Books

An Expert in Murder – Nicola Upson

This is the first Josephine Tey novel and having read her second first I thought I would go back to where it started.

Nicola Upson has come upon the idea of using a real life author as a character in this crime series. Tey is not used as the main solving character that falls to Detective inspector Archie Penrose, but Upson weaves in the relationship that Josephine Tey has with his family, and him as well and what all links them together.

Tey happens to bump into a fan of her work on the train south from Inverness, and they strike up an instant friendship for the duration of the journey. However, tragedy strikes when the young girl is found dead, some moments after having said goodbye to Josephine. In steps Archie Penrose and he begins to discover that the murderer has left a number of odd clue that seem to all relate back to Josephine and her(written under a pseudonym) current play running in the West End, Richard of Bordeaux.

We are taken into the wonderful age of the Thirties; the Great War still has memories for a number of people, despite the threat of something else brewing over on the continent. The theatre is beginning to take off and plays, actors and agents are all fighting for something spectacular to put on. However amongst all this joy, there are many harbouring secrets and lies and another death causes Penrose much heartache as he realises that maybe Tey is the intended victim all along. The outcome is probably not what you would expect despite having worked some of it, it still came as a slight surprise, now I think I may have missed a clue or two, or maybe it is just the strength of Upson’s writing which took me to the end of the story without working it out in the first few pages.

Thrilling and exciting story, with many lovely characters, Penrose’s cousin Lettie and Ronnie bring humour to the blackest of moments and fit in very nicely with the back story. There are some racier moments put yourself as if you were in reading this in the Thirties, homosexuality was still illegal, and there is no hint but directness about what is going on between some of the cast in the theatres. I am sure it would have made some question such a book, however we are reading this in the twenty first century and perhaps now look at things differently, with the knowledge that we now have.
Yes it has elements of Agatha Christie and the ilk – but so what. It is a different way of making the basic murder mystery genre work and I think successfully, certainly to keep me reading once I was gripped by the whole story.

This review was first published on Amazon in early 2010 and is featured on this blog as part of my look back at the last ten years of blogging. 

Books

June Roundup

What a start to the summer, as lockdown eases and we wait to see what happens next. It has sometimes been an absolute necessity to escape into the pages of a good book. Even better when you make a dent not just in your netgalley list but books on shelves too.

There are some nice gaps on the shelves now as I read Ken Bruce – Tacks of My Years. Published over ten years ago now, I think I picked it up in a charity shop. As a keen Radio 2 listener, it was great to put some background to the man who has probably been with me throughout my childhood and now my adulthood. A lot has happened in those last ten years and I wonder what Ken would write about now?

Another one gone is Jessie Burton – The Muse. The first book of this author that I have read, despite having watched The Miniaturist when it was televised a few Christmas back. Interestingly a book featuring black characters, set in the 1960s with mixed race relationship and the strange possibility of women being better than men at something came at the time when the Black Lives Matter was taking over the news broadcasts. I had no idea when I picked up the book to read. I was intrigued, it was wonderfully written and the story set in 1930s Spain just before revolution was most fascinating.

Finally a recent purchase which was on the shelf for hardly a moment Katie Fforde – Thyme Out. When all else fails and you are feeling out of sorts, Katie Fforde is bound to cheer and she did with a book I had not read before, so another one ticked of the oeuvre!

Reading old books and books that have been on my shelf for a while is incomplete contrast to the recent books that I have read and the ones that have yet to be published. I was somewhat disappointed with Tilly Tennant – The Waffle House on the Pier, it could have been a lot more and had a bit more to it. Tilly’s books are rather a hit or a miss with me in recent years.

In contrast an author who I came back to and have enjoyed immensely since those first novels is Ali McNamara – Kate and Clara’s Curious Craft Shop. This books is glorious, of course being set in Cornwall as many a book is nowadays does help but the dual narrative, the mystery and the wonder that is crafts makes it a must book for me.

Another place slightly closer to home is the Isle of Wight and it was a coincidence that is where I was taken with Carole Matthews – Sunny Days and Sea Breezes. A wonderful tale of boats, beaches and bossy friends. Guaranteed sunshine without leaving your house!

You need the sun if you are going to run a festival so it seems that everything is in there favour in Katie Ginger – Summer Strawberries at Swallowtail Bay. I wait in trepidation in how winter and Christmas is going to come to Swallowtail Bay.

Two books which don’t fit into any particular genre but I feel must be read for many different reasons, some I have yet to even work out myself.

Rachel Joyce – Miss Benson’s Beetle, the latest took me very much back to the debut novel. It had that gentleness of it, despite the plot and you could almost feel yourself out there on a expedition yourself, in uncharted territory – a bit like the book.

This has to be on all my lists for 2020, Brenda Davies – The Girl Behind the Gates. It is a difficult read but it is one that must be read. It is both a disturbing but fascinating read and one is compelled to be drawn in and wince at the injustice, the treatment and more than anything the reality hat this actually happened. You need a strong constitution to read it.

Quite a mix of books, which is the best way. Sometimes reading too much of the same, can result in nothing more that a regurgitation of plot, setting and character. I like to think this month I have captured plenty of variety.

Which leads me on very nicely to more variety in the shape of the 2020 Six in Six meme. Click here to see all about it and please join in if you can. You just might add some more books to your list.

Books

Murder at the Playhouse – Helena Dixon

Kitty Underhay is definitely on track to be a popular favourite amongst fans of cosy mysteries and with this her third adventure.

Kitty having still not made it up with Matthew Bryant the debonair ex Army Captain and now private investigator from the previous two novels, she finds herself rather lost and missing him.

Matthew is much in the same mood, but that is all forgotten when a knock at his door reveals the police come to arrest him for murder.

Kitty rushes to his aid.

The deceased is a young actress on the cusp of something bigger, Pearl Bright, found strangled with one of Matthew’s bootlaces. There is a straightforward believable explanation from Matthew.

Stanley Davenport a theatre impresario and on verge of a knighthood is as well as Matthew’s neighbours seemed convinced it his him and that there is no need to look any further, especially not at Stanley Davenport and his family and associates seem to have a lot to hide.

Kitty manages through Mrs Craven to get to know the Davenport’s and she finds herself centre stage with helping with a local theatre show for a charity. Being this involved means she might be able to get to the truth if it all plays out right.

It will be alright on the night – surely?

Regular characters are back, including the insurmountable Mrs Craven as well as Kitty’s maid at the hotel, Alice who is a great character and I am pleased she is featuring more dominantly. Her sound advice and obvious observations are a great for Kitty.

The sub plot of Kitty’s missing mother is still throughout this book and Matthew is kept occupied with this and we start to find out a bit more of what might have happened to her.

All in all a great mystery with good characters both likeable and absolutely dreadful that you love them and the continual mystery makes we excited to read book four!

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

Murder at the Playhouse is published on 30 June. 

Catch up with Kitty from the beginning:

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel

Murder at Enderley Hall 

 

Books

Daughters of Cornwall – Fern Britton

In a change from perhaps what I was expecting from Fern Britton, I am transported to Cornwall as is to be expected but I am submerged into the past in this excellent piece of historical fiction.

Clara is making the journey from London to Cornwall after the Great War to meet the family that she could have been apart of. She is taking with her a secret, one that only one other person knows about.

Hannah wants to know more about her past but her mother’s reluctance makes her even more curious. With the outbreak of the Second World War looming, Hannah and her brothers want to make a difference. They don’t think they can from their corner of Cornwall. But Cornwall always calls them back.

Caroline discovers her families history through a trunk which looks like it has come all the way from Penang. She embarks on a discovery. Caroline wants to show her daughter how a life can be lived and that all it takes is determination and an inner strength that all the women in the family clearly have.

This story starts like a whisper as all the characters are introduced and you are immediately caught up in love affairs, war, secrets and lies. The book is rich in description at the breathtaking views of Cornwall of the horror of war, of death and birth and shows how strong women can be no matter what the path in life they have chosen to be on. as the secrets come tumbling out or are kept hidden until the end, the story draws you right in. A story that will stay with you long after you have finished reading.

If you like Fern Britton’s previous novels this will be a change – but it is worth every word on the page.

Great for fans of historical fiction with multiple narratives, a book to get lost in.

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

Daughters of Cornwall is published on the 11th June. 

 

Books

Highland Fling – Sara Sheridan

I have been absorbed with this series since the beginning. For fans of murder mysteries set in the past this is for you. To make it different from many other series of books out there – this has strong female characters, it is the 1950s, racism is still clearly prevalent and the memories of war are still not quite in the long forgotten past. Mainly based in and around Brighton this time we take a train journey to the Highlands.

For Mirabelle this is a holiday with Superintendent Alan McGregor her beau and very much intellectual equal. They are to visit Alan’s family home and meet some of his family, the Robertsons.

Being embraced into a glamorous family life with big houses, servants and cocktails is a bit of a shock for Mirabelle but she finds she instantly warms to these people.

Then a body is found in the orangery.

No matter where Mirabelle or Alan go, crime seems to surround them.

The body is an American fashion designer with links to Russia. As the Cold War is very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds, it seems that there may be more to this murder.

The urge to investigate and find out what happens is too much to resist and when it seems there is mysteries unsolved about the house and the Highlands, Mirabelle finds herself questioning people about the murder but also her own actions and limitations to her relationship with Alan.

This holiday is going to be one to remember for them.

Great to see Mirabelle and Alan’s relationship flourish and there is no doubt that they are not sticking to the conventions of the time. Even the Robertsons recognise this and it was a breath of fresh air to see such things, but to also know that is was still of time of great change.

Whilst the world changed, so did Mirabelle and Alan. The Highlands was definitely a place they could say was a turning point for them.

A big house murder mystery, spies, servants, ghosts and secrets. Everything you want from a book and one of the best examples of this type of story.

For me well written and constructed and probably the best of the series (so far) and whilst I always recommend starting at the beginning, this would be a good book to dip into as the main characters are away from their normal lives and surroundings. You can then have the joy of catching up with the rest of the series – lucky you!

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

Highland Fling is published on 4 June.

Books

The Sea Gate – Jane Johnson

I always like to challenge myself with new authors, it can be too easy to get into the habit of sticking to the same all the time and eventually they can have a tendency to merge into one big story.

The premise for this book intrigued me and still does now, long after I have finished it.

Rebecca along with her brother is sorting through her recently deceased mother’s possessions. Rebecca stumbles across some letters from an elderly cousin, Olivia in Cornwall. Feeling rather bereft at the death of her mother and the worry of her own health, Rebecca takes herself off to Cornwall.

Olivia’s letters tell of her desperation to save her home Chynalls. Olivia is in hospital after a fall, the circumstances are all a bit sketchy and she will not be discharged unless the house is brought up to a good standard.

There lies Rebecca’s first problem. Add to that the lack of money, the foul mouthed parrot and the discovery of what looks to be a finger in the cellar and Rebecca finds herself caught up in Olivia’s mysterious life.

As Rebecca starts to rebuild the house, which she sees as her mother’s dying wish, but she stats to rebuild herself and rebuild the life of Olivia. The book use the dual time narrative to show what Olivia was like as a young girl during the Second World War and what life was like and why perhaps events of the present day were all tied up with the long held secrets of the past.

This book starts slowly, perhaps too slowly, but perseverance with the plot and the characters sees a story develop from the house and the page. This was an intriguing read and I was swept away with the plot and the unlikeability of some of the characters and of course the wonderful setting of Cornwall which added it’s own unique charm to the story.

A book to sweep you away into the past from the present.

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

The Sea Gate is published on 4 June 2020.

 

 

Books

May Roundup

Another month in ‘lockdown’ and the weather has been glorious which has probably been a blessing in disguise. As measures are carefully eased everyone waits to see what happens. In the meantime the reading and enjoying the simple things in life continues.

May has been quite a bumper month of reading, warm nights, nothing on the TV and good reads makes it all that much easier to get lost in a good book. There have been plenty.

I plough on with the amount I have requested from Netgalley and it times it panics me when I see what I have requested and read and then I see what I have on my shelf and wonder when I will ever get to it all?

Emylia Hall – A Heart Bent out of Shape has been one of the books languishing on my shelf for a while and so it made its way off there and was the sort of fiction book I have not read for a while. A coming of age novel, first loves and losses and with the backdrop of Switzerland it was a well crafted novel. This author’s work has always been excellent.

Of course knowing the author is always a draw when picking up a new book and all the books I have read this month have been by authors known to me, I have not branched to try something new. Which probably given our current circumstances is the right thing. There is something comforting by the familiar.

Always comforting and fascinating is Agatha Christie – The Body in the Library, read for the Christie 2020 challenge, ironically seen so many times on the television I haven’t actually read the book. Remedied now and one of the most clever pieces of Christie in my opinion.

Sticking with crime and set in similar times and locations I was delighted to rejoin Kitty Underhay in Helena Dixon – Murder at the Playhouse. The third in this serious and such perfect escapism, there are many on these ‘types’ of novels out at the moment, but this is the series I have decided to stick with and enjoy. I think the hotel setting and base for the main characters is one of the interesting draws for me.

As is train journeys and big houses and Sara Sheridan – Highland Fling in the latest Mirabelle Bevan novel is one of the best. We get to see more between Mirabelle and Alan and start to learn a lot more about their past.

So from the thirties, the fifties I was taken back to the Second World War with Fern Britton – Daughters of Cornwall. A multi narrative novel which was not what I was expecting from this author but is a sheer delight of mystery and intrigue made all the more interesting with the backdrop of Cornwall. Fern has definitely added another string to her bow with this novel.

Sticking in Cornwall as many books I read just happened to be set there is Helen Pollard – The Little Shop in Cornwall. Her latest takes us to the shop Healing Waves and the residents of the little seaside community. A book full of passion and frustration and a bit of balm to soothe.

Still in Cornwall, (the place must be over run with authors!) Rachel Dove – The Second Chance Hotel  introduces us to Shady Pines Chalet Park and the start of a new life for all the characters.

All this up down the country is making me feel dizzy but I was back in Scotland with Jenny Colgan – Five Hundred Miles From You. A book which is packed full of scenery, weather and landscape which adds so much to the story.

Back down to the coast and Brighton for Bella Osborne – Meet me at Pebble Beach, not quite the best I have read this month, felt the title was very misleading as it did seem to me that the beach was not mentioned enough to warrant it.

Finally I got to leave the UK with Julie Caplin – The Little Teashop in Tokyo and went half way round the world. These books could be compared to bringing holiday brochures to life with background and quirky characters from both home and abroad. This was certainly my cup of tea.

I have enjoyed all the books I have read, they have kept me occupied, enthralled, captivated and let me escape from the real world. Where has your May reading let you escape to?

On with June’s travels.

Books

Silent on the Moor – Deanna Raybourn

This is the third in the Lady Julia Grey Mysteries certainly better than the second and probably as good as the first, Deanna Raybourn has found her way with this character as well as other supporting characters.

Lady Julia Grey along with her sister Portia decide to go and stay with Nicholas Brisbane, the man that Lady Julia met whilst stood over her husband’s dead body (see Silent in the Grave). His new property is in Yorkshire and there is something not quite right about it and the remaining residents the Allenby’s who are intrinsically connected to the house and somehow to Brisbane. Lady Allenby is widowed and only has her two daughters Hilda and Ailith Allenby for company within the house, her son Redwall died after returning from Egypt after being exposed in Egyptology circles and ruining his reputation. However Redwall’s fascination with Egyptology leads Lady Julia to start cataloguing his treasures from Egypt to keep her mind off the annoyance in her life that is Brisbane. This cataloguing leads to the opening up of the past, walls and coffins which results in some devastating actions.

Lady Julia also spends time with Rosalie, living on the crossroads on the moor, a gypsy who elects to stay in one place for a personal reason but helps many people with tonics and teas from everything natural. Rosalie has connections with Brisbane, and Lady Julia discovers a lot about his past, in turn Brisbane also has much confirmed about his background.

Raybourn has used her obvious love of all things gothic with this book – it has resonances of Jane Eyre, what is the history behind the women seemingly stuck in the house. Wuthering Heights, the wildness of the moor is described beautifully and poetically that it really gave a grave and dark foreboding sense to the property ironically called Grimsgrave. There is the witticism, and I love Lady Julia Grey’s sister Portia who bounces off all the characters very well, despite her own life story. Their relationships with their maids’ makes for amusing reading, and one wonders who is really in charge them or Morag and Minna. Romance is the air as we see it grow further into the open with Lady Julia and Brisbane. My only concern is that if they get together then will we lose that wonderful sparring and bantering they have which makes for their rich characters.

The story does seem somewhat slow, but whilst it is not a classic whodunit it has some depth, and makes you question the actions of those who are trapped at Grimsgrave. It is a wonderful insight to Victorian society not just from the upper echelons but also the lower ones, the maids stories are covered, even the wandering Gypsies(prominent in all these books) are covered with such care, that it becomes a book to show what life was like at that time, and how it affects others. In some cases the attempted murders become a back story.

I do hope there will be another book, hinted at definitely in the last couple of pages, but please do not lose the wonderful relationship that Lady Julia and Brisbane have developed.

This review was first published on Amazon in 2010 and is featured on this blog as part of my look back at the last ten years of blogging. 

Books

The Lost Girls – Jennifer Wells

1912 – May Day in Missenham.

Everyone remembers that day – that is the day two girls disappeared. Two girls were murdered.

From two different parts of society Iris Caldwell and Nell Ryland were the unlikeliest of friends, brought together through circumstance and design rather than a desire for true friendship. Each very different.

Nell Ryland, was seen as the wild child, the rebel. A respectable vicars’ daughter who made seemingly one mistake and was forced to pay for it for the rest of her life. Well the rest of her life until that fateful day in May 1912.

Iris Caldwell, childlike, waiflike living very much away from the adult world, so as to not grow up and become one. Cocooned by her father in their home until that fateful in day in May 1912.

1937 – a cine film has been found which record the events of that fateful day.

As the locals gather to watch, they see one of the missing girls clearly on the film walking with Sam Denman, a local man. Is he the last person to see her alive? Surely the film maker knows something?

With twenty five years having passed, can the truth really be found out all these years later?

The mystery is told from the perspective of Agnes, Nell’s mother in 1937 and Nell herself back in 1912. You don’t get to hear Iris voice which when you learn about her you perhaps realise that if you did it would be almost so different to the story we are told about her.

The book was a page turner, despite I thought a slow start, once it picked up pace I had to know what happened that day. Some of it did suddenly seem obvious to me, but perhaps not to those so closely involved that they were blind to their actions and the events.

Historical fiction with that an intriguing mystery added into the mix. Whilst part of a series set in Missenham, these books standalone as books to be read without prior knowledge of others in the series.

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

The Lost Girls is published on 23 April 2020.

Books

Letters From the Past – Erica James

This is one of those books which is packed full of everything you could possible want from a story to sweep you away.

Told from the different perspectives of various different characters you are thrown into getting to know a lot of people and quickly. I did have to go back and reread who everyone was as I was a bit lost and felt as I had not read the first novel where these characters are introduced I was at a disadvantage. However once I did this I got a sense of how they were related and something about their past I was able to involve myself fully with the book.

As letters from the here and now start landing on doormats across Melstead St Mary, you almost wish that Miss Marple would appear to solve it all for these people and make her wry observations about people’s actions and reactions.

Evelyn, celebrating twenty years of marriage to Kit, is shocked to receive one which brings doubt on her actions from the past and questions about what she did during the war.

Julia, weak, feeble and under the command of her husband receives one, but she knows she has probably done something wrong anyway, she has spent all her life in repentance.

Hope, driven by her work, driven to escape when she receives a letter is driven into another state. One that everyone desires she will come out of.

Romily, the matriarch of this family. Bringing them all together, keeping them all apart where necessary and trying to live her own life.

Full of secrets, mysteries and love this really is a book which did indeed sweep me away from rural Suffolk, London, Oxford and Palm Springs. It has characters to love, loathe, trust and distrust. It made me change my mind about some and know I was completely right about others. This was a book which I invested in and it gave me an abundance of returns. Thank you Erica James, wonderful storytelling.

 

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

Letters From the Past is published on the 16th April. 

 

I am relatively new to Erica James work but if this is the standard then I am going to read more starting with Coming Home to Island House where we first get to meet these characters.