Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Not The Deaths Imagined by Anne Pettigrew.

#DampPebblesTours #NTDI #NotTheDeathsImagined #BlogTour

What I love most about book blogging is that I often come across books that I wouldn’t have found any other way. This novel is one of these. I’ve never read Anne Pettigrew before, but when the synopsis found its way to me for this tour I thought I would enjoy it. This is her second novel, categorised as ‘medical noir’ and although I haven’t read the previous one, it didn’t stop me enjoying this. Dr Beth Semple is a GP in a small practice in Edinburgh, as well as a wife and mother to two teenage girls. Her husband Ralph is a Professor of General Practice and they have one of the busiest households I have ever encountered in a novel! One afternoon Beth is telephoned by an associated practice and asked to visit the surgery to carry out the second section of a cremation form. Unusually, there has been a sudden death in the surgery that morning, recorded as an MI (myocardial infarction or heart attack). However, when she arrives at the other practice, she is uneasy about signing the form. She notices that the secretary and Dr Goodman’s accounts differ slightly, but also it doesn’t sound like a heart attack. On visiting the funeral director’s to view the body Beth notices what looks like injection sites and when Monty the funeral director tells her it isn’t Dr Goodman’s first sudden death during a routine appointment her mind is made up. She won’t sign the form and sets in motion the process for a post-mortem. The repercussions at work are huge because Dr Goodman pulls out of their pooled weekend rota and Beth’s senior partner is furious. Even more disturbing, over the coming weeks, are the series of dropped phone calls, poison pen letters and an attempt to poison their dog. Soon, Beth and her family, are caught up in a possible case of medical malpractice and even murder, and the consequences could be deadly.

The author created a great sense of place and time with her backdrop of 1990s Edinburgh. The little snippets of Scottish dialect brought a sense of warmth and grounded these characters within their world. Thanks to her 31 years of experience as a doctor, the author has first hand knowledge of the type of medical jargon used in Beth’s workplace, at home with husband Ralph, and with their large group of friends. There’s a great sense of camaraderie between this group and this comes from being at university together – covered in the first book. They’re likeable people, intelligent, friendly and all struggling to juggle their lives which was very relatable. Although, I would be exhausted if I adopted their work and social calendars. I kept wondering why the characters were so full of energy – every weekend was a weekend away, or with friends and family staying. They even take in a dog and cat! Their daughters are also busy, with exams, music practice and Katy’s boyfriend Neil. The surgery felt familiar with its regular patients, from the worried well, to those acutely ill. Although, Beth does observe that they’ve never had a death in the surgery so Dr Goodman’s record does seem strange. When two elderly ladies are found dead, one a friend of Beth’s, she begins her book of unusual events detailing the evidence she has so far. When her car tyres are slashed she does report her concerns to the police, only to find her own professional standards being brought into question.

Interspersed with Beth’s chapters are those written by the killer. It soon becomes clear he is a very disturbed man. In his younger years this man finds that the colour of his skin is a barrier. His father is mixed race and it’s evident that for the doctor this makes him feel impure in some way. He has read up on the latest theories in eugenics and has some abhorrent views on mixed race relationships, as well as an odd relationship with religion. He’s determined to ‘pass’ as white to the extent of bleaching his skin and straightening his hair. Slowly seeing this man’s mind deteriorate is quite chilling, more so as time goes on and we start to see him in his day job, full of charm and old-fashioned bedside manner. The contrast is startling, but there are times when I also found him comical. His crimes become more open and risky. The tension the author creates grows as Beth gets closer to his identity and the reader wonders what lengths he will go to in order to silence her. Where will he go once he has committed his final crimes? Even more concerning to me was how he was going to extricate himself from his family and if they’d ever recover from his psychological abuse and murderous intentions. The help Beth receives in the shape of a warning comes from the last place she expects.

This novel was well written and an interesting read, combining the interesting medical world with malpractice, negligence, and even murder. It’s possibly one of people’s worst fears, that the people who are meant to help and care for us are actually trying to harm instead. I liked that it didn’t talk down to the reader, but expected us to understand complex psychology and subjects like the history of eugenics. It made for an interesting mix when set alongside Beth’s family and busy social life. In fact the light relief of Beth’s normal family routine and their time with friends makes the killer’s narrative even more stark and abnormal. I felt so bad for his family, who are not allowed the freedoms enjoyed by other characters; his teenage son particularly had my sympathy. This is an intelligent thriller, full of interesting characters and with a truly unsettling villain. I enjoyed it immensely and I will be going back to read the first novel in the series.

Posted in Book Haunts

Best Book Haunts – Barter Books Alnwick

Us bibliophiles always have favourite book haunts and I have them in all my favourite places. In fact, it’s rare for me to go on holiday in the U.K. without searching out a bookshop to visit. For me it’s part of the joy of going on holiday. Last weekend, me and my other half had a short stay in the beautiful village of Warkworth, Northumberland. We only had a three night stay so I had to edit what we would do; of course book shopping had to make the cut. As my fellow book lovers know, the best place to go for second hand books in this area is Barter Books in Alnwick.

In Country Living magazine, March 2020, a feature on Barter Books claimed that just as books transport us to another time and place, so can the best bookshops. Housed in the grand Victorian building of Alnwick’s train station, this is a bookshop the size of a warehouse! When I enter a bookshop I want the sense that time has stood still. Nothing going on outside matters in the time I spend browsing for books and whoever goes with me has to accept that we’re going to lose hours. Barter Books makes that easy because it’s such a spectacle inside. From the foyer full of paperback fiction, complete with a reading area by the fire, to the till area decorated with an incredible mural and working train set that whizzes around above your head, there’s so much to look at. The large room at the back houses huge shelves packed with books on every subject from cookery to psychology, and my particular favourite A-Z hardback fiction.

Glass cabinets running the length of the building house collector’s, first editions, and signed books. Here and there, large antique tables with comfy chairs allow you to take a break from browsing and look through your books before purchase. Next door, the station cafe serves brilliant breakfasts, snacks and cakes when you need an energy boost. I have lost whole days in this brilliant bookshop. This time I picked up a mix of paper and hard books that are new to me, a couple of books from the back catalogue of newly discovered authors and hardback copies of books I’ve had as a digital ARC or mobi file, but I’ve enjoyed them so much I need a proper copy. I have to set aside money for when I’m going up to Northumberland, everything else I do in my visit tends to be as simple as walking the dog on the beach and photographing beautiful places. So I can be sure of a little cash for books, even though I have no shelf room left.

This was one of my first trips out of the house since lockdown. We realised I hadn’t been in a shop since February. I have multiple sclerosis and a few breathing problems so I’ve had to be extra careful. This trip was incredibly daunting, I was surprised how anxious it made me feel to be near so many people when we stopped at motorway services. However, this trip to Barter Books was brilliant because customers were very well looked after without it being intrusive or alarming. For now, the coffee machine has gone from the reading area. But there was a hand cleaning station, a limited number of people in the store, everyone wearing masks and keeping their distance. In such a difficult and scary time, what I found most hopeful and reassuring was the queue of people wrapped round the station building waiting to go in. The book seller observed that it was amazing to see people willing to queue to get into a bookshop and I couldn’t agree more. We do use reading to escape, but we also use stories to make sense of our world and what’s happening within it. What a treat it is to have beautiful bookshops like this to enable that vital access to stories. If you’re in Northumberland do try to pay them a visit.

Me and my book haul.

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel

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I wasn’t sure about this book at first, mainly because of the unusual cover. I’m not sure it sells the novel to potential readers, because inside is an engaging and psychologically complex story. Lizzie, a music teacher and pianist, meets the charming and gregarious businessman Markus when he’s in the hotel bar where she plays piano in the evenings. Lizzie is not a natural performer and enjoys being tucked away in the background in this way, as opposed to being a concert pianist. Yet, Markus notices her and soon sweeps her off her feet. She is attracted to him for all those qualities she doesn’t have. However, soon after their whirlwind wedding, Lizzie is pregnant. They move out to a new home in the suburbs and the life they expected to have is gone. Lizzie feels isolated, Markus has changed towards her and her friends are far away. So, when older neighbour Morag attempts to make friends with her, Lizzie reciprocates and soon they are becoming close friends.

I loved the way the author leaves the story open for a little while; as things begin to change between the couple I thought Markus might become psychologically abusive. He seems to want the life of a single man, still visiting bars and restaurants, schmoozing clients. I found myself furious when he missed the birth of his son, then was so nonchalant about it. Luckily, Morag was available, driving to the hospital then holding Lizzie’s hand through the birth. This is the culmination of weeks of planning on Morag’s part. She has wanted to be there for Lizzie and the new baby, laying the groundwork by suggesting shopping trips for baby clothes and checking in on her while Markus is working away. She seems like the ideal surrogate grandparent and that’s definitely what she wants. But why does she want it so bad? We get small hints from Morag’s friend who brings us little warnings about Morag getting too close and hints of trouble within her family.

The author is very adept at creating tension and from this point on I couldn’t put the book down. I started to really dislike Morag. When she goes to Dobbie’s Garden Centre for a meal with her friend, it is after Jamie’s birth and Morag is relating the role she has played. She plays the martyr, claiming that she had to help Lizzie and making out that Markus is totally useless. She represents the situation as if Lizzie has asked for help, rather than the truth which is that Morag has been manipulative and overbearing. She seems to think she can simply decide she will be mother and grandmother to Lizzie and Jamie, and the people concerned will just fall into place. She achieves this through clever manipulation and deception.

The only real thing we can be sure of when it comes to Morag’s previous home life is that it’s shrouded in mystery. We know that she lost Peter, her husband, but their children seem to be spread far and wide. Their son is in Australia, and her daughter Aileen seems to be close by, but estranged from Morag. All of these things arouse suspicion in the reader. However, the skill of the author means the reader has several possibilities to explore. Markus has changed so completely its hard to believe he pursued Lizzie and wanted a married life with her. It’s almost as if he was in pursuit of a prize, and once it’s been attained he becomes bored and moves on to the next challenge. Lizzie begins to wonder what she saw in this man and whether his absences really are due to work. I started to build up a picture of a conman for whom appearances are everything. At the very least he is immature and not ready to be a husband and father.

Morag seems likeable, but when that mask slips there is someone with a serious psychological problem; she is unable to relate to others normally, has no boundaries and seems to be paranoid about someone being in her house. Then there is Lizzie. It is hard to get a real sense of Lizzie because she is constantly silenced. Markus talks over her and makes choices for her. Morag does the same and plants worries and anxieties onto her when she’s at her most vulnerable. There are times when I wonder if she is suffering post-natal depression because she seems to be in a daze, paralysed and unable to take any action for herself. Is there a villain here or is it just an unfortunate set of circumstances? The tension is kept right up to the end and I did find it hard to put the book down at times. This was a pleasant surprise, because the author is totally new to me and I didn’t expect to be so gripped by it. If you enjoy twisty thrillers that really delve into the psychology of relationships then this is the book for you.