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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Snow (St. John Strafford 1) by John Banville (@FaberBooks). Classic mystery but not as we know it

Hi all:

Before I forget, Happy New Year. This year I’m sure we’re all happy to see the end of the year that leaves us. Let’s hope the next one is better (come on, this time is not that difficult, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed).

And now, to the review.

Snow by John Banville

Snow (St. John Strafford 1) by John Banville

‘Superb.’ The Times
‘Outstanding.’ Irish Independent
‘Exquisite.’ Daily Mail

A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Book of 2020

‘The body is in the library,’ Colonel Osborne said. ‘Come this way.’

Following the discovery of the corpse of a highly respected parish priest at Ballyglass House – the Co. Wexford family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family – Detective Inspector St John Strafford is called in from Dublin to investigate.

Strafford faces obstruction from all angles, but carries on determinedly in his pursuit of the murderer. However, as the snow continues to fall over this ever-expanding mystery, the people of Ballyglass are equally determined to keep their secrets.

‘The sinister and unnerving Snow has all the trimmings of a classic country house mystery – body in the library, closed circle of suspects, foul weather – all elevated by Banville’s immaculate, penetrating prose.’ Peter Swanson

https://www.amazon.com/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

https://www.amazon.es/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

About the author:

Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children’s novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford.

Educated at a Christian Brothers’ school and at St Peter’s College in Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university. Banville has described this as “A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free.” After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland he became a sub-editor at the Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor. His first book, Long Lankin, was published in 1970.

After the Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left. Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990. In 1984, he was elected to Aosdána, but resigned in 2001, so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas.

Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls, which was followed by The Silver Swan in 2007. Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like “a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”. Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91.John_Banville

My review:

Thanks to Faber & Faber and to NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

John Banville is a well-known, well-respected, and multiple award winner author (his awards include the Booker Prize, the Franz Kafka Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, among others), and although he is perhaps better known for his literary fiction (he also writes short stories, scripts and adapts plays), he has also written several crime fiction novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black. I read one of his novels years back (probably The Sea) and although I can’t remember much about it, what stayed with me was how beautiful his writing was. So, I was intrigued when I saw that he’d published the first book in a crime series, this time using his own name. And let me assure you that his writing is as beautiful as I remembered, even if the subject does not always correspond to the beauty vested upon it.

Funnily enough, this is a strange but unsuitably suitable Christmas read, as the story takes place around the festive season, but there is no Christmas cheer or spirit behind the happenings described in the book at all. I don’t want to talk about the plot in too much detail, to avoid spoilers and because I feel that the actual plot is somewhat incidental to what makes the book so interesting, but, in short, a Catholic priest is found dead in the library of a big aristocratic manor, in County Wexford, Ireland, in the late 1950s. The circumstances of his death are quite gruesome (despite the attempts at keeping the decorum the Church and most authorities involved make), and there are plenty of added complications. The Osborne family —the owners of the house— are Protestants, as is the detective inspector sent to investigate the murder, Strafford (from an aristocratic family as well), and, as you’d expect, they all hide secrets (or most of them): money is a problem; the first wife of Colonel Osborne died from a fall (down the same stairs the priest used before his death); Osborne’s new wife was a friend of the first wife, suffers from insomnia, is heavily medicated and is a less-than-reliable witness (she was the first person to find the body); the daughter of the family has been expelled from school but hasn’t told anybody and her behaviour is daring beyond her years; the son of the family is eager to abandon Medicine and seems to have some questionable friendships; there is a stable boy with a troubled past… As you might suspect from the title, there is plenty of snow that makes the search all the more complicated; nobody has seen or heard anything; the priest was supposed to be very popular but other than his sister nobody seems to be really sorry to see him go; Osborne’s brother-in-law has been banned from the house but was in the area at the time of the murder; there is a doctor who also hangs around the house and whose prescribing sounds suspect; the people in the village seem superficially friendly but are not very helpful, and the local police… Well, you probably catch my drift.

There is much in the novel that will remind classical mystery readers of the genre (yes, even the characters in the novel remark on the fact that the body is found in the library of a grand house), and there are plenty of homages/jokes/winks to other famous mysteries and characters, down to people always mispronouncing Strafford surname, asking him why he decided to become a detective (but he is not Poirot by any stretch of the imagination)… And Strafford is fully aware of the fact that he does not fit into the mould or the expectations, both as a detective and as a man of the upper-class, as he does not drink alcohol, he doesn’t smoke, he’s chosen a less-than-glamorous or reputable profession, and he is not particularly intuitive, brilliant, or self-assured. He does suffer from imposter-syndrome and often feels as if he was playing a part in a play (and at times as if everybody else was as well). In some ways, the novel challenges the stereotypes of that kind of book, while staying pretty close to the form and some of its conventions. At times it feels as if the central character had walked into the wrong book, but as we read, we come to realise that other things are out-of-kilter as well. It is an eerie reading experience, and an unsettling one, in a good way.

When I said that the plot was rather incidental to the interest I felt for the book, that is because although there is a mystery, most people reading the novel now (and in the future) will probably suspect what is behind the crime from very early on, although that might not have been evident to somebody like Strafford at the time. Although the exact details are not straightforward and there is a later development that adds an interesting dimension to the actual ending, I think this is an occasion when the readers are likely to be ahead of the investigator and end up observing his thought processes and the whole community rather than looking for clues about the case. Other themes abound like: the strained relationships (at times) between Protestants and Catholics and the expectations and prejudices of both sides (Strafford’s conversation with the Archbishop is priceless); family relationships; changes in circumstances for old aristocratic/landed families; the power and control of the Catholic Church over the media and civil authorities; the secrets of the Church; the nature of gossip and rumour in small villages; recent Irish history, and above all, the character of Strafford, who can be in turn naïve and insightful, highly intelligent and blind, sophisticated and socially inadequate, sharp and useless at judging people, and whose self-knowledge is, at times, sorely lacking. The book deals in pretty dark subjects as well (that I won’t mention to avoid spoilers, but you might already suspect from my comments), while at the same time being witty and having some truly humorous moments (pretty dark at times).

I have talked about the main character and have mentioned some of the others. There is also Sergeant Jenkins (his description is priceless as you can see if you read on), a more standard fit into the genre, who investigates with Strafford although nobody can remember his name, and I’ve mentioned some of the other characters before, although there are also villagers, local police, and some that we only hear about but never get to meet. None of the other characters are as well-drawn or as distinctive as Strafford, and many would not stand out in a classic mystery novel, although with some twists and a dark undertone. I’ve read some reviews that complained of the female characters, and although it is true that they appear unrealistic, conventional, and two-dimensional, the rest of the male characters don’t fare much better either. I think it is partly to do with Strafford and his shortcomings (after all, we see things through his eyes), and in the few instances when we get a different perspective, things aren’t as simple as they appear to him. In some of the cases, later events and information cast doubts on what we thought we knew.

The story is told, mostly, in a linear fashion, in the third person, as we follow Strafford while he investigates. Although we get inside of his head and the action is described from his point of view most of the time, there are moments when an omniscient observer offers us a glimpse of Strafford from outside, as it were. There are also two fragments from a different point of view, clearly separated from the rest of the text: one following a female character (I’m keeping my peace here), narrated in the third person, and another one in the first person, from the victim’s perspective, set a few years before his death, and although it is pretty tough to read, it also rings psychologically true.

The style is not the straightforward easy-to-read language we’re used to in mysteries. This is Banville, and it is a joy. It does not follow any of the dictates of avoiding unnecessary words, keeping to the action, keeping it simple, pushing the action forward… And, as an English teacher, I kept thinking it would be a great book for advanced students (proficient students) looking to learn less common vocabulary and precise and unique words (that, of course, would fit a well-educated and refined man such as Strafford). If anybody tried to put the book through Grammarly, I suspect it would break at the percentage of unusual words. Although I’m not sure this is a book for the standard mystery lover, I’m convinced those who love and study language and its intricacies will enjoy it. A few tasters from the book (although remember, mine is an ARC copy and there might be some changes in the final edition):

The last thing he saw, or seemed to see, was a faint flare of light that yellowed the darkness briefly.

The first thing everyone noticed about Sergeant Jenkins was the flatness of his head. It looked as if the top of it had been sliced clean off, like the big end of a boiled egg. How, people wondered, was there room for a brain of any size at all in such a shallow space?

…her skin was pinkly pale, the colour of skimmed milk into which had been mixed a single drop of blood. Her face was like that of a Madonna by one of the lesser Old Masters, with dark eyes and a long sharp nose with a little bump at the tip.

To a microbe, he mused, each tiny burst of fire would seem a vast conflagration, like a storm on the face of the sun. He thought again of the snowy fields outside, smooth and glistening, and over them the sky of stars burning in icy brightness. Other worlds, impossibly distant. How strange a thing it was to be here, animate and conscious, on this ball of mud an brine as it whirled through illimitable depths of space.

As usual, I also recommend checking a sample or the look inside feature if you have doubts about how well the style would suit your reading taste.

The ending will be unlikely to surprise readers of mystery novels or most readers, but, as I’ve said, I don’t think that’s the point of the story. And there is a coda at the very end, that although not exactly surprising, I found quite satisfying.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would, but not to readers looking for a standard murder mystery that conforms to the usual norms, or people looking for a cozy and gentle story. If you enjoy novels that challenge the conventions, enjoy beautiful use of language, don’t mind dark subjects, and are interested in recent historical fiction set in Ireland, check it out. I am curious to see where Banville goes with book 2 in the series.

Thanks to the publisher and the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and share if you fancy, like, comment… And please, be safe!

Categories
Christmas presents

#Merry Christmas #Feliz Navidad And Goodbye 2020, finally! Adiós a 2020, por fin!

Hi all:

I’m particularly disorganised this year, but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of sending you some Season Greetings. This has been a terrible year for all, even for those of us who’ve been lucky enough not to have been too personally affected by it (and my thoughts go to those who have lost a loved one and/or are still trying to get over the illness and its aftermath).

I didn’t know what to do this year, and I remembered Paul, a fellow blogger (if you love daily quizzes, love films, TV series, and enjoy quirky music and are after some pretty encyclopedic knowledge on all kinds of things, you must check his blog here), suggested that I could turn my little bilingual book into a video, and I’ve done that. I’ve only used the images, but the book is pretty short, so you’ll probably get a sense of what it’s about. Thankfully for anybody who might watch it, neither the images (thanks to Unsplash) nor the music (YouTube’s own free offerings) are mine, so don’t worry. You’re probably safe.

20 cosas que he aprendido de mis pacientes. Consejos de una psiquiatra para ayudarte a vivir mejor
Dra. Olga Núñez Miret

As I went over the images and words for the video, I thought of other possible translations and variations for some of them, but I decided to leave them as they are. Translation is a pretty subjective matter, in any case, but in case you are students of English or Spanish, these are not literal translations. In some cases, they are far from it.

And now, here comes the video, and please, stay safe this holiday season, if you celebrate it at all. Hopefully, there will be more, and we’ll be able to celebrate them as we’d like. But his year, be careful.

Take care.

Thanks for being there! ¡Muchas gracias!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BLIND TURN by Cara Sue Achterberg (@carasueachterberg) A wonderful mother-daughter relationship were everybody learns #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book by an author I’ve read and loved before. I’m slightly ahead of its publication date (it is due on the 7th of January 2021), but I thought you might appreciate the chance of getting ahead and having some suitable reading ready for the beginning of the year (and let’s hope it helps start the year on a better note). And without further ado…

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

Blind Turn by Cara Sue Achterberg

In the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident, a mother and daughter must come to terms with the real meaning of forgiveness.

Liz Johnson single-handedly raised an exemplary daughter. Jessica is an honor-student, track star, and all-around good kid. So how could that same teenager be responsible for the death of the high school’s beloved football coach? This is Texas, where high school football ranks right up there with God, so while the legal battle wages, the public deals its own verdict.

Desperate for help, Liz turns to a lawyer whose affection she once rejected and attempts to play nice with her ex-husband. Jessica faces her angry peers and her own demons as she awaits a possible prison sentence for an accident she doesn’t remember.

A tragic, emotional, ultimately uplifting story, Blind Turn is a natural book club pick.

https://www.amazon.com/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

https://www.amazon.es/Blind-Turn-Cara-Sue-Achterberg-ebook/dp/B08LSLSZZF/

Author Cara Sue Achterberg

About the author:

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer, blogger, and shelter dog advocate who lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania and Bentonville, Virginia.

She is the author of four novels, two memoirs (‘dog-oirs’), and a handbook/memoir of the organic life.

Cara has fostered over 180 dogs for the nonprofit all-breed rescue organization, Operation Paws for Homes and writes a blog about her experiences (AnotherGoodDog.org), and she is the co-founder of Who Will Let the Dogs Out (WhoWillLettheDogsOut.org), a non-profit initiative whose mission is to raise awareness and resources for shelter dogs.

Her small hillside farm in PA is home to a shuffling cast of foster dogs and foster kittens, her two dogs Gracie and Fanny, two horses, a barn cat named Tonks, and plenty of chickens. Cara travels to the mountains of Virginia every chance she gets. Links to all of her blogs, pictures of her foster dogs and more information can be found at CaraWrites.com.

twitter: @caraachterberg
instagram: @carasueachterberg
Facebook: @carasueachterberg

https://www.amazon.com/Cara-Sue-Achterberg/e/B00PYVVB5S

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I read and reviewed a novel by the same author, Practicing Normal, over three years ago, but I enjoyed it so much, and it made such an impact that I requested this one straight away. (You can check my review here). The author has been busy with other projects and has published several non-fiction titles in the meantime, but I can say that her new novel was worth the wait.

The book description gives an idea of the bare bones of the story, which is not very complicated, at least on the face of it. The novel follows the aftermath of a terrible accident, although perhaps not a totally ‘accidental’ accident, as the girl driving, Jess, was ‘allegedly’ texting while driving. The girl, who suffers a concussion, can’t remember anything about the accident, but her friend Sheila, who was with her in the car, has plenty to say. The victim is a well-known town coach and a friend and mentor of the girl’s father. Let’s say there’s not much love lost for the girl and her family in the town (Jefferson, Texas) after that happens. The novel falls into the categories of family drama (or women’s stories, as the story is told by the two women, Liz, the mother, and Jess, her daughter, in the first-person) as well as a coming of age story. Jess is only sixteen when the accident happens, and she grows up considerably during the next few months, while she discovers who her real friends are, reorders her priorities, gains a new appreciation for both her parents, learns about guilt, and more than anything, about forgiveness. She is not the only one who grows up in the process, and her mother also learns a lot about herself and about those around her.

I’ve mentioned some of the themes discussed in the book, and there are others: disappointed expectations, second chances, the risks of texting and driving (of course), parenting, split-up families, the nature of guilt and forgiveness, the way all lives are interconnected and all actions have consequences, unplanned parenthood, looking after the elderly (especially our parents)… This is not a novel full of secrets and twists, devious characters, and bizarre motives, but rather one that we could imagine happening to our own relatives and/or friends (or ourselves). That is one of its strengths. The plot does not require any suspension of disbelief (or not much. At times, I wondered if in real life things wouldn’t have got even more difficult for those involved, and especially some of the male characters seem very understanding and forgiving, although that is refreshing), and as the book is not heavy on details or descriptions, it is even easier to imagine its scenario taking place around us.

I liked all (or most) of the characters. Although I have little in common with Liz or Jess, I found them both easy to empathise with. They are not perfect but are fundamentally good people trying to get on, and they love each other deeply, though at times it might not be that evident even to themselves. The rest of the characters are also pretty decent despite their flaws, and this is not a book where good and evil are clearly separated. Sometimes a mistake can have terrible consequences, and sometimes good people can do terrible things. If I had to choose some of my favourites, I quite liked Katie, Liz’s sister; her friend Avery; their neighbour, Dylan; Ellen, the counsellor; and Fish, a boy Jess’s father knows. Both of their love interests are endearing, although at times they appear a touch too perfect (but things happen that qualify that impression), and even the characters whose behaviour is not exemplary are not despicable. Through the main characters’ narrations, we get to share in their doubts, hesitations, fears, defense-mechanisms, disappointments, expectations, hopes, guilt feelings; and it’s impossible not to wonder what we’d do in their place. I have no children, but I could easily imagine what Liz might feel like, and as somebody who’s driven for years and has been lucky enough not to be involved in any serious accidents (none involving injuries), Jess’s plight was instantly recognisable. Their thoughts and their emotions felt true, and the way they behave and eventually grow suits perfectly the kind of human beings they are.

The use of the first-person narration by the two main female characters works well, as we get both sides of the story, with access to more background into the changes and the actions of each character than the other has, and it also provides us with some distance from each woman and an outsider perspective on them, and we come to realise that they are more alike than they think. The author is both skilled and thoughtful enough to avoid common-places, and she does not give her characters an easy way out. They have to work through their issues and earn the hard lessons they learn. Saying that, I loved the ending that manages to be both, open and hopeful.

The writing flows easily, and although the novel is not full of action or a page-turner in the standard sense, there are very emotional moments. We become so involved in the lives of the characters that it’s difficult to put the book down, as we care too much for them to rest until we know what happens. I read a review written by somebody from Jefferson, Texas, who felt somewhat disappointed because she had expected to recognise some of the landmarks, so beware if you have similar expectations. On the other hand, I got a good sense of what it felt like to live there (or at least in the Jefferson of the novel) and to know the characters personally, and that worked perfectly well for me.

I thought I’d share a few of the passages I highlighted (although, remember mine was an ARC copy, so there might be some slight changes in the final version):

Why does forgiveness require a sacrifice? That piece of Christianity never made sense to me. That sounds more like making a deal than offering forgiveness.

I am the roadrunner, running in thin air, moments from smacking into reality.

Sometimes it feels like I’m in a dystopian novel being controlled by a cosmic author who makes the characters do things no one would ever dream they would do —especially themselves.

I am different too. I am finished withholding forgiveness and clinging to my anger and fear like some kind of sick armor to shield my heart.

I recommend this novel to readers who love realistic/plausible coming-of-age stories and family dramas that don’t fall into the trap of trying to make everything right or easy for the characters while at the same time avoiding unnecessary twists used simply for effect. If you’re looking for an inspiring story you can connect with and characters you’d love to have as neighbours or friends, this is your book. There is heartache, tears, and also a process of growth and lessons to be learned, and you’ll feel better for having read it. And what more can we ask for! (Oh, I almost forgot! There are dogs as well!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview MOONFLOWER MURDERS: A NOVEL (MAGPIE MURDERS BOOK 2)by Anthony Horowitz (@PenguinUKBooks) (@AnthonyHorowitz) Two mysteries in one, fun and entertaining, perfect to forget 2020

Hi all:

Today I’m reviewing a novel (well, sort of two) by a very well-known author whom I hadn’t read before. It was about time!

Moonflower Murders: A Novel (Magpie Murders Book 2)by Anthony Horowitz

Moonflower Murders: A Novel (Magpie Murders Book 2)by Anthony Horowitz

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller with echoes of Agatha Christie from New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.

Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she’s always wanted. But is it? She’s exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she’s beginning to miss London.

And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Hall—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts.

One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, on that very crime.

The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.

Brilliantly clever, relentlessly suspenseful, full of twists that will keep readers guessing with each revelation and clue, Moonflower Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction from one of its greatest masterminds, Anthony Horowitz.

https://www.amazon.com/Moonflower-Murders-Novel-Anthony-Horowitz-ebook/dp/B084VRHJX8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moonflower-Murders-Novel-Anthony-Horowitz-ebook/dp/B084VRHJX8/

https://www.amazon.es/Moonflower-Murders-Novel-Anthony-Horowitz-ebook/dp/B084VRHJX8/

Author Anthony Horowitz

About the author:

Anthony Horowitz’s life might have been copied from the pages of Charles Dickens or the Brothers Grimm. Born in 1956 in Stanmore, Middlesex, to a family of wealth and status, Anthony was raised by nannies, surrounded by servants and chauffeurs. His father, a wealthy businessman, was, says Mr. Horowitz, “a fixer for Harold Wilson.” What that means exactly is unclear — “My father was a very secretive man,” he says– so an aura of suspicion and mystery surrounds both the word and the man. As unlikely as it might seem, Anthony’s father, threatened with bankruptcy, withdrew all of his money from Swiss bank accounts in Zurich and deposited it in another account under a false name and then promptly died. His mother searched unsuccessfully for years in attempt to find the money, but it was never found. That too shaped Anthony’s view of things. Today he says, “I think the only thing to do with money is spend it.” His mother, whom he adored, eccentrically gave him a human skull for his 13th birthday. His grandmother, another Dickensian character, was mean-spirited and malevolent, a destructive force in his life. She was, he says, “a truly evil person”, his first and worst arch villain. “My sister and I danced on her grave when she died,” he now recalls.
A miserably unhappy and overweight child, Anthony had nowhere to turn for solace. “Family meals,” he recalls, “had calories running into the thousands. I was an astoundingly large, round child.” At the age of eight he was sent off to boarding school, a standard practice of the times and class in which he was raised. While being away from home came as an enormous relief, the school itself, Orley Farm, was a grand guignol horror with a headmaster who flogged the boys till they bled. “Once the headmaster told me to stand up in assembly and in front of the whole school said, ‘This boy is so stupid he will not be coming to Christmas games tomorrow.’ I have never totally recovered.” To relieve his misery and that of the other boys, he not unsurprisingly made up tales of astounding revenge and retribution.

Anthony Horowitz is perhaps the busiest writer in England. He has been writing since the age of eight, and professionally since the age of twenty. He writes in a comfortable shed in his garden for up to ten hours per day. In addition to the highly successful Alex Rider books, he has also written episodes of several popular TV crime series, including Poirot, Murder in Mind, Midsomer Murders and Murder Most Horrid. He has written a television series Foyle’s War, which recently aired in the United States, and he has written the libretto of a Broadway musical adapted from Dr. Seuss’s book, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. His film script The Gathering has just finished production. And&oh yes&there are more Alex Rider novels in the works. Anthony has also written the Diamond Brothers series.

https://www.amazon.com/Anthony-Horowitz/e/B000AP7TDG?

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book from Cornerstone (Random House UK) through NetGalley that I freely chose to review. I thank them for this opportunity.

Yes, oh, yes, I’d heard of Anthony Horowitz (I love his biography!), and I’ve watched adaptations (and episodes, I’m sure) of his work on TV but had never read any of his novels. When I came across this one on NetGalley I thought the time had come. I love owls, and although the final cover doesn’t have an owl on it (if they don’t change it, the cover of the audio version does), the ARC copy did, and that was another good reason. (There is an owl in the book, yes. Well, sort of). And now I know why he is so popular. This is the second novel featuring Susan Ryeland and although I can’t compare them because I haven’t read the first one, Magpie Murders, I can confirm that this novel can be read as a standalone, although there are plenty of references to the first one.

This is the cover of the audio

I didn’t know what to expect, not having read the first novel, and although the initial premise of how Susan gets involved in the investigation is a bit thin, once you accept it (and any of us who are interested in books, as readers, writers, editors, collectors… will be quite intrigued by the concept), you are in for a pretty amusing ride. There is a book within a book, and you get two mystery novels for the price of one. And both are pretty good. The book at the centre of Susan’s inquiry, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, is a classic mystery set in the 1950s in the UK (in Dorset), written by one of Susan’s clients, Alan Conway, who was also, it seems, central to the previous novel. Although we start by getting to know the characters of the current case (the main story is set in contemporary times although it goes back a few years to a murder committed at the hotel that takes centre stage in the plot), at some point, Susan starts reading Alan’s novel, as it seems to contain a crucial clue to the disappearance of Cecily, the young woman who has gone missing. And we get the novel in full, so we are in the same position as Susan, or almost, as she was the editor of the story and knew the writer quite well (although perhaps not as well as she imagined). She knew of his delight in creating puzzles, including all kinds of anagrams and secret clues inside of his books, where “everything” might have a hidden meaning. In some ways, it is as if we were reading over her shoulder, in the same way as we follow her around during her investigation.

One of the main achievements of the book is that both mysteries are engaging and work well in their own right. Atticus Pünd Takes the Case is written in the third person, mostly from the investigator’s point of view but not exclusively, and readers of classic mysteries will soon recognise many features and make comparisons with other well-known detectives (he is a foreigner, in this case, German, he is very intelligent although not overbearing, and we get a good sample of a variety of characters, red herrings, motives, secrets, twists, and turns). The main case, which frames the classic mystery, is written in the first person by Susan, whom we meet at a difficult time in her life, when she’s been living in Crete long enough for it to lose some of its shine, and she is wondering if she made the right decision leaving her life in the UK behind, so she jumps at the chance of going back to England and making some money. As you will imagine, she gets more than she bargained for.

I won’t go into detail about the ins and outs of both plots. There are also too many characters to go through, but one of the joys is that Alan Conway used some of the real people as inspiration for the characters in his book, so it’s impossible not to keep looking for similarities and differences as we read. I liked Susan. She is not a typical detective, and she keeps questioning herself as to why she is doing what she is doing. She does suffer badly from impostor syndrome, and a bit like Pünd himself, she wonders if she has not caused more harm than good with her intervention. As I mentioned before, readers, writers, and anybody who has ever edited or corrected a book will particularly enjoy this novel, as there is plenty of discussion as to the process of publishing a book, what is involved, the decisions people make, and how obsessed one can become with what seem to be minor details (but are fundamental to this genre). This is metafiction in action, and I enjoyed it immensely. And I liked Pünd as well. Although we don’t get to know him as closely as we do Susan, there are glimpses of the man behind the brain, and it is a fully-fleshed character.

Regarding the motives and themes featured in the novels, there is nothing terribly original or unexpected here, and there is a familiarity that readers of the genre will appreciate. It’s well done, that’s for sure, but there is nothing there that will keep any of us awake at night or will bring new insight into any important subjects. That is not the book’s aim, either, and, as I said, it provides good solid entertainment, although it won’t work for people looking for hard-edge crime stories or police procedurals heavy on the scientific side of things. On the other hand, I can easily imagine it as a good TV series, and I would be more than happy to watch it.

The writing is fluid, with enough details of the settings and characters to allow us to get a clear picture in our minds without getting in the way of the story. There are stylistic differences between the two novels that make it easy to know what we are reading, although I recommend readers to try to set aside a good chunk of time to read it, as otherwise due to the sheer number of them, the characters and details of both cases can easily get confused. And, keep your wits about you and pay attention as you read. The pace is not frantic, and you do get time to think, but the clues keep coming and there are enough twists and turns to get one’s head spinning.

Both endings are good and they mirror each other in a pretty satisfying way. Did I guess? I guessed the solution to one of the cases, more or less, (I won’t say which one), but there are so many things to pick on and so many clues to analyse, that it can keep readers busy for quite a while.

My first read of one of Horowitz’s books was very enjoyable. He has many fans, and although some preferred the first one in this series (that I now feel quite curious about, and although there are plenty of references to it in this book, I expect to enjoy nonetheless), others thought this one was better. I recommend it to people who love mysteries, in particular classic mysteries, and although some of the subtext and side-themes are slightly dark, the book is not explicit or violent either (there is a bloody nose and some scary moments, but not much else), so I think it will suit most readers of the genre. If you want two mysteries for the price of one and a book that will keep you engaged and entertained and help you forget about 2020, I recommend it. A great read.

 

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Book review Book reviews Non-fiction Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog AMIGURUMI STYLE CROCHET: MAKE BETTY & BERT AND DRESS THEM IN VINTAGE INSPIRED CROCHET DOLL’S CLOTHES AND ACCESSORIES by Cara Medus (@penswordbooks) A fabulous gift for fans of dolls and 1950s fashion #Bookreview #crafts

Hi all:

This is a bit different, although I did bring you a craft book a little while back. I couldn’t resist this one, because as soon as I saw the cover it reminded me of a doll I had to get once I saw it, although it wasn’t that long ago (a few years). Here she is:

My Catalan doll

She is actually not crocheted but knitted, but you’ll probably know what I mean when I share the book. By the way, as I was writing this I realised I’d never named her, so any suggestions are welcome as well.

And here comes the book:

Amigurumi Style Crochet: Make Betty & Bert and dress them in vintage-inspired crochet doll’s clothes and accessories by Cara Medus

Amigurumi Style Crochet: Make Betty & Bert and dress them in vintage-inspired crochet doll’s clothes and accessories by Cara Medus

Crochet Betty, an amigurumi-style doll, with patterns for her fifties outfits ranging from shopping to movie-going. There’s a detailed explanation of how to make the basic doll Betty, and also her cute cat Bert. Each section has patterns for a selection of stylish removable garments and accessories on a fifties theme, with a few added extras for Bert too. Come with Betty as she channels her inner Audrey Hepburn at the movies, or takes off on holiday in the glamorous footsteps of Grace Kelly.

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-Paperback/p/17814

https://www.amazon.com/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-inspired-accessories/dp/1526747278/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-inspired-accessories/dp/1526747278/

https://www.amazon.es/Amigurumi-Style-Crochet-inspired-accessories/dp/1526747278/

Author and crocheter Cara Medus

About the author:

Cara Medus has made and drawn things for as long as she can remember, but has been seriously crocheting for about 10 years. She became technical editor on ‘Simply Crochet’ magazine when it launched in 2013, and loved the geeky side of crochet; patterns, charts, numbers, you name it!

Cara now freelances for ‘Simply Crochet’ and as a crochet designer, and develops training material for crochet designers and tech editors. She often designs garments, but has enjoyed a recent return to amigurumi, as she is more able to match this with her love of illustration. It’s been a joy for Cara to discover Betty and Bert for this book //or book title// and launch them on some new adventures!

Cara lives in Bristol with her husband and sons where she does a bit of singing, yoga and coffee-drinking on the side.

https://caramedus.com/category/crochet/crochet-patterns/

My review:

Rosie Croft from Pen & Sword sent me an early paperback copy of this wonderful book from their White Owl line that I freely chose to review.

I casually discovered this book perusing through the Pen & Sword catalogue, and having long been a fan of crocheting (although I don’t dedicate it too much time, to be honest), I couldn’t resist. Betty, the doll and main character, is wonderful, and her cat, Bert, even more so.

I had to share a review of this book now, because although I haven’t had a chance to try my hand at creating Betty and her wonderful outfits, I thought it would make a fabulous Christmas present, not only for fans of crocheting, but for anyone who loves crafts, dolls, and especially the fashion of the 1950s.

The book is beautifully illustrated, with plenty of photographs of the doll, the details of the making, the stitches, and in an appendix, at the end, there is a list of abbreviations, information of the stockists (especially useful for those living in the UK, although I’m sure it might be possible to order online), detailed diagrams, charts, and symbol keys, and chapter one is dedicated to the basics.

As chapter one explains, it is useful to have some experience in making these types of dolls (yes, amigurumi comes from the Japanese, as you can guess), but the stitches are not very complicated, and there are plenty of instructional videos available for those who might need a bit more guidance (in fact, the author shares patterns and guidance on her own website). Even if you’re not strong at crocheting, this is an inspiring book for people who are creative and enjoy drawing characters (I thought those characters would make great illustrations for children’s books), decorating cakes (it reminded me of fellow blogger, author and artist-baker Robbie Cheadle and her Sir Chocolate series of book with her wonderful fondant characters, you can check the first book here), and the accessories are easier to make and would also be happily received by other dolls, I’m sure!

In case you’re wondering, the book contains six different outfits, with one chapter dedicated to each one, the chapter about the basics, and one dedicated to making the doll. The six outfits (all with cat incorporated and plenty of accessories) are: Betty at home, Betty at the movies (a red carpet occasion), Betty goes on holiday, Betty’s boudoir, Betty goes dancing, and Betty goes shopping.

Here you can see my picture of Betty goes on holiday (as you can see, she does it in style):

Betty goes on holiday

This book is a joy, and I recommend it to anybody interested in this type of crocheting, dolls, illustrations, crafts, or looking for a special kind of gift. Looking through it brings a smile to my face, and I’m sure it will do the same for you, and that is something we sorely need at the moment. A fabulous gift and a fun project to take on.

Thanks to Rosie, Pen & Sword, and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep safe, and always, keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 337 by M Jonathan Lee (@MJonathanLee) A ‘total’ reading experience #literaryfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a pretty surprising (albeit enjoyable) reading experience.

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 by M Jonathan Lee

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens.

It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note. While their father pays the price of his mother s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes. But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

https://www.amazon.es/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/337-M-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492352/

https://www.amazon.com/337-M-Jonathan-Lee-ebook/dp/B08HQYXLKP/

Author M. Jonathan Lee

 About the author:

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author and mental health campaigner.

His first novel The Radio was shortlisted in the Novel Prize 2012. Since that time he has gone on to publish five further novels. 337 is his sixth novel.

He is obsessed with stories with twists where nothing is exactly how it first appears. He was born in Yorkshire where he still lives to this day with his twins, James and Annabel.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M_Jonathan_Lee

Here you can find an interview with the author:

https://www.hideawayfall.com/meet-our-authors/

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

My review:

I had never met M. Jonathan Lee before but when I was approached by his publishing company and read a bit more about the new story and its background, I had to give it a go. I thank them for providing me an ARC hardback copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.

I was intrigued because they were insistent on sending me a hardback copy, but once I had it on my hands, I knew why. This is a pretty special book, not only because of the way it is written and the story it contains, but also because of the format. At first sight, the book appears to be double-ended. The images on both sides are the same (or almost): the door of a house with several transparent glass panels and a stained glass geometrical design on top and on one side, wood flooring (flooded by light) and a side door (on that door the glass panels on the cover are glossy rather than matte like the rest of the cover) —although perhaps it is a reflection rather than a real door— and the number 337 written (inside a box in a lighter colour) at the bottom on the right hand corner (oh, and the number is also glossy). The palette of colours includes different tonalities of yellows and browns, with a touch of green in the stained window. The other side is the same, but the palette of colours goes from violet to blue, as if this was a nocturnal version of the previous cover. It seems that the name of the author is only written on the spine, but if we pay attention to the title and the typography we soon realise that the 337 of the title, upside down, reads “LEE”.  Whichever end of the book you open, it seems to be the start of the book, with the information about the edition, some quotes about the author’s previous books, a poem, and then chapter one. As I am a bit contrary, I started reading by what I later discovered was the back cover (I guess), the night version of the door, and when I reached page 16 I was greeted by this message ‘Nothing is as it seems…’ and in the next page I was told to turn the book and keep reading from page 16. Several empty pages and pages with geometrical motives followed, so I turned the book, and after checking to make sure I hadn’t missed a different beginning, I kept reading. Yes, not your standard novel, and it got me thinking. However, in case you’re already intrigued and rushing to order the book, please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. Don’t worry, though, the rest of the book is pretty special as well.

This is a work of literary fiction, even if a quick reading of the description might induce some people to think they are going to read a standard murder mystery book. Although there is an investigation or a process of research going on, there is nothing standard about it, and the book’s description hints at that. The book delves into memories, looks at how we remember our childhood and past events, examines the stories we tell ourselves (both about ourselves and about those around us), the way we protect ourselves from events and feelings, what happens when we are confronted with reality, and also reflects upon the many alternative ways different people deal with trauma in their lives. Some refuse to let it go; some bury it; some chose to try and forget (sometimes aided by drugs and alcohol); some reinvent themselves…

This is a book with very few characters, and in some ways, it reminded me of a play with a very small cast. It also brought to my mind a very well-known (and excellent) Spanish novel by Miguel Delibes called Cinco horas con Mario (Five hours with Mario) where the recently widowed wife of Mario reflects upon her life with him while she seats next to his coffin at the wake. Here, the main character and narrator of the story, Sam (Samuel) tells the story, in the first-person and in the present tense. He is a man leading a life that appears rather meaningless. He still lives in his parents’ house; he has an online job where he just seems to clock hours for doing as little as possible; he is in the process of divorcing his wife (she initiated divorce proceedings); and he seems to live stuck in the past, still trying to understand what happened to his family following his mother’s disappearance and his father’s imprisonment for her murder. The book opens with a dream/memory from the past, a time when his family and his grandparents —on his father’s side— had gone for a picnic to the park, a family annual tradition. There are several dreams/flashbacks throughout the book, and they are so beautifully and carefully described that we get quite a clear sense of what the family life might have been like (in full technicolour detail). Of course, as the book reminds us, things are not always as they seem, and although for much of the book we only have Sam’s own point of view, events, comments, and even memories that intrude into the action make us start wondering how reliable a narrator he is as we keep reading. We also hear about his wife, Sarah, his brother, Tom, his father, his mother (the one whose disappearance is at the centre of the book), his grandfather, and especially his grandmother, who is dying in a nursing home and whom, after much hesitation, he ends up visiting. Despite his initial reluctance, he ends up spending a lot of time with his grandmother, and that makes him reconsider things. We also meet a few members of the staff at his grandmother’s nursing home. And not even there things are as they seem to be.

The writing style is fascinating. I’ve mentioned the beauty of the descriptions, and there are some fabulous similes and metaphors as well. The writing is lyrical and at times reminded me of poetry, both in written and visual form (we might get a white space where there is a meaningful silence in a conversation, or very short sentences written as if they were a prose poem), mixed with some very insightful comments and reflections. We also have access to the conversations Sam shares with others, mostly his grandmother, but also Tom and the other characters that have much to contribute to our understanding, although not perhaps in the way we think at first. The book flows well and there is something very compelling about it, although it is not a page-turner in the usual sense, because nothing much happens for those who love action, while at the same time there is a lot going on.

A few examples of the writing, so you can see for yourselves what I mean (although remember this is an ARC copy):

Random thoughts are now jumping like kernels of corn over heat. They pop and explode inside my head like fireworks in New Year’s Eve.

When you experience some kind of serious trauma at a young age, it stays with you. It’s like a ghost which follows a few feet behind every footstep — a quiet whispered sound that reminds you of your past.

It has always confused me why people who have not got the slightest clue of what somebody is experiencing still believe that it is their right to state their opinion on the subject. I’ve given this a lot of thought. I believe it comes down to guilt.

And here, Sam is ranting (mentally) about the effects of mobile phones on conversations:

We could be locked in some deep conversation, maybe about to open up about some desperate fear or seemingly unsurmountable problem, and instead a screen is thrust in front of us and we have to smile politely at a picture of a surprised-looking cat near a cucumber. It is unbelievable. The number of truly worthwhile moments that have been spoiled by the interruption of mobile phones is limitless.

The ending… I am going to keep my peace and only tell you that I loved the way it is written and I liked the ending itself, although it wasn’t a surprise for me.

This is not a book for people who are looking for a plot-driven book and an intricate story. It has elements of mystery but it is, first and foremost, a subjective reading experience. If you enjoy literary fiction and like to savour writing in the same way you might enjoy a delicate meal or a beautiful piece of music, I recommend this novel to you. It is a ‘total’ reading experience.

Thanks to the publisher and to the author for this very special novel, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, and if you feel like it, like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling. We’ll get there.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE HUNTED: AN RJ ROX THRILLER (The RJ Rox Thrillers Book 1) by Jo McCready (@jo_mccready) A solid first-novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a novel by an author totally new mean, another one of the novels I’ve discovered thanks to Rosie’s Book Review Team.

The Hunted. An RJ Rox Thriller by Jo McCready

The Hunted: An RJ Rox Thriller (The RJ Rox Thrillers Book 1) by Jo McCready

On the vast Buchanan Estate in the wilds of Scotland, tech billionaire James Sullivan dies a suspicious death. Rookie agent RJ Rox is drawn back to a homeland to which she’d sworn she’d never return. She soon realizes the present is far more threatening than her past as she hunts the killers and the powers that unleashed them.

The close-knit community surrounding the estate is the perfect place to hide secrets and lies. RJ finds herself searching for the weakest link that will allow her access into Buchanan’s sinister world.

Thrown together with a partner who clearly hates her makes RJ even more determined to prove herself to the elusive Kingfisher organization.

Remote, desolate, and beautiful, the hills hide a killer lying in wait. Can RJ close the case before anyone else is subject to the same fate as Sullivan? Before she is hunted herself?

https://www.amazon.com/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

https://www.amazon.es/Hunted-Rox-Thriller-Thrillers-Book-ebook/dp/B08GD43SBG/

Author Jo McCready

About the author:

Jo McCready grew up on the rain soaked streets of small town Scotland before moving to the sunnier climes of Auckland, New Zealand in 2010. She has a background in psychology and a lifetime love of mystery and murder. She is a founding member of the Auckland Crime Writers group.

https://www.amazon.com/Jo-McCready/e/B08GF5N97F

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I had never read anything by this author before, but I was intrigued by the description of the book, the setting (I love Scotland), and when I used the ‘look inside’ feature to check the beginning of the book, I knew I had to keep reading.

The above description gives enough details of the plot, and it is difficult to talk about it without revealing any spoilers.  I am not a big reader of spy novels and equivalents (the protagonists might not be spies per se, but there are big organisations running the show and sending their operatives to investigate people, places, or events, using fake identities, all over the world. Yes, you know what I’m talking about), but I am familiar with the formula and the tropes, and here we have a few: we have a rookie (RJ is only on her second mission), paired up with a much more experienced partner (Stuart Black, although we don’t get to know his real identity); there is a boss who keeps tracks of them; his secretary who is the one who really knows what’s going on; a fairly high-profile case that has not been officially investigated; international travel; risky situations and some twists and turns to keep the readers guessing. What I particularly enjoyed and found refreshing though, was the fact that although we might think we know where things are going (we’ve watched the movie or read the book before), the author manages to subvert our expectations without stepping out from the genre completely. Yes, RJ, the main character, has a background story that weighs on her, but she doesn’t allow it to stop her or even slow her down too much. She doesn’t spend an inordinate time reflecting upon it either. There are no big speeches or moments when the two main characters bear their souls, become “close friends”, and talk about their past or their lives. They don’t even get to share their real names. Stuart offers practical advice when required, but does not spend half of the book speechifying about his experience and previous cases. Although they both learn from each other in the process, this is not a book where RJ is inexperienced, shy, and doubts herself all the time, always deferring to Stuart. She is determined to prove she deserves to be there, and she is aware of what she does and does not know. She is prepared to take risks but can take a step back when needed and ask for help.

They are also neither superheroes nor superhuman. They have skills and are highly-trained, but they get hurt, make mistakes, trip, and get things wrong. And although the organisation can supply them with plenty of stuff and information, they don’t have incredible gadgets that can do impossible things. So, although this is a work of fiction and, as such, it requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, it is not in the realm of fantasy and wishful thinking. There are bumps in the road, and people don’t magically heal from wounds. The action is kept at a reasonable human-size, and I was grateful for it, as this is one of the aspects that tend to put me off these kinds of books.

There are secrets and lies, but not everybody is in the thick of it, and although most readers would suspect a big cover-up from the beginning, things are not as straightforward as they might appear. Let’s say, without revealing too much, that there are plenty of red herrings to keep people guessing, and although there is a baddie in the story we’ll all love to hate, many other characters are neither totally black nor white, and have more redeeming features and are more interesting than they might at first appear.

I have mentioned some of the themes before, and I can’t really talk about the real motivation behind the events they investigate without revealing too much, but let’s say I hadn’t read any stories set in that world before although it is all too real (as I said, I’m not a big reader of this genre, so there might be many books that have touched on that aspect before, but I haven’t heard of them). I found it fascinating and horrifying at the same time, and I am sure I won’t be the only one.

I liked RJ. The author gives us glimpses of her losses and the impact they have had but does not go into it in detail. There isn’t much time for navel-gazing or pondering. She hesitates at times, but she is a determined young woman, intelligent, knows her own mind and she has very clear priorities. She might work for a big organisation but will not blindly follow orders. We get to know little about Stuart, and he does not take charge of everything, while at times he demonstrates interesting and unexpected skills. We don’t get to know too much about the organisation (as it should be), but I liked both the boss and his secretary, and I imagine they will get to play important parts in the series as it develops. The author has a talent for creating recognisable local characters without going into so much detail that it distracts from the story. They are realistic enough and I particularly liked the owner of the pub/B&B, her little girl and her two young sons. Oh, and their cat! And Wullie Carstairs (and no, you’ll need to read the book if you want to know who he is).

The story is told in the third person, mostly from RJ’s point of view, but sometimes we get an insight into the organisation and its workings, and there is also another character whose point of view we share. And yes, the author is very clever in her use of point of view, as I must confess I was caught by surprise and didn’t see the main twist coming. I don’t know if the way the story is told will be to everybody’s taste, but I can reassure readers that despite the different points of view there is no head-hopping and no risk of getting confused. We know at all times where we are and through whose eyes we’re following the action.

The writing is sparse, and it manages to achieve a good sense of place and location without going into long detailed descriptions that would interrupt the flow of the story and the action. McCready’s writing has something cinematographic about it, as at times she will zoom into a small detail in a scene —a moth, the chewing of the inside of somebody’s cheek, a scab…— which makes it all more vivid and visual. The language is not complex or convoluted, and although some of the events investigated are violent, those are told rather than shown, and I don’t think squeamish readers or those who prefer no explicit violence in their books would have an issue with it. That doesn’t mean there are no dangers or risky situations, though, and although there are some quiet moments, the story moves at good pace and it keeps us turning the pages.

The ending is satisfying, although I found it slightly rushed in execution (perhaps because there had been quite a build-up). I liked the fact that the trial is included, and the epilogue is a nice touch, for sure.

In summary, this is a solid start to a new series that will appeal to those who enjoy investigations and adventures ran by a big secret organisation. The central character is capable and likeable, and there is plenty we don’t know about her yet, so there is more to explore in the future. I think this would also appeal to young adult readers and to learners of the language as it is not too convoluted and the action keeps it interesting and engaging. It might not be sufficiently detailed for readers who love to get into all the details of the investigation (I wouldn’t recommend it to people who like hard police procedurals), but it is a fast-moving novel, in a great setting, and it explores a criminal world not usually the subject of these kinds of stories. A solid first-novel and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thanks to the author for her novel, thanks to Rosie and her team for all their support, and special thanks to all of you for reading, sharing, liking, and commenting. Remember to keep smiling, reviewing, and make sure to stay safe. 

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#Bookreview THE PHANTOM IN THE FOG: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James (@RichardNJames). This historical mystery series keeps getting better and better #mystery #historicalfiction

Hi all:

I think this series will probably be familiar to many of you. I’m a big fan.

The Phantom in the Fog: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

Bowman of the Yard: Book Four

‘Wonderfully atmospheric, full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft

Autumn, 1892

Following a manic episode, Detective Inspector George Bowman recovers in Colney Hatch lunatic asylum. He is surprised when Elizabeth Morley, an acquaintance who had sought to offer him comfort following the death of his wife, pays an unexpected visit with news of an intriguing case.

A mythical figure – christened Jumping Jack by the salacious press – has returned to the streets of London, leaving a trail of death in his wake.

Bowman calls upon Sergeant Graves to act as his agent in the outside world, resulting in his erstwhile companion being subjected to the wrath of Graves’ new superior, the recently promoted Detective Superintendent Callaghan.

Graves is taken off the investigation and ordered to look into an issue of fraud at The Royal Armitage Bank. As his enquiries continue, however, it becomes clear the two cases may be linked.

As the killer strikes again and the citizens of London grow convinced they are in the grip of a supernatural force, Inspector Bowman must rely upon what’s left of his wits, an improvised map of London on his bedside wall and the memory of an investigation from his days as a detective sergeant.

Does a series of crimes from a decade ago hold the key to the current atrocities being committed in the fogbound streets of London?

Bowman must solve the crime from his hospital ward to enable his colleagues to confront the killer among them.

https://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Fog-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08L98P2J3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phantom-Fog-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08L98P2J3/

https://www.amazon.es/Phantom-Fog-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08L98P2J3/

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life. As an actor I’ve spent a career telling other people’s, from William Shakespeare to Charles Dickens. As I writer, I get to create my own!

I have written almost thirty plays which are produced the world over; from USA to New Zealand and just about everywhere in between. They’re mostly comedies and frequently win awards in competitions and festivals.

In 2014 I wrote a memoir, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series. This was followed by an adaptation of the unscreened pilot episode, Demeter City, and four new short stories featuring the officers of Precinct 88, Space Precinct: Revisited.

As to my own series, I decided I wanted to write a sequence of books set in a world I would want to spend time in and featuring characters I would want to be with. Most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era. It seems such a rich period of history, populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that is where we first meet Detective Inspector George Bowman.

The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows Bowman’s investigation into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and throughout the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.

There are four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all, together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These have been collected into two volumes and fill in the gaps between the novels, giving the reader the chance to follow Bowman’s professional progress and personal battles (he’s a troubled man, as you’ll see) over twelve months of his life.

‘A masterful new Victorian mystery series.’ Rosie Amber books
‘A genuinely impressive debut.’ Andrew Cartmel
‘Full of the thrills of Victorian London.’ Adam Croft

I really hope you like the books. If you do, you can tweet me your thoughts at @RichardNJames. I hope to hear from you!

Richard James
2019

https://www.amazon.com/Richard-James/e/B00NHSS6H6/

My review:

I received an early ARC copy of this novel, and I freely chose to review it.

I have read and reviewed the three previous novels in the series (The Head in the Ice, The Devil in the Dock, and The Body in the Trees) and this is one of a handful of series I follow and have no hesitation in recommending. I’d be pushed to choose between all the novels in the series, but right now, I’d say this is perhaps my favourite. As is the case with the rest, I think this novel could be read as a standalone, because the story is independent and resolved within this volume, and there is enough background information to quickly get a sense of who the main characters are and where they come from, although for those of us who have been following the series, there is the added joy of meeting again some secondary characters we had come across before, and also of catching up on what had happened to the Inspector Bowman and his colleagues (and friends).

The description provides plenty of information about what happens in the book, and I don’t want to reveal too much. Inspector Bowman is an inmate at the lunatic asylum, and the novel offers us an insight view of what the experience might have been like (as with the other books, the novel is narrated in the third person from an omniscient point of view that focuses on different characters as the story progresses, mostly those of Bowman, Graves, and Hicks, although we are also privy to the thoughts and feelings of some of the minor characters at times), sharing in some of the more enlightened and novel aspects psychiatry had to offer at the time. As a psychiatrist, I was enthralled by the French ‘alienist’ called in to look into Bowman’s illness and particularly enjoyed the description of his application of Galvani’s ideas (an early form of electroconvulsive therapy or electroshock) to try to help Bowman. Although I have a personal interest in that aspect of the story, I’m pretty sure most people will be intrigued by it as well. (And don’t worry; we aren’t in Someone Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s territory. What happens is much more akin to my own professional experience of the treatment).

I loved the fact that, through Bowman’s recollections of a past case (thanks to the treatment), we get to learn a bit more about his late wife and how they met. Bowman’s acumen and the way he manages to make connections and work out a vital piece of information about the case his colleagues are working on at Scotland Yard, even in his difficult circumstances, make for a thrilling reading experience. The vivid description of the locations and events has a cinematic quality that has long been one of the strengths of this series.

There are several murders, although that is not evident at first, nor is the connection between the cases, and because Bowman is away, we get to see more of Graves (a good man as well as a thorough and sharp detective), Hicks (a flawed character who’d do almost anything for a quiet and comfortable life, although not intentionally dishonest), and their now boss, Callahan, who seems intent on keeping Graves investigating a fraud case rather than getting involved in the murders. I enjoyed seeing more of the inside workings of the Yard, getting to see Graves in action and how he tries to keep the balance between following orders and doing what he feels is right, and, as usual, I enjoyed the way the author seamlessly introduces information and details about life in London at the time. We get to visit a big newspaper’s archive, we learn some things about London we might never have heard of, and we also have a very mysterious baddie with a touch of the supernatural. Best of all, on a note at the end of the book, the author explains that the inspiration for the mysterious character was a real (?) criminal of Victorian London who was never caught (and although it was a Jack, it wasn’t ‘that’ Jack).

The mystery side of the story worked well for me, with its combination of the fraud story (frauds and con games are not new, that’s for sure) and the murders, and although I guessed some aspects of it, there were enough twists, red herrings, and inside politics to keep me engaged in the story and completely wrapped up in the investigation. I enjoyed the resolution of the case, which cranked up the tension, and the novel ends on a positive and happy note this time (mostly happy at least), a total winner for me. I also liked our insight into some of the side-characters, and the way we experience the era through the character’s senses: we smell, hear, see, taste, and feel London, in all its drabness and splendour.

There was nothing I disliked from the book, although readers who prefer a single point of view might want to check a sample before making a decision. As I have explained in my previous reviews, I think the author’s choice of narrative style works very well for the books, and I don’t find it confusing, but we are all different.

The series is not gruesome or gore in the extreme, but it is realistic in its depiction of the era and the crimes, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who prefer a gentle and light read. It is a Victorian police procedural/mystery that will satisfy both, lovers of mystery and those keen on historical fiction, as readers get the best of both worlds. I cannot recommend this novel and the rest of the series highly enough. I’m eagerly waiting to hear what will be next for Bowman and his team.

Thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to keep safe, first of all, and to like, share, comment, review, and always keep smiling.

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo (@PenguinUKBooks) Diverse, joyful, and inclusive #Bookreview

Hi all:

I bring you the review of one of the books that won the Booker Prize in 2019. I hope to read Atwood’s novel as well at some point.

Girl, Woman, Other: WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019 by Bernardine Evaristo

BRITISH BOOK AWARDS AUTHOR & FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR 2020

WINNER OF THE BOOKER PRIZE 2019
THE SUNDAY TIMES 1# BESTSELLER

‘The most absorbing book I read all year.’ Roxane Gay


This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .
____________________________

[Bernardine Evaristo] is one of the very best that we have’ Nikesh Shukla on Twitter

‘A choral love song to black womanhood in modern Great Britain’ Elle

‘Beautifully interwoven stories of identity, race, womanhood, and the realities of modern Britain. The characters are so vivid, the writing is beautiful and it brims with humanity’ Nicola Sturgeon on Twitter

‘Bernardine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life’ Ali Smith, author of How to be both

‘Exceptional. You have to order it right now’ Stylist

‘Sparkling, inventive’ Sunday Times

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Woman-Other-Bernardine-Evaristo-ebook/dp/B07GSXWFSZ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-Woman-Other-Bernardine-Evaristo-ebook/dp/B07GSXWFSZ/

https://www.amazon.es/Girl-Woman-Other-Bernardine-Evaristo-ebook/dp/B07GSXWFSZ/

Author Bernardine Evaristo

About the author:

www.bevaristo.com

Award-winning British writer Bernardine Evaristo is the author of seven books. She is also an editor, critic, dramatist and essayist. Her writing spans the genres of prose novels, verse-novels, a novel-with-verse, a novella, poetry, non-fiction, literary criticism and radio and theatre drama. Her latest novel, Mr Loverman, is about a 74 yr old Caribbean London man who is closet homosexual (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, 2013 & Akashic Books, USA, 2014). Her writing is characterised by experimentation, daring and subverting the myths of various Afro-diasporic histories and identities. She has published widely in a variety of publications and anthologies.

Her books are: MR LOVERMAN (Penguin, 2013), HELLO MUM (Penguin 2010), LARA (Bloodaxe 2009), BLONDE ROOTS (Penguin 2008), SOUL TOURISTS (Penguin 2005), THE EMPEROR’S BABE (Penguin 2001), the first version of LARA (ARP 1997), ISLAND OF ABRAHAM (Peepal Tree, 1994). For more information visit BOOKS.

Her awards include a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, EMMA Best Book Award, Big Red Read, Orange Youth Panel Award, NESTA Fellowship Award and an Arts Council Writer’s Award. Her books have been a ‘Book of the Year’ thirteen times in British newspapers and magazines and The Emperor’s Babe was a (London) Times ‘Book of the Decade’. Hello Mum has been chosen as one of twenty titles for World Book Night in 2014. She was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2006, and she received an MBE in 2009.

Her verse novel The Emperor’s Babe was adapted into a BBC Radio 4 play in 2013 and her novella Hello Mum was broadcast as a BBC Radio 4 play in 2012. Her new novel Mr Loverman was optioned by BBC television drama in 2014.

She is co-editor of two recent anthologies and a special issue of Wasafiri magazine: BlackBritain: Beyond Definition, which celebrated and reevaluated the black writing scene in Britain. In 2012 she was guest editor of the winter issue of Poetry Review, Britain’s leading poetry journal, in its centenary year. Her issue, Offending Frequencies, featured more poets of colour than had ever previously been published in a single issue of the journal, as well as many female, radical, experimental and outspoken voices. She is guest-editing the September 2014 issue of Mslexia magazine.
Her literary criticism appears in the national newspapers such as the Guardian and Independent and she has judged many literary awards.

She has judged many prizes and she founded the Brunel University African Poetry Prize in 2011. http://www.africanpoetryprize.org/

Since 1997 she has accepted invitations to take part in over 100 international visits as a writer. She gives readings and delivers talks, keynotes, workshops and courses.

The first monograph on her work, Fiction Unbound by Sebnem Toplu, was published in August 2011 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. http://www.c-s-p.org/Flyers/Fiction-Unbound-Bernardine-Evaristo1-4438-3153-0.htm

Bernardine’s books have been translated into several languages including Mandarin.

Personal: Bernardine Evaristo was born in Woolwich, south east London, the fourth of eight children, to an English mother and Nigerian father. Her father was a welder and local Labour councillor and her mother a school teacher. She was educated at Eltham Hill Girls Grammar School, the Rose Bruford College of Speech & Drama, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned a PhD in Creative Writing. She spent her teenage years acting at Greenwich Young People’s Theatre.
She lives in London with her husband.

https://www.amazon.com/Bernardine-Evaristo/e/B000APTPRY/

My review:

I thank Penguin UK and NetGalley for the ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

My list of books to read has grown so long that sometimes I’m surprised when I realise some titles I’ve wanted to read for a while had been quietly waiting on my e-reader, and I’d completely lost track of them. This is one of them. I kept reading comments and reviews and thinking I had to read it once I got a copy, and I finally realised I had it already. Oh, well, a nice surprise for a change in a year that hasn’t had many.

I’ve never read any books by Evaristo before, although she’s been writing for quite a while and has become well-known and, judging by this book, deservedly so.

Although brief, the official book description gives a good idea of the content. There isn’t a plot in the traditional sense, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In fact, some reviewers have complained that this is not a novel, but rather a collection of twelve biographical notes, and they didn’t feel connected to any of the characters, as none of their stories were explored in detail. It is true that the book is a catalogue of the multi-faceted experience of British women from diverse ethnic backgrounds, social classes, locations (from the most rural to London and beyond), educational levels, professions, gender identities, politics, sexual interests, tastes… But rather than being true biographies (of fictional biographies), these are no stories told objectively from an outsider’s point of view. Although written in the third-person (the writing style is very special as well), we get each of these women’s stories from their own point of view, at least in their own chapter. The book is divided into 4 parts, each telling three stories that appear connected, as they are often the stories of relatives or close friends, sometimes going back several generations. The beauty of the way the book is constructed is that, as we keep reading, we come to realise that a lot of these women’s lives have intersected at some point or other, and that gives us also an outsider’s perspective on what they are like, or, rather, how they appear to others and what others think of them. Sometimes there is a huge gap between the two, but I found it difficult not to empathise with these women after seeing their lives through their own eyes, even when I might have nothing in common with some of them. When you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, it’s easier to understand who they are and to feel sorry when others dismiss them, misunderstand them, or even openly dislike them. Of course, I liked some characters more than others, but I was interested in their experiences, even those of the women I would never want as my friends.

As you can imagine from the above, the book deals in many important issues: race, gender, political views, aging, social changes, family relationships, identity in its many facets, prejudice, sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse … The risk Evaristo runs in trying to cover such wide and numerous topics is to end up skimming over all of them and never getting into the nitty-gritty of anything. That might be true, but I see this book as a celebration of uniqueness and self-definition, rather than as an in-depth exploration of one single issue. We are not just one thing to the exclusion of everything else. We aren’t only daughters or only British, or only writers, or only adopted or only heterosexual… This book illustrates the multiple possibilities, the many combinations, and the complexity of womanhood (and humanity).

The author is well-known for her poetry, and she has called the style she uses in this book “fusion fiction” a form of rather fluid prose poetry, with no capital letters at the beginning of the sentence and no full stops to mark the end of a sentence. The lack of adherence to grammar rules has bothered quite a number of readers, who found it difficult to get used to, distracting, or pretentious. I was surprised at first, and more than once I had to go back to make sure I had got the right end of the conversation, but it seemed to work well with the text-to-speech option I often use (it adapted well to the natural reading rhythm), and I suspect the same might be the case for the audiobook version. I normally recommend that readers check a sample of a book when I think the writing style might not be to everybody’s liking, and this is a case in point. If you’re thinking about purchasing it, have a look first. (I am not sharing quotes because mine was an ARC copy and any quote would need to be fairly long to give any idea of what the reading experience might be like).

There is an epilogue at the very end of the book, which I wouldn’t call a twist, but it does put an interesting spin on some of the stories. If the idea that we are all connected somehow seems to flow through the whole book, the epilogue closes the circle. (I enjoyed it, although if this was a mystery, I’d say that I’d guessed what was likely to happen well before the last page).

I recommend this novel to readers who like to explore diverse characters and alternative voices, particularly in a UK setting; to those who like to experiment different writing styles, unusual formats, and unconventional stories.  And those who enjoy reading poetry should check it out as well. Some of the topics covered are quite hard and bound to be upsetting, even when not discussed in too much graphic detail, so caution is advised. I will keep track of Evaristo from now on, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Penguin UK and to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and above all, keep safe.

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE HIDDEN LIVES OF JACK THE RIPPER’S VICTIMS by Robert Hume (@penswordbooks). Their plight should not be forgotten #non-fiction #truecrime

Hi all:

Today’s review is about a non-fiction book on a very popular subject but from a different perspective.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are inextricably linked in history. Their names might not be instantly recognisable, and the identity of their murderer may have eluded detectives and historians throughout the years, but there is no mistaking the infamy of Jack the Ripper. For nine weeks during the autumn of 1888, the Whitechapel Murderer brought terror to London s East End, slashing women s throats and disembowelling them. London s most famous serial killer has been pored over time and again, yet his victims have been sorely neglected, reduced to the simple label: prostitute. The lives of these five women are rags-to-riches-to-rags stories of the most tragic kind. There was a time in each of their lives when these poor women had a job, money, a home and a family. Hardworking, determined and fiercely independent individuals, it was bad luck, or a wrong turn here or there, that left them wretched and destitute. Ignored by the press and overlooked by historians, it is time their stories were told.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Lives-Jack-Rippers-Victims/dp/1526738600/

https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Lives-Jack-Rippers-Victims/dp/1526738600/

https://www.amazon.es/Hidden-Lives-Jack-Rippers-Victims/dp/1526738600/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Hidden-Lives-of-Jack-the-Rippers-Victims-Hardback/p/16511

Author Robert Hume

About the author:

Robert Hume was born in 1955 and grew up in Beckenham where he attended Beckenham and Penge Grammar/Langley Park School.
At Keele University he read History and Psychology, before undertaking research studies into the history of education for his M.A. and Ph.D degrees.
An experienced teacher, moderator, G.C.S.E. History examiner, ‘A’ level History, ‘A’ level Psychology and IB examiner, he began his teaching career in Kent in 1982, when he joined the staff of Chaucer Technology School in Canterbury.
In 1985 he moved to Tonbridge to become Head of History at Hillview School for Girls.
From 1988 to 2010 he was Head of History at Clarendon House Grammar School in Ramsgate, where he was voted ‘Kent Teacher of the Year’ in 1992. For many years he managed the football teams and ran the Scrabble club which won the U.K. Schools’ Scrabble competition in 1999, the first Scrabble tournament in the world to be broadcast live over the internet.
Robert has lectured before audiences of teachers in Kent (where he was Secretary of the Kent History Teachers’ Association between 1984 and 1989), Italy and the U.S.A.
In December 1992, as part of the 500th anniversary commemorations, he was invited to give lectures on Christopher Columbus and emigration on board the QE2.
In addition to a number of articles in history journals and magazines (including BBC History Magazine and History Today), Dr Hume has written several books, including Early Child Immigrants to Virginia, 1618-1642 (Magna Carta, Baltimore, 1986); a G.C.S.E. History textbook, Education Since 1700 (Heinemann, 1989); a biography of Christopher Columbus, Christopher Columbus and the European Discovery of America (Gracewing, 1992); a historical novel (Ruling Ambition); an investigation into a Victorian railway disaster (Death by Chance); and six children’s books – on Perkin Warbeck, Dr Joseph Bell, Olaudah Equiano, Mary Shelley, Thomas Crapper and Gretel Bergmann.
Recently, he appeared in an episode of BBC TV Crimesolver that investigated the Abergele train crash.
Robert lives in Broadstairs, Kent where he is currently a home tutor for the East Kent Health Needs Education Service (‘The Willows’), a reviewer for The School Librarian, and a feature writer for the Irish Examiner from 2010 to the present.

His website is www.stonepublishinghouse.com

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

The mystery of Jack the Ripper, one of the greatest unsolved series of crimes in history, is also probably one of the best known, at least superficially. Most of us have heard of it and have watched movies, read novels, or even perused and researched the different theories about who Jack might have been. Many authors and experts have also written about it, proposing solutions to the puzzle, or using it as an inspiration for their own fiction.

It’s difficult not to feel curious about it, due the nature of the crimes, the fact that they all took place in a short period of time in a very small area of London, and because the Victorian Era seems to have a hold on a lot of people’s imagination. While for many it is a historical period looked at with nostalgia and wishful thinking, others are fully aware of its dark side. It is not all full of sweet traditions, big houses, Queen Victoria, Christmas trees and the family singing around the fire… As anybody who has read Charles Dickens will know, things were quite hard for those who weren’t well off or whose luck had run out.

I am not an expert on Jack the Ripper, and I am aware there are Ripperologists who have read everything (or almost everything) written about him. That is not my case, and I chose to read this book because the idea behind it felt right. The media pay so much attention to murders and murderers (especially serial killers) that sometimes the victims and their families become an afterthought or a footnote at best. That is true here, where although the names of these women have reached us, they are often seen as just that, his victims, and we know little about their lives before they crossed his path.

I know there has been another recent book published on the subject, but I haven’t read it, so I can’t make any comparisons. I have read in some reviews that there are some mistakes and inaccuracies in this book, but I don’t know enough to comment, and because my book is an ARC copy, it might well be that any inaccuracies were corrected later. I can say that I learned a lot (within the limited amount of information available) about these five women and their sad circumstances.

The author dedicates a separate chapter to each, he includes an introduction, a list of illustrations, plenty of photographs (some very graphic, so I recommend caution to readers who prefer to avoid that kind of content), abundant notes offering information about the sources used in each chapter, and also a conclusion and a bibliography that will be useful for those who want to learn more.

What I found particularly compelling was the way in which Hume tries to bring to life these women by quoting the words of those who knew them, and trying to paint a picture of their lives and of the places they lived in. He is very successful in illustrating what Whitechapel was like at the time, and how easy it would have been for somebody to fall on hard times and end up homeless and without any means. Women had a harder time finding work than men, and he makes a point of emphasising that at the time there was little to no help for those who fell on hard times. Somebody might have been living a decent life one day, and be kicked out because of an accident and losing one’s job the next. He is very sympathetic and understanding towards the circumstances of these women, who were judged at the time as being morally deficient at best, or corrupt and not deserving of help at worst.

Although scarcely angels, these women were trying hard to survive poverty independently, by taking on any casual work that became available. Homeless and without support, their gradual move into prostitution was not due to laziness or depravity, but personal circumstances: betrayal, bereavement, unemployment, domestic violence, or a simple mistake here and there.’

One wonders what would have happened if the victims had belonged to one of the “better” sections of society and how much more effort would have been invested in finding the culprit.

I have read about the historical period in other books, and I was familiar with some of the information but was impressed by the amount of detail on the locations, the way the workhouses were run and functioned, and the day-to-day life of the inhabitants of the era. We become familiar with pubs, accommodation, brothels, churches, and we learn of the friendships and relationships between the residents of the neighbourhood, their often broken relationships with their relatives, and how this underworld was connected to the rest of London. It is not a place I would have wished to set foot in at the time, but some members of the best of society (mostly men) enjoyed visiting “the den of iniquity” as if they were going to the zoo to see the wildlife or to engage in some anthropological research, when not simply looking for other pleasures.

In his conclusion, Hume reminds us of how little things have changed in some respects and mentions the fact that prostitutes have a much higher mortality rate than the general population and are eighteen times more likely to be murdered. As he writes, all those women also deserve to have their stories told, and perhaps that will go some way to change these horrendous statistics.

I recommend this book to people who have an interest in the era and the area, and particularly in women’s lives. I don’t think experts will find anything new here, but for those who want a general overview of the social circumstances of Whitechapel and the East End of London at the time and also for readers who would like to get a different perspective on the murders, this book offers both, a good read and an important resource.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie Croft and the team of Pen & Sword, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, keep safe and keep smiling!

 

 

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