Tag Archives: mystery

#Bookreview ‘The Girl on the Cliff’ by @lucindariley #mystery #romance

Lucinda RileyThis is a tale of complicated choices, tragedy and mental instability combined with all the bad luck life can throw at you. Told simply at the beginning, the emotional intensity of The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley tightens and tightens like a old screw turned so hard it can’t be loosened. Until finally it gives way.

Visiting her family in Ireland, Grania Ryan is running from pain. She has just miscarried and is upset with her boyfriend, Matt, for an unexplained reason. At home she sees a young girl walking on the cliffs and is curious about her. Aurora Devonshire is eight years old, she lives in the big house beside the sea, raised by an accumulation of governesses, nannies and household staff during the absence of her father Alexander. Grania is transfixed by the child, but her mother Kathleen is worried by any contact made with ‘that family’. The Girl of the Cliff is the story of three generations of women in the two families, their loves, losses, sacrifices, cruelties and grudges. And throughout it all runs the mystery of why Grania cannot return to New York to her grieving and confused boyfriend.

Read my reviews of Riley’s The Love LetterThe Seven Sisters and The Storm Sister.

If you like this, try:-
‘Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
‘The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson
‘Please Release Me’ by Rhoda Baxter

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#Bookreview ‘The Storm Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley #romance

Lucinda RileySecond in ‘The Seven Sisters’ series of adoption identity mysteries by Lucinda Riley, The Storm Sister is the story of the second oldest d’Aplièse sister, Ally. Very different from the first novel of the series which was set in hot and steamy Brazil, this book encompasses professional yacht racing, classical music and Norway.

Like Maia’s story in The Seven Sisters, Ally’s tale starts with the death of their father Pa Salt. Ally reads his letter and ponders two clues. A small ornamental frog and a book from his library ‘by a man long dead named Jens Halvorsen’ lead her to Norway. This is an ambitious timeline, skipping back 132 years to 1875 and the fascinating story of Jens Halvorsen and Anna Landvik. What follows is a lovely tale of Anna being plucked from her mountain farm to sing the soprano’s part in the premiere of Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, ghost-singing for an actress with an inferior voice. This performance kickstarts Anna’s career, and she settles into a new life in Christiania [modern-day Oslo] and falls in love. Of course, true love never runs smoothly and Anna continues to long for the hills of her homeland rather than the city streets. The Norwegian settings are wonderful and I wanted to stay with Anna’s life, Riley invests so much in this section it almost feels like a book-within-a-book. But The Storm Sister is an adoption mystery about Ally’s parentage, so despite loving the Anna storyline I started to wonder why Riley takes us so far back in time to the nineteenth century and the story of who in terms of age are Ally’s great-great-grandparents. When is she going to tell us about Ally’s parents and her adoption by Pa Salt?

Riley excels at the immersive detail of both sailing and singing. The inclusion of Grieg’s music and the story of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ – which offers parallels of Peer with Jens – made me listen to the music. But three quarters of the way through the book, I started to lose interest. That surprised me; I haven’t felt that way with Riley’s other books. The mystery is thinly strung and additional storylines and characters added in the last quarter feel hurried and shoehorned in. I found myself worrying I’d missed something and started flicking back through the pages. It picks up again at the end of Ally’s story, finishing at a pace before the final chapter acts as a preview to the next book, the next sister’s story.

A doorstop of a book, The Storm Sister comes in at 720 pages. Darker than the first of the series, there are love affairs and betrayals, grief, tragedy and the depths of despair and cruelty. Each novel is the standalone story of one sister, but reading them order brings the cumulative benefits of understanding the six sisters who were raised together at Atlantis. Next in the series is The Shadow Sister, the story of Star.

Here’s my review of The Seven Sisters and a standalone novel by Lucinda Riley, The Love Letter.

If you like this, try:-
The Beekeeper’s Daughter’ by Santa Montefiore
Butterfly Barn’ by Karen Power
The Crows of Beara’ by Julie Christine Johnson

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#Bookreview ‘The Mystery of Three Quarters’ by @sophiehannahCB1 #crime #mystery

I am not a great lover of continuation series, books written by a new author after the death of the much-loved originator. It seems a cynical moneymaking move and I fear it will ruin my love of the original author’s books. I grew up loving Agatha Christie and have not, until now, been tempted to read the new Poirot stories by Sophie Hannah. But about to go on holiday, feeling tired and longing for something familiar but new, I picked up The Mystery of Three Quarters. And what a delight it is. Sophie Hannah

The story starts as Poirot is challenged in turn by four strangers, each accusing him of naming them as a murderer. Affronted that fraudulent letters have been sent in his name, Poirot sets out to investigate. He suspects however that the supposed victim Barnabas Pandy does not exist. But Pandy does exist, or did, for 94-year old Barnabas Pandy is dead, drowned in his bath. Told by Poirot’s police sidekick, Inspector Edward Catchpool, this is a clever and mystifying story of Pandy, his two grand-daughters, and long-buried guilt and shame.

Hannah writes with ease and I slipped seamlessly into loving and believing in her Poirot. As with all good crime fiction, I had suspicions about the identity of the murderer but only during Poirot’s customary reveal did I connect together the unpredictable clues laid so carefully throughout the novel. And as always, it is satisfying to know I had guessed correctly. At 400 printed pages The Mystery of Three Quarters is longer than Christie’s Poirot novels, which come in at under 300 pages, but I flew through it in one day. Just the ticket for a holiday read.

If you like this, try:-
The Silent Twin’ by Caroline Mitchell
‘An Uncertain Place’ by Fred Vargas
A Death in the Dales’ by Kate Brody

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#BookReview ‘The Almanack’ by Martine Bailey @MartineBailey #historical #mystery

Martine BaileyIn 1751, eleven days were lost as Britain aligned with the Gregorian calendar and this is the year in which Martine Bailey sets her third novel, The Almanack. An original mixture of historical mystery, detective novel and romance, it has time as its theme throughout. The passing of time and the fixedness of the past, the slippery unpredictability of the future, and the way our choices made today can impact on the time to come.

Tabitha Hart is travelling north from London, home to a village near Chester, summoned by a plea from her mother. On route she is robbed and arrives at Netherlea in shredded clothing to find her mother recently drowned. Tabitha left Netherlea in disgrace and her return is not welcomed by village gossips and officials but she refuses to ignore worries about the nature of her mother’s death. Consulting her mother’s Vox Stellarum, the Chester almanack, she discovers handwritten notes outlining her fears of someone called ‘D’. A childhood friend now village constable, widower Joshua Saxton, offers solid, reliable support as Tabitha struggles to stay in the village, caring for Bess, the baby daughter she left behind with her mother. It is clear Joshua is fond of Tabitha but she does not return his affections; awkwardness complicated when she meets Nat Starling, lodger at Eglantine Hall, a writer of ‘penny oracles, horoscopes and dream lore.’ Tabitha starts to make connections between her mother’s suspicions and the predictions in the printed almanac, written by De Angelo. Could this be the ‘D’ who threatened her mother? But there are many people in the village with the initial ‘D’. Who can she trust?

Almanacks, or printed yearbooks, not only contained a calendar, festival dates, seasonal notes, sunrise and sunset times, planetary alignments, historical facts and other country lore but also riddles, predictions and horoscopes. Exactly the sort of thing hack Nat Starling writes to scratch a living. The theme of time breathes in every chapter, together with the lost eleven days in 1751 that confused the established seasonal calendar. Although the past cannot be changed, memories of the past may vary between people and written records can be amended to tell a different version of the truth. Lies told in the past may in the future be deemed historical fact. And so Starling thinks on the river of time: ‘If he was standing here in the now, then to the left, downriver, the past was disappearing away into the night. Time past could never be changed: what was done was done. If only the past did not stay fixed like dead flies in amber. If only he could live his life again.’

A thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery, there is so much detail in this book it will repay reading. I did not fully engage with the riddles – one precedes each chapter – based on original riddles, with the answers written at the back of the book. Bailey manages the twists and turns of the plot, efficiently hiding the identity of ‘D’ until I finally guessed correctly just before the end. This is Bailey’s third novel and another brilliant read, evidence of her mastery of her period and intricate plotting.
Read my reviews of Bailey’s An Appetite for Violets and The Penny Heart.

If you like this, try this:-
‘The Cursed Wife’ by Pamela Hartshorne
Orphans of the Carnival’ by Carol Birch
Dark Aemilia’ by Sally O’Reilly

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#Bookreview ‘File under Family’ by Geraldine Wall #genealogy #mystery

Geraldine WallAnna Ames is a trainee probate genealogist working for Triple H, Harts Heir Hunters, and File under Family is the first in a series of genealogy mysteries about Anna by Geraldine Wall. When Margaret Clark dies Anna is charged with finding her missing heir, daughter Briony. The trail leads abroad and unleashes an international social media campaign, reveals sexual abuse in prison and considers how enthusiasm can conflict with client confidentiality.

Wall introduces the character of Anna and her family life which I am sure will continue to feature throughout the series. While she faces problems balancing work with studying for her Diploma in Genealogy qualification, these are nothing when compared to Anna’s stress at home. Her husband Harry has early-onset dementia so Anna’s father George has moved in to help with caring for Harry and their two teenagers, Ellis and Faye. Faye has a new Russian boyfriend who wants to take her to Russia with him. Ellis is auditioning for a role in the school panto while George is investigating his spiritual side and writing poetry. Worst of all, as Harry’s condition gradually deteriorates he becomes increasing aggressive towards Anna. Into this walks an unattractive stranger.

I found the first couple of chapters disorientating as the story pitches straight into Anna’s day with minimal explanation of her job. But the story settles down and the mystery of Briony’s whereabouts kept me reading. I particularly liked the characters of Margaret’s friends, Joan and Diane, and the importance of Bob the dog in the family dynamics. Anna’s home life is at times a little over-complicated as each family member has their own drama. Anna is a positive character, strongly defending her own family and trying to do her best for her client, albeit crossing the line at times and getting into trouble. This only serves to endear her as a convincing character. However the last quarter of the novel, after Briony’s case is solved, seemed to meander almost as if it was merging straight into book two in the series.

Not so much a genealogical mystery, more a family drama enriched by Anna’s job as a probate genealogist. It made me curious enough to read the next in the series, File under Fear.
Amazon UK

If you like this, try:-
‘The Cheesemaker’s House’ by Jane Cable
‘The Lie of the Land’ by Amanda Craig
The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davis

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#Book review ‘The Turn of Midnight’ by Minette Walters #historical #thriller

Minette Walters You just know when the book you’ve just started reading is going to be 5*. For me, not many are. I read lots of good 3* and 4* books. I reserve 5* sparingly for the special ones. The Turn of Midnight by Minette Walters is one of those. It ticks so many boxes. Thriller, history, surprises, great characters and a tantalising bit of love from afar; Walters is a master storyteller. And this is a story of a grim period in British history. The Black Death. Medieval England. Gruesome detail, and yet I stayed up late to finish it. Why, because she makes me love the characters and manages that delicate balancing act of giving me just enough historical detail to be interesting but not too much that it becomes tedious.

The Turn of Midnight is the sequel to The Last Hours which tells the story of the Black Death and its impact on the small Dorsetshire demesne of Develish. After the death of her husband from the plague his widow Lady Anne quarantines the demesne, introduces cleanliness routines and organises her healthy family, servants and serfs into a self-supporting and mutually-respectful society; unheard of in 1348. Woven into this story of survival is a romantic thread as Lady Anne and Thaddeus Thirkell, an illegitimate serf born on the demesne who Lady Anne has educated over the years to a standard of education greater than anyone else in the community excepting herself. Where The Last Hours is something of a closed room story with a tight-knit cast of characters and one location, The Turn of Midnight sees Thaddeus and a group of young men venture out into Dorsetshire to assess the dangers of the plague and the survival of other villages. When they return with a story of death, desertion and dereliction, a plan is formed to buy the neighbouring demesne of Pedle Hinton and so provide a home and farmland for the Develish citizens, the number of which has grown with the number of healthy wanderers they have adopted. But outside the demesne moat there are many enemies: bandits thieving and preying on the vulnerable, Norman soldiers who hate the English serfs, English serfs who hate anyone Norman, and corrupt priests, stewards and lords who swear they are acting in the name of God.

The plan is risky. Lady Anne and Thaddeus know that, although not robbing living people, they are taking possessions and gold which is not rightly theirs. It culminates in a struggle of religion, power and prejudice. Will common sense and the right of the people triumph? Whilst Lady Anne fights a battle against prejudice of her sex where she is better educated than the men who accuse her, Thaddeus similarly fights against prejudice of his worker roots and foreign tall dark physique.

Walters lives in Dorset and this shows in her sweeping creation of medieval Dorsetshire, she writes of the countryside, nature and the seasons with such surety you know she knows it well. This is a story of the first breaths of social mobility in a time of class hierarchy that prevented starving serfs from eating food meant for their lords, even though those lords are dead or have fled. Lady Anne’s common sense approach brings survival, health, basic education and hope for the future.

Amazon UK

Read The Last Hours first, here’s my review.

If you like this, try:-
The French Lesson’ by Hallie Rubenhold
The Ashes of London’ by Andrew Taylor
Foxlowe’ by Eleanor Wasserberg

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#Bookreview ‘The Love Letter’ by @lucindariley #romance #suspense

Lucinda Riley Lucinda Riley is a new author for me and she has become an instant favourite. The Love Letter is a tightly written combination of mystery and romance unravelling the truths of a long ago love affair. Nothing and no one are as they first seem. As one secret is unveiled, so is another mystery.

When 95-year old actor Sir James Harrison dies, journalist Joanna Haslam attends the memorial service where an incident with a frail elderly lady sets this story in motion. When a few days later Joanna receives a package from the lady, Rose, she visits her to ask questions only to find Rose has died. Is there a story here to write which will win her promotion on her tabloid newspaper? Untangling the truth from the lies turns out to be much more complicated and dangerous than Jo could ever have imagined.

Meanwhile Zoe Harrison, the actor’s grand-daughter, carer, and now facing life as a single mother with her son Jamie, receives a call from the former love of her life, Art. It is a while before the storylines of Jo and Zoe combine. The real identity of Art remains secret for quite a while though I had guessed before the reveal. Jo meanwhile has little luck in love and, after past betrayals, has difficulty trusting. There is a fully coloured-in cast of supporting characters – just enough, not too many – including Jo’s editor Alec and childhood friend Simon. Needless to say, everyone is pulled into the plot by the end.

About two-thirds of the way through what I thought was the plot solution turned out to be wrong and there was still a way to go. Although a bit confusing in parts as the intricate story flits from London to Ireland and France, I thoroughly enjoyed the spy element and the theatrical musical background of Sir James plus two good female leads in Jo and Zoe. More than just a romance, even if the plot gets slightly silly by the end. Definitely a page turner, I read it in two days on holiday.

Amazon UK

If you like this, try:-
Vanishing Acts’ by Jodi Picoult
The House at the Edge of the World’ by Julia Rochester
Angel’ by Elizabeth Taylor

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Book review: The Hoarder

Jess KiddPart crime-mystery, part mystical ghost story, The Hoarder, the second novel by Jess Kidd, is difficult to define. Maud Drennan is an irreverent Irish carer who has been assigned the unholy task of bringing order to the life of Cathal Flood, a cantankerous old man who lives with his cats in a decrepit house surrounded by piles of rubbish. The previous carer who did Maud’s job, was run off the scene. Amongst the piles of junk, though, are ghosts of Cathal’s past, clues to the disappearance of one maybe two women, and traps for Maud to fall into.

This is at times a bewildering smorgasbord of imagery and description, there were times when I wanted to shout ‘give me a breather’ but the humour of Maud kept me reading. There are some giant character arcs to work through, both Maud and Cathal change and change again, not to mention Maud’s glorious cross-dressing neighbour Renata. To add to the merry-go-round of confusion, Maud is followed around in her daily life by a collection of ghosts, Irish saints that she learned about in a childhood book. Each saint passes comment on Maud’s actions adding a hilarious Greek Chorus effect to the story. Maud, egged on by the agoraphobic Renata, starts to look for ways of breaching the walls of rubbish which Cathal has built around himself and his private section of his old home, Bridlemere. When she does creep through, she encounters a dusty spooky world of collectibles, automata and gruesome collections which add to the feeling that secrets are hidden somewhere in the house.

The action steps up a gear when Maud’s predecessor Sam Hebden, the carer hounded off the property by Cathal, reappears. As well as flirting with Maud, he simultaneously encourages and discourages her from her detecting. Clues appear after dreams or apparitions, at times I was unclear, and Maud stumbles onwards unsure who to trust. Cathal may be old, but he is also cunning, clever and warm. When a man turns up claiming to be Gabriel Flood, Cathal’s son, the old man protests he is a villain. There is also a rather unpleasant case manager, Biba Morel. Quite a lot of the time, I didn’t know who to believe. The story is set in London but Maud’s strong Irish voice could lead you to think you are in Ireland.

So, this is a crime mystery that is not really about a crime, rather it is about Cathal and Maud and how their pasts cannot be ignored. Cathal, who tries to barricade himself in his house, away from modern life; and Maud, who is haunted by the childhood disappearance of her sister; are both characters adrift. I loved Kidd’s debut, Himself and enjoyed The Hoarder though I wish the frenetic storytelling could be toned down a notch or two.

Read my review of Kidd’s Himself.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Good People’ by Hannah Kent
‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey
‘The Ghost of Lily Painter’ by Caitlin Davies

‘The Hoarder’ by Jess Kidd [UK: Canongate]

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Book review: The Silent Companions

Laura PurcellHow to describe this novel? Spooky, mysterious? A tale of witchcraft and trickery or malicious exploitation and fraud? The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell starts with a woman in an asylum. Mute, she is given chalk and a slate with which to communicate. What follows is her account of the Bainbridge family and their country home, The Bridge.

From the beginning until the end, we do not know who to believe. The story is told in three strands – a woman in an asylum, accused of murder; a young widow who arrives at her husband’s family home, pregnant and vulnerable; and a couple excitedly prepare for a royal visit by Charles I. What unfolds is a complicated story. Purcell handles the many threads well although I would have preferred a clear delineation with each new section marked by date.

Elsie, the daughter of a match factory owner in London, is a survivor. She supported her mother after her father was killed in a ghastly workplace accident, she supported her younger brother Jolyon as their mother also fell ill. And when Jolyon brings a new investor for the factory the siblings, now jointly own, Elise marries Rupert Bainbridge. Odd things start to happen after Rupert dies soon after the marriage and Elsie goes for the first time to The Bridge. Exploring the rundown dusty house when she hears a noise at night, Elsie finds a locked door and in the room behind is a wooden stand-up figure of a girl. From this point, odd things start to happen, getting odder and more frequent as the tale progresses. The reader doesn’t know who to believe or who to trust. It feels as if everyone might be lying for their own ends, or perhaps the villagers are right and the house is riddled with witchcraft. But concrete things keep happening which cannot be denied.

This is a strange, unsettling read.

Read more about Laura Purcell here.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters
‘The Penny Heart’ by Martine Bailey
‘The Witchfinder’s Sister’ by Beth Underdown

‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell [UK: Raven Books] Buy now

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Book review: The Returned

the returned by jason mott 22-2-14When Harold opens the door to a strange man and boy, he sees someone he knew he would never see again. “Synapses kicked on in the recesses of his brain. They crackled to life and told him who the boy was standing next to the dark-skinned stranger. But Harold was sure his brain was wrong.” On that day, the lives of Harold and his wife Lucille change as they become involved in the whirlwind which is the return of people from the dead.

There is a sense of brooding throughout this novel, starting small with the uncomfortable disbelief the elderly couple feel as their dead 8-year old son walks in the door. How can it be Jacob who died more than 40 years earlier? Is he/it an imposter? All over the world, the dead are returning. Soon the numbers become threatening, new phrases are coined: The Returned, the True Living. Communities cannot cope with the new arrivals who need feeding and housing, who bring with them old resentments, unfinished business. Not all reunions are happy. For some Returned there are no reunions. There is a dark sense of inevitability that it is all going to go wrong, as Connie Wilson says: “Everything was moving toward the coming terror. She felt it. It was inevitable now, like when the earth is dry and barren, the trees gray and brittle, the grass brown and parched – something must change.”

People look for an explanation: the Church has none. They look for a plan: the Government has none. The slow slide of disintegration is told through the eyes of the elderly couple, Harold and Lucille Hargreave, as they grapple with deep questions: what are the Returned, are they real, are they ghosts, what rights do they have? This book is at the same time a glimpse of a dystopian society, and at the same time an examination of death and grieving, of our attitudes to honour and betrayal.

The wish of a grieving person is to see the dead person just once more, but Jason Mott has created a world where people achieve that dying wish and then don’t want it. This book asks a lot of difficult questions, ones we would rather not hear.

Watch the book trailer for The Returned here. It will make you want to read the book!
‘The Returned’ by Jason Mott [published by Harlequin MIRA]