As a fan of the DCI Banks series, I was eager to try one of Peter Robinson’s stand alone novels. I found ‘Before the Poison’ a riveting read. Unlike the DCI Banks books it’s not a police procedural, more a mystery story with aspects of supernatural. It’s about a successful musician who buys a secluded and rambling manor house on the North Yorkshire moors. His wife has just died and he becomes obsessed with proving that the woman who owned the house before him should not have been hanged for murdering her husband. Metaphorical ghosts and real ones abound, the later in the form of the hanged woman’s diary.

I loved Peter Robinson’s style of writing. He uses a range of devices together with extracts from the diary of the hanged woman, to imply her story, including chapters from a contemporary true crime book and the protagonist’s dreams and conversations with his own dead wife. But he uses them with great skill and believability. For classical music and cinema lovers there are continuous references from the protagonist’s experience of writing film music which add to the enjoyment.
‘Before the Poison’ is an interesting and satisfying read. Well recommended.

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Finishing my second book about criminologist Kate Trevelyan and starting a new role delivering books to housebound people mean I’ve fallen behind with my reviewing. As crime fiction is by far the most popular genre requested I’ve gone back through my own reading preferences and decided to complete an alphabetical guide to my favourite authors, starting with A for Rachel Abbott.

Rachel is one of the UK’s most successful independent crime writers. Her first seven psychological thrillers have combined to sell over three million copies, and have all been bestsellers. In 2015, she was named the 14th bestselling author over the last five years on Amazon’s Kindle in the UK. Her thrillers feature Detective Chief Inspector Tom Douglas and like Sophie Hannah’s ‘Culver Valley’ series we follow the story of a lone protagonist who may be the perpetrator, victim or witness of a crime alongside the police’s attempts to find the culprit and stop further crime. This creates a strong sense of jeopardy as the reader hopes the victim will survive but knows the police can’t benefit from what they know. DCI Tom Douglas continues to have his own relationship problems which get in the way but make him enduring, and the series provide the satisfaction of getting to know him better with each book.

Rachel Abbott novels always start with dramatic prologues which hint at the suspense to come. My favourite is still the prologue in the first of the series, ‘Only the Innocent’ which starts with an illicit liaison for sex play and soon develops into something more dangerous. The prologue in the last of the series, ‘Come a Little Closer’ is much briefer but is compensated by having more viewpoints to follow before the connections between them become apparent.

Callie, the protagonist of ‘Come a Little Closer’ is a young woman struggling to escape an abusive relationship who is vulnerable to exploitation by others. She’s worn out, depressed and not thinking straight and it takes her a long time to recognise what is happening to her or how she may be connected to other apparently random deaths. The short sharp chapters and varied viewpoints make multiple twists in this riveting suspense a gripping read.

‘Come a Little Closer’ is the seventh and last book of the series. Rachel’s latest novel ‘And so it begins’ was released last month and is the start of a new series about police woman Stephanie King. I’m sure I’ll enjoy that one too, but I hope I haven’t read the last of the Tom Douglas thrillers.

‘Old friends, sat on their park bench like book ends.’
Simon & Garfunkel – ‘Bookends’ Album 1968.

 

The Woman in Blue:
An old friend, now a woman priest, contacts Ruth regarding some threatening letters she has received. She is coming to Walsingham to attend a conference and take part in some of the religious events. Meanwhile, Cathbod is in Walsingham too, house-sitting for a friend when he sees a vision of a woman wearing blue in the graveyard who is soon found dead. This is just the start to a string of murders, as Ruth tries to balance her work lecturing in archaeology, helping the police and taking her daughter to endless play rehearsals while Nelson tries to get over his wife’s affair and the new ‘super-boss’ bent on reform. The crowds are gathering for the local Mystery Play, religious fanaticism rears its head and the scene is set for a fascinating romp through personal relationships and murders.

The Chalk Pit:
Ruth’s archaeological skills are needed again as boiled bones are found in an underground tunnel below Norwich. DCI Nelson and his team are kept busy tracking down a serial killer preying on the homeless. Then a middle class mother of two disappears and Nelson’s boss wants results fast.

In this 9th Ruth Galloway story, where old bones meet modern murder, Ruth and Nelson’s not quite a relationship features as much as the crime. Both have family difficulties to focus on, and however much the reader wants them to get together things always get in the way.

This is Norfolk Noir at its best – misty, gloomy, dangerous, mystical, pagan, set within bleak salt marshes and ancient buildings. The stories turn at a comfortable pace with great twists to reveal hard to guess satisfying endings.

I read this book in a day, it’s a real page turner.

Peter May is the author of three crime series including The Lewis Trilogy set on the Western Isles of Scotland. Coffin Road is a stand-alone eco-thriller featuring three lead characters each with their own problems with a quest to pursue as a result.

The interesting opening draws you in as a man finds he has been washed up on a beach. With no idea of who he is or what he’s doing there he is searching for an identity. Then there is the detective searching for the killer of a man bludgeoned to death on a remote island, and finally a rebellious teenage girl desperately trying to find why her father took his own life and if she was responsible.

The suspense develops as the lives of these three individuals start to interweave and races towards the reveals of what connects them. I liked the eco-theme of the survival of bees and learnt more about this important topic as I read on. Then there are the descriptions of the remote Scottish Islands which enhance the mystery of the plot and have some of the nuances of one of my favourite crime TV programmes Shetland recently broadcast. I shall have to wait another year for more of Shetland, but I can now fill that gap by reading the rest of Peter May’s novels.

 

A Captivating West Country Family Saga

The Flower Seller is a fascinating story of a young woman’s descent from luxury to rural poverty after her beloved papa’s death. The openness and honesty of Isabella draws the reader in as they share her struggles to adjust to an alien lifestyle and family who at first she seems to have no common connection. Then the pace quickens and the pages turn as we want to know if she succeeds in turning her misfortunes around.

The story features another of Linda Finlay’s signature themes of old Devon crafts and wares – this time violet growing around Dawlish. As usual, the author’s talent for research is in evidence as her words, characters and dialect, bringing the world of Devonshire violet growers in the late nineteenth century to life. Light hearted moments between Isabelle and her cousin Dotty or the attractive business rival Felix are in sharp contrast with scenes of darkness and despair, snobbery and corruption.

This is a satisfying novel about a young woman’s rise to fulfillment and is just right for this year of celebration of one hundred years of woman’s suffrage.

Highly recommended.

Another satisfying read by my author friend Linda Finlay with a local setting in Torquay.
Linda Finlay’s extensive research of life in the periods of history she writes about ensure a compelling novel that takes you back in time, this time to 1901 the time of Ragged Schools and the rise of the suffragette movement. ‘Orphans and Angels’ is the author’s second book about the Red Cliffs Ragged School. In it we meet the owner Sarah Sullivan who is still struggling to keep the children safe and the school open, helped in her endeavours by dishy school master Harry Higgins. The inimitable Mrs Daws is still in the kitchen making sure that whatever else befalls them the children have a good meal inside them, and the school has a new teacher in the form of the lyrical Sheena O’Reilly whose delightful presence and skills at story telling sets the scene for conflict and catastrophe.

As in all of Linda Finlay’s writing the characters come to life on the page. I especially enjoyed reading how the children are developing, from new arrival the grieving and surly Soloman to independent Edith, as well as sharing in Sarah’s struggles to stick to her feminist beliefs and retain her friends and overcome her lack of money.

‘Orphans and Angels’ is a wonderfully satisfying read that will keep you engaged until the last page.

Rosie Amber

Today’s Team review is from Cathy, she blogs here http://betweenthelinesbookblog.com

#RBRT Review Team

Cathy has been reading A Shiny Coin For Carol Prentice by Mark Barry

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When Carol Prentice left her home town of Wheatley Fields for Manchester University she had no plans to return. Her father’s death precipitates a change in her and the subsequent return to Wheatley Fields, along with the resolve to address those intimated demons which have blighted her life and made her believe herself to be less than. She had A Plan.

After successfully applying for a job at a local bookstore, Carol and Steve, the manager, become firm friends. It’s an unlikely friendship, but they are both compelling characters, well defined with depth and relatability, even as we see their flaws. Steve, despite his previous failures and tendency to drink too much, becomes Carol’s source of strength, the foundation on which she can build, her rock.

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