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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.

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE BODY IN THE TREES: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James (@RichardNJames) Recommended to fans of historical mysteries and complex characters #VictorianMystery

Hi all:

I bring you the third book in a series of Victorian mysteries I’ve been following for a while.

The Body In The Trees: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

The Body In The Trees: A Bowman Of The Yard Investigation by Richard James

Bowman of the Yard: Book Three

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

Summer, 1892.

Accompanied by the trusted Sergeant Graves, Detective Inspector George Bowman finds himself in Larton, a sleepy village on the River Thames. A series of supposed suicides has opened up old wounds between the locals and a gypsy camp in the woods.

The detectives are viewed with suspicion as the villagers close ranks against their investigation, even more so when Bowman succumbs to visions of his dead wife. His sanity in the balance, it’s not long before he places Graves himself in danger, risking the wrath of the Commissioner of Scotland Yard.

Is Bowman in full possession of his wits?

As village life continues and a link between the suicides is discovered, Bowman finds himself ensnared in the machinations of a secret society, with a figure at its head who will stop at nothing to escape justice.

Soon, the inspector is embroiled in a case that began on the dusty plains of Africa, and ends at the gates of a lunatic asylum.

Richard James is an actor, playwright and author with many credits to his name. The Bowman Of The Yard series marks his first as an author. Other books in the acclaimed series include Devil in the Dock and The Head in the Ice.

‘A genuinely impressive debut.’ Andrew Cartmel, The Vinyl Detective.

‘Crime fiction with wit and twists.’ Richard Foreman, Raffles: The Complete Innings.

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Trees-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08773VBYX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Body-Trees-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08773VBYX/

https://www.amazon.es/Body-Trees-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B08773VBYX/

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 write, 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 book, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working as an actor on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series.

So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I wrote a novel. I decided it had to be set in a world I would want to spend time in and feature characters I would want to be with. And 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’s where I’ve started my novel-writing career. The Head In The Ice is the first in the Bowman Of The Yard series and follows the investigation of Inspector George Bowman of Scotland Yard into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames. Over the course of the book, however, and the series in general, we see he has demons of his own to contend with.

There will be four books in the Bowman Of The Yard series in all (at least, to begin with…), together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These will 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. 1892 promises to be quite a year for Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure he would love to have your company!

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

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-James/e/B00NHSS6H6/

My review

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

This is the third novel in the series of A Bowman in the Yard Investigation that I read (you can check my review for book 1 here and for book 2 here) and I’ve become a keen follower of the series, which combines interesting characters and plot with great attention to detail and a compelling style of writing that transport readers right into the heart of Victorian England. While the previous novels were set in London (and we learned much about the changes taking place in the city at the time and the criminal underworld), this novel takes inspector Bowman, Graves, and later Hicks, from Scotland Yard, to the countryside, where they are confronted with a village that is fiercely suspicious of outsiders, and where anybody straying from the established social order is frowned upon. The author proves as adept at depicting this society (with its rigid norms of behaviour, its prejudices and xenophobia, its narrow-mindedness and its cruelty) as he had been at showing us what the big metropolis was like. This is no idyllic English village, but a place full of secrets, envies, one-upmanship, spite, and lack of empathy. It might look pretty from the outside, but as a rotten piece of fruit, its insides are ugly.

Bowman, who had been struggling with his grief and his mental health difficulties from the first book, is quickly becoming unravelled, and that is partly why he is sent away from London to a place where his superiors think he is less likely to cause any damage or come to any serious harm. It is also a way of testing him and seeing how he manages, under the supervision of Graves. As the description explains, things start going wrong quite quickly and Bowman’s mental state puts everybody at risk.

The P.O.V. is the same as in the rest of the series, omniscient, mostly focused on Bowman, but there are parts of the story where we share in the point of view of one of his men, and even of some of the villagers and others involved. I know some readers are not fond of this particular point of view, and although I think it works particularly well in this setting (as the main character becomes an increasingly unreliable narrator) prospective readers might want to check a sample of the writing beforehand.  There are hints and references to events in previous novels in the series, but I think a reader new to the series would be able to enjoy it as well, and I’m convinced he’d be sufficiently intrigued with the events here to want to catch up with the rest of the story.

I particularly liked the depiction of village life, and the social commentary resulting from it (gypsies are suspected of all crimes, there are rigid social norms and people cannot try to move across the divide without causing resentment). I also enjoyed the background of the mystery (but I won’t say anything else to avoid spoilers). There are plenty of red herrings, twists and turns, and cul-de-sacs; although at a personal level I am more interested in Victorian London and its criminal world. I was also intrigued by the baddie, who in some ways seems to understand Bowman perfectly (better than he understands himself, perhaps because they have things in common, although each one of them have dealt with their personal situation in a completely different way), and enjoyed seeing more of Graves and even Hicks (who can be quite effective when he gets going).

What got me hooked into the story most of all was Bowman and his descend into his personal hell. He tries to find some remedy and some help for his condition, but it is not easy, and in his path to self-destruction he gathers a momentum he is unable to control. The ending came as no surprise (I refer to what happens to Bowman, rather than the actual case, although I also guessed the guilty parties, but then I have a suspicious mind. I wouldn’t say it’s easy to guess), and I wonder what will come next.

This is another great novel, and one that explores a different, but not kinder, aspect of life in the Victorian era. There is domestic violence, exploitation, murders, secrets, cowardice, and the full catalogue of human sins. We also get an opportunity to witness the unequal fight of a good man against his grief and his PTSD. The violence and the crimes and not particularly explicit in this book, but this is not a gentle cozy mystery, and readers should be prepared for their emotions to be put to the test. A great combination of historical mystery, social commentary, and psychological study. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep safe and keep smiling. Oh, and don’t worry if you check my previous reviews and see different covers now. The series has been given a once over and all the books have new covers. 

 

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #DOVERONE (A DOVER MYSTERY BOOK 1) by Joyce Porter (@farragobooks) A satirical vintage cozy mystery with an awfully funny (anti) hero #mystery

Hi all:

I bring you something a bit old today but wickedly funny.

Dover One by Joyce Porter
Dover One by Joyce Porter

Dover One (A Dover Mystery Book 1) by Joyce Porter

Detective Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover is the most idle and avaricious hero in all of crime fiction. Why should he even be bothered to solve the case?

For its own very good reasons, Scotland Yard sends Dover off to remote Creedshire to investigate the disappearance of a young housemaid, Juliet Rugg.

Though there’s every cause to assume that she has been murdered – she gave her favours freely and may even have stooped to a bit of blackmail – no body is to be found. Weighing in at sixteen stone, she couldn’t be hard to overlook.

But where is she? And why should Dover, of all people, be called upon to find her? Or, for that matter, even bother to solve the damned case?

Editorial reviews:

“Something quite out of the ordinary.” Daily Telegraph

“Joyce Porter is a joy… Dover is unquestionably the most entertaining detective in fiction.” Guardian

“Plotted with the technique of a virtuoso.” New York Times

“Wonderfully funny.” Spectator

“Dover is wildly, joyously unbelievable; and may he remain so for our comic delight.” Sun

“You will be fascinated by his sheer dazzling incompetence. Porter has a keen eye, a wicked sense of comedy, and a delightfully low mind.” Harper’s

https://www.amazon.com/Dover-One-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B07XX255JK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dover-One-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B07XX255JK/

https://www.amazon.es/Dover-One-Mystery-Book-ebook/dp/B07XX255JK/

Author Joyce Porter
Author Joyce Porter

About the author:

Joyce Porter (28 March 1924 – 9 December 1990) was an English crime fiction author. She was born in Marple, Cheshire. In Macclesfield she attended the High School for Girls, then King’s College London. She served in the Women’s Royal Air Force from 1949 to 1963. An intensive course in Russian qualified her for intelligence work for the WRAF. She left the service determined to pursue a full-time career in writing, having written three detective novels already.

Joyce Porter lived the last years of her life in a pretty thatched cottage on Sand Street in Longbridge Deverill, a village in Wiltshire. She is buried in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul.

Porter created the characters of Eddie Brown, Constance Ethel Morrison Burke, and Wilfred Dover.

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

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Farrago for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Let me clarify that this novel was first published in 1964 by Cape, and Farrago is now republishing all the books in the series.

In brief, this book is a blast. I hadn’t heard of the Dover series and had never read any of Joyce Porter’s books before (more fool me!), but I’m pleased to have discovered both, the character and the author. While the character is truly dislikeable, the author had a talent for creating solid and engaging mysteries inhabited by a fantastic array of characters, and her observational skills and her comedic timing turn her books into a peculiar creation, somewhere between the satire and the farce.

I’ve been trying to find a way to describe this book. It is clearly a mystery and as I said above, it is a good, solid mystery, with red herrings, twists, turns and enough clues to make most lovers of the genre enjoy the putting together of the puzzle. You even have the mandatory summing up at the end, by Detective Chief Inspector Dover, but like everything else in the book, any similarity with what would happen in a true golden age mystery (yes, Agatha Christie comes to mind) is pure coincidence. You’ll have to read the book to judge by yourselves what you think of the ending, but it made me chuckle. I guess I would call it a vintage cozy mystery (if such a thing exists). It is not a standard modern cozy mystery, because although we do have some of the typical elements of those (a peculiar investigator, a strange crime, and a weird assortment of characters), the investigator here is a professional of law enforcement (to call him something) from Scotland Yard and all (the fact that the Yard are keen on sending him as far away as possible notwithstanding), and rather than being engaging and likeable, he is quite the opposite. In some ways, the novel has element of the police procedural, of the period, of course, and the mystery plays a more important part than it does in some of the modern cozy mysteries, where the main character is usually an amateur and his personality, her relationships, her business/profession, and her adventures can take up much of the novel.

Dover is a great creation. He is terrific and horrible all at the same time. He is lazy. He will go to any extents not to make any effort, either mental or physical. He is completely self-centred and totally uninterested in his job. There is no rule he won’t break in order to make his life easier and get a quick result. He exploits Sergeant MacGregor, making him do all the donkey work, and scrounging his cigarettes; there isn’t an invitation to food or drink he ever turns down; he is prejudiced, short-tempered and blows his top at the drop of a hat; he is pompous and never listens to anybody… As the back matter of the book says: “Detective Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover is arguably the most idle and avaricious hero of any novel, mystery or otherwise. Why should he even be bothered to solve the case?” This is not a novel for those who are looking for a character to root for. Although his sergeant is the total opposite, when it comes to solving crimes, he is methodical but not a great asset, either. The mystery takes place in a small town, mostly around what would nowadays be called a luxury housing state, and we come across a fantastic catalogue of characters and suspects, from the slightly odd to the wildly eccentric, and every shade in between. The local law enforcement sounds pretty normal in comparison, although the police women we meet are something else as well. Sorry, I’d rather not spoil it for readers.

The story is narrated in the third person, and although we mostly follow Dover’s adventures, we are clearly outside observers, rather than seeing things from his point of view. We might be privy to some of his thoughts and those of the other characters, but always as spectators. People who read the novel and feel disgusted by the lack of political correctness and the character’s flaws miss the distance between the narrative’s perspective and the character, in my opinion. We are not meant to like him or agree with his approach, quite the opposite. Of course, the novel is of its time, and that’s another one of the joys of it. I loved the language, the references to popular culture, the snippets of information about clothing, habits, social mores… It occurred to me that people researching the era (writers, designers, scholars…) would have a field day with this book.

I don’t want to go into too many details about the plot, but we have a pretty special victim, a bunch of characters from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous (dope fiends, yapping dogs, leery aristocrats, amateur detectives, defrocked priests (well, sort of), a writer interested in little known tribes…), blackmail, a ransom note, a missing body, adultery… and more. Take your pick.

Although I know comedy and sense of humour are very personal, and many of the references in the book are very British, I found it really funny and witty. The book is eminently quotable, but I had to try to offer you at least a few snippets, so you can get an idea:

I was nearly fifty when I married. Up till then I had always avoided matrimony like the plague, going on the principle that there is no need to throw yourself into the river to get a drink of water.

Dover didn’t approve of foreigners, mainly on the irrefutable grounds that they were un-English, and he was looking forwards to giving Boris Bogolepov, guilty or not, a rough old time just for the sheer hell of it.

It’s no good going round with an open mind like a vacuum cleaner because all you’ll finish up with is…’ Dover paused to work this one out ‘… is fluff!’ he concluded triumphantly.

I recommend this book to people who love cozy mysteries but are looking for something leaning more towards the police procedural side, and who prefer their humour rather sharp and British. Although I’ve read far worse, and there is only limited violence (fairly slapstick), the novel is non-PC (not that it condones the points of view exposed, but…) so it could be offensive to people reading it as a straight narrative. On the plus side, royalties from the book got to the work of the Friends of Friendless Churches (yes, they do exist, and do a great job as well). Go on, try it. You know you want to!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for this novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to spread the word if you’ve enjoyed it or know somebody who might. And always keep reading, reviewing and having fun!

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Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog THE DEVIL IN THE DOCK: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James(@RichardNJames). An exception to the rules about second parts #Victorianmystery

Hi all:

I bring you the second book in a series I started reading recently, and I’m already a big fan of.

The Devil in the Dock: a Bowman of the Yard Investigation by Richard James
The Devil in the Dock: a Bowman of the Yard Investigation by Richard James

The Devil in the Dock: a Bowman of the Yard Investigation by Richard James

‘Are there devils here?’

Considered a loose cannon, Detective Inspector George Bowman of Scotland Yard is despatched to London’s docks where he can do no harm. When an explosion rips through the wharves, however, he’s soon pitched into a world of intrigue and extortion.

With the whole of Victorian London in the grip of the mysterious Kaiser, Bowman must find the strength to escape the ghosts that haunt him. Just who is the Kaiser, and what do they have to do with his wife’s death?

The explosive second investigation for Bowman of the Yard

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07S7RMN5G

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07S7RMN5G

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B07S7RMN5G

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life.

As a playwright, I have written nearly thirty plays, all of which have been published by Lazy Bee Scripts. They often win awards for their performances up and down the country and around the world. My most popular play, a comedy called A Fete Worse Than Death, tells of a murder in the country produce tent at a summer fete. My best selling one act play, White Lies, features a reunion of four women thirty years after university, with hilarious consequences (even though I say so myself)! In 2014 I wrote a book, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series.

So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I would write a novel. I decided it had to be set in a world I would want to spend time in and feature characters I would want to be with. And most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era (or at least the literary version of it), and I devour books about nineteenth century detectives (yes, Sherlock Holmes, I’m looking at you). It seems such a rich period of history populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that’s where I’ve started my novel-writing career. The Head in the Ice follows the investigation of Inspector George Bowman of Scotland Yard into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames.

Three more books in the Bowman of the Yard series are to follow, together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These will 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 (although it might take me a little longer to write them all!). 1892 promises to be quite a year for Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure he would love to have your company!

Visit my website! www.richardjamesonline.com

Find out more about my books! www.bowmanoftheyard.co.uk (You can access a free short-story The Smithfield Murder here as well, and other extra materials and stories.)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-James/e/B00NHSS6H6/

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

My review:

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

I recently read, enjoyed, and reviewed the first novel in this series, The Head in the Ice (you can check my review here), and was aware the second novel was on its way, and made sure to read it as soon as I was able to. And, let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint. If anything, I’d say I enjoyed it even more than the first instalment (and that is saying something).

The story is told from an omniscient point of view (I talked about it at length in my previous review, so I won’t repeat it here), and that gives the reader a chance to see things from different characters’ perspectives, and sometimes experiencing the confusion of their circumstances and the events they are confronted with (we see things from the point of view of one of the victims of the story at some point, and it does make for pretty unnerving reading). Although we mostly share in the point of view of D.I. Bowman, we also read more about Graves, one of the younger detectives working for him and the most sympathetic to Bowman’s circumstances, and that helps us not get completely sucked in by Bowman’s subjective experiences. I know some readers don’t feel comfortable with the changes in perspective implied by this point of view, but I again feel it fits the story well, and I’d advise checking a sample of the book in case of doubt.

We meet again some of the same characters from the previous novel, and the events follow chronologically on from the previous ones, to the point where Bowman gets moved onto a security detail because of doubts about his performance and his mental state in the previous case. Bowman is disappointed and tries even harder to get a hold on his flashbacks and on his difficult recovery from the trauma of his wife’s death and from his guilt about it (I’m trying not to give away spoilers). He is not totally successful; he drinks a bit too much and does not always look after his appearance as well as he should, but he manages to keep his wits about him, and the fact that his analytical mind keeps ticking, despite the stress and the grief, evidence his intelligence and suitability for the job. He is also determined, and although he knows his word is doubted because of his mental health issues, he never gives up in his pursuit of the truth.

We also learn more about Graves, who is a pretty jovial and genial character, but we discover he hides depths of feeling not so evident in the first novel. Even Hicks, a man mostly interested in making his employment in the police force as painless an experience as possible, appears less obnoxious and more willing to work as a member of a team, despite his questioning some of the decisions. We meet some other characters, get to know better Bowman’s boss, we meet Callahan, who seems only interest in advancing his career within the ranks of the police, no matter what it takes, and we also come across a host of secondary characters, including plenty of inhabitants of the criminal underworld (and the distinction is far from clear-cut at times). Oh, and I loved the baddy (but I won’t add anything else on that subject).

The novel is atmospheric and conveys extremely well the feeling of the era, without becoming a catalogue full of description of Victorian clothing and wares. We have fascinating historical notes, such as information about the building of Tower Bridge, in London, also of the Thames Tunnel (initially for pedestrian use), the Queen’s steamer, and I particularly enjoyed the insights into the London Docks and how they were used at the time, as they were the point of entry for most of the goods arriving from around the world into London. We see the extremes of poverty and wealth, and how they are hardly separated by a few yards, and the characters themselves reflect upon the social gap between the haves and the have-nots (in fact, a chasm), also noting the level of crime, corruption, and the intermingling of the criminal underworld and the everyday activities of many people. There are workers being injured, protection rackets at work, goods being stolen, kidnappings, illegal betting, drug use… but the legal side of things is hardly blameless, and it is not surprising that the population remain suspicious of the police and of the workings of the justice system. There is much talk in the book of the Empire, Queen Victoria, and certain practices —like the transportation to the colonies as punishment— are highlighted and questioned. Readers can make their own minds up, but it is difficult not to look at it and conclude that such projects have a high cost, and those who pay for it are rarely the ones who end up reaping the benefits.

The mystery part of the novel is extremely well constructed, and as I advised in the first novel, here it is necessary as well to keep one’s eyes open, and not miss anything, as there are clues dropped along the book, and none of them are casual. There are red-herrings, some of the characters are led down wrong lines of enquiry (it is all to do with the Fenian Brotherhood [the pro-Ireland Independence movement of the era]?, is it all part of a protection ring?, who is the Kaiser?), and Bowman’s mind starts seeing connections between what is happening and his own tragedy, but, are they real?  The novel alternates scenes of action with those of observation and enquiry, but the rhythm increases as the story progresses and towards the end, the action scenes come fast and thick, and we can hardly turn the pages quickly enough to keep up. I enjoyed the ending, even if it is not what I’d call a “happy” one per se, but it fits perfectly well with the story, it shows Bowman in a very good light, and it answers many questions, not all pertaining exclusively to this book.

This is another great Victorian mystery novel, with solid and complex characters, which poses questions about the society of the time and also about the nature of the British Empire. I look forward to reading more adventures of Bowman and his team in the future.

Thanks to the author for his book, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always, keep smiling, and enjoying your summer! (or winter)

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE HEAD IN THE ICE: A BOWMAN OF THE YARD INVESTIGATION by Richard James (@RichardNJames). A masterful new Victorian #mystery series. #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you the review of the first book in a new Victorian mystery series, another great discovery from Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Cover of book The Head in the Ice
The Head in the Ice: A Bowman of the Yard Investigation by Richard James

The Head in the Ice: A Bowman of the Yard Investigation by Richard James (@RichardNJames).

Who would send a madman to solve a murder?

Just released from a Lunatic Asylum, Inspector George Bowman is in no shape to lead an investigation, but the discovery of a severed head in the frozen waters of the River Thames sees him back in service at Scotland Yard. As he delves into the dark heart of the city in search of answers, the memory of the death of his wife threatens to derail his investigation and place his very sanity in peril.

Bowman must confront his demons and the part he played in her demise before he can solve the case; a case that leads him across Victorian London in pursuit of a killer.

The first Bowman Of The Yard investigation.

‘A genuinely impressive debut. Richard James has crafted an engrossing mystery, with a great sense of atmosphere, and meticulously researched.’ Andrew Cartmel, The Vinyl Detective

https://www.amazon.com/Head-Ice-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B07PDJCH8P/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Head-Ice-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B07PDJCH8P/

https://www.amazon.es/Head-Ice-Bowman-Yard-Investigation-ebook/dp/B07PDJCH8P/

Picture of author Richard James
Author Richard James

About the author:

I’ve been telling stories all my life.

As a playwright, I have written nearly thirty plays, all of which have been published by Lazy Bee Scripts. They often win awards for their performances up and down the country and around the world. My most popular play, a comedy called A Fete Worse Than Death, tells of a murder in the country produce tent at a summer fete. My best selling one act play, White Lies, features a reunion of four women thirty years after university, with hilarious consequences (even though I say so myself)! In 2014 I wrote a book, Space Precinct Unmasked, detailing my experiences working on Gerry Anderson’s last live action sci-fi series.

So, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I would write a novel. I decided it had to be set in a world I would want to spend time in and feature characters I would want to be with. And most importantly, it would have to feature a grisly murder or two! I love the Victorian era (or at least the literary version of it), and I devour books about nineteenth century detectives (yes, Sherlock Holmes, I’m looking at you). It seems such a rich period of history populated by some hugely colourful characters, so that’s where I’ve started my novel-writing career. The Head in the Ice follows the investigation of Inspector George Bowman of Scotland Yard into the discovery of – well, a head in the ice of the River Thames.

Three more books in the Bowman of the Yard series are to follow, together with some short stories from Bowman’s Casebook. These will 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 (although it might take me a little longer to write them all!). 1892 promises to be quite a year for Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure he would love to have your company!

www.bowmanoftheyard.co.uk

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Richard-James/e/B00NHSS6H6/

The author informed me that book two in the Bowman of the Yard series, The Devil at the Dock, will be available to preorder from June 4th and readers can pick up a free short story, The Smithfield Murder, by visiting www.bowmanoftheyard.co.uk

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 ahead of its publication.

From the moment I read the description of this novel, a few weeks before its publication, I knew I’d end up reading it. I love mysteries, have been reading historical fiction in recent times and with my background in criminology, a mysterious murder set in the Victorian era ticked many boxes. To top it all, the main character, and the protagonist of the series, Inspector Bowman, had been in a lunatic asylum. As I’m also a psychiatrist and have read and enjoyed books looking back at the history of psychiatry, this was a further inducement, if I needed one. Of course, the title and the cover of the book worked in its favour.

I’ll try not to dwell too much on the story and the plot itself, to avoid spoilers, but I can tell you the book is a fine mystery that lived up to my expectations, and even surpassed them in many ways.

The style of the story and the way is told put me in mind of watching a movie (or a play, which I know is a genre the author is very familiar with, although here we have many more settings than in a standard play). The author uses an omniscient point of view, and that means that readers get to see scenes and events from a variety of characters’ perspectives (and not only the good guys either), and sometimes also from a neutral observer’s point of view (that works particularly well to set the scene and also to keep the mystery going, while at the same time offering readers some snippets of information that Bowman and his team do not have). That is an excellent method to avoid revealing too much while offering the readers great insights into the characters’ thoughts and motivations, but I know not everybody likes stories told this way, and I’d advise people to check a sample of the book to see if it is a good fit, in case of doubt. Personally, I did not find the way the story was told at all confusing, although due to the nature of the case and to the many characters, it is necessary to pay close attention and make sure not to miss any details. (Perhaps adding a cast of characters might help readers get their bearings quickly).

In some books that type of point of view might result in difficulty getting attached to any of the characters, but I did not think that was the case here. Although we get many points of view, the main one we follow is that of the Bowman, and because the inspector is the first character we meet, and in pretty difficult circumstances (he is a resident at a lunatic asylum just about to go in front of the board that must decide if he’s ready for his release), we quickly establish a connection with him. He is a sympathetic and intelligent character, who has suffered a personal tragedy that has resulted in mental health difficulties (nowadays, I’d say he would be diagnosed, most likely, with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), and who tries hard to get on with his life, despite his anxiety, flashbacks, and the complex and emotionally challenging nature of his work. He is not the perfect and flawless hero, but a human being with flaws and weaknesses. His flashbacks, the physical symptoms he experiences, and his fragile mental state are well drawn and are, for me, one of the strongest points of the book. I also enjoyed the depiction of the asylum and its therapies, far from the ones we often see and read about in popular media that seem right out of a horror movie. There are other characters to root for as well, although not quite as fleshed out as Bowman, and even some of the baddies are individualised enough for readers to get a fair idea of who they are.

The novel also succeeds at creating a picture of the London of the era, the atmosphere of the different neighbourhoods, the asylum, Scotland Yard, the underworld, without going overboard with descriptions and details or slowing the action. It is a compelling and historically accurate portrayal of a time, and one that goes beyond the anecdotal to dig deeper into some of the unsavoury aspects of the era.

The plot is gripping, and we visit upper-middle-class locations, pubs, sewers, cemeteries, bridges, a lunatic asylum, a ship, Bengal, and we get to learn about laudanum, poisons, laws, Victorian trade, weapons, the criminal underworld of the era (including murders, robberies, prostitution…), and although we learn enough information to get suspicious about the guilty party (or parties) fairly early on, there are quite a few twists and turns, strange goings on, and we don’t get to understand how it all fits together until close to the end (we might have our suspicions but…). There are some red herrings thrown in, and even a suggestion of the supernatural. All in all, the atmosphere, the characters, and the plot, work well to create a solid story, a great opening to a new series of Victorian mysteries, and one that allows us to examine the laws, mores and morality of the era.

If I had to take issue with anything, other than the point of view that I think works well but some readers might not feel comfortable with, I felt that, at times, some of the experiences, tics, and behaviours characters engage in (clearing one’s throat, blowing smoke into someone’s face, etc.) are repeated fairly often, and that put me in mind of stage directions or business that actors have to engage in to indicate certain traits of a character, which might not be as relevant or necessary when we can share in their thoughts directly. I did not find it distracting and, like some of the side stories, I felt they helped readers catch their breath and regroup, but those who prefer stripped down and action-led plots might feel they could be slimmed down.

In sum, this is a great story that I’d recommend to those who enjoy mysteries within a historical setting (Victorian in this case), with a complex story full of compelling characters and plenty of atmosphere. I look forward to the next adventure of Inspector Bowman, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

 Thanks to the author, to Rosie and all the members of her wonderful team, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling! ♥

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE MURDER THAT DEFEATED WHITECHAPEL’S SHERLOCK HOLMES: AT MRS RIDGLEY’S CORNER by Paul Stickler (@paul_stickler) (@penswordbooks) #Truecrime

Hi all:

I bring you another non-fiction book that brings to life what a real murder investigation was like in Britain in the early XX century.

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel's Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler
The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler

The Murder that Defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s Corner by Paul Stickler. A fascinating true police-procedural account from the early XXc

In 1919, when a shopkeeper and her dog were found dead in Hitchin, Hertfordshire with brutal head injuries, there followed an extraordinary catalogue of events and a local police investigation which concluded that both had died as a result of a tragic accident. A second investigation by Scotland Yard led to the arrest of an Irish war veteran, but the outcome was far from conclusive.

Written from the perspective of the main characters involved and drawing on original and newly-discovered material, this book exposes the frailties of county policing just after the First World War and how it led to fundamental changes in methods of murder investigations.

Offering a unique balance of story-telling and analysis, the book raises a number of unanswered questions. These are dealt with in the final chapter by the author’s commentary drawing upon his expertise.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes/dp/1526733854/

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Defeated-Whitechapels-Sherlock-Holmes-ebook/dp/B07FD46C55/

Author Paul Stickler
Author Paul Stickler

About the author:

Paul Stickler joined Hampshire Constabulary in 1978 and spent the majority of his time in CID. He spent many years involved in murder investigations and was seconded to the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to study international perspectives of crime investigation. Since his retirement in 2008 he has combined his professional knowledge with his passion for history, researching murders in the first half of the twentieth century. He spends his days delivering lectures to a wide range of audiences. More can be found out about him on his website: www.historicalmurders.com

Although the above is the official information included in the book, I could not resist but copy the profile from his website.

A retired detective, Paul Stickler has turned criminologist and crime historian and explores the detail behind some of the most fascinating cases in criminal history. His experience in murder investigations coupled with his passion for history make his presentations absorbing, challenging, entertaining and informative. He has recently published his first book about a bizarre murder investigation in Hertfordshire just after the First World War. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Paul has featured in a number of television and radio programmes about his career and his research into early twentieth-century murders.

He studied history with the Open University obtaining a Bachelor’s degree (1997), graduated from the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia with a post-graduate diploma in Law Enforcement (1997) and read criminology at Solent University for his Master’s degree (2013) specialising in the research of historical crime. He is a Visiting Fellow of Solent University and his hobbies include gliding, high altitude walking and playing guitar (badly) and piano (even worse).

http://www.historicalmurders.com/profile/

Oh, and the website is fascinating, to people interested in true crime and also those authors or scholars researching the topic. I recommend it.

My review:

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I was fascinated by this book and by the way it is told. The case itself cannot compare to some of the sophisticated cases we read about in mysteries and thrillers, complex and full of twist and turns. A shopkeeper, widowed, that lived with her dog, and sold a bit of everything, appeared murdered on a Monday morning, next to the body of her dog. There was blood everywhere, she’d evidently been hit on the head, possibly with a weight that was found close to the body, and there was money missing. People had been at her shop on Saturday evening and one of her neighbours had heard some strange noises in the early hours of Sunday, but that was it. This was 1919, and, of course, forensics were not as advanced as they are now, but there was an investigation of sorts, although, surprisingly, in the first instance the local police decided it had been an accident. When the new police chief revised the case, he was not so convinced, and called on Scotland Yard for assistance. They sent Detective Chief P. S. Wensley, who had been involved (although only marginally) in the investigation of the Jack the Ripper murders and would become pretty well-known for the Houndsditch murders and the siege of Sidney Street. Unfortunately, two weeks had passed since the original crime he was sent to investigate, the body had been buried, and the evidence had not been well-looked after, but still… He and his team investigated and put together a case against an Irish immigrant who’d fought the war. And, well, the rest is history (and you’ll have to read it yourselves).

Despite, or perhaps because, of the somewhat ‘simple’ murder, the book is a fascinating read. The author —evidently familiar with current crime investigation techniques— explains his reasons for choosing to tell this story, to recover the case of a fairly anonymous woman, and to do it in this particular way, pointing out that he did not intend to set off on a ‘cold-case’ type of investigation.  In his own words:

That is the beautiful thing about history; trying to show exactly what happened using original material and putting it in a contemporary social setting so that the reader can better understand and make sense of it all. I hope that the narrative has not only thrown light on policing in the early part of the century but portrayed it as a piece of history and not as retrospective critique. (Stickler,  2018, p. 145)

In my opinion, he succeeds. Stickler’s method, which consists in looking over the shoulder of the people who were investigating the murder and those who participated in the court case, showing us what they would have seen, and guessing at what they might have thought, while at the same time providing us historical background, so we are able to understand how the police force worked, and what the atmosphere was like in the country shortly after WWI, works very well. As we read the book we can’t help but think about what we would have done, worry about their mistakes, and wonder about the missing details and the conflicting witness statements and evidence. We learn about the social make-up of the town, the relationships between the different communities, the way the police force worked at the time, and we gain a good understanding of the legal issues as well, without having to read long and dry historical treatises. The writer has done a great deal of research and his skill as a writer is evidenced in the way he seamlessly creates an involving narrative that never calls undue attention to it. For the sake of completion, the author includes a commentary at the end, where he provides a postscript, as it were, with information about what happened to the protagonists, and also with his own speculations (that he had kept to himself until then) as to why things happened as they did.

I recommend this book to people who are interested in true crime, especially in Britain, Criminology and Criminal Justice System students, readers who enjoy historical police procedural novels, and also writers of the genre interested in researching the topic (the bibliography and the author notes will be of great help, and there are also pictures from the time provide a fuller understanding of the story). And, as I said, I also recommend checking the author’s blog to anybody interested in the topic.

A great book and a fabulous resource.

Stickler, P. (2018). The murder that defeated Whitechapel’s Sherlock Holmes: At Mrs Ridgley’s corner. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword.

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

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