owl song at dawn.jpeg

Owl Song at Dawn is a beautifully told debut novel as atmospheric as its title and cover suggest. It’s produced by Independent publisher Legend Press who sent me a pre-publication copy for an honest review. So I’m very pleased that I loved it.

As you get older it’s natural to look back on your life’s pleasures and regrets. Maeve Maloney the 80 year old protagonist of ‘Owl Song at Dawn’ is no exception. The book opens when the arrival of an unexpected visitor to Maeve’s Morecambe guest house reignites memories long buried but not forgotten. The story is about loss, grief and paths not taken and the tender love of a family united by the presence of their severely disabled twin daughter. Maeve remembers her childhood from the nineteen fifty’s as she battles through present day challenges to keep the family guest house open and provide a safe haven for the two young people with learning difficulties she has taken under her wing. The scene is quickly set and the story draws you into the world of a teenage girl coping with the rewards and frustrations of living with a twin in a society that fails to understand disability and difference.

From there the novel compels you to read on to find out how Maeve’s hopes for the future were ruined and if there is still time for her to make amends. It is a beautifully written story with a poignant narrative interrupted occasionally with short paragraphs which read like poems of the phrases and words that Maeve’s twin Edie would have used. The characterisation is very believable and the outcome satisfying as past and present collide together. A lovely read which makes you think.



coverSeventeen year old Merry wants a better life away from her Cornish fishing village. No more back-breaking work in the pilchard factory or near starvation when the catches don’t come in – and no more assumptions that the best she can hope for in life is to be married to a self-centred pretentious local.

Regular readers of Linda’s saga’s will enjoy reading about a new local craft, Cornish knit frocks, together with some new West Country settings. The strong characterisation is there as always. Merry makes a likeable heroine and her quest to better herself is a joy to follow. Other characters are beautifully sketched. I particularly liked Mrs Smale and Grozen. The Sea Shell Girl is a compelling saga paced to allow the reader time for familiarisation with the characters and their lifestyles before a surprising and emotional ending which weaves together the storylines in a most satisfying way. Strongly recommended and a great read on a Cornish holiday.

Crime Writer M J Hall

Crime Writer M J Hall

We recently discussed M R Hall’s crime novel ‘The Coroner’ at the Sidmouth Crime Fiction Book Group. The book generated a lot of discussion. We shared our own experiences of sitting through a Coroner’s court and although most cases are brief and business like, we agreed that Matt Hall’s experience of being a criminal barrister and his knowledge of the criminal justice system brought real authenticity to Jenny’s courtroom – although we hope that Coroner’s are not in the habit of popping pills in the real Coroner’s Court.

We like Matt Hall’s tense and compelling style of writing and thought he did an excellent job of getting inside the head of a neurotic professional woman, with the proviso that the romance/sex side of the novel seemed a bit more masculine.

Matt Hall will be giving a workshop on ‘Turning Good Ideas into Commercial Crime Novels’ at ‘Creative Thursday’, part of the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in York on Thursday 21st of July. Sarah Hilary, (see my earlier post) another of our favourite authors and winner of Crime Novel of the Year Award at last year’s festival will also be taking part. I’ve attended Creative Thursday on two previous occasions and found it inspiring and fun. I can also recommend taking the challenge of pitching at ‘The Dragons’ Pen’. It’s scary but brilliant when all four ‘dragons’ want to read your submission.

Sarah Hilary - Theakston prize winner 2015

Sarah Hilary – Theakston prize winner 2015

As a fan of the DCI Banks TV series, I thought it was about time I read one of his creator Peter Robinson’s novels. However, the one I grabbed from the bookshelf in a hurry turned out not to be about DCI Banks.

Nevertheless, I have 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 Grace’s diary.

I don’t know how this compares to the DCI Banks books but I loved Peter Robinson’s style of writing. He uses a range of devices along with the journal to imply Grace’s story, including dreams and talking to 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. And now I shall look forward to reading something from the DCI Banks series.


‘Scared to Tell’ is set in Connecticut, USA. The novel opens with the discovery of a young intellectually disabled woman found frozen to death in the grounds of her care home. It’s not long before Detective Annie Macpherson, recently returned to her secondment to an American police force from her home in Scotland, is on the case. This time Annie is working a duel role with the Regional team as well as her old force, so ‘Scared to Tell’ introduces new police colleagues as well as old favourites, but her romance with Detective Dave Ellison is still very much on.

The story is about the not often tackled theme of abuse of people with intellectual disabilities and the author’s empathetic handling of the experience of her intellectually challenged characters makes for a very realistic read of a topic often neglected in crime fiction but very current with the increasing exposure of abuse in British care homes.

I enjoyed being reunited with Annie. She is a dogged and determined police woman with a soft side and in ‘Scared to Tell’ her own family experience of having a brother with severe learning difficulties helps with her undercover task of finding evidence of abuse. Barbara Fagan Speake makes excellent use of her own background in her novels; both in her own Connecticut upbringing and her professional experience as a UK clinical psychologist. ‘Scared to Tell’ is another satisfying and enjoyable read. Highly recommended.


I read Cross and Burn during my three hour wait at Heathrow airport and the onward journey to Hong Kong. The sense of increasing menace and suspense kept me absorbed and made my long journey much better than expected.

I’m a fan of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Carol Jordan’s series of crime novels, but read this one out of sequence as I had somehow managed to miss numbers 7 & 8. Cross and Burn is number 8. The novel starts with an estranged Tony and Carol and it is obvious from the first chapter that something really bad happened in book 7. Something which has left all the main characters with psychological and sometimes physical damage.

The way that Val McDermid shows the fallout from the events of the previous book without describing what took place is subtle and effective. Something I found enlightening as I write my own sequel to Revenge Ritual and need to show how the shocking events at the end of my recent novel have affected the remaining characters.

In true McDermid style, the antagonist’s point of view is interspersed with the other characters to provide foreshadowing of the violence and danger to come. Although the victim’s viewpoints are only represented in a few short chapters, as a reader you care about their fate, especially for the mother whose fourteen year old son reports her missing at the start of the book. There is still plenty about Carol and Tony’s on-off relationship, although they don’t spend much time together on the page until near the end. It is probably due to this that newly promoted DS Paula McIntyre carries most of the main narrative and provides the catalyst to pull the old MIT team back together.

Although it is a brilliant and compelling psychological thriller, what I really enjoyed were the insights of the lead characters to the situations they encountered, revealing a satisfying blend of despair and strength and going deeper into their characterization than in previous books in the series. A brilliant read – especially for long journeys.

Somone else's skin_b_pb.indd.

Sarah Hilary - Theakston prize winner 2015

Sarah Hilary – Theakston prize winner 2015

Our Sidmouth Crime Fiction Group’s read for February was ‘Someone Else’s Skin’ by Sarah Hilary. I love this book. It was the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year in 2015. I was at the prize giving and thought the prize well deserved. I’d read the book in one sitting after attending a workshop on novel writing that Sarah was running at the International Agatha Christie Festival at Torre Abbey, Torquay in September 2014. The workshop was inspirational as was our chat over coffee and cakes in the sunshine during the break. Sarah is a crime writer I admire and I’ve loved both of her novels, so I was curious to know what other members of the group thought about it.


This novel goes straight into the action with a scene from five years ago when the main protagonist, D I Marnie Rome arrives at the burnt out ruin of her parent’s house to find it they have been murdered by their fourteen year old foster son. The story then moves at a pace as Marnie and her Sergeant, Noah Jake, try to get evidence against a violent murderer who has also grievously assaulted his sister. Arriving to interview her at a woman’s refuge they arrive to witness a stabbing.

The novel explores themes of domestic violence, controlling behaviour and abuse of power. But be warned, Sarah Hilary is the queen of twists – and things are never as they first appear.

So what did the group think? Overall, they didn’t like it as much as me, although everyone found it a riveting read and appreciated the writing and great descriptions. They liked the theme and the way the plot twisted and changed direction and no-one guessed the ending.

Some of the group didn’t like the graphic violence and not everyone warmed to Marnie Rome. They found her too edgy and her attitude to Michael, the foster brother who murdered her parents, hard to understand. We did all love Noah Luke though. An interesting and believable character. We also liked the alternating viewpoint between him and Marnie, which provided some interesting insights into Marnie’s behavior. Most of us are now going to read the sequel ‘ No Other Darkness’ , a novel about child abuse. Some might just skip over the violence, but not me. I like the total package. It’s nail biting stuff.

For our March Book Group on Thursday, 24th of March, we are doing something slightly different. Peter Robinson is our chosen author but we are each going to read a different book from his Inspector Banks series to see how they compare. The group starts at 2.30 p.m. at Kennaway House and new members are always welcome.









I was given a review copy of this crime novel by the publishers prior to publication. It’s always interesting to read a novel from a debut writer, especially one that was shortlisted for the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition in 2014 and hotly contested in auctions around the world.

‘The Widow’ has been described as the next ‘Gone Girl’ or ‘Girl on a Train’. A description I disagree with, it hasn’t got the pace or depth of characters, but it is nevertheless a fascinating read.

It has an unusual take on the crime genre because it tells the story of an unsolved crime from the viewpoint of the widow of the suspect. The story starts with her husband’s death which of course releases his widow to reveal what she knows to both the police and journalists, if she chooses to do so.

The crime her husband is suspected off is abhorrent, the abduction with a likely rape and murder of a small child. Never an easy thing to live with.

The novel vividly brings to life what it must be like to partner and love someone suspected of such a crime. It is told from the viewpoint of the widow, Joan and also from the investigating detective and the journalist’s. The multiple points of view are woven together seamlessly and the story is very well constructed. The narrative moves between the present time after the death of her husband and four years ago when the child abduction occurred as well as the period immediately afterwards.

I particularly enjoyed reading a story about a suspect’s wife. As a probation officer, I spent a number of hours with offender’s partners helping them to understand what was happening and sometimes keeping the clamouring press at bay. The offender’s family are often a further victim of a crime, especially one like this and it was good to gain an insight into that world. However, I did find the pace flagged a bit at times and although a very good novel, it didn’t have that edge of your seat enjoyment factor that would promote this book to a five star read.

51bxvOQ-oXL._UY250_In lots of ways the title of this thriller for young adults says it all – a lot of the plot happens beyond the rail tracks and the story picks up momentum then streaks along like an express train. The action slips between the world of the ‘suits’ of London’s business and banking sector, with their fast lifestyle and palatial glass penthouses to the underworld of an underground village of disillusioned teenage drop outs forging their own alternative community beneath the streets of London.

It’s a world that can only be accessed via the London underground tunnels. I’ve read about London’s disused underground network and in ‘Off the rails’ it makes a brilliant setting for a lively and readable novel for young adults. And older ones will enjoy it too. The characters are well drawn. I particularly liked the main protagonist, Severine. She’s a sassy and independent sixteen year old who struggles to balance her romantic feelings of attachment with her instincts to trust no-one. The story’s angle on poverty and banking is topical and well constructed. A swift read and a lively thriller for readers of all ages.


I’ve just spent a delightful afternoon at the Sidmouth Crime Book Group discussing the sixth in the Kate Galloway series by author Ellie Griffiths. Having read all the books so far it was with great pleasure that I returned to read ‘The Outcast Dead’. I never tire of reading about Ruth and her interesting life full of superstition, archaeological relics and striving to balance her career with her commitments as a single working mum. So I was delighted that everyone else in the group found ‘The Outcast Dead’ as enjoyable as I had.

What particularly pleased the group was the bevy of beautifully crafted characters. We all liked Ruth with her passion for Radio 4 and the Today programme, her guilt trips and refreshing lack of concern for her appearance, but the personalities of the minor characters are also fully drawn and shine through, especially Cathbad the captivating druid. We liked the now familiar themes of morality and guilt found both in Ruth and Nelson’s personal relationships and in the plot of ‘The Outcast Dead’. How ancient beliefs influence contemporary thought, in this case motherhood and absent parenting.

We are all big fans of Ellie Griffiths writing but we agreed the characters were stronger than the plots and that over the series similar plot ideas continue to reappear like the abduction of children. However that didn’t spoil our enjoyment of the book and just like Ruth who takes comfort in listening to the Archers, we took pleasure in meeting up with our favourite characters, and as in all the best soaps in following the lead characters machinations. This was one occasion when we all enjoyed our book group read and those of us who haven’t read the complete series are going to now.

Kennaway House where we meet