Tag Archives: thriller

#BookReview ‘The Royal Secret’ by @AndrewJRTaylor #Historical #Drama

The Royal Secret is another excellent instalment in the historical drama series by Andrew Taylor that started in 1666 with the Fire of London. I hesitate to call The Royal Secret a thriller as these books cross historical sub-genres and are consequently fulfilling on a number of levels. Crime, political intrigue, social commentary, architecture, strong characterization and a dash of romance all set in the post-Restoration excess, poverty and turmoil of Charles II’s rule. Andrew Taylor

Every successful thriller needs a villain to hate and Dutchman [or is he?] Henryk van Riebeeck certainly gives James Marwood the run-around. Marwood, now working for Secretary of State Lord Arlington, is charged with investigating the disappearance of top secret papers and the sudden death of a palace clerk. As Marwood follows the trail across London via a gambling club and Smithfield meat market, Cat Hakesby pursues success as an architect. Having completed a successful commission – a rather grand poultry house – her next project is a bigger, grander poultry house for a French aristocrat who is also sister of King Charles. Nothing is as it seems in this series so when Cat travels to France to show her plans to her client, we know she must unwittingly be caught up in a political intrigue. But what exactly? And how does this connect with Marwood’s pursuit of missing state papers which threaten a diplomatic treaty being negotiated between the English and the French? Is van Riebeeck a villain or a hero?

Based on the machinations of a real treaty between France and England, Taylor has once again combined a sharp plot with colourful characters [one gentleman is a collector of exotic animals] and, of course, Marwood and Cat. The will-they-won’t-they thread which runs throughout this series faces a chasm here not helped by copious misunderstandings, jealousy, Cat’s stubborn independence and Marwood’s dedication to the secrecy of his employment.

Excellent. Bring on the next one.

Read my reviews of the first four books in this series:
The Ashes of London
The Fire Court
The King’s Evil
The Last Protector

If you like this, try:-
The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal
The Taxidermist’s Daughter’ by Kate Mosse
The French Lesson’ by Hallie Rubenhold

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THE ROYAL SECRET by @AndrewJRTaylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5fe via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Fine Art of Invisible Detection’ by Robert Goddard

I always look forward to a new Robert Goddard book but wasn’t sure what to expect from his latest, The Fine Art of Invisible Detection. Partly, I think, because the blurb seemed more a detective novel than a thriller. Actually, this is both. Goddard has creative a heart-warming, realistic new hero, Umiko Wada, known simply as Wada. I raced through this book, full of Goddard’s clever twisty plotting, emotional dilemmas, should-I-shouldn’t-I moments. Robert Goddard

Wada is a 47-year-old secretary at a detective agency in Tokyo, making tea, writing reports for her technology-incompetent boss Kodaka. Widowed after her husband was killed in the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, Wada is quiet, efficient and invisible. But burning deep is a sense of righteousness. So when her boss asks for her help with a new case, she agrees to go to London to pose as the client who wants to find out if her father really committed suicide almost three decades earlier, or if he was murdered. From this point on, Wada’s life becomes unpredictable and her talent for being invisible becomes a lifesaver. Her boss dies in a car accident. The man she is due to meet in London has gone missing. Always logical, she follows the one clue she has.

Nick Miller is also due to meet the same man in London. Nick, a 41-year-old Londoner, is hoping to learn more about the father he has never met. Nick and Wada’s paths keep missing each other as they separately follow the trail of mystifying clues about the past. The action moves from Tokyo to London, Rekyjavik and the wilds of Iceland to Cornwall. There is a high-technology fraud, plus hints of terrorism and Japanese gang warfare, but this is not a violent read.

Wada is at the heart of this novel. Her logic and calm reasoning drive the narrative forward in that just-one-more-chapter way that makes this book a quick and fulfilling read. She is ordinary but extraordinary. I hope she returns in another novel.

Read my reviews of Goddard’s other books:-
Panic Room
The Ways of the World #1 The Wide World Trilogy
The Corners of the Globe #2 The Wide World Trilogy
The Ends of the Earth #3 The Wide World Trilogy

If you like this, try:-
Exposure’ by Helen Dunmore
The Accident’ by Chris Pavone
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor

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THE FINE ART OF INVISIBLE DETECTION by Robert Goddard #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5as via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘A Prince and a Spy’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Rory Clements is fast becoming an author I turn to when I need a page-turning read to relax into. A Prince and a Spy is fifth in his Tom Wilde Second World War series and it doesn’t disappoint. Woven into true history of the conflict – the fatal crash in Scotland of the Duke of Kent’s plane, the holocaust – Clements adds real and fictional characters, intrigue and competing spies, to make this an enjoyable read. Rory Clements

When history professor Wilde returns by train home to Cambridge he bumps into a former student. Cazerove seems distracted, distressed, munching on a bag of sweets. Before the train reaches its destination, Cazerove dies of poisoning. So begins a typical Clements thriller – strong characters, true history and a string of unrelated incidents. When the Duke of Kent’s plane crashes on a remote hill in Scotland, the public is told his plane came down in heavy fog when taking off for Iceland on operational duties. In the world of A Prince and a Spy, the flying boat was returning from a secret diplomatic mission in Sweden where the Duke met his German cousin, a former member of the Nazi party. Wilde, working for the newly-established American secret intelligence service, OSS, is sent to Scotland to sniff around at the crash site and ask questions on behalf of his president. FDR wants to know why the plane crashed, was Prince George at the controls, was it shot down, and how did one person survive?

A keynote of this series is the multi-layering of rival spy agencies in the UK – the British, the Americans – the infiltration of Nazi agents, Soviet agitators and, in this book, a secret society. Clements is excellent at showing history through the eyes of fictional characters, a challenging task, and I particularly liked the Scottish segment with fisherman Jimmy Orde. A continuing thread from book to book is Wilde’s relationship with his partner Lydia, and Philip Eaton, the British spy who first involved Wilde in espionage. Clements twists reality in this book so Wilde doesn’t know who to trust, who to believe, and who is spying on him. So much so that at times, I lost track too.

An excellent weekend read.

Read my reviews of the first four books in the Tom Wilde series:-
Hitler’s Secret

If you like this, try:-
Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson
The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook
Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst

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A PRINCE AND A SPY by Rory Clements #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-574 via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘V2’ by @Robert_Harris #WW2 #thriller

Mostly written during the 2020 virus lockdown, Robert Harris’s V2 is a World War Two thriller like no other I have read – and I’ve read a few. I’ve been a Harris fan since the beginning with Fatherland. V2 is different because it tells two stories – the technical development of the V2 rockets, and five days in November 1944 when the lives of a German rocket engineer and British spy are changed by this weapon. Robert Harris

Harris skilfully handles truth, fiction, engineering details and mathematical calculations, adding two fictional characters to create a page turning story. The V2 rocket is placed firmly at the centre of this book. Without it, there would be no story. Originally conceived by scientists as a space project, the V2 was a hateful weapon that inspired fear. Unlike its predecessor the V1 which could be seen and heard before it descended giving time to take cover, the V2 hit without warning. It was also highly unreliable, going off-target, exploding at launch, crashing at sea, killing the people who built it – slave labourers – and launch crews.

The story opens as rocket engineer Dr Graf is trying to concentrate on pre-launch missile checks on the Dutch coast at Scheveningen. He is interrupted by the arrival of a Nazi officer. The rocket is launched. In London, WAAF officer Kay Caton-Walsh emerges from a bathroom wrapped in a towel. Her assignation with her married lover ends when the V2 lands on their building. Harris’s tightly plotted story sees Kay moved from London-based photo reconnaissance, studying launch sites of the rockets, to Mechelen in Belgium. There she and a team of female mathematicians calculate the flight trajectory of the rocket, tracking it backwards to identify the launch site for Allied fighter-bombers to target. As Dr Graf is pressured to launch rockets more frequently than is safe, Kay can’t shake the feeling she is being followed through the strange shadowy streets of Mechelen.

Occasionally the technical details get in the way of the story but what is most fascinating are the portrayals of the German and British leadership at a time when the end of the war seemed to be approaching. Doubts and regrets by some on the German side are balanced by fanatical demands and obsessive management from the SS. In London, key decisions about the defence of the nation are influenced by an extra-marital affair. On both sides, the men at the top making the decisions seem apart from real life. An excellent read, it is a race against time as Kay and her colleagues try to identify the launch locations and Dr Graf is questioned by the Gestapo. I raced through it.

I was fascinated to read the Author’s Note at the end, explaining the inspiration behind the book. In September 2016, Harris read an obituary in The Times of 95-year old Eileen Younghusband, formerly a WAAF officer at Mechelen.

Read my reviews of Munich and An Officer and a Spy, also by Robert Harris.

If you like this, try:-
The Accident’ by Chris Pavone
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor
The Farm’ by Tom Rob Smith

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V2 by @Robert_Harris #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4Rs via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘Transcription’ by Kate Atkinson #literary #WW2

Few of the characters in Transcription by Kate Atkinson are who they seem to be. A novel of the Second World War, Transcription suggests that the ripples of wartime secrecy spread out through the following years so that outstanding lies and betrayals are eventually repaid. Many years later. Kate Atkinson

In 1940, Juliet Armstrong intends to join one of the women’s armed forces when she receives a letter on government notepaper and is summoned to an interview. After being informed by telegram that she has got the, still unspecified, job, Juliet boards a bus which takes her to Wormwood Scrubs prison, now converted into government offices. There she works in Registry, shuffling files around, until Perry Gibbons says, ‘I need a girl’ and Juliet finds herself working for Perry’s MI5 counter-fascism team at a flat in Dolphin Square.

Told across two timelines, 1940 and 1950 – with a brief glimpse at 1981 in the prologue and epilogue – Transcription has a huge cast of characters, most of whom I confused and, I suspect, Atkinson wishes me to confuse. Some characters are spies with cover names, some are only described and have no name while others seem innocent, too innocent to actually be innocent. If this is all confusing, it is meant to be. That is Atkinson’s point. This is a story about the importance of truth and how lies, which seem pragmatic and normal in wartime, are still lies. And that the most obvious traitors are not always the ones to be worried about.

The 1940 storyline covers the MI5 operation. At first, Juliet’s job is type up transcripts of bugged conversations between fascist supporters in the next door flat; later she takes on the persona of Iris to infiltrate a group of fascist agitators. Sometimes she fluffs her lines, sometimes she is impulsive and gets into trouble. At all times she feels isolated and unsure of the value of what she is doing. She is also a young woman and looks for signs of interest from the men surrounding her. In 1950, while working in the Schools Department of the BBC making educational radio programmes with titles such as ‘Can I Introduce You To?’ and ‘Have You Met?’, she sees familiar faces from her wartime days and the past revisits her.

Atkinson excels at the small detail which makes these workplaces convincing, creating believable relationships between Juliet and radio engineer Cyril at Dolphin Square, and with junior programme engineer Lester Pelling at the BBC. I enjoyed this book but wouldn’t describe it as a page turner. I’m not sure I liked Juliet but she held enough fascination for me as I tried to figure out what she did and didn’t believe in. I was never totally sure if I believed in her.

The Author’s Note at the end of the book is fascinating and perhaps would have served better as a Foreword. So, in summary, not my favourite Atkinson novel but not a bad one either.

Read my reviews of Life after Life and A God in Ruins.

If you like this, try:-
The Heat of the Day’ by Elizabeth Bowen
After the Party’ by Cressida Connolly
Shelter’ by Sarah Franklin

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4cx via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘The Last Protector’ by Andrew Taylor @AndrewJRTaylor #Historical

Fourth in the 17th century crime series by Andrew Taylor, The Last Protector sees the return to London of Richard, Oliver Cromwell’s son, and last Protector of England before the restoration of the king in 1660. And it also heralds the central plot return of Cat Lovett. Ever since the first book in the series, I have waited for Cat to have a key role in the plot again. Andrew Taylor

The story begins as James Marwood, clerk to the Under secretary of State to Lord Arlington, is sent to secretly observe a duel between two lords. Meanwhile Cat, now Mistress Hakesby and married to a frail elderly architect, meets a childhood acquaintance in the street. This is Elizabeth Cromwell, daughter of Richard. Remembering their friendship as a fleeting thing, Cat is confused by Elizabeth’s eagerness to rekindle their relationship. Until, visiting Elizabeth at her godmother’s house, she is introduced to a fellow guest John Cranmore. But a peculiar habit of tapping a finger on the table brings back memories for Cat, to the time when she and her father moved in elevated political circles, and she realizes Cranmore is a false name. Elizabeth, it becomes clear, is seeking a precious object hidden by her grandmother. The object is hidden in the Whitehall sewers beneath The Cockpit, site of the cockfighting pit, theatre and jumble of additional buildings. The Hakesbys have the architectural drawings and Elizabeth needs Cat’s help to instigate her search.

In the bigger picture, Easter holiday riots attacking brothels seem to be politically motivated. Holidays are notorious times for brawls by apprentices, but these riots by the Levellers seem encouraged by bawdy newssheets of questionable origin. The Levellers shout ‘we have been servants, but we will be masters now’. Marwood is attacked and chased around the back alleys of the City while Cat, helping Elizabeth retrieve the mysterious package, is chased and escapes with the help of Ferrus, a mazer scourer, the lowest of the low who clears blockages in the sewers.

Marwood and Cat share little page time but their separate stories and chases become entwined as the troublesome history of Cat’s dissenter father puts her in grave danger. And affecting everything are the political machinations and arguments between crown and government.

An excellent page-turner.

Read my reviews of the first three books in the series: The Ashes of London, The Fire Court and The King’s Evil.

If you like this, try:-
The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gowar
The Second Midnight’ by Andrew Taylor

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THE LAST PROTECTOR by @AndrewJRTaylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4tI via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Secrets We Kept’ by @laraprescott #Cold War #Pasternak

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott is a mixture of Cold War thriller, romance and the true story of the publication of Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. Set in the 1950s, this novel is about the power of the written word. So powerful that two nations try to outwit the other as a big new novel is set to be published; neither has any regard for the effects of their plans on the author. Lara Prescott

The two worlds are radically different, Prescott builds both convincingly. I can see Pasternak’s vegetable garden at his dacha, I can hear the typewriters in the Typing Pool at The Agency on National Mall in Washington DC. It is important to note that this is a blend of real events, real people and total fiction.

Irina is American, a first generation Russian-American, her father left behind in the Soviet Union as his pregnant wife departed for a new life in America. Irina’s Mama is a dressmaker, speaking Russian to Irina at home while making elaborate dresses for Russian immigrants. Irina never meets her father. Always an outsider, when she goes for a job interview in a typing pool Marla wears a skirt made for her by Mama. She gets the job in the Typing Pool at The Agency (the CIA) because she has something different to offer; she is trained for extra duties in the evening, acting as a messenger and learning tradecraft to avoid detection. Her job is at The Agency’s Soviet Russia Division, the ‘SR’.

In Moscow, Boris Pasternak is writing a novel and reading it aloud to his lover, Olga. One day Pasternak, deemed a threat by the authorities, is sent a warning: Olga is sent to a work camp for three years. When she returns home, his novel is finished. It is Dr Zhivago.

The Secrets We Kept is a fascinating read, a glimpse into the true story of Dr Zhivago’s publication and the role of the CIA in disseminating it to Soviet citizens. Structurally the pace did not hold up and slowed each time the story moved to Boris and Olga. But some interesting areas are covered – the treatment of homosexuals in the workplace and sexual manipulation between the ranks, the assimilation of first generation Americans, and the American obsession with communism.

Set at the time of Sputnik, Prescott is good at the contemporary culture, politics and the atmosphere of rivalry and impending threat of the Soviet Union. The clothes, the food, the films, the parties. The typists see and hear but don’t repeat, but are as capable of analysing and doing the jobs that the men are doing.

The ending fizzled out, perhaps because the book tries to do so much, possibly too much.


Lara Prescott If you haven’t read Dr Zhivago, BUY IT HERE.

If you like this, try:-
An Officer and a Spy’ by Robert Harris
‘The Translation of Love’ by Lynne Kutsukake
The Museum of Broken Promises’ by Elizabeth Buchan

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THE SECRETS WE KEPT by Lara Prescott #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4tg via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘Hitler’s Secret’ by Rory Clements #thriller #war #WW2

Fourth in the Tom Wilde World War Two spy mysteries, Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements hits the ground running and keeps the pages turning. The secret in question is a ten-year old girl who may or may not be the love child of Hitler. Klara has a false identity and is hidden but is now in imminent danger of exposure and murder. Rory Clements

Wilde travels to Berlin disguised as a German-American motorcycle manufacturer in search of a business deal. His cover enables him to meet allies and search for Klara. Unsure of his mission from the beginning, Wilde imagines that everyone can see through his false identity, everyone is planning to kill him. Clements tells the story at breakneck speed, flicking from viewpoint to viewpoint. Martin Bormann, Hitler’s gatekeeper wants Klara dead and despatches a henchman, Otto Kalt. But it seems everyone touched by Klara’s story is at risk of death. As Wilde closes in on Klara’s hiding place, so do her killers. What ensues is a tense chase north across Germany towards the promised sanctuary of Sweden. And at all times it is assumed Hitler is unaware of the girl’s existence. But who else knows the secret?

At the heart of this story is trust. Believing loyalty expressed at time of war can be a treacherous decision and at times Tom feels everyone has an agenda except him. Even his allies have their own motivations, their own friends and loyalties. Expecting to collect a ‘package’ in Berlin, he is horrified to find he is collecting a girl; he feels duped and used by his spy chiefs. And as Tom runs, it is impossible for him to identify his pursuers. His judgement is seriously challenged and he trusts no-one. What is on the surface a matter of shaming the perfect Adolf Hitler, so popular with his German female citizens, is at the same time a fight between the most elite of German officials.

Familiar characters from earlier books in the series recur: Tom’s partner Lydia, American diplomat Jim Vandenberg and Wilde’s contact at British intelligence, Philip Eaton. History professor Wilde is an affecting amateur spy, diligently learning the role he is assigned but relying on his instincts to get him out of trouble. Of course, the best laid plan can go wrong but this time the plan is not organised in advance and Tom is on his own. He will sink or swim and the few he trusts do not know if he is alive or dead.

Read my reviews of the first three books in the Tom Wilde series, Corpus, Nucleus and Nemesis.

If you like this, try:-
The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard
Munich’ by Robert Harris
Five Days of Fog’ by Anna Freeman

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HITLER’S SECRET by Rory Clements #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-47r via @SandraDanby

#BookReview ‘The Museum of Broken Promises’ by @elizabethbuchan

The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan is a disjointed story of Cold War romance and its lingering after-effects decades later. Promises are made and broken, by everyone. The title is misleading, as the sections at the museum in present day in Paris act as bookends to the crucial story in Eighties story in Czechoslovakia. Elizabeth BuchanIt is 1985, Prague. After the death of her father, student Laure takes a job as an au pair in Paris moving to Prague with her employers. It is the Cold War and the once beautiful city is shabby and grey, an unsettling place to live where the threat of imprisonment or violence always lingers. Laure cares for two small children while their father Petr works, he is an official at a pharmaceuticals company and in a privileged position enabling him to bring a foreigner to work in the country, and their mother Eva is ill. Gradually Laure explores the streets and finds a marionette theatre. There she is enchanted by the folklore tales of the puppets; and she meets Tomas, lead singer in a rock band.
Resistance against the repressive regime in Czechoslovakia is low key, expressed through the arts. In this way, the book reminded me of Tom Stoppard’s play Rock and Roll which tells the story of rock band The Plastic People of the Universe. The Museum of Broken Promises is a story of a young student who falls in love with a bad boy who describes himself as a ‘rock soldier making war on the party’. But these words – soldier, war – are used in a student resistance sense, not actual war. This is quiet resistance rather than terrorism, but is none the weaker for this. Songs and marionettes can spread important messages of defiance, as Laure finds  when she goes to a rock concert. Singing and dancing can be subversive. As someone says, it is ‘giving into forbidden yearning and loyalties. Tasting resistance like wine on the tongue’. Laure’s time in Prague echoes throughout her later life and leads her to open her museum in Paris, inviting mementoes from strangers, objects that represent broken promises.
The Museum of Broken Promises is a slow moving contemplative story, without the pace of a thriller despite its Cold War setting and the constant threat to anyone who speaks or behaves out of turn. This lack of propulsion makes it seem a longer book than it is and I wanted it to have some bite. The story moves back and forth from Prague to Paris and more than once I wasn’t sure where Laure was. This adds to the sense that nothing is what it seems.
Laure is an innocent who is sometimes stupidly naïve, unknowingly putting other people in danger. It is an example of the idealism and irreverence of youth ignoring advice. As she is warned on her arrival in Prague, don’t ask questions, don’t answer questions.

If you like this, try:-
‘If I Knew You Were Going to be This Beautiful, I Never Would Have Let You Go’ by Judy Chicurel
The Bone Church’ by Victoria Dougherty
Hangover Square’ by Patrick Hamilton

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THE MUSEUM OF BROKEN PROMISES by @elizabethbuchan #bookreview via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘The Second Midnight’ by @AndrewJRTaylor #WW2

In The Second Midnight, Andrew Taylor unpicks the connections between a group of people – a dysfunctional family, spies, ordinary people – before, during and after World War Two in England and Czechoslovakia. Essentially it is a novel of relationships wrapped up in the parcel of wartime spying, lies and romance. In its scope it reminds me of Robert Goddard’s Wide World trilogy, except Taylor covers the subject in one book rather than three. Andrew Taylor

It is 1939 and twelve year old Hugh Kendall is bullied by his father, sighed over by his harried mother, ignored by his older brother and manipulated by his older sister. Hugh retreats into imaginative games with his toy soldiers. His father, failing glass importer Alfred Kendall, is recruited by the Secret Services as a courier on a glass-buying trip to Czechoslovakia. In tow is Hugh, recently expelled from school, a nuisance to his father. Alfred is not a natural spy, though he thinks he is. When things get sticky and Alfred must return to England, the Czech Resistance keeps Hugh as collateral to ensure his father’s quick return. But Hugh finds himself alone in Prague after the German invasion, unsure who to trust, unsure if he will be rescued. He quickly learns to live on his wits. This for me was the best section of the book.

The thing that makes this story stand apart for me is Hugh. He makes an uncanny narrator, giving us a view of life in an occupied country, stranded from everything that is safe and familiar. Adept at languages, Hugh quickly becomes familiar with Czech and German allowing him to assume a false identity as Rudi Messner, a Czech-Hungarian boy.  Cared for by a German officer, Colonel Helmut Scholl, Hugh works as the gardener’s boy at Scholl’s mansion in Prague and meets the colonel’s children, Heinz and Magda. These relationships weave across the years and the pages into the post-war years and the fight against communism.

The significance of the title left me wondering if I had missed something. It is set up with an intriguing connection between two characters, then abandoned. The connection with the Prologue was also lost on me as it is only mentioned again at the end and I had forgotten what happened; ends neatly tied without adding understanding. Taylor knows how to tell a page turning story, I read this quickly. This is a fascinating read over a complex time period, but an enormous subject; I wish it had been given the space of three books to explore fully.

Read my reviews of Taylor’s Fire of London trilogy – The Ashes of London, The Fire Court and The King’s Evil.

If you like this, try:-
Corpus’ by Rory Clements
The Ways of the World’ by Robert Goddard
Five Days of Fog’ by Anna Freeman

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SECOND MIDNIGHT by @AndrewJRTaylor #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4gC via @SandraDanby