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#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. 

 

Categories
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! ♥

 

 

 

 

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