Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

‘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.

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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.

This is the 4th book in a series which can be read as a standalone, although to make the most of Sarah Hilary’s excellent characterisation and follow the connections as they are revealed, reading the earlier books is recommended.

The novel starts with a reference to the horrific event of six years ago which has haunted Marnie throughout the series and ultimately influenced her work as a homicide detective. The streets of London are cold and forbidding. They establish an atmosphere of barriers to Marnie and Noah latest case, finding the vigilante responsible for a series of assaults culminating in a brutal murder. The attacks seem random, but when Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary was personal and organised by someone who knows all about her. But it will take a prison visit to her foster brother, Stephen before Marnie starts to see the connections and that someone out there is playing lethal games.

This book is far more complex than the usual police procedural. Although success for Marnie and Noah will be determined by their ability to catch the killer, the management of their personal lives is always a relevant. With themes of revenge, obsession and the impact of early years abuse on survival, ‘Quieter than Killing’ is a compelling read which like earlier books in the series doesn’t disappoint.

‘The Lies Within ‘opens dramatically with grieving mother Grace Daniels in the dock being tried for murder. The novel goes on to tell how she became a suspect and ends with what happens next. It is the third book in the series featuring Jane Isaac’s DI Will Jackman and it is good to be in his company again. The core of the book is about how Jackman and Grace’s stories interrelate. He is the SIO investigating the murder of her daughter, and it makes for a clever plot with some really good twists which I didn’t see coming.

The story is told alternatively from Will Jackman and Grace Daniels points of view and it is the emotional resonance of Grace’s sections that make this book so compelling. Jane Isaac’s writing captures all Grace’s roller coaster of emotions: her shock, despair, guilt, anger and isolation verging on mental breakdown in a realistic and empathetic way. Will Jackman is a sympathetic police detective with problems of his own and you want him to solve the case and not be let down. But it is Grace’s story and her characterisation in the heartbreaking situation of being the mother of a murdered daughter that make this crime novel different and cause the reader to reflect on what they would do in Grace’s situation.

Having said that, I did find the first part of the novel rather slow to get going, but once the plot moves in a different and unexpected direction and the pace speeds up the need to read on is compulsive and I read the book in one sitting.

‘The Lies Within’ is a satisfying read and I look forward to DI Will Jackman book four.
With thanks to Legend Press for providing an advance copy to review.

Today is my stop on the ‘Dangerous to Know’ Blog Tour.

Dangerous to Know Blog Tour Banner

First a bit about the novel:
‘Dangerous to Know’ by Australian author Anne Buist features troubled forensic psychiatrist Natalie King, who is back from a stay on the psych ward. Seeking a quieter life, she retreats to the countryside on a secondment, but Natalie and trouble have a strange mutual fascination, and she finds herself drawn deep into a mystery that puts her in danger.

My Review:
Like some other reviewers I hadn’t realised this was the second book in a series about forensic psychiatrist Natalie King. And while not having read the first book did not spoil my enjoyment of the second, I did find ‘Dangerous to Know’ a bit hard to follow. Something which I might have avoided if I had read the first novel in the series. There are a lot of characters in this book, some of which I now know were in the first book ‘Medusa’s Curse’ and also a lot of action to take in.

Anne Buist[3448]

Anne Buist


The story benefits enormously from Anne Buist’s own experience of working in the field of psychiatry. It meant that the leading characters that had mental health problems, of which there were a number, were convincing and their characterisation was deepened as a result. Although sometimes I found Natalie’s analysis of their condition distracted from the narrative. But for those seeking to know more about being bipolar, postpartum depression and personality disorder this is an additional fascinating context.
I liked Natalie King a lot. She’s a rebel with bipolar who recently had treatment herself for severe depression and I think there is more about the circumstance that brought this about in book one. She is sassy, intelligent and independent. Anne Buist does an excellent job of placing the reader in Natalie’s head. I could connect to her emotionally in a way I didn’t with most of the other characters. I didn’t warm to Frank the main antagonist and found his alternate first person narration irritating, but perhaps I was supposed to. At first I was convinced he was the one who was dangerous to know but as I read on I kept changing my mind about who it really was, and the reveal at the end came as a surprise.
I did find the first half of the book hard to follow but it was worth the effort as the pace picked up and the plot moved in diverse directions ‘Dangerous to Know’ is an intellectually satisfying book and well worth reading if only to see if you can work out who has done what and why.
Many thanks to Lucy at Legend Press for giving me the opportunity to review this novel.