Tag Archives: mystery

#BookReview ‘Thornyhold’ by Mary Stewart #romance #mystery

Browsing at the library I came upon a Mary Stewart novel I hadn’t heard of. Thornyhold. Of course, I couldn’t resist picking it up and putting it on top of my To-Read pile. It’s a small novel, only 212 pages and I read it in two sittings. Published in 1988, Thornyhold is one of Stewart’s last – her first was Madam, Will You Talk? in 1955 – and this is very different from the romantic suspense stories for which she is known and loved. Mary Stewart Gilly Ramsey inherits Thornyhold, a remote cottage, from her mysterious godmother Geillis. Now alone after the recent death of her father, Gilly plans to start a new life at Thornyhold. As she explores the cottage – its mysterious attic which doubles as a pigeon loft, a still room for drying herbs and making herbal cures – she learns more about her benefactor. There are more questions than answers. As a child, Gilly had always found Geillis enigmatic; she appeared when Gilly seemed to need her, one time producing a crystal ball from her bag. Now, as she meets her new neighbours, Gilly learns the history of the house and her godmother’s reputation as a herbal healer. But was she more, a witch or wise woman? Although odd dreams, a barking dog and strange messages sent by carrier pigeon, unsettle her, Gilly has an inner belief that she belongs at Thornyhold. Nothing will make her leave.
Having recently a read a lot of contemporary novels with dense repetitive emotional description and complicated plots, reading Thornyhold felt like drinking a tall glass of water when desperately thirsty. Such a wonderful turn of phrase, clever and thoughtful, but accurate and never over-done. Gilly meets a neighbour who she describes as having smooth rosy cheeks and ‘the wrong red too thick on a small mouth,’ and I know exactly what she means.
Beautifully written, not a word out of place, not a character too many. Delightful. An instant favourite.

Click the title to read my reviews of other Mary Stewart novels:-

If you like this, try these:-
The Diabolical Bones’ by Bella Ellis
Ferney’ by James Long
The Good People’ by Hannah Kent

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#BookReview ‘The Birdcage’ by Eve Chase #mystery

Three half-sisters, an artist father, a crumbling house on a cliff in Cornwall and a mystery event in their past which no-one discusses. The Birdcage by Eve Chase is about fractured families, the unity and division of a shared secret and the need to acknowledge the past in order to face the future. Eve ChaseTold in two timelines – 2019 and 1999 – the story unfolds slowly and takes a while to settle down. The story of the mystery is a long time coming. Three half-sisters – Lauren, Flora, Kat – are summoned to their father’s summer home in Cornwall. Artist Charlie Finch has a chequered history with women, demonstrated by assorted female nude sketches his daughters find in his studio. Charlie is cagey about the reason for summoning them to Rock Point; is he ill, dying, retiring, moving house? As well as trying to work out what’s going on with their father, the three sisters must also unravel their own demons. Lauren is mourning the death of her mother Dixie. Flora, accompanied by two-year old son Raff, struggles beneath the suffocating control of her husband. Kat’s relationship has broken up and her business is in trouble. Add in Charlie’s art studio assistant Angie, former cleaning lady Viv and a mysterious stranger who walks a black dog on the nearby cliffs, and there’s a lot going on.
Everything hangs on an incident twenty years earlier. In 1999, the three teenage sisters are gathered at their grandparents’ house Rock Point for summer with their father who is painting in his studio. The sisters live with their mothers and see each other rarely. It is the summer of the total eclipse of the sun on August 11, a true event. Chase makes much of the strange atmosphere that day, something in the air, the sense that something was going to happen. The story takes a while to get to the secret which is at the root of the constant sibling sniping and jealousy, but this is a journey the sisters personally must travel in order to understand how it made them into the complex adults of 2019.
By the end of the book I still wasn’t one hundred per cent clear which mother belonged to which daughter. The timeline jumps around and many peripheral characters are mentioned lightly and either never or infrequently appear at Rock Point. The final section, after the big reveal, takes a long time to wrap up. Curiously, the Cornish location is incidental. Rock Point, which could be situated on an isolated cliff anywhere, is the strong point. With its idiosyncratic furnishings, aviary of birds, creaks and rumbles, what secrets does this house have to tell?
An atmospheric read – weather plays a big part plus anonymous notes, a dark stranger, talking parrot and slashed car tyre – and the 1999 eclipse at its heart.

Click the title below to read my reviews of two other novels by Eve Chase:-

If you like this, try:-
Birdcage Walk’ by Helen Dunmore
My Husband the Stranger’ by Rebecca Done
Whistle in the Dark’ by Emma Healey

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THE BIRDCAGE by Eve Chase #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Re via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Paris Apartment’ by @lucyfoleytweets #thriller

I read The Paris Apartment, the latest thriller by Lucy Foley, in two sittings. It kept me guessing nearly to the end, with some unexpected twists along the way. When penniless Jess arrives in Paris to spend some time with her half-brother, he has disappeared. What follows is a page-turning story of the apartment block where Ben has been living, its inhabitants and the confusing discoveries Jess makes as she tries to find him. It makes her question if she really knows her brother and why he has been so distant from her. Lucy FoleyThis is a book about secrets, small ones, shameful ones, old and new secrets. And one huge one. Jess, at times vulnerable at times recklessly brave, attempts to be pleasant to Ben’s neighbours in this surprisingly elegant old Parisian apartment block. The snobbish couple in the penthouse, the two young women sharing on the fourth floor, a thug and his wife, the silent concierge plus Ben’s old university friend, Nick. The viewpoint swaps quickly between Jess and the other residents as Foley pushes the action quickly from event to event. The chapters are short and snappy and this makes it easy to read just one more, and one more. As Jess struggles to make a connection with these neighbours, she doesn’t know who to trust; and neither did I. I didn’t like any of them and Jess herself is difficult to connect with. But the mystery led me on.
The apartment block offers a kind of ‘closed room’ setting, well-used in crime stories, and it does its job well. It is grand yet mysterious with hidden doors and stairs, spooky attic and cellar, a cranky old lift and a C-shaped construction around a courtyard allowing residents to observe each other. I had a clear picture of it in my head.
Where is Ben? Did someone see him leave? Why hasn’t he answered his phone? And why is he living in Paris anyway? Nick offered him the flatshare but the two men haven’t been in touch for years. Given we don’t see Ben’s viewpoint except a brief Prologue, some things are hidden until the very end. The lines between current time and flashbacks at times seemed blurred and I got a little irritated with Jess’s naivety. A couple of scenarios I thought might be possible turned out to be wrong, but it was fun guessing.
Lucy Foley uses glamorous Paris alongside the sinister apartment building, riots on the streets, juxtaposing Parisian elegance with the seedier side streets and alleys, clubs and bars. As Jess considers each of her neighbours, trying to work out who knows what, shuffling up and down stairs trying to eavesdrop, she inevitably lands in trouble.
A satisfying fast read, helped by short chapters in different viewpoints which gradually construct the mystery like layers of filo pastry.

Click the title to read my reviews of two other novels by Lucy Foley:-

If you like this, try:-
These Dividing Walls’ by Fran Cooper
Smash All the Windows’ by Jane Davis
The Quarry’ by Iain Banks

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PARIS APARTMENT by @lucyfoleytweets #thriller #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5Pk via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Prophet’ by @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

When a dead body is found at the foot of an ancient oak, a tense plot begins. The Prophet is the second Martine Bailey novel to feature the characters of Tabitha and Nat De Vallory, first seen in The Almanack. The oak tree in question is not just any tree; it is the Mondren Oak, and nearby an evangelist preacher and his community have made an encampment in ancient woodland belonging to Nat’s father. Martine Bailey

Eighteenth-century England was a place of superstition and myth, of religious fervour and persecution. It was also a time of scientific study and enlightenment. The body of a young woman is found on May Day, 1753. The date is significant and the novel’s action winds up slowly in pace and tension towards Midsummer’s Day, coincidentally the due date for the arrival of Tabitha and Nat’s first baby. Baptist Gunn and his growing number of followers believe a new saviour will be born close to the oak tree on Midsummer’s Day. Gunn, a ‘sleeping prophet’, is gathering his congregation, and money, in preparation to sail for a new life in America.

Tabitha is a likeable protagonist, happy to be married and living in the place where she grew up, but challenged by the new monied life she leads. Her colourful background comes in handy when she determines to seek the woman’s murderer. Heavily pregnant, she makes an eye-catching amateur detective. Advised by her doctor to avoid shock, surprise, and the night-time attentions of her husband, Tabitha feels distanced from Nat. She distrusts the claims of Baptist Gunn and fears he is a fraudster. Meanwhile Nat seeks the preacher’s company, keen to run a scientific experiment studying the veracity of prophecies. Eager to support his ailing father and needing to establish his authority in the community as heir to the estate, Nat takes risks that Tabitha fears endanger their lives.

Are our lives governed by fate and can this be forseen by a privileged few? Why do some people trustingly accept claims and predictions without examination, while others demand proof and evidence? Bailey’s novel is a historical reminder to the 21st century not to believe everything you hear without an analysis of motivation, fact and context.

The Prophet is an unusual historical mystery rooted in an ancient Cheshire woodland. Bailey has created an authentic rural community which lightly bears the depth of her historical research. Watch out for the plot surprises, the secrets and lies.

I read the first Tabitha Hart historical mystery, not knowing it was the first in a series. Here’s my review of The Almanack. The Prophet can be read as a standalone novel.

And here are my reviews of Bailey’s two standalone historical novels An Appetite for Violets and The Penny Heart.

If you like this, try this:-
The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin
The Confessions of Frannie Langton’ by Sara Collins
The Wonder’ by Emma Donoghue

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THE PROPHET by @MartineBailey #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5er via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Guest List’ by @lucyfoleytweets #crime #thriller

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is a cracking crime mystery set on an isolated Irish island. The guests are there for the wedding of the year – magazine entrepreneur Jules Keegan is marrying reality TV star Will Slater. What follows is a closed room mystery recognisable from Agatha Christie novels. From the beginning you wonder, who in this group of thirty-somethings is going to be killed? Who is the killer and why? Lucy Foley

Foley expertly plays with our expectations, manipulating our first impressions of the characters as they are introduced. Old friends. Family. School days rituals. Hidden jealousies. Secret wrongs. The atmosphere on the exposed windswept island with its treacherous bogs, cliffs, caves and haunting churchyard is cranked up to full notch. We experience the weekend wedding almost hour by hour as each key character tells their own story, with the narrative chopping forwards to the present during the ceremony and reception. This switching of viewpoint and timeframe can be very sudden but it does ramp up the tension. The murder takes place quite late in the timeline making this more a psychological thriller, building up to the killing you know will happen.

The basic plot questions are – how well does Jules know her husband-to-be? What exactly happened on the stag weekend? What were the rituals at the public school attended by the groom and ushers? And why is Olivia, Jules’s sister and bridesmaid, clearly not coping with life? The options for victim and murderer are extended beyond the bridal group with Charlie, Jules’ best friend, and his wife Hannah; and bridal organiser and host Aoife and chef husband Freddie. Foley presents lots of hints about the past and secret resentments, I guessed a couple quite early on but this didn’t stop me turning the pages.

Read this over a weekend when you need an easy-to-read distraction.

Read my review of Lucy Foley’s The Invitation.

If you like this, try:-
The Animals at Lockwood Manor’ by Jane Healey
Chosen Child’ by Linda Huber
Summer House with Swimming Pool’ by Herman Koch

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GUEST LIST by @lucyfoleytweets #crime #thriller #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4M2 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Glass House’ by Eve Chase #historical #mystery

This story takes place in a forest and I could smell the humus rich soil, see the ferns, hear the rustlings of small mammals and imagine the blending of shadows and sunlight. In The Glass House by Eve Chase, the mysterious happenings in a forest have ramifications across the decades. Shame, deceit, secrets and love are bound-up together in a group of people whose lives are coloured forever by what happened in the Forest of Dean in 1971. Eve Chase

When nanny Big Rita drives her boss’s wife, Jeannie Harrington and Jeannie’s two children Hera and Freddy to their country house in the West of England, they enter a different world. Leaving behind Jeannie’s husband Walter at their sugar-white stucco house in Primrose Hill, and her own unhappy memories, Rita is cautious about the mysterious forest with its rustling noises and the feeling of being watched. She spends every hour with the children while Jeannie, recovering after the loss of a baby, spends her time in bed. And then Hera finds a baby girl abandoned in the woods. This is the catalyst for a number of things happening at once, things that upset the status quo and challenge Rita’s place in the Harrington family and what she wants for her own life. Most disturbing to her equilibrium is local woodsman Robbie Rigby.

The second timeline is set now and is told by Sylvie who has just left her husband and moved into a flat beside a canal in Kensal Town. Sylvie is taking time to find her feet away from husband Steve and teenage daughter Annie who is staying with her grandmother beside the sea in Devon. But two incidents quickly challenge Sylvie’s perceptions about what actually matters to her.

And there is a delicious hint in the short Prologue – a report in a Gloucestershire newspaper in 1971 about a body found in the forest near Foxcote Manor.

I found the structure slightly messy with varying pace which at times was rather slow. I was longing for some connections to be made so the story could move on. Looking back at my review of Chase’s The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, I made a similar comment. The last scenes seemed to tie up loose ends rather too quickly and neatly in comparison with the earlier speed of the story, but that’s just my personal preference. Eve Chase writes a great sense of place; Foxcote Manor seems a real house set in a real forest.

As Robbie explains to Rita, ‘when a giant tree crashes down in a forest, light and air rush into the cleared space, dormant seeds flower, and new life scrambles up, taking its chance.’ That’s basically what happens to the people in The Glass House.

Incidentally, the glass house mentioned in the title, and featured on the lovely cover, refers to a terrarium. Rita owns one in 1971 and her care of the plants living in it – she gives them names – mirrors her care of the two children, but also symbolises the fragility and transparency of the lives of the Harrington family at Foxcote Manor.

If you like this, try:-
Good Me Bad Me’ by Ali Land
The Doll Funeral’ by Kate Hamer
The Invitation’ by Lucy Foley

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THE GLASS HOUSE by Eve Chase #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4KW via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Animals at Lockwood Manor’ by @Healey_Jane #mystery #WW2

As soon as I read the premise of The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey, I was intrigued. It is 1939, war is declared, and a decision is taken to move the exhibits from the Natural History Museum to safety. Hetty Cartwright is charged with moving the mammal collection to a country house where they, and she, will stay for the duration of the war. Jane Healey

Lockwood Manor is one of those atmospheric houses in literature that will stay with you after you read it. Crumbling, dusty and dirty, it has rats and secret rooms, ghost stories and scandal. It is an extra character in this story and in fact has a clearer presence than some of the peripheral characters who perhaps could have been deleted. Hetty arrives with her cargo of taxidermy animals in display cases plus catalogues and samples to find a mixed welcome from the manor’s servants who see the new arrivals as extra work. The irascible lord of the manor welcomes them then disappears, he is seen briefly at mealtimes and when ushering his latest girlfriend from the house. At first Hetty, charged with the care of the mammals, is kept busy arranging, cleaning and organising. Then she finds an ally in the lord’s daughter, Lucy, who though mentally fragile, finds peace amongst the animals. Hetty and Lucy, with their vulnerabilities and lack of confidence, have almost inter-changeable voices.

Then Hetty hears noises at night and starts to find animals not in their correct place in the morning. So when a case of hummingbirds is opened and the tiny stuffed treasures disappear, it becomes clear that something sinister lurks in the house. Is it a ghost, a mischief maker or a burglar? The odious Lord Lockwood and the equally unlikeable housekeeper are dismissive of Hetty’s fears, adding to her feeling of incompetence. This is part ghost mystery, part love affair, part family history. Hetty suspects everyone, first of mischief but she soon comes to realise it is something altogether more dangerous. Feeling vulnerable in her own job and not wanting to admit she can’t cope, she vascillates over writing to her boss in London. The delay is costly.

I remained conflicted about this book to the end. The clever idea is hindered by a slow pace and repetitive description, there are many beautiful passages which do not add to the plot. The final quarter raced along well enough though I still skipped some paragraphs, but I was left feeling I had read a nineteenth century Gothic story set in the Victorian era not World War Two. The absence of war from Lockwood Manor is such that the story might have been set at another time, the wartime setting is wasted. The introduction of a voice from outside the house would rectify this omission, perhaps from someone at the museum, adding conflict, moving the plot along and strengthening the feeling that Lockwood Manor exists in an abnormal bubble.

Read it for the descriptions of the house, the brooding atmosphere and for the way Hetty likens everyone she meets to an animal. ‘Lucy had been called a dove by her father but, as a mammal lover, I thought that she rather reminded me of a cat somehow, in her glamour and warm smiles’.

If you like this, try:-
The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin
‘The Hoarder’ by Jess Kidd
Whistle in the Dark’ by Emma Healey

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
#Bookreview THE ANIMALS AT LOCKWOOD MANOR by @Healey_Jane https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4EE via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Letter’ by @KHughesAuthor #mystery #adoption

The idea for The Letter by Kathryn Hughes is enticing; the lives of two women, forty years apart, linked by a letter found in the pocket of an overcoat at a charity shop. What follows is a dual storyline – about an abused wife and her road to freedom, and a young woman in love for the first time as war breaks out. Kathryn Hughes

This is a story about two couples. In 1974, Tina Craig works in an office during the week and on Saturdays she volunteers at a charity shop to get out of the house, away from her abusive husband Rick. Staying, though she knows she must leave, Tina listens to the advice of friends but continues to excuse and forgive Rick’s behaviour. Until a mysterious letter found in the pocket of coat sets her off on the trail of the people involved. The letter is sealed and stamped but never posted. Why. When she opens and reads the letter she starts to think about Billy, who wrote the letter in 1939 as war broke out, and about Chrissie, the woman who never received his letter.

In the summer of 1939, Chrissie and Billy fall in love in the last days of peace. As Billy is called up, Chrissie faces the cultural judgements of the day combined with her bullying father.

Tina’s pursuit for the truth of the letter leads her across Manchester and to Ireland. Hughes tackles heart breaking subjects – forced adoption, Irish nunneries, bullying parents, domestic abuse – perhaps too many. The ending is predictable via a number of coincidences, facts fall into place and old hurts forgotten. Despite its frustrations, I enjoyed this story though I did long for more showing and less telling.

If you like your endings neatly tied up, you will enjoy this. A good read for holidays.

If you like this, try:-
‘The House on the Shore’ by Victoria Howard
‘The House Across the Street’ by Lesley Pearse
‘Touch Not The Cat’ by Mary Stewart

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#BookReview ‘The House on the Shore’ by @VictoriaHoward_ #romance

The House on the Shore by Victoria Howard starts off seeming to be a conventional romance and turns into a satisfying suspense story set in a beautiful, remote Western Scottish loch. The remoteness is central to the plot. Victoria HowardAfter a love affair turns sour, Anna MacDonald leaves Edinburgh for her remote croft, once her grandmother’s, beside Loch Hourn in the Western Highlands. She longs for peace and quiet to write her book. Tigh na Cladach, a two bedroom cottage alone at the end of a twelve mile track, is her bolt hole where she hopes to nurse her injured pride and heart. When she arrives, an unknown yacht is anchored in the bay. On board is a rather handsome American sailor, stranded as he waits for a part to repair his engine. A combative relationship develops between the two; Anna resents the intrusion of Luke Tallantyre but is driven to help by the local community spirit; Luke bridles at the prickly, aggressive woman he must rely on for help. Meanwhile, Alistair Grant, heir to the Killilan Estate which borders Anna’s land, and who was a teenage friend of hers, returns from his life of luxury in the South of France to run the estate. But Grant’s plans for change upset the villagers. In echoes of the Highland Clearances of the 18th century, rents are raised, livelihoods threatened, sensitivities ignored. Anna inspired, begins to write a novel set during this troubled time, imagining her croft and what happened there.
The pace of the modern-day story changes when her tyres are slashed and someone takes a pot shot at her with a shotgun. Romance becomes romantic suspense. I confess during some romantic passages – eg. ‘his broad suntanned chest’ – I wished for less not more, but that is personal taste. The pace of the story was good alternating between Anna’s historical novel, the political dispute about the Estate’s future, the dark threats, and the growing romance.
This is modern day suspense story, mirroring the unique history of the region, with a touch of romance; rather than a page turning psychological thriller. An enjoyable read which I whizzed through on holiday, guessing the identity of the real villain but not working out the motivation.

If you like this, try:-
Love and Eskimo Snow’ by Sarah Holt
Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter
The Lost Letters of William Woolf’ by Helen Cullen

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THE HOUSE ON THE SHORE by @VictoriaHoward_ #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4uf via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Touch Not The Cat’ by Mary Stewart #romance #suspense

Published in 1976 – around the time I was borrowing my mother’s copies of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-Spinners and My Brother Michael and reading them voraciously – I had never read Touch Not the Cat until now. Like all Stewart’s novels, there is adventure and romance with a slice of the supernatural. I can’t think of any other novels like them. The Ashley family in Touch Not the Cat own Ashley Court and have an unusual gift running through the generations: they are telepathic with each other. Mary Stewart

Narrator Bryony is working at a hotel in Madeira when she receives a telepathic message from her anonymous ‘lover’ to go to her father who is staying at a clinic in Germany. When Bryony arrives her father is dead, killed in a hit-and-run road accident. His last words to a friend, who wrote them down verbatim, are a warning to Bryony. ‘Tell Bryony. The cat, it’s in the cat on the pavement. The map. The letter. In the brook. Tell Bryony. My little Bryony to be careful. Danger.’ She returns home to Ashley Court in England to look for the answers but finds surprises and danger. I found the beginning an odd introduction to the Ashley family, the house, the history, coupled with a diary excerpt at the end of each chapter, dating from the nineteenth century. The significance of this becomes clear later, but for a long while I read it without getting a lot from it. There are a lot of mysteries, lies and contradictions to unravel. Even Bryony is not certain of the identity of her telepathic lover, though she knows it must be a blood relative so guesses it is one of her three cousins; twins Ellory and James, or their younger brother Francis. As Bryony unravels the meaning of her father’s warning, she realises the twins are not beyond committing murder in order to steal her inheritance. Could one of them be her telepathic lover?

The title of the novel is an old Scottish motto which Stewart gives to the fictional Ashley family. The cat is relevant but I didn’t guess the significance until the very end. A well-written novel; old-fashioned in that it starts slowly and builds gradually, but deserves patience. It includes gothic features such as churchyard scenes, shadowy figures, storm and flooding; which Bryony mocks, ‘Robed nuns and ancient houses and secret passages, the paraphernalia that Jane Austen had laughed at in Northanger Abbey.’ An unusual romantic mystery that makes me want to re-read all Stewart’s books, including the Arthurian series.

If you like this, try these:-
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde’ by Eve Chase
The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin
The Last of Us’ by Rob Ewing

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TOUCH NOT THE CAT by Mary Stewart #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Vc via @SandraDanby