds himself caught up where he doesn’t want to be. Though where ever he seems to be so does the delightful Iona who has caught his eye and also that of Jeeves.

Might things be about to change for them all?

This book is spiffing good fun and just the tonic for any dark, down day when you need some spark of light, some chink of normality, because this is as close as we are going to get to new Jeeves and Wooster stories from Wodehouse. I hope there are many more to come.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith is out now.  

Books · Jottings

November Roundup

Well only one month to go in 2020, thank goodness though I don’t think we are out of the woods just yet. But November was a month where I hit my annual target of 100 books – such a satisfying feeling and also a month where I have just simply read and not worried (well not too much) about the never ending netgalley request list.

So what was on my November shelf?

Only one Christmas book, I think I reached peak Christmas in the previous couple of months but Anne Marie Ryan – The Six Tales of Christmas was a quiet tale reminiscence of previous American styled Christmas novels that I read. It’s message was very lovely though.

Of course snow for many equals Christmas but the snow in Catherine Cooper – The Chalet was a lot more sinister and this debut thriller novel is one to watch out for. Excellent and kept me hooked quite happily and made a change from all the ‘nice’ books.

To contrast the snow what better than to go back to summer with Cressida McLaughlin – The Cornish Cream Tea Summer where I caught up with old friends and made some new ones on the lovely bus in Cornwall and with an added dollop of actors as well as clotted cream this made for a great read. I rushed out to buy the next in the series and have started that within the last couple of days of November.

Cornwall was the setting of Raynor Winn – The Salt Path a book leant to me by a friend who thought I would enjoy it. I did. I knew nothing of the South West Costal path and it was a joy to read an ‘actual’ book where I could quite happily flick back to the map at the beginning so I could see locations and get a sense of place. One of the downsides of kindle reading is this ability. Wild camping is not something I would want to do, but certainly walking and in Cornwall is a place I would like to be.

More Cornwall was featured in Emma Burstall – A Cornish Secret and Emma Burstall – The Girl Who Came Home to Cornwall. The latter of the two novels I had on my kindle for ages meaning to be read, but knowing it was book five and I had omitted to read book four and it turns out I bought that ages ago to. Anyway, enough of the procrastinating as I know I enjoy this author immensely so I just went from one to the other and it was delightful to just keep reading about the same place, same characters like watching a continuing drama without the break. I do wonder if Emma Burstall has any more plans for Tremarnock.

Now as there are six Mitford sisters, I know that there is more to follow after Jessica Fellowes – The Mitford Trial. These are really excellent novels and I got a lovely response on Twitter from the author, because I ‘got the book’ in the way she intended it to be written. I had to go and reread my review just in case I had said something insightful – well I can’t see it. But if the author is happy and then I am happy as the plots of all of these books are great and really tap into my love of history.

Feeling rather ‘out of sorts’ about many things, like many people across the globe no doubt. So I picked up Ben Schott – Jeeves and the King of Clubs again this was because I got the latest Schott novel featuring Jeeves and Wooster through netgalley and realised I had not read the first of these homages. It was spiffing, tip top and everything you would expect from Wodehouse and I have read many over the years. It was a sheer delight to be back in their world and I rush to read the latest and go back and relieve some of Wodehouse’s best. My heart was fair cheered.

Not a bad month overall and I made a dent in some old books on my netgalley list as well as reading some ‘actual’ books, I really much prefer this way, but the kindle has let me read so many more I probably would not have read. It’s a conundrum for many an avid reader I am sure?

So what was on your November shelf? Any plans for December?

Books

The Mitford Trial – Jessica Fellowes

Louisa Cannon who we have met in the previous three novels in this series is set to marry policeman Guy Sullivan. I feel you need to have read all three to get the real sense of Louisa’s character development and how she has got to where she is now in this fourth book.

However the British Union of Fascists have other ideas about how Louisa and Guy are going to celebrate their wedding day.

This brings Louisa back in touch with The Mitford Sisters, who she thought she had left behind. Diana, now separated from her husband Bryan has started a love affair with Oswald Mosley and with her sister Unity obsessed with the beliefs and values of the Fascists, it seems that Louisa is going to be plunged into the darker side of politics and ever growing problems in Europe.

After first off refusing to accompany Diana, Unity and their mother on a cruise, Louisa funds herself compelled by an outside source to take up the offer and without sharing the truth with Guy she finds herself all at sea.

Onboard everything is not calm, with arguments, love affairs and fights, the atmosphere turns to murder and Louisa finds herself tangled amongst all the lies and deceit. The confessions and lies seem to permeate everyone and when the ship docks in Rome the culprits are removed.

Two years later the case is at court and everyone that was onboard seems to be a witness to something.

But what Louisa saw that trip still remains a mystery.

This is an excellent golden age crime novel, with the use of the Mitford sisters as the landscape to fictionalise the story of historic crimes. The murder like the ones before is based on the truth, information provided in the book (read at the end!)  so you can get a sense of time and place. Yet the growing unrest in Europe, the rise of Fascists and Unity’s compulsion to become close to Hitler is throughout the book and I am sure gives a great grounding into book five.

The narrative of this story goes between Louisa’s time on the cruise and the courtroom where the trial takes place, it also brings into play Tom Mitford, the brother of the infamous sisters who works as a lawyer and always appears in the background of their lives.

The concept works, as you hear evidence and the questions being asked of the witness you can go back and see what really happened. For me it felt like I was in the public gallery watching the trial unfold, a totally immersive experience.

A well written murder mystery perfect for fans of history and the gold age of crime. Long may they continue. Highly recommended.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Mitford Trial is out now. 

 

 

Books

The Chalet – Catherine Cooper

A debut novel, a setting that perhaps would have turned me off – the French Alps. The thought of skiing not something that has ever interested me. However, the luxury, the mystery and the murder had me hooked from page one.

1998 – Will and his brother Adam, with respective girlfriends find themselves skiing. Not necessarily the choice of them all but still a holiday that is going to change all of their lives forever.

Will and Adam have a testosterone fuelled one-upmanship that is simmering beneath the surface of both brothers and when the opportunity to perhaps put it to the test on the slopes presents itself it seems too good an opportunity to miss.

Cameron and Andy, ski guides meet Will and Adam, out of the four of them only three return and their lives are changed forever?

2020 – Hugh and wife Ria are here to impress Simon and his wife Cass to get Simon to invest in Hugh’s business. The one-upmanship has a different purpose now. But the slopes are the same, the snow is the same and amongst a fierce snowstorm the likes that no one has seen for over twenty years; a body is discovered.

Whose body is it?

And can the four people from the past and the four people from the future have connection to it?

Told across dual timelines, a plot device that I enjoy in historical fiction works really well in this novel. Not only are we getting the movement of back and forth we are seeing everything from the different point of view of the main characters. It doesn’t always work, in this book it excels and adds to the build up of tension.

Don’t make your mind up about what you think about one character? Immediately the author twists that on its head and shows you a different version?

All these versions, these sets of events and beliefs result in a real pacey novel which had me hooked and add to that the claustrophobia of being trapped in a chalet with people you don’t know, in the midst of a snowstorm. I felt I was trapped and the only way out was to solve the mystery.

An excellent debut novel and if this is what to expect in the future from this author then I am ready for the next novel. A contender for one of my favourite books of the year. And as for skiing – still not interested!

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Chalet is out now. 

 

Books

The Windsor Knot – S.J. Bennett

There is only one Queen of Crime (Agatha Christie if you don’t know) but what if the Queen was involved in solving crime. Well she needs to fill her days somehow between all the papers, visits and family battles surely?

After a small gathering of a select few people, a Russian pianist is found dead in his room in rather strange circumstances.

As the police, secret services and other government departments descend at Windsor Castle what originally looked like suicide is in fact murder and it needs to be kept to minimum information not just for the public but also for the Queen. She does not need to be bothered with such things.

But when her servants seem to be targeted as preparators because of their backgrounds or interests, the Queen is bothered and the so called Russian interference seems to be the obvious conclusion.

Helping the Queen is her new Assistant Private Secretary, a young dynamic former solider called Rozie, who has some very useful skills and had no idea about the Queen’s other interests until she realises why her predecessor left her certain instructions.

However, Elizabeth is a lot more canny than her faithful servants realise and when she can see that the police are heading in the wrong direction, she does in her inimitable way direct them back. Of course she makes it look like it was all their own idea!

This really is an exuberant take on the cosy mystery genre and has some good research done on it, to understand the workings of the the Royal Family and also the descriptions of Windsor Castle. There are some humorous moments and it had me laughing out loud and what seems like the absurdity of it all but then do we really know what goes on behind palace walls?

Perfect for fans of crime, the Royals it is all just terribly British and l loved it!

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Windsor Knot is out now. 

Books

Murder on the Dancefloor – Helena Dixon

It seems that even if Kitty Underhay tries to live a normal life, murder seems to follow her around. In this her fourth outing, murder is found at the dinner table at the Imperial Hotel. Kitty and her close friend Captain Matt Bryant are also at the table.

The victim it seems has ingested potassium cyanide and is a pompous unpopular local councillor Harold Everton.

He previously has spoked to Matt and asked him if he could help with something in his capacity as a private investigator.

Also at the table is the councillor’s downtrodden wife, his equally downtrodden daughter, a nephew who seems to have money, a married solicitor who was always advising Everton as well as a brother and sister hotel owners who seem to want answers from Everton as to why planning applications were not being approved.

It is a lot for the police to check through and Kitty and Matt soon find themselves embroiled in the affair and when an accident turns out to be murder it seems that perhaps those who know too much might be the next victim.

Are Kitty or Matt in danger?

This is an equally interesting read to the previous books in the series. It can be read as a standalone and is a good introduction to the series, you meet all the main characters. Kitty’s grandmother, Mrs Treadwell, her bumptious and annoying friend Mrs Craven who makes me smile every time she appears on a page. Then there is Alice, an employee of the hotel but also when needs must she comes to Miss Kitty’s aid as a confidante, friend and ladies maid when the role suits.

What perhaps you don’t get a sense of is the back story which runs through this story and we start to get some answers about Matt’s past and his experiences of war. Plus the disappearance of Kitty’s mother is also investigated more and it seems more questions are raised than answers given. It is therefore reassuring to know that there will be more Miss Underhay.

Great for fans of historical mysteries, with plenty of diversions and twist with a bit of threat involved, these really are gentle reads but show the spark that Kitty has and how perceptions are changing about women in more dominant roles. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Thank you to the publisher for the opportunity to read this book via netgalley. 

Murder on the Dancefloor is published on 28 October. 

 

 

Books

The Darkest Evening – Ann Cleeves

Making her way home through a blizzard, DCI Vera Stanhope comes across an abandoned car, the door open, the driver clearly gone but in the back a small boy.

Taking the boy into her safety she then makes her way to the nearest house.

That house happens to be Brockburn, a big house, slightly worse for wear and one Vera recognises from her past. This is where her father, Hector grew up.

Inside the house is a party and Vera is about to interrupt them.

Outside in the snow is a dead body.

Are all of these occurrences related?

It is all pointing to a new investigation for Vera and her team, including Joe Ashworth, Vera’s closest colleague and Holly, desperately trying to impress and live up to Vera’s expectations and her own.

I always enjoy a ‘big house’ type mystery and this one is no different, peeping behind doors we see secrets of Vera’s relatives as well as the comings and goings of those that live on and near Brockburn.

By nature of the setting, the wilds of the Northumberland setting and the fact that it is December, Christmas is round the corner it is a dark book – the unknown is a dark place as is revisiting parts of Vera’s past which have an affect on perhaps the way she deals with the investigation and all of the potential suspects.

Nothing is quite as it seems and everyone is holding something in the dark, but through the shadows, Vera stumbles across the truth. Will it be the one her family accept?

In the main I know of Vera from the ITV series broadcast in the UK. The books are better but with that knowledge of the wonderful Brenda Blethyn’s portrayal you can hear her voice and smile wryly at her put downs as she gets to the truth. If you ever want a detective’s character to pop from the page then Ann Cleeves Vera Stanhope is a mighty fine example.

A must for all fans of Cleeves, Vera and good old fashioned detective stories.

 

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book. 

The Darkest Evening, the ninth DCI Vera Stanhope book is out now.