BIRCH’S FRUITY LITTLE OFFERINING LEAVES ME MENTALLY BOWLED OVER

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One Saturday morning recently, I opened the paper to find an article had been cut out. There was just an empty space where it should have been. Someone had removed it very precisely with scissors. I was somewhat surprised as we’d just purchased the paper an hour or so earlier. What could be the reason for this? ‘Easy’, my husband replied, ‘There was a story you wouldn’t like’. 

No, I’m not subject to domineering censorship by my other half. He just knows me very well. Despite thirty odd years as a veterinary nurse, I find animal cruelty stories extremely upsetting. I experience distress and to be honest, rage, for days after reading such reports. I’ve had to cull my Facebook newsfeed, which at one point in Lockdown had a solid diet of missing, stolen or abused animal stories. I couldn’t take it. With humans, I don’t lack empathy, but I’m not usually so bothered. I would subscribe to the website that warns you if the dog dies in films but be unabashed by disaster movies wiping out half the world’s population.

So, I thought I was dodging a bullet, when I handed my initial option for this months reading, over to my husband. The blurb suggested difficult animal scenes. Best avoided. I was therefore delighted in turn to be given a collection of dark crime stories for this months second book review. Its A Bowl of Cherries by F.E Birch. Self Published in July 2020.

Birch had taken the time to pen a personal comment inside the cover, ‘I hope you like your stories on the dark side’. I do. My regular ‘go to’ reading catalogue is thrillers, murder mystery , crime and horror. One Christmas, a friend gave me a book she described as the most disturbing book she had ever read, with the comment that she thought I’d like it. So you see, I wasn’t nervous.

The first story, the titular Bowl of Cherries, certainly made me sit up and take notice. I thought I’d wandered into soft porn, before the gore unfolded. It’s a great opening piece. Showing you what kind of thing you might be in for!  The book continues through 33 more stories, some less sexual, some more, but all delving into the darker side of the human mind. There are twists a plenty. Sometimes the stories have a supernatural element, such as one titled ‘On the Beach’ which I felt was reminiscent of The Lovely Bones, by Alice Seabold. However, the real horror of most of the stories is that you feel they could happen.

All of the stories and characters leave their mark on you in some way. I found myself turning over the scenarios in my head for days after reading, often with a shudder. Another story titled ‘Haemorrhage,’ in particular may continue to haunt my dreams for a while to come. Some of the stories are poignant, rather than disturbing. Many of the stories are only a page long, but its still enough to cause an emotional response.

F.E, Birch (Effie Merryl)

F.E Birch is the Amazon pen name of English author Effie Merryl (@effiemerryl) . In 2013 she wrote the ‘Faction’ book of memoirs published by Harper Collins. Since 2004 she has had over 150 short stories published in print and online, many which have been entered into competitions and a Bowl Of Cherries is a selection of her best prize winners. In 2012 she won the Bloody Scotland “Pitch Perfect” for a manuscript will hopefully be her debut crime novel. A former police officer, she now divides her time between the North East of England and Central Scotland.

Overall, I’d recommend this as a great collection of stories, perfect for adults at Halloween. A lesson for us all that sometimes the thing you should be scared of is right there, sitting at the other end of the couch or staring back from the mirror. This bowl of cherries is sour rather than sweet and theres often a maggot at the core. Even whilst being thankfully, animal cruelty free, it still engendered feelings of fear, disgust, anger and sadness, because it showed the more base sides of human nature.

So, with Lockdowns looming again around the world, support your local bookshop by buying a copy online for through a click and collect scheme or download it and prepare to be unsettled!

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

MCCREESH ISN’T FLYING OVER A CUCKOOS NEST, BUT HER DEBUT HAS CRACKED THE THRILLER MARKET

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During my childhood, my mum worked for a while in a geriatric psychiatric ward. The hospital had been an asylum and a workhouse before that. A couple of the residents had been there their whole adult lives, having been put away for being unmarried mothers and therefore ‘morally deficient’, before the second world war and never leaving. A few of the male residents came with a warning to not be alone with them, nor to have them between yourself and the door. The residents ran the whole gamut of problems from sexual deviancy to pica. I was always fascinated by the tales she told and a little scared too.

Literature has always been able to mine a treasure trove of stories and characters in relation to mental illness. From Wilkie Collins and The Woman In white, a novel I read for my English literature O level, to the iconic, One flew Over the Cuckoos nest and Shutter Island, it seems the asylum and treatment of mental illness sufferers has ignited our greatest fascination and touched our darkest fears.

The hit of 2020 so far has been The Silent Patient by Alex Michealides, the story of Alicia Berenson who hasn’t spoken since the murder of her husband and Theo Faber, the psychologist who has a particular interest in finding out what she remembers . I read it at the start of Lockdown. I’ve also recently read a non fiction account of mental health treatment by Kerry Daynes (reviewed on here in February), a real life Forensic psychologist, which looked at memorable cases from her career.

I was delighted then to be able to get the opportunity to read this month’s second book review, which is Cracked by Louise McCreesh and published by Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) in August.

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The cover suggests that it is perfect for fans of The Silent Patient. Whilst there is a similarity in the setting within a psychiatric unit, this is much more a classic detective thriller.

Jenny Nilson hasn’t seen Dr Philip Walton since she left Hillside Psychiatric unit, eight years previously. She’s kept her time there a secret, even from her police detective husband. When Dr Walton is murdered, she becomes a suspect. Unknown to the police, Dr Walton was keeping a dreadful secret for Jenny and his was not the first death. Can Jenny contact old friends and enemies from the unit and clear her name before the secret is unearthed and her new life is destroyed?

I felt this was a classic detective story in style, as there a limited cast of characters, all with motives. As the modern story of Jenny’s investigation proceeds it is interspersed with the slow reveal of the back story. There are various twists and turns and you are kept guessing as to who the killer is and why they did it. I did feel that McCreesh used a predictable cast of mental health conditions. It seemed unlikely they’d all be mixing together. They weren’t even of the same age. The stock characters didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story however.

Again, if I was picky, I would doubt that Jenny could have hidden her issues, continued with her medication and any appointments, for the whole of her relationship with James without him detecting something. However, their marriage was a useful device for Jenny to get inside information and move the story forward.

This is English author and Journalist, Louise McCreesh’s (@loumccreesh),first book. When not writing, she is a freelance journalist in London. She studied creative writing on the Curtis Brown Creative Writing Course and as a result received a scholarship from them to continue her work on her debut novel.

Overall, I felt this was a little cliched but nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable thriller. So get on down to your local bookshop and buy it or download a copy.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This review is part of a blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

CARTER DELIVERS AGAIN IN THIS BLOODY WELL WRITTEN INSTALMENT

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Written In Blood CoverPickpockets are active in almost any area where large crowds gather. Tourist hot spots are regularly dotted with signs advising visitors to be aware of them. But some are so deft at their trade, that it can be sometime before you are aware that you have been targeted. Then when it happens, it feels like a violation, and that’s because it is. Some uncaring stranger now has your cash, phone, ID, and credit cards. The shock and loss of these personal and valuable items can at times be akin to a mini bereavement.

There is loss and grief connected with this month’s second book review. While writing this book the author suffered the tragic and devastating death of his partner, but with the help of his fantastic editorial team, publisher and agent,  got his partly completed, book finished and published. The team at The Library Door sends condolences.

The catalyst for the story of this thriller is a pickpocket hitting the wrong mark. The book is Written In Blood by Chris Carter and published by Simon and Schuster (www.simonandschuster.com) in July.Angela Wood is an adroit young pickpocket working the streets of LA on the run up to Christmas. After a successful afternoon in a local shopping precinct, she ducks into a cocktail bar to change her appearance and have a well-earned drink. There she witnesses another customer being very un-festive to an elderly gentleman. As payback, she takes the man’s bag when his attention is distracted. On opening the duffel bag at home later, she discovers all that’s in it is a diary of sorts, but the entries and the pictures within it are more than just the scribbling’s of an angst ridden teenager. This forces her to drop this hot potato in the letter box of a previous victim of hers.  When the diary lands on the desk of LAPD detective Robert Hunter, he knows immediately that there is a sadistic serial killer on the loose. When the bodies of victims in the diary start turning up,  his and Angela’s paths cross. They soon realise that the killer now has them both and anyone connected with the case firmly in his sights. Soon the mysterious killer snatches Angela in a bloody raid on a safe house and now Robert and his team are in a race to discover the identity of the killer, and save Angela and other victims, whilst playing a sick game at the behest of the killer.

The title of the book may be Written In Blood, but I’m almost writing this review sweating blood too, as I try to get over the frantic pace of this book. I read this almost 500 page, edge of your seat thriller in less than seventy-two hours. My first session was a 150 page marathon and I was hard pushed to put it down. From page one, to page four hundred and eighty, Carter has the reader gripped tightly in the palm of his hand, as he terrorises LA with an all too realistic serial murderer.

This is my first Chris Carter book and after making the acquaintance of detective Robert Hunter, I’m definitely putting him and Carter on my ‘must read’ list next to Childs and Reacher. I initially thought that Carter had taken the eighties TV character of the same name and started writing a modern day series around him, but I realised some way through, that the TV character played by Fred Dryer was  Rick Hunter.

Robert Hunter’s character its self is made up of quite a few well known characters from film and TV over the past twenty years or so. I saw a bit of Mel Gibson’s Martin Rigg’s and Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callaghan in his character. Hunter, comes across as a deep-thinking individual, as well as a singleton who has had relationships in the past, but seems unable to hold on to them.

The reason for seeing some of Harry Callaghan in Robert Hunter, could come from one scenario in the book where the Killer has Hunter running all over LA from point to point, within a time limit. Which is similar to what Scorpio had Clint Eastwood’s character doing in the film “Dirty harry”.

As for the other characters, such as Hunter’s partner Garcia, they seem to be purely along for the ride, although having only read this book maybe Garcia, their boss Captain, Blake, and the other support cast are fleshed out more in previous books.

But with the serial murderer, everything about him is on point and fully fleshed out. His identity isn’t revealed until the last chapter. Up until then Carter refers to him by various monikers, while building his character up bit by bit, with enough malice to give not just Hunter cause for concern but the reader too. On top of that, he gives him a very plausible trigger for his killing. Which all in all goes to make the book a standout read and perfect for the summer staycation essential reading pile.

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Chris Carter

 

This is Brazillian born author, Chris Carters, (www.chriscarterbooks.com) eleventh book featuring Detective Robert Hunter. The others are The Crucifix Killer (2009), The Executioner (2010), The Nightstalker (2011), The Death Sculptor (2012), One By One (2013), An Evil Mind (2014), I Am Death (2015), The Caller (2017), The gallery Of The Dead (2018) and Hunting Evil (2019). Carter studied Psychology and Criminal Behaviour at the University of Michigan, before going on to work with the Michigan Attorney’s Criminal Psychology Team. In his time there, he interviewed criminals of varying types including serial and multiple homicide offenders. After that, he turned to his main hobby of music and moved to London where has supported numerous big stars playing the electric guitar. He now lives and writes in the UK.

So, if you are looking for a book that will totally rob your attention of whatever else is going on in your life and have you hungrily turning each page in a heart pounding pursuit of the answers, then pocket your wallet and pick up your bike or the dog’s leash and head down to your local bookshop. There you can snap up a copy or stay home and download it, and the previous ten instalments, of the Robert Hunter series online. Then set a date in your diary to read them over the next couple of weeks or months.

 

Reviewed by: Adrian Murphy

 

This book review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other Authors thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy, comeback and tell what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

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YOU WON’T CRY OVER BROWN’S BONE CRUNCHING SUMMER READ

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Thirty One Bones coverWe’ve all dreamt of an escape from our everyday lives, to live somewhere that we would usually holiday in and enjoy that holiday feeling permanently. The reliable sunny weather, the sea, the cheap cost of living and maybe the chance to reinvent yourself or to become ‘someone’ in a place no one knows you. Every year, many Brits and Irish retirees move to Spain and Portugal, to enjoy perpetual summers and a relaxed style of living. Fair play to them. I’ve had that daydream myself. The realistic among us, know, however, that its very hard to become a new person. Most of the time our history, personality traits and issues would catch up with us.

This month’s first book review has a subtitle of ‘it can be dangerous out in the sun’. This may be especially true due to Covid 19 being still highly prevalent. Prior to the pandemic my main concerns would’ve been limited to sunburn and sunstroke, but this book has Spain’s Costa Del Crime as a much scarier scenario. Its Thirty One Bones by Morgan Cry and published by Polygon (www.polygonbooks.co.uk) in June this year.

 

Daniella Coulson travels to Spain following the death of her mother Effie. Mother and daughter have become estranged and Daniella is surprised to discover her mother has  been a well-respected member of a small ex-pat community of misfits who frequent her mother’s bar. There were many secrets in Effie’s life, however. She and her friends had been plotting a multi-million-pound property scam before her death and now the money is missing. The ex-pats all have their own, sometime desperate need for their share of the cash. There’s also a local detective, who is investigating Effie’s death and a local enforcer who has heard about the missing cash. Danielle must race against time to find the cash and avoid having thirty-one bones in her body broken.

This is a real roller-coaster of a story. Danielle is a stranger to the location and to her mother’s life. She arrives in Spain, planning to quickly resolve her mother’s affairs, sell up and move on. The ensuing drama gives Danielle an insight into her mother’s life and her own strengths and weaknesses.

The cast of ex-pats are sometimes likeable, sometimes sad, sometimes funny but all initially at least, hostile to Danielle. The plot is farcical with crosses, double-crosses, chases and secrets. There’s also a romance and a lot of dark humour. You can almost taste the desperation and feel the heat.

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Morgan Cry (aka Gordon Brown)

Effie seems to have been a wily lady. Is Danielle a chip off the old block? She’s a sympathetic character. The story is told mainly in the first person, but interspersed there are chapters with interviews, held by the detective, of each of the participants in the drama. These actually became some of my favourite sections. I loved the descriptions of the heat, the town and the buildings too but the characters were the best thing in the book, funny, scary and with a deft touch of pathos to make you like them despite everything.

This is Scottish author Gordon Brown (www.gordonjbrown.com)eith eighth book, the others include three in the Craig McIntyre series – Darkest Thoughts(2017), Furthest Reaches (2017), Deepest Wounds (2018). Two in the Charlie Wiggs series – Falling(2009) and Falling Too (2017). Thirty One Bones is his first writing under the pen name of Morgan Cry. Born in Glasgow, he’s lived in London as well as Toronto before returning home. His most significant day job was a marketing strategy specialist, before going on to help found Scotland’s international crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland. He’s been a DJ on a local radio station, sold non-alcoholic beer in the middle east and floated a tech company on the London Stock exchange. While he’s also had the pleasure of being booed by 49,000 fans at a major football cup final. That’s one way of trying to make friends.

For those who won’t brave the Costas this summer, instead opting for a staycation, this book is a great vehicle for helping you to imagine what might have been. Or it could make great sun-lounger reading whilst you risk the worldwide contagion. Do I recommend it? Yes, and that at least, is not complicated….

 

Reviewed by : Georgina Murphy

 

 

This book is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought, visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy comeback and tell us what you thought, we’d love the feedback.

 

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NO PUSHING REQUIRED TO ENJOY GRIFFEE’S DEBUT THRILLER

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final CANAL PUSHER_PBHaving spent many years cruising the canals and rivers of England myself, in a previous life. I became familiar with narrow boats and the complexities of using locks, finding moorings and steering a sometimes large and, occasionally unwilling it seemed, boat through narrow passageways and tunnels. The countryside is beautiful, the pace relaxing and the boating community, friendly and welcoming. So, when I read the blurb about this month’s second book review, I was immediately engaged by the premise of the book. It is Canal Pushers by Andy Griffee and published in paperback by Orphans Publishing (www.orphanspublishing.co.uk) on the 4th June.

 

Jack Johnson is seeking a fresh start. He’s a recently divorced, unemployed, ex- journalist. He decides to make a fresh start living on a narrow boat on England’s canals. The only trouble is he’s never been on a canal boat before, let alone managing a 64ft vessel on his own.

To his good fortune he meets the enigmatic Nina, who is seeking escape from her life for her own reasons and is a competent boater. They have a chance encounter with a young lad who is begging. He is later found dead in the canal. This event engages Jack’s investigative interest. Soon the pair are in deeper danger than they could have imagined. Was the boy’s death accidental and related to drugs, or something more sinister? Is it linked to other deaths? Is there a serial killer stalking the quiet waterways of England?

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I was expecting something slightly twee, a little bit Agatha Raisin maybe. From this new thriller series, introducing Jack Johnson and Nina Wilde and their boat Jumping Jack Flash.  But I was delighted to find a modern, quite gritty thriller, which was nevertheless told with humour and an obvious passion for boating. The idea of a cat and mouse chase on something that can only go at 4 miles per hour amused me. There are definitely lots of places to disappear on the canal system however, some sections having no road access and in miles of empty, often glorious countryside.

I’ve had the misfortune to fall into a canal myself in the past, stepping off the prow of the boat confidently onto what I thought was bank, but which was just grass. I was lucky that the canal was only 3 foot deep. My main concern was Weils disease, an infection you can get from the water. However, some brief research showed that some sections of canal are much deeper, having been dug out for vessels of a heavier nature and deeper draft. Modern dredging of canals, as their use has become popular for leisure boating has restored many canals to a deeper depth too. Maybe I wouldn’t be so lucky now.

Andy Griffee is an experienced boater himself, and his descriptions of the practicalities of life on a boat were very good. I was reminded about the cramped but well laid out living conditions and that you only got hot water if you’d run the engine. He kindly missed out all the topping of water and fuel and the dreaded pumping out of the loo. TMI! I was also reminded about the slight rivalry between hire and owned boats. The other thing that he missed, was that there’s always a man with a dog watching you attempt any difficult manoeuvre! Even in the middle of nowhere! This level of joyful reminiscence was tempered by a story of drugs, gangs and a serial killer! There was a sense of peril and a real tenseness in the chase.

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Andy Griffee (thecwa.co.uk)

This is English author Andy Griffee’s (www.andygriffee.co.uk ) first of two books in the Johnson and Wilde Mystery series, the second book in the series is River Rats which is due out later this year. Andy is a former BBC Journalist, who, when not writing crime thrillers is a breeder of rare pig and the owner of 1964 Triumph Spitfire. He lives in Worcestershire with his wife and three dogs.

I look forward to getting my hands on a copy of River Rats and diving into the future adventures of Jack, Nina and their gorgeous shipmate, Eddie the dog. The narrow boat is a great tool for moving the story to other locations. So, I’m looking forward to being along for the journey.

I suggest you quietly slip your moorings and head down to your local book shop or download a copy of Canal Pushers, then prepare to discover the tranquil backwaters of Britain from your favourite berth.

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

 

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour. To see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy come back and tell us what you thought, we’d love the feed Back.

 

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GUSTAWSSON WEAVES AN INTERESTING MELODY THROUGH TIME AND PLACE WITH BLOOD SONG

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Blood-SongThe urge to know our roots and lineage is strong. Recently I was offered the chance by an app on Facebook for it to guess my ancestry from my profile photo. Don’t judge me, I was five weeks into lockdown, and I was feeling bored. Seeing a friend’s interesting, if slightly off beam results prompted me to try. As previous readers of my reviews on this blog know, I’m of longstanding entirely northern English working-class stock. So, I was amused when it suggested I was mainly Spanish, with a dash of Mexican and Danish and a pinch of Italian.

However , when you think that there has been a constant movement of people for centuries due to war, emigration , the colonialization of countries by other nations and by travel for pleasure in recent times, it’s easy to see how our genetic heritage may be more complex than we at first imagine. I still don’t accept I’m mainly Spanish though! However, I’d be intrigued enough to take a proper DNA test as advertised by online family history research groups, to see if I am as wholly English as I think.

My musings bring me to this month’s first book review. Its of Blood Song by Johana Gustawsson and published by Orenda books (www.orendabook.co.uk) in September 2019.  This isn’t her book featuring the investigative duo of Emily Roy of the RCMP and the journalist and author Alexis Castells. They previously featured in Block 46 and Keeper, both reviewed by Adrian Murphy in the blog. We were delighted to be given a copy of Blood Song to review and add to our collection by Karen Sullivan and her team at Orenda. I was particularly attracted to the fact that it is partly based during the Spanish Civil War. Its not a period of history I am familiar with but having had some introduction from reading ‘The Horseman’s Song’ by Ben Pastor, I have since been keen to read other books set in the period.

Blood Song moves to and fro from the period of the Spanish Civil War and the inhumane treatment of republican prisoners by Franco’s brutal dictatorship to present day Sweden and the savage murder of a family in their home. The family in question are that of Alienor Lindberg, who is working with Scotland Yard, in the UK, and  is absent from their family gathering and is spared. The Lindberg’s run a highly successful fertility clinic. Could the murders be related to their work or to something in their past?

This novel delves into the scenarios of historic adoptions after war and genocide and the ramifications of what happens to those children as they become adults and their trauma resurfaces. Also, it looks into the present-day fertility industry and the recent scandals that have affected it as well as the difficult and painful journeys some people have to undertake to become parents. How easy is it for such programmes to play god and make life affecting decisions for the children engineered in such a way? Johana approaches the topics with sensitivity, having had personal experience of fertility clinics and IVF and one feels she has some empathy with the process.

The main investigators are Emily Roy, a profiler and Alexis Castells, a true crime writer. The combination of the two allows for, what I think to be, accurate police procedurals and the option to work outside the box. The characters are from a variety of European backgrounds and the movement of the story from Sweden, to Spain and the UK, with some exchanges in Swedish, English, French and Spanish make this a very international novel. Emily and Alexis are smart, attractive and refreshingly human ‘detectives’. I enjoyed their interactions and acceptance of each other’s flaws as well as the well-drawn cast of supporting characters.

This is French born author Johana Gustawsson’s (www.en.johanagustawsson.com)  third

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Johana Gustawsson

novel after Block 46 (2015) and The Keeper (2017). She has a degree in political science and has worked as a journalist in TV and Print in both Spain and France. The Roy & Castells series has won numerous awards as is published in nineteen countries, while a joint French, Swedish and UK TV adaptation is currently underway. This book’s theme was inspired by Johana’s own experiences of IVF. She currently lives in London with her Swedish husband and their three sons.

The novel jumps around in location and time but the chapter titles helpfully guide the reader along. Not something I would usually notice, but here I took in each one and reset my thoughts to the appropriate story thread with more ease than I would have without them. Its certainly a book I felt I enjoyed more in chunks rather than a few pages at a time as its quite complex and as with most Scandi Noir type novels the character names and technical terms can take a bit of adapting to.

A well-structured plot leads to a satisfying denouement and despite the roaming from location to location and era to era, it had the feel of a limited cast detective story. The places are well described too making this an ideal book for this period of restricted travel. So, when the book shops re open, swing by and pick up a copy or if you can’t wait, go online and order a copy. Then sit back and enjoy the mystery and visit Europe from the comfort of your couch.

 

Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy

 

Finally, both of us here at The Library Door would like to send our best wishes to Karen Sullivan the MD of Orenda Books who was recently laid up with a bout of suspected Corona Virus. We hope she’s fully recovered now or at least well on the road to recovery. Stay safe everyone.

THIS READER IS LEFT HOME ALONE BY STOVELL’S OVER USE OF ITALICS

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The Home CoverThe Italic typeface is a cursive font used to denote someone speaking or highlight a foreign word or phrase. It takes its name from the fact that calligraphy inspired typefaces were first designed in Italy and were invented to replace the old Chancery style of writing.  Nowadays we all usually use the default of Calibri or san Serif, when writing an email or composing a word document, as I do with the drafts of these reviews. It may look nice for presentation purposes to intersperse a piece with Italics, but you can have too much of a good thing, as it seems in this months second book review, which is The Home by Sarah Stovell and published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk).

When the body of a teenager is found in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but are not surprised, as the victim was a resident of a nearby home for troubled kids. As the police investigation gets underway, the lives of three of the children, Hope, Lara and Annie, along with the staff become intertwined. Very soon, shocking and disturbing revelations come to light – pointing to this being a murder perpetrated for revenge.

I’m going to be blunt, this book didn’t get me and I didn’t really get into the book. The main reason for this was that from the outset, whole chapters are printed in Italics. Hey I like Italics as much as the next person, but when the story is interrupted by these long soliloquies of Italicized text, it breaks the flow of the story which already had me jumping about trying follow the different chapters told through eyes of each of three main characters.

This is the second book I’ve read in the past month that’s been set around Christmas time in England, but unlike Shamus Dust by Janet Roger, which is also a murder mystery, the Home had none of the same appeal. It is set somewhere in around the wilds of Yorkshire but where Shamus Dust allowed the reader to almost breathe in their surroundings and feel truly immersed in the tale set in dark seedy world of post war London, Stovell’s book left me grappling to find a character to connect with or even get excited about “who dunnit”.

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Sarah Stovell

This English author Sarah Stovell’s (@sarahlovescrime) second book, her first was Exquisite published in 2017. Having spent most of her life in the home counties, she spent a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel, which made her realise she was a northerner at heart. When not writing she’s a lecturer in creative writing at Lincoln university and lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children.

As I often say, this is just my opinion and if you want to find out what it’s really like, then go out and purchase a copy at your local bookshop, download it, or even order a copy from the Library.  Sarah will hopefully write other books and with the good grace of Karen and the team at Orenda, I’ll get the chance review them and you never know, they may blow my little cotton socks off. but unfortunately this time around, The Home didn’t…

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

 

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to find out what the others thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it comeback tell us you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

 

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PARRY’S STORY OF MEDICINE, MURDER AND ANAESTHESIA WON’T PUT YOU TO SLEEP!

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The Way of All FleshIts odd how things work out sometimes. My husband receives a steady selection of books to review for this literary blog and I browse the titles and the back-cover blurb, then if the book takes my fancy I volunteer my services as reader and reviewer. Simples…

With the fairly recent addition of blog tours, we have found some scheduling pressures, usually to do with fitting in our own personal reads along with book club commitments and therefore occasionally I am handed a book to review to be sure of meeting a deadline. Such was the case with this month’s first review for the Way Of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry published by Canon Gate (www.canongate.co.uk) on the 2nd May.

I didn’t read the accompanying press release but went straight into the story. A historical murder mystery, just my thing! As you might know from my previous reviews. The added twist here is that the history in this novel is that of surgery, midwifery and the use of anaesthetics. Anaesthesia is a special interest of mine, as I work as senior nurse in the anaesthesia department of University College Dublin’s Veterinary Teaching and Referral Hospital.

When I first started working as a Veterinary Nurse in the UK in the mid-eighties, the practice I trained and qualified in was undergoing transition from a mixed practice, covering the care of all species from domestic pets to farm animals to purely companion animal work. This was as a result of the retirement of the two senior partners, who were in their seventies at this stage. Being of a similar ilk to James Alfred Wright, who wrote the James Herriot novels, the practice was a treasure trove of antique equipment, chemist’s drawers, labelled with Latin names, apothecary jars and no end of ancient instruments which looked like they’d come from a torturer’s chamber. All sadly thrown away during refurbishments! When I watch salvage shows on TV I wince! Amongst these items, was a bottle of Ether and a Boyles bottle. I can remember being fascinated in how these worked and was duly impressed by our ‘modern’ anaesthetic machine and vaporiser.

The Way of All Flesh introduces us to Will Raven, a medical student who is starting an apprenticeship to the renowned Dr James Simpson. Will has his own secrets and problems, having endured poverty and hardship in a humble background he is trying hard to hide, even before finding the body of his friend, a prostitute, who has died under mysterious circumstances in her room. She had asked him for a loan shortly before her death and Will is now in serious debt to a moneylender. Not a happy predicament now, let alone in that era. His new employer’s parlour maid, Sarah, is initially suspicious of him .Sarah works in the doctors in house clinic and has an interest in medicine but she is frustrated in her ambition to use her capable brain by the  restrictions to both her sex and her station imposed in the Victorian period. When more bodies are found, Will and Sarah work together to find out who is responsible for the gruesome deaths, putting their positions and their lives in jeopardy.

The really interesting aspect of this book for me, was use the use of real case studies and historical figures. The descriptions of births and surgical procedures are sometimes stomach churning, such is the attention to medical detail, but fascinating. The story of the research into anaesthetic agents would seem at times absurd in its methodology, sniffing chemicals as after dinner entertainment to assess their efficacy and safety! Also the objections, both religious and ‘scientific’ to their use to ease patients distress, aid procedures and improve patient mortality statistics had echoes of the ‘anti-vaxxer’ propaganda seen both in Edward Jenners small pox vaccine introduction and in the Measles resurgence we are facing now.

Another important theme in this book, I felt was the subjugation of women and the lower classes. Sarah was a strong and sympathetic female lead here. There were to me, reminders of the film Mary Reilly, where we see the story of Jekyll and Hyde through the eyes of their maid, or to Albert Nobbs, where Glenn close has to disguise herself as a man to work as a butler at the Morrison Hotel in 19th century Dublin.

Ambrose Perry Author Pic

Ambrose Parry (Chris Brookmyre & Marisa Haetzman)

This novel combines the expertise of Scottish author, Chris Brookmyre, and his wife, consultant anaesthetist Marisa Haetzman under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry. Chris is a multi-award winning novelist, his previous books include Quite Ugly One Morning (1996), Black Widow (2016) and Want You Gone (2017). They are based around investigative journalist, Jack Parlabane and counter terrorism officer, Angelique de Xavia. His books have won plaudits for their comedy, social comment, politics and strong narrative and earned him the slightly dubious appellation of ‘Tartan Noir’. It was Marisa’s research for her Master’s Degree in the History of Medicine, which uncovered much of the material on which The Way Of All The Flesh is based.

The story has plenty of twists and turns and despite the detailed descriptive passages, keeps up a good pace to a breathless climax and reveal. The description of Victorian life in medical circles, fine houses and the gritty alleyways is well drawn. Will and Sarah are an interesting duo and I look forward to the follow up novel, The Art Of Dying, due to be released later this year. I’m dying to read it, you could say…

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

 

This book is part of a Random Things blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, please come back and tell us what you thought, we’d love to hear your feedback.

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RUBIN’S DEBUT IS A LIBERATION FROM OTHER FAR FETCHED ALT. HISTORY BOOKS

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Liberation SquareThis week, the Crystal Palace and Welsh International goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy was accused by a Football Association hearing of “lamentable” ignorance towards Fascism and Adolf Hitler. This came after he used the excuse that he didn’t know what a Nazi salute was. This thirty-year-old highly paid premier league footballer’s appearance before the tribunal came after images of him emerged last year, at a Crystal Palace team dinner, making what was construed as a Nazi salute.

There have been enough movies and video games made, as well as books published in the past three decades,(Schindler’s List, The Boy in The Stripped Pyjamas, Inglorious Bastards and Call Of Duty) to leave only someone living in a cultural vacum or a hermitage, in this position. Following the decision of the Football association conduct hearing which cleared the player, he was sent informative material by The Auschwitz Memorial about Fascism.

Mr Hennessy, like quite a large number of people in the UK and across Europe, lives a good life owing to the sacrifices made by their grandparents and hopefully will never experience the constraints of Fascism or even Socialism, except in the realms of video games or as alternative history story lines in TV programmes and books. One of those books is this month’s second review, its Liberation Square by Gareth Rubin, published by Michael Joseph (www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/michael-joseph.html) on the 18th April .

Its 1952, in a divided European country following the end of the second world war. But instead of hearing German accents as you travel around this place they are English … Yes, the D-Day landings failed and England is divided following a German invasion. The Democratic United Kingdom controlled by the Allies lies beyond a border stretching from Bristol to the Norfolk coast. Beneath that line, is the Soviet controlled Republic of Great Britain and inside it is London a city divided in two by a large wall.

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The Berlin Wall (StMU History Media)

In the Soviet controlled sector of the city Jane Cawson, a school teacher, suspects her doctor husband Nick is having an affair with his first wife, Lorelei an actress and star of numerous propaganda films. Jane goes to Lorelei’s house in the hope of confronting the two of them, but finds the former Mrs Cawson murdered in her bath. Nick is arrested on suspicion of murder and held by the brutal Secret Police.

Jane then starts trying to prove her husband’s innocence to get him released, she starts probing Nicks relationship with his former wife, why are there coded messages hidden in a book in Lorelei’s house. All the while trying to protect her step-daughter, as well as not arousing suspicion from the authorities and nosy neighbours  who are all too eager to tow the party line and curry favours. With the help of Tibbot, a middle-aged East End bobby, Jane starts to piece together the identity of Lorelei’s murderer and hopefully prove Nick’s innocence. But is he innocent? Was Lorelei consorting with the Allies and what does it have to do with her recent miscarriage…?

As alternative history driven plot lines go, this in the current climate is not too far from the truth. With Brexit looming over the United Kingdom, the country is divided and becoming even more fractured by the day.

Rubin’s book is superbly crafted and drives the imagination from the first page to its conclusion, with its Sliding Doors – “What If” scenario. Along the way it asks the reader to imagine what might have happened if the course of history had changed.

The description of the remnants of war-torn London and the citizens trying get by under a brutal socialist regime are thought provoking and envelopes the reader into the story with every turn of the page. The historical nuances are superb, especially when you have Jane coming up against the likes of Burgess and Blunt and other members of the Cambridge five spy ring, who in this story have been exalted into running the country for their soviet bosses, as a reward for their cowardice and betrayal.

As for the characters, Jane is an excellent heroine, whose simplicity allows her to be believable and sets her apart from the all too often, highly skilled, super spy protagonist you expect to find in these types of books. She’s a school teacher, in well over her head, but allowed to follow the course of her investigations by the assistance of some other remarkably drawn characters, such as Tibbot the police officer working up to his retirement and the cagey and mysterious Charles, Nicks practice manager. Not forgetting the other host of run of the mill cockney characters and party hangers on and apparatchiks who help drive the story forward, as well as making it as wholly believable as it.

This is English Author Gareth Rubin’s (http://gr8502.wixsite.com) first

Gareth Rubin

Gareth Rubin

novel, he’s written one previous book, an anthology of mistakes which have changed the course of British history, called The Great Cat Massacre A History of Britain in One Hundred Mistakes (2014). He’s journalist also a covering social affair, travel and the arts for various newspapers. In 2013 he directed a documentary about therapeutic art at The Royal Bethlehem Hospital in London, otherwise known as ‘Bedlam’.

Liberation Square asks the unthinkable; what if for example Alan Turing and his secret team at Bletchley hadn’t broken the Enigma machine or Churchill’s government hadn’t found enough little boats to Sail twelve miles across the channel to rescue the Allies from Dunkirk? It makes the reader realize how much of what happened during that time in history is down to coincidences and a stroke of luck, as well as how easily things could have gone awry. If things had happened as in this book, where would the likes of Wayne Hennessy be now? Would they have been even born?

So if you are looking for deeply engrossing debut thriller, to read over the Easter break, which will make you think twice about how good your life is now, then get down to your local book shop or download a copy.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

 

This book part of a Penguin Books blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought. Visit their blogs listed below and if you pick up a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d love the feedback.

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WINSPEAR AND DOBBS CONTINUE TO BLITZ THE HISTORICAL THRILLER GENRE

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american agent proof coverIt is often said “That fools rush in where angels fear to tread..”(Alexander Pope) and considering the day that’s in it, it seems quite apt. But in the thriller  or crime genres, the hero or heroine needs to be a little fool hardy and to take risks, in order to solve the mystery or save the day. Foolhardiness also played a big part in real life times of crisis, such as during the two world wars with numerous accounts of heroic acts which in normal day to day life any self respecting angel would have balked at the notion.

The era of World War Two has spawned many novels, films and artistic works. Some are true stories, some are ‘faction’ and some are romanticized versions of events. The War provides a colourful backdrop to any story or romance or intrigue. It is still within living memory but our ‘memories’ are coloured by the righteousness of victory and a belief that those of us on the winning side all pulled together in a noble way. However, wartime is also a period when crime rates soar. No more so than in Jacqueline Winspear numerous novels. This months first book review is her latest novel,  The American Agent published by Allison & Busby (www.allisonandbusby.com) on the 26th March

When a young american woman is found dead in her London flat. The brutal murder of the journalist is concealed by the British Authorities, initially keen to avoid a problem with the US but also because the victim Catherine Saxon has political connections. She has been working towards becoming a member of Murrow’s boys, a group of American reporters who are based in London and writing human interest stories with the aim of encouraging US sympathies towards supporting the Allies. Maisie Dobbs is asked to work in conjunction with an American Agent, Mark Scott to solve the crime. Dobbs and Scott have met before, he helped her escape the clutches of the third Reich in  Munich a couple of years previously. Can Maisie and her American friend get to the bottom of this murder while the Luftwaffe rain ordinance down on top of the British capital, threatening not just their investigation but the lives of those they love?

The American Agent is set during the time we now know as the Blitz, a period of intense bombing of British cities, which occurred during months from the autumn of 1940 to the beginning of summer in 1941. This was a truly evocative time in British people’s psyche. Those of us who were brought up in Britain, would have an ingrained understanding of what London during the Blitz was like, even though we have never personally experienced it. This was also a period when the British were working hard diplomatically to induce America to join the War. This propaganda offensive is also a feature of Winspear’s story, providing a side story to the murder mystery at its centre.

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Jacqueline Winspear

This isn’t Winspear’s first novel featuring Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator but it is the first I have had the pleasure to read. A situation soon to be corrected! Maisie has had an interesting life to date. She was a maid in an Aristocratic house at thirteen, where she received the patronage and support of both her suffragette employer and of Maurice Blanche an investigator. Inspired, she gains entry to Girton College, only to have her studies cut short by the start of the Great War, during which she works as a nurse on the Front. She subsequently becomes an investigator in her own right and as we join her here, has experienced love and loss and is currently in the process of trying to adopt a refugee child. A widow to a titled gentleman, she doesn’t routinely use her title but one can imagine it makes some things possible for a woman in 1940 that wouldn’t be otherwise.

English born American author Jaqueline Winspear has to date written 15 books, fourteen have featured her heroine Maisie Dobbs. The others include Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds Of A Feather (2004), An Incomplete Revenge (2008), The Mapping Of Love And Death (2010), A Dangerous Place (2015) and In This Grave Hour (2017). The only book not featuring the enigmatic Ms Dobbs is The Care And Management Of Lies (2014). Born in Kent, Winspear emigrated to the United States in 1990 . It is her grandfather’s experiences and injuries at the battle of the Somme which inspired her to write historical fiction based in war time.

In The American Agent, Maisie has a pool of suspects, a wealth of motives and a victim

with a mysterious past. She also has her doubts about Mark Scott’s involvement. Is the investigation a blind for something else? Is he involved? She is drawn to him romantically, but does he feel the same way? Maisie is trying to juggle her work as an investigator with working as ambulance crew during the blitzes and maintaining a relationship with her refugee child, who is in the countryside under the care of her parents.

This was very much Sunday night TV in terms of style. And I say that with utmost respect. It reminded me of  Foyle’s War, Call the Midwife or Heartbeat . One of those well-made, characterful dramas, that when you see it in the listings, you know you are in for an enjoyable time. A lover of Agatha Christie since my childhood, this was very much up my street.  The characters are well drawn, the setting is absolutely spot on and the denouement satisfying in its intricacy.  There was none of the gore and shock factors of modern crime thrillers. This read was very authentic. If someone told me it was written in the immediate post war period, I wouldn’t be surprised as it had a similar style to some vintage crime stories I’ve enjoyed. However Maisie is an inspiring very modern heroine. This should be an extra bonus in advertising this new novel and the other Maisie Dobbs novels on both sides of the Atlantic, in the current pro women in lead roles climate.

I for one, can’t wait to join the Maisie Dobbs revolution and catch up with the rest of the series! Neither should you, so hop on your bike to your local bookshop or download a copy and get behind a worthy new heroine.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things Blog tour, to see what the other reviewers think go visit their blogs listed below. Then if you pick up a copy of The American Agent, comeback to this or the other blogs and tell us whether you agree or disagree.

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