Posted in Publisher Proof

Grave Issue by Julia Vaughan.

Today as part of the Bookstagram tour for Julia Vaughan’s new novel Grave Issue, I’m spotlighting and sharing an extract from the novel.

Grave Issue is the second book in the DCI Kath Fortune series of novels and is released on 16th September 2022. This follows on from Daisy Chain, Julia’s debut novel.

“Who killed Abraham and Esther Downing in the 1970s?

What is the significance of the seven tiny skeletons unearthed in the garden of Downing’s cottage?

And why does no-one care?

As DCI Kath Fortune and her cold case team deep dive into their second investigation, they come up against a wall of silence surrounding the reclusive couple. With Kath trying to piece together the clues and keep her personal and professional relationships on track, her past comes back to haunt her with time running out on all counts.”

Extract.

6th March 1963

Now it begins. New life comes again—surely my last chance. The good Lord blessed me with fertility, but my work is nearly done now, and I know that He can take away the gift of life. I must write quickly now. A spends less time in the fields now that I am close to my time. My new waters cover the stains of the seven birth waters gone before. The bare boards soak in the fluid that the child no longer needs to live inside me. The pains come now. Soon, A will come with the rope to pull the life from my body. There’s the scream of the back door. He moves about beneath me. I pray for God’s love…God’s love and forgiveness through the pain.
Always and Ever.

Chapter One

‘What time do you call… Oh!’ Ruth halted her admonishment as Kath stepped into the room. Kath grinned and rubbed the back of her now naked neck.
‘Yeah… thought it was time for a new look.’ She threw her bag onto her desk, soaking in the admiring glances from her team.
‘Makes you look months younger,’ Shirl said, laughing and pointing at her boss.
‘You look great, Boss. Really suits you.’ Marvin continued pouring coffee into mugs as Kath sat down. ‘Well, I was looking a bit like Worzel Gummidge’s half-cousin.’
She’d made a sudden decision the day before and called up her hairdresser of many years, who always came to her house and worked her magic. She felt lighter in spirit and now in hair as she and her colleagues had wrapped up their first cold case.
‘New look for a new man.’ Ruth accepted her mug from Marvin, and Kath laughed. ‘Old man, you mean. I mean… no, not old… Oh, you all know what I’m trying to say.’


Kath had reignited her relationship with her school sweetheart, Lenny. The young love that had brought them together across algebra and Romantic poets had survived the intervening time and his marriage of many years. Now, his marriage had ended, and they were moving forward into a new era of love and companionship. Marvin pointed to a newly labelled box in the corner. ‘I’ve put all the paperwork in there. Case closed.’ Kath nodded. ‘Onwards and upwards now, guys.’ She swivelled in her chair to face Byron Lord, the civilian member of the team, who had been invaluable in their first case and in bringing together all the details to find the murderer of five-year-old Daisy Prospero. Kath felt his skills in finding hidden information secreted within the wheels of the dark web were going to continue to be key in all their cases. He had proved his worth and, as a reward, Kath had suggested that he might like to choose their next case from the hundreds stacked in the boxes lining the back wall of the office. ‘Byron, what do you think? Are you happy to choose the next case? I don’t want you to feel any pressure but I want to ensure you feel as much a part of this team as anyone else. ‘Byron nodded, his waist-length hair falling forward as he reached for a folder on his desk. He stood up and handed the manila file to Kath. He did appreciate the responsibility. He had come into an already established group of detectives who had worked together on active cases for some years. Ruth, Kath and Shirl go back many years previous, Marvin a more recent addition but still with experience under his belt. Byron’s skills as a ‘technical wizard’, as Ruth called him, had proved so important in their first case, and he felt useful and enthusiastic about his new role.


‘Have you lost weight, Byron?’ Ruth pinched taut flesh through his T-shirt, and he skipped out of her reach, smarting at the harshness of her fingers.
‘No.’ Byron sat down and hid behind his two huge monitors. ‘I’m naturally skinny. Runs in the family.’
‘I’m naturally jealous.’ Ruth patted the spare roll of fat around her middle.
‘Look at it this way.’ Shirl stood up and took the lid off the biscuit tin next to the kettle, her finger poking around in the crumbs. ‘You’re providing a warm and comfortable home for Mr Gregg and Mr Kipling.’
‘Cheeky cow.’ Ruth tried a tone of superiority, but she couldn’t pull it off, knowing that her over-enjoyment of certain food groups had not helped her post-menopause weight gain. ‘And you can talk… get your hand out of there.’
Shirl pulled her hand out of the tin and licked the few measly crumbs off her finger. ‘Talking of Mr Gregg…’
Kath smiled, reached into her bag and pulled a twenty pound note from her purse. She flourished it at Shirl, who grabbed it, smiling. ‘Yes, go to Greggs, get us all some sustenance.’
‘Salad for Ruth, obviously,’ Shirl said, grabbing her coat from the back of the door.
‘Fuck off,’ Ruth replied.


‘I’ll take a look at this whilst Shirl goes into the depths of Madeley, and we’ll discuss it when she gets back.’ Kath opened the manila folder.
‘I’ve done some notes for everyone.’ Byron patted a pile of the folders on the edge of his desk. Shirl disappeared down the stairs, and there was a companionable silence as Kath skimmed through the file and Marvin and Ruth tapped away on keyboards, answering emails and starting new documents ready to receive the information Byron would input for them. Kath read quickly, nodding to herself, then grabbed her cigarettes and made her way outside. Shirl was just reversing her car out of the rear car park when Kath stopped her. Shirl opened her window.
‘Don’t get me anything; feed the others.’
Shirl looked her boss up and down. ‘This new diet of yours is paying off. New hair, pounds dropping off. What’s going on?’
Shirl knew Kath too well, and Kath was not about to reveal the secret behind her weight loss. A Volvo stopped in the road, indicating to turn in but unable to because Shirl was in the way.
‘Go.’ Kath waved her hand in apology to the PCSO trying to get into the station, who was building up a stream of traffic behind him.
‘Fine.’ Shirl was still muttering as she closed the window and reversed quickly, turning off up Madeley High Street—a short distance that would not have taken her long on foot. But Shirl didn’t walk anywhere she didn’t have to.


Kath stood back as the Volvo turned in and the traffic continued down Legges Way into the Ironbridge Gorge. She lit a cigarette and walked a little way down the path that led down from the police substation, opening onto a wild grass area with woodland fringing it, the rooftops of the Sutton Hill housing estate visible in the distance. She paced and smoked. The pounds were indeed dropping off at an amazing rate, but Kath couldn’t tell anyone it wasn’t a new diet or exercise regime but the relief in the knowing that she had truly got away with murdering an aged paedophile over twenty years ago. She had kept her secret past hidden for so many years now, and there was every reason to believe she could carry on doing so. She skirted dips in the packed earth pathway, softened by the regular nightly September rain. Byron had picked an interesting case: two bodies unearthed in Broseley, a mile up the hill from the gorge, one male and one female and seven tiny bodies buried alongside them. This was truly a cold case, the bodies of the seven infants only being found eight years later in 1983 when a developer brought in excavators to demolish a rundown cottage in a large expanse of land bordered by woodland off the main road.


Kath flicked her cigarette butt into the long grass as Shirl returned to the car park at the back of the station, brandishing bags from the bakery. The thought of the contents of the bags made Kath feel slightly queasy as she caught up with her colleague. They made their way back through the small station and up into their office, the smell of fresh pastry and meat wafting into the nostrils of Marvin, Ruth and Byron.
As Shirl passed around the assorted bags, Kath sat down and patted the folder on her desk. ‘Okay, guys, our new case is an old one—eighties and beyond, I think.’ Byron looked at Kath and nodded. She knew he would have already done some work in the hope that she would agree to his choice. Marvin and Ruth chewed on their steak slices.
‘We have two adult bodies—one male, one female—both murder victims, according to the initial report, but that’s not all.’
The chewing stopped, and all eyes turned to Kath.
‘As if that isn’t enough of a tragedy, we have seven small bodies as well. Babies. Seven dead babies.’
The team looked at each other and then back at Kath as Shirl sat down in her chair, turned her back on her colleagues and blinked away tears of sorrow and memory.

Chapter Two


The sun had finally broken through the clouds, warming the bones of the old man in the churchyard. He stretched and put his hands onto the small of his back, pressing the kinks out of his eighty-five-year-old spine. The trees surrounding the pretty Norman church were still hanging onto their leaves, reluctant to let the autumn season have its way. A pair of magpies squabbled at the top of the biggest oak tree, their harsh chatter the only sound in the quiet of the countryside. A tall man of slight build emerged from the dark interior of the church. He raised a hand in greeting to the other man, walking slowly towards him and glancing up at the sky.
‘Morning, Sam.’ He placed his hand on the man’s shoulder. ‘God’s majesty in all His glory.’
‘Reverend.’ Sam Williams tipped his cap, holding the rake upright, tines resting against the grass.
‘It’s looking lovely, Sam. As usual.’

Sam nodded his thanks. ‘I’ve been bringing on some roses at home, thinking of clearing that patch down there.’ He pointed to the left of the church, where some of the oldest gravestones rested. ‘Get them nettles cleared. Good soil, sun and shade. Should bring on a nice display in years to come.’
Reverend Michael Thomas smiled. ‘A rose garden. Joyous. The Lord has blessed you with a great gift. I, myself, cannot tend a houseplant.’
Sam gazed off into the distance. ‘Your gift is with people, Reverend, not plants.’
‘You’re very kind.’ Reverend Thomas pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket, his dog collar moving with the motion of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed several times, knowing what he was about to say would break the moment. He moved forward a few strides, coming to stand and look at the side of the church where a lone stone, small and sunken, sat apart from all other gravestones in the bucolic churchyard. The earth around the stone was barren. A few rogue blades of grass pushed valiantly through the tired earth and a single dying dandelion held onto its last few fluffy seeds. He kept his back to Sam, knowing the reaction that would come with his next words.
‘Maybe we could try some bulbs here, for next year.’
Sam approached the vicar but stayed a little way back. ‘I tell you every year, Reverend, and I’ll repeat myself once more: I’ll not tend to this.’

The vicar sighed and his shoulders dropped. ‘His sins have been forgiven by the highest order in the land. Yet you still judge him.’
Sam coughed, and a globule of phlegm sailed past Reverend Thomas’s shoulder and landed on the leaf of the dandelion. ‘The Lord can forgive whoever He likes, that’s His job and well He does it. But you know me, Reverend… you’ve known me many years. Those of us who know won’t forgive and won’t ever forget, and I’ll not plant beauty in poisoned soil. Won’t grow anyway, you know that.’ He turned and walked back to continue raking up the small leaves that drifted on the winds from across the neighbouring fields. The vicar knew Sam was right. Ever since the body had been buried, the surrounding soil seemed against supporting life. No worms turned the earth. Any seeds dropped naturally by passing birds that would have flourished anywhere else on landing would not survive in this bare section of the churchyard. A large twig had lodged itself against the gravestone, and the reverend leant forward to move it. He was unaware of the thorny spines until it was too late. He straightened up as he winced and sucked the circle of red blooming from his finger.
‘Damn you, Abraham Downing,’ he muttered.

Chapter Three

They’d all spent twenty minutes or so quietly eating and looking over the notes Byron had provided and now Kath was eager to get into it.
‘So, thanks to Byron for the abridged notes of the case,’ Kath said, waving her copy of the paperwork. ‘We pare it down to the bare facts. Feel free to offer ideas, suggestions.’ Kath moved the front sheet further away from her face, trying not to look as though she was squinting.
‘Get some glasses, woman,’ Ruth said, trying to hold in a laugh.
‘I’m fine. Leave me and my eyes alone.’ Kath shook the paper and cleared her throat. ‘Two adults, Esther and Abraham Downing. Police were called when a dog walker discovered Abraham’s body.’
‘Thank god for dog walkers,’ said Marvin.
‘Indeed. He was lying in front of his cottage with his head caved in,’ Kath continued. ‘A shovel, covered in blood, lay next to him. Presumed murder weapon. Police discovered a shallow grave containing the body of his wife, Esther. Cause of death: shotgun blast to the torso. Said shotgun was inside the house. Only one cartridge discharged. So, the first question is, why two different weapons?’


Shirl lay back in her office chair, almost horizontal. ‘Ruth, you’re gonna wear a hole in the carpet.’
Ruth was pacing at the other end of the office. She did her best thinking on her feet, the movement seeming to aid her brain in putting thoughts together in some sort of natural order. She liked her external world to be clean and ordered, everything in place, and now her brain was in chaos mode, trying to unscramble the information.
‘My question is, why was one body buried and the other left exposed?’
‘Marvin.’ Kath pointed at him, and he sat up straight at his desk. ‘You’re the killer. Go.’
‘Erm… well, I go to shoot Abraham, but Esther gets in the way.’
Kath nodded. ‘Okay. Shirl?’
Shirl tossed her papers onto her desk. ‘Why wouldn’t Abraham stop you?’ She peered at Marvin, who was tapping his pen against his forehead.
‘He can’t get to me in time.’
‘So, why not turn the gun on Abraham and shoot him?’ Shirl asked.
‘The gun…’ Marvin struggled to focus his brain, trying to insert himself into the killer’s head. ‘Okay, how about the gun jams?’ He smiled and held out his hands. ‘So, I throw the gun to one side and pick up the nearest weapon, which is the shovel. I bash him in the head. Job done.’
‘Maybe Abraham wasn’t there when Esther was shot,’ said Ruth, still pacing.
‘So, why didn’t he report it?’ Marvin was throwing questions out now. There was a moment of silence.
‘Okay,’ Byron said. ‘But why would you bury Esther and not Abraham?’
They all turned to Marvin for an answer.
‘I… don’t have time.’
Kath nodded. ‘It can take a while to dig even a
shallow grave.’
‘Is that the voice of experience talking?’ Ruth
laughed, and her colleagues joined in. Kath feigned indignation but her insides flipped at the thought of her teammates discovering her own murderous past. She needed to bring the discussion back to the case in hand.
‘Marvin, why didn’t you bring your own weapon with you if you meant harm to them?’
The office was silent as Marvin processed the question.
‘I didn’t mean to do it; it was spur of the moment, so I used what was already there.’

Ruth nodded, flapping her own paperwork and causing a draft. ‘But why did you put the gun back inside the cottage? The shovel was outside, next to Abraham’s body, but the gun was inside.’
‘Maybe…’ Marvin shrugged. ‘I’ve got nothing.’
Byron picked up the thread. ‘Maybe someone else killed Esther, and Marvin—sorry, the killer—found out and Abraham’s murder was something else entirely.’
Kath went back to her notes. ‘Autopsy showed Esther’s approximate day of death was the same as her husband’s.’
‘Which was?’ Shirl asked.
‘August sixteenth 1975,’ said Byron. ‘No one heard the gunshot and thought to go and see what had happened?’
‘Everyone’s got a shotgun in that neck of the woods, pardon the pun,’ said Kath. ‘It’s the regular form of maintenance, shooting foxes and such. All the farmers have one, and the cottage is quite remote, set back in woodland away from the main road, no other houses around.’

The cottage in question, at the heart of the case, was still standing but was a shell of a construct. With no traceable relatives, the Downing property had passed, after many years, into trust, and there was no possibility of selling the land to build on. Broseley was full of sinkholes from its mining history, and portions of woodland and road had slowly disappeared over the years as the land shifted and tree roots snaked their way through the underbelly. The cottage could just about be seen from the main road running from Broseley centre down the Ironbridge. In times of torrential, prolonged rainfall, the whole area in front of the cottage turned into a mini lake fringed by ancient trees and scrub. The cottage was still standing, despite the shifting of the land around it. The roof was all but gone, the window spaces resembling empty eye sockets.
‘You’ve picked a good one here, Byron.’ Ruth stopped pacing and perched on the edge of one of the tables in front of the window.
‘Sorry.’
‘No, don’t apologise.’ Kath grabbed her cigarettes and stood up. ‘I think what Ruth is hinting at is that this all happened in the mid-1970s. Forensics was sketchy, nothing at all like we are now blessed with, and there is practically a whole generation that has died off, so witnesses are few and far between.’
‘Didn’t anyone miss the Downing couple?’ Byron asked. ‘Surely someone would have said that they hadn’t seen them around and gone to check if they were okay.’
‘Can’t answer that one,’ Kath said. She headed for the door, and Shirl got up to follow her.
‘It’s the babies,’ said Byron quietly.

Everyone turned to look at him. He lowered his head, his curtain of hair falling forward to cover his face.
‘I had a baby brother.’
No one moved, not wanting to break the spell. Byron took a deep breath and looked up. ‘I was
seven, I think. So excited to have a brother. But he died when he was around three months old. Sudden infant death syndrome.’
‘Oh, mate.’ Marvin moved to him and put a hand on his shoulder, wanting to give him a hug but feeling it was maybe too much.
‘It’s okay.’ Byron gave a weak smile. ‘Mum called him Percy. He was adorable.’
Shirl’s sudden movement made them all start, and she pushed past Kath and headed down the stairs. Kath frowned and looked over at Ruth, who shrugged and raised her eyebrows.
‘There’s no explanation for SIDS. I guess I just want to try and find out what happened to those seven little babies.’ Byron moved to the coffee machine, and Kath rubbed his back lightly as she passed him on the way to meet Shirl downstairs for a much-needed fag break.
‘We’ll find out, won’t we, guys?’ Kath looked over her shoulder at Marvin and Ruth, who muttered words of encouragement, and she continued downstairs to find Shirl smoking underneath her favourite tree next to the Madeley station.

That was the part of the case they were all not talking about: the seven baby bodies found in graves at the side of the cottage. It wasn’t until the council had released the ground many years after the deaths of the Downing couple that the graves had been unearthed. A developer had made inroads into looking at the prospect of using the land for building houses and had used a team of surveyors to look at the potential of the ground if the council was willing to let it go for the right price. The seven bodies had seemed to be a forgotten aspect as the police had concentrated their efforts on looking for Abraham and Esther’s murderer. Now, the babies were most definitely in Kath’s sight, and the team would be investigating their deaths just as thoroughly as the two adult bodies. The case wasn’t so much cold as frozen. Although the adult bodies had been discovered in 1975, the corpses of the seven babies had only been unearthed, literally, when developers had been testing the soil. The officer in charge had amazingly had the bright idea of getting a local archaeological group to take a look, realising they may have some relation to the case of the two adults found murdered on the same spot eight years earlier. The would-be archaeologists had surmised the tiny bodies might even have stretched back into the 1960s, but the focus had been on the adults, and the seven skeletons were considered a mystery not worth the time and effort of investigation.

‘You okay?’ Kath lit up and waited for Shirl to speak. Shirl kicked at the mass of leaves already forming in the September sunshine under the tree.
‘I have to show you something.’ Shirl exhaled a plume of smoke and looked at her boss and friend of many years.
‘Will you take a ride with me?’
‘Of course, mate, whatever you need. We’ll go after we’ve finished these, okay?’
Shirl nodded, took one last drag and dropped her cigarette butt, crushing it with force into the leaves. ‘Thanks, yeah. I’ll see you up there.’
Kath looked up at the branches as Shirl went back into the station. ‘Always another mystery.’ She flicked her cigarette butt into the road and followed Shirl inside.
The churchyard was quiet. A woman sat on a bench against the front wall of the church, hands clasped in her lap. The only other person was a man collecting grass cuttings from an old lawnmower. He moved to an area on the far side where the oldest graves leant at impossible angles against the low perimeter wall and deposited the grass into a boxed construction that appeared to be some kind of compost heap. Planks of new wood encased the cuttings and decaying flowers, and the elderly man stepped into the box and began trampling the contents.

Kath followed Shirl to a gravestone to the right of the lychgate. She still had no idea why Shirl had asked her to come but knew that her friend and colleague would tell her when she was ready. Shirl had seemed unsettled ever since Byron had produced the new case for the team.
The gravestone was an old one, rounded at the top and bearing two names.
‘Oliver and Mary Carling,’ Kath murmured as Shirl lay a small posy of roses against the headstone. They had stopped off at a florist on the way, Kath again choosing not to ask questions.
Shirl patted the grass and stepped back. ‘My grandparents,’ she said. ‘And also the resting place of Rose Thompson.’
Kath waited, watching her friend as she took deep breaths. Shirl turned to Kath and pulled her cigarettes from her pocket. Kath waited as she lit one. Shirl looked up at the clear sky and exhaled a large plume of smoke.
‘My firstborn. My daughter.’
‘Oh, Shirl.’ Kath put her hand on Shirl’s arm, searching for the right words to comfort her friend. She had not seen this coming. ‘Tell me about her.’
‘She breathed for two hours. Short, snuffly breaths. We were told she probably wouldn’t live very long. Heart defect.’ Shirl paused and took another deep drag of nicotine. ‘It was there on the scans. They said they couldn’t do anything but wait until she was born and then they could perhaps look at operating once she was strong enough, but even then, she might not survive the surgery.’

Shirl wasn’t known for being overly emotional and she kept it together now in the warm sunshine, with the sound of birdsong and the hum of tractors in the far fields.
‘You must have been really young.’ Kath took out her own cigarettes and lit one. Everyone knew that Shirl had four sons, two sets of twins, grown men now, who Shirl and her husband adored.
Shirl nodded. ‘Eighteen. Both of us. We knew we wanted a family straight away, and I was pregnant when we got married, here in this church.’
‘And she’s buried here?’ Kath stared at the gravestone, confused, failing to find another name on it.
‘There’s a centuries-old tradition where babies who died were often buried with a grandparent or elderly lady so they could take care of them in… Heaven, I guess, or wherever.’
Kath smoked quietly and let her friend talk, amazed at the revelation. They had known each other for over eighteen years and Kath had not had any clue. Shirl had been very careful to keep this little part of her past well and truly buried. She suspected that very few people knew this story, and she was humbled that Shirl could share it with her.

‘My family have been buried here for generations.’ Shirl pointed across the churchyard, next to the makeshift compost heap. ‘Great-great-grandparents over there, great-uncles next to them. We asked if Rose could be buried with my grandmother.’
‘That’s lovely,’ said Kath. ‘Comforting, I should think. For all of you.’
Shirl nodded and looked at her burned down filter, flicking off the remaining ash and putting it in her pocket.
‘I understand now why this case has hit a nerve. We don’t have to carry on…’
Shirl held up her hand. ‘It’s fine. It’s time.’ She gave a weak smile. ‘It just made me sad when we started out. I mean, we were looking at the murder of two adults, then the dead babies turned up…’ She moved away, and Kath followed, keeping hold of her filter until she could flick it into the road.
‘Any time you want to talk about her, you know you can come to me now. Right?’
Shirl turned and embraced Kath. ‘Thank you. But it’s all good. I have one day a year—her birthday—when I cry and come here to talk to her, tell her about her brothers, our lives.’
Kath released her and stepped back. ‘June fourteenth. You have it off every year.’
Shirl smiled. ‘What a good detective you are.’

They got into Shirl’s car and sat looking out across the fields.
‘It’s weird how Byron picked up on this case,’ Shirl said. ‘And how we now have this strange connection. Not that he knows.’
‘I don’t know… it might have something to do with Lane,’ Kath replied.
Shirl turned in her seat to face Kath. ‘Go on.’
Lane Petreus was the psychic who had helped the team on their first case a few weeks previous. Kath had watched the interaction between her and Byron as she’d said goodbye.
‘I think Byron has some… capabilities that even he doesn’t know he has. We can’t explain it, and we don’t want to because we just accept that it is what it is, but maybe Byron was just guided somehow to pick this case.’
‘Okay, I’ll take that. You may be right. He’s an extraordinary young man.’ Shirl paused. ‘Have you thought about inviting Lane onto this case?’
Kath had been wrestling with the idea. The team was still in its infancy, and she didn’t yet know if Lane could be a permanent part of the team, even if it were possible and it was what Lane desired. Her talent was in great demand, and Kath felt a little selfish in asking Lane to commit completely to them.
‘I don’t honestly know yet. I kind of feel we should press on as we are. If we hit a stumbling block and Lane is available to us, then maybe we can consider calling her in. What do you think?’
Shirl nodded and started the car. ‘I think your instincts are spot on, as ever. You’ll make the right call when the time comes.’
She nosed the car forward and headed back to the station, considering the idea of sharing an intimate piece of her past with the rest of the team.

Grave Issue Julia Vaughan
Cahill Davis Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022 Julia Vaughan
The moral right of Julia Vaughan to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in Great Britain in 2022 by Cahill Davis Publishing Limited.
First published in paperback in Great Britain in 2022 by Cahill Davis Publishing Limited.
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licencing Agency.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
ISBN 978-1-7398015-6-4 (eBook) ISBN 978-1-7398015-5-7 (Paperback)
Cahill Davis Publishing Limited

To purchase the book follow the link here: http://www.books2read.com/graveissue

Posted in Publisher Proof

Blackstone Fell by Martin Edwards

Rachel Savernake investigates a bizarre locked-room puzzle in this delicious Gothic mystery from the winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger.

1930. Nell Fagan is a journalist on the trail of a intriguing and bizarre mystery: in 1606, a man vanished from a locked gatehouse in a remote Yorkshire village, and 300 years later, it happened again. Nell confides in the best sleuth she knows, judge’s daughter Rachel Savernake. Thank goodness she did, because barely a week later Nell disappears, and Rachel is left to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell in Yorkshire, with its eerie moor and sinister tower. With help from her friend Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent clairvoyant – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances and bring the truth to light.

A dazzling mystery peopled by clerics and medics; journalists and judges, Blackstone Fell explores the shadowy borderlands between spiritual and scientific; between sanity and madness; and between virtue and deadly sin.

It was the female characters that drew me into this interesting mystery that travels from London to the village of Blackstone Fell. Three particular women caught my eye and my imagination throughout the novel: Cornelia ‘Nell’ Fagan, Rachel Savernake, and the minor character of Ottilie Curle. All three women are very different from the usual heroines of Gothic Literature and a world away from their own Victorian mothers. In fact when I compared them with other women in the novel they don’t conform to the average respectable middle class lady one bit. Nell drew me into the story first, perhaps because she’s best described as ‘a bit of a character’. Everyone in Fleet Street knows her and she’s a regular in all the hang outs including the pub. Nell smokes cheroots, drinks like a fish, earns a living as a journalist, is a bit loose with the truth and loves to tell a story. Recently she’s lost her steady job and has been scouting around for stories that might enable her to start freelance work. She stumbles on the mystery of Blackstone Fell and there’s nothing better than a locked room puzzle to get the cogs turning. She bravely decides to undertake research on the ground and where better to stay than the very gatehouse where two men disappeared 300 years apart. She soon gets the message that there are people still living in the village who don’t want this story investigated. Realising it’s more than she can manage alone she begrudgingly asks for the help of Rachel Savernake. Can they solve the mystery together?

Rachel is another independent woman, financially independent and fiercely intelligent. She loves to solve mysteries especially those involving murders. She’s incredibly observant and perceptive, knowing immediately when Nell is spinning a yarn or lying by omission. She has certain standards for those who work alongside her, expecting loyalty and complete honesty. When these standards aren’t met she is ruthless in her decision to dispense with people. There’s a ruthlessness about her investigation technique too. When she finds information or solves a mystery, she doesn’t just hand over what she knows to the police. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, sometimes she knows of a better way to dispense justice, whatever form that might take. One character suggests she plays God and there is an element of that in her personality; a certain arrogance that she’s right, combined with the self-belief that only she knows the best way for someone to pay for their actions. I was also fascinated by Tilly, the medium first consulted by Nell who reappears in the story. She’s from a background of poverty, using the only gift she has to make a living. I was interested in the way her appearance is depicted. Like Martha, who looks after Rachel, Tilly is a marked woman. Martha has a scarred face from a burn, whereas Tilly has a scarred neck from a thyroid condition. Marked women have quite a history in Victorian fiction and they are often used to make a point, like Rosa Dartle in Dickens’s David Copperfield. Martha’s scars are a contrast, enhancing the beauty of the rest of her face. Tilly’s scars and her obesity are used more like a smoke screen. People’s prejudices around women who are marked or deemed unattractive, can throw them off the truth about a person. The fact that her servant is a ‘Moor’, is another aspect that’s unconventional. I realised that Tilly might be all too aware of how people see her and has used that knowledge to hide behind their assumptions.

I loved the novel’s setting. Blackstone Fell couldn’t be more gothic. Not only does the village have a creepy gate lodge where two men have disappeared: there’s a tower that looks more like a folly rather than a practical home; the river with it’s beautiful, but dangerous fall, where one wrong step could mean being dragged into the water and dashed to death on the rocks below; the endless fog and boggy ground of the moor has it’s own dangers for those who’ve become lost or disoriented. Then there’s the sanatorium, with it’s isolated location, mysterious residents and methods. Finally there’s the vicarage, where the fire and brimstone vicar seems to have a disintegrating relationship with his much younger and highly strung wife. Phew! It was a lot to keep straight in my head at times.

The historical background is fascinating too. We’re between two world wars where so much change has occurred both for individuals and society. The social order has shifted, with more upward mobility, more freedom and improved rights for women. I loved the power dynamics at play here and the sense that these years are an in between space. The vicar and his wife illustrate the old Victorian, traditional idea of a women’s lot in life. It seems archaic when compared to the independent paths that Rachel, Nell and even Tilly have carved out for themselves. Tilly’s success as a medium echoes a societal trend, fuelled by the loss of loved ones, both in WW1 and due to Spanish Influenza. Through the medical men in the story, the author touches on the rise of Eugenics Theory at this time; the idea that there were weaker or lesser races and hereditary disabilities that needed to be eradicated. This could be used as a way to rid oneself of an unstable or inconvenient wife or an old uncle with dementia standing between someone and their inheritance. However, when applied to society at large it became the gateway to Mosley’s ‘BlackShirts’ and Hitler’s Final Solution. The plot itself is an interesting puzzle, although at times I did flounder a bit to remember all the aspects or keep characters in order. I’m willing to accept this might be my brain at fault, so I really welcomed the clue finder at the end of the book that helpfully showed me where to find clues for every thread. There were twists right up to the final page so I defy anyone to work it all out, before Rachel explains her reasoning and unmasks the villains. This was an intelligent mystery, with solid female characters, all set within a period of history that provides an unsettling backdrop to the action.

Meet The Author

Martin Edwards has received the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing, given for the sustained excellence of his contribution to the genre. His recent novels include Mortmain Hall and Gallows Court, which was nominated for two awards including the CWA Historical Dagger. British librarians awarded him the CWA Dagger in the Library in 2018 in recognition of his body of work. His eight and latest Lake District Mystery is The Crooked Shore and earlier books in the series include The Coffin Trail, short-listed for the Theakston’s prize for best British crime novel. Seven books in his first series, featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin, starting with the CWA John Creasey Dagger-nominated All the Lonely People, have been reissued by Acorn in new editions with introductions by leading writers including Ann Cleeves and Val McDermid.

Martin is a well-known crime fiction critic, and series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics. His ground-breaking study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books won the Macavity and was nominated for four other awards, while Howdunit, a masterclass in crime writing by members of the Detection Club, won the H.R.F. Keating prize and was nominated for five other awards. His long-awaited history of the genre, The Life of Crime, will be published in May 2022. In addition Martin has written a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, and a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. He also completed Bill Knox’s last book, The Lazarus Widow. He has published many short stories, including the ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Acknowledgments and other stories. ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice‘ won the CWA Short Story Dagger, for which he has been nominated for three other stories. He has edited over 40 anthologies and published diverse non-fiction books, including a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill. An expert on crime fiction history, he is archivist of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club. He was elected eighth President of the Detection Club in 2015, spent two years as Chair of the CWA, and posts regularly to his blog.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sunday Spotlight! Autumn Fiction: Fantasy, Magic and all Things Spooky.

I have to say this sounds like an incredible debut. It’s more of a monstrous fantasy than a spooky, Halloween type book. The story goes that, many years ago, the remote North Atlantic archipelago of St Hia was home to a monster. Her name was Thordis, and she had been adored. But when she was unable to provide her husband with a child, he sought one elsewhere – and Thordis was driven to a terrible act, before disappearing from her home. Today, lashed by storms and far from the mainland, the islands are dangerous. Many have been lost to a wild stretch of water known as the Hollow Sea.

But to one visitor, it feels like a haven. After several years trying to become a mother, Scottie has made the heart-breaking decision to leave her home and her husband in search of a fresh start. Upon her arrival on St Hia, the islanders warn her against asking questions about Thordis – but Scottie can’t resist the mystery of what happened to the woman whose story became legend.

After years of secrecy, can Scottie unravel Thordis’s story? And how will doing so change her own . . . ? I love this mix of motherhood, infertility and the monstrous. In fact monstrous births hark back to one of the most famous gothic novels; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It sounds like such an ambitious debut and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

Billed as a horror/ thriller this is one of my favourite themes in fiction – books about books. Rare book dealer Lily Albrecht has just been given a tip-off about The Book of the Most Precious Substance, a 17th century manual rumoured to be the most powerful occult book ever written, if it really exists at all. With some of the wealthiest people in the world willing to pay Lily a fortune to track it down, she embarks on a journey from New York to New Orleans to Munich to Paris. If she finds it, Lily stands to gain more than just money. This could erase the greatest tragedy of her life. But will Lily’s quest help her find some answers, or will she lose everything in search of a ghost?

A book with all of life’s answers, if only you can find it...

I absolutely loved A.M. Shine’s last novel The Watchers and it had such a killer ending! I chose it as one of my books of the year so my hopes are high for The Creeper.

Superstitions only survive if people believe in them. Renowned academic Dr Sparling seeks help with his project on a remote Irish village. Historical researchers Ben and Chloe are thrilled to be chosen – until they arrive. The village is isolated and forgotten. There is no record of its history, its stories. There is no friendliness from the locals, only wary looks and whispers. The villagers lock down their homes at sundown. It seems a nameless fear stalks the streets, but nobody will talk – nobody except one little girl. Her words strike dread into the hearts of the newcomers. Three times you see him. Each night he comes closer. That night, Ben and Chloe see a sinister figure watching them. He is the Creeper. He is the nameless fear in the night. Stories keep him alive. And nothing will keep him away…

Last Minute Mentions

I’ve just been granted access to these spooky titles so thought I’d give you a quick preview.

I loved C.J.Cooke’s The Lighthouse Witches, an interesting mix of isolated Scottish location, a history of witches, ghostly apparitions, disappearances and time travel. The Ghost Woods sounds downright spooky.

In the midst of the woods stands a house called Lichen Hall. Even the name starts to conjure up an atmosphere of decay. This place is shrouded in folklore – old stories of ghosts, of witches, of a child who is not quite a child. Now the woods are creeping closer, and something has been unleashed. Pearl Gorham arrives in 1965, one of a string of young women sent to Lichen Hall to give birth. And she soon suspects the proprietors are hiding something. Then she meets the mysterious mother and young boy who live in the grounds – and together they begin to unpick the secrets of this place. As the truth comes to the surface and the darkness moves in, Pearl must rethink everything she knew – and risk what she holds most dear. This sounds like a great mix of the supernatural and women’s history.

ELSPETH NEEDS A MONSTER. THE MONSTER MIGHT BE HER.

One Dark Window is billed as a gothic fantasy romance. An ancient, mercurial spirit is trapped inside Elspeth Spindle’s head – she calls him the Nightmare. He protects her. He keeps her secrets. But nothing comes for free, especially magic. When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, she is thrust into a world of shadow and deception. Together, they embark on a dangerous quest to cure the town of Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. As the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly, darkly, taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

I’m so excited to be on the blog tour for this gothic mystery novel, with such a lush cover I want to frame it.

1930. Nell Fagan is a journalist on the trail of a intriguing and bizarre mystery: in 1606, a man vanished from a locked gatehouse in a remote Yorkshire village, and 300 years later, it happened again. Nell confides in the best sleuth she knows, judge’s daughter Rachel Savernake. Thank goodness she did, because barely a week later Nell disappears, and Rachel is left to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell in Yorkshire, with its eerie moor and sinister tower. With help from her friend Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent clairvoyant – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances and bring the truth to light. A dazzling mystery peopled by clerics and medics; journalists and judges, Blackstone Fell explores the shadowy borderlands between spiritual and scientific; between sanity and madness; and between virtue and deadly sin. Full of my favourite themes and brimming with all things gothic, this is surely an autumn must—read.

How good do all these picks sound? Look out next Sunday for my look at Historical Fiction and Romance.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Change by Kirsten Miller

You have to indulge me with this review, because it’s quite a personal response to Kirsten Miller’s novel. It had to be personal, because as a peri-menopausal woman, I fell in love with the idea of a latent power that women can tap into at an age when we are often dismissed as ‘past it’. An age I’ve now reached. ‘The Change’ was a whispered word in my family. At my Grandma’s house there was a clear dividing line at the front door, right into the living room for my Grandad and left into the dining room for my Grandma. I was the only granddaughter and I did spend a lot of time with Grandad, but the other room with my two aunties, Grandma and Mum was where secret feminine conversations took place. ‘The Change’ was first overheard when I was just getting used to my periods starting. Older family members were struggling with the symptoms of menopause. Now, thirty years later I’m experiencing symptoms of peri-menopause and I realise we never really had full and frank conversations about it. Starting my periods was traumatic. I was constantly worried about leaking through my clothes, particularly at school. I was embarrassed that sometimes I had to take my bag to the toilet with me from the classroom and I was mortified that to get out of swimming I had to shout out, in front of everyone, that I had my period.

I’d started my period in my first week of secondary school, in the same summer that I broke my back so I went through an enormous amount of change. I felt tied down and I certainly wasn’t the same tree climbing, dog walking tomboy I had been up till now. I’m thinking that menopause is going to have another seismic effect. I’m already finding it difficult to contain symptoms like sweating and hair loss, but I don’t want to lose myself. I love that menopause is starting to be talked about thanks to media celebrities like Davina McCall and I’m trying to be open and honest talking about my experiences with friends. So I was really up for reading a book about women who are moving towards middle age. Women become more interesting as they get older, more confident and full of wisdom and experience. I certainly found that in my friends and in the characters of this book who I fell immediately in love with. They are definitely meant to be a trio.

Nessa: The Seeker
Jo: The Protector
Harriett: The Punisher

Each woman finds herself bestowed with incredible powers. When Nessa is widowed and her daughters leave for college, she’s left alone in her house near the ocean. Finally, she has time and quiet hours to herself, and she hears voices belonging to the dead – who will only speak to her. They’ve possibly always been there, but she’s been too busy with her family’s needs to hear them. Harriett is almost fifty, her marriage and career have imploded, and she hasn’t left her house in months. Her house was the envy of the neighbourhood and graced the cover of magazines, but now it’s overgrown with incredible plants. Harriett realises that her life is far from over – in fact, she’s undergone a stunning metamorphosis.

Jo has spent thirty years at war with her body. The rage that arrived with menopause felt like the last straw – until she discovers she’s able to channel it, but needs to be able to control it too. The trio are guided by voices only Nessa can hear and discover the abandoned body of a teenage girl. The police have already written off the victim. But these women have not. Their own investigations lead them to more bodies and a world of wealth where the rules don’t apply – and the realisation that laws are designed to protect villains, not the vulnerable.So it’s up to these three women to avenge the innocent, and punish the guilty…

The time has come to embrace The Change.

I loved these women, they were powerful, sexy, sassy and deeply committed to their fellow women – dead or alive. Some might call them witches, but isn’t that a man’s name for a woman who won’t be controlled? Harriett is wonderful! She’s unapologetically sexy and partakes of beautiful men or women when she fancies, but doesn’t feel a need to be attached. She lets her garden run riot and has her own methods for dealing with those who complain. I loved her fearlessness and sense of humour. Nessa has a gift that’s past down through the generations, but has laid dormant till now. I loved that Nessa’s situation is a positive spin on the empty nest, although her gift is not one most people would want. I loved her compassion for the girls she sees and her drive to help, to the extent of taking a ghost home with her. Jo’s gift felt like the embodiment of the rage a lot of women feel about the injustices of the world we live in. The author tells us tales about what women face every day: husbands who control their lives; young girls preyed on by their sport’s coach; vibrant and intelligent women overlooked for promotion; creative women having their ideas stolen by men; women excluded from the gent’s club where a group of millionaire men rule the world. These women are determined to speak out, be open about what women’s lives are like and educate other women to speak their truth and feel their power. It’s inspiring and exhilarating.

The mystery of the serial killer is compelling and really keeps you reading. I kept picking this up in every spare moment, wanting to spend time with these women and see where their investigations lead. I really loved the clever way the author took on the concept of serial killer stories while writing one. She addresses the popularity of crime thrillers and true crime podcasts and how they appeal to men. They’re written as if the victims are expendable and the killers get special nicknames as if they are comic book villains. I’ve often thought this about the Yorkshire Ripper. He’s notorious, but I couldn’t tell you a single name of his victims. There is a truth about the world right at the heart of her story. It comes to light when the women involve the police. There are women in the world who matter and there are others who are worthless, both to law enforcement and to the powerful men encountered in this book. They can be dismissed, because they’re sex workers, or drug addicts, or live in poverty. The Yorkshire Ripper’s first victims were possibly sex workers, then a young girl was attacked after walking home from a night out. She was perceived, by law enforcement and the media, as coming from a decent family. Media headlines screamed that the Ripper had taken his first ‘innocent’ victim. The implication being that the other victims deserved their fate. The author really got this message across, but without losing any of the power, the tension or the desperate need to see the killer caught. Finally, I have to say something about magic realism and being a huge fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Alice Hoffman, I’ve been reading some of the best writers in the genre. Miller’s story is so strong and the characters so well constructed, that I never felt a sense of disbelief. I have quite a collection of magic realism starting with my teenage love for Fay Weldon’s Life and Loves of a She-Devil and Angela Carter’s short stories. This book can easily sit next to my favourites. It really is that good.

Meet The Author

Kirsten Miller grew up in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina. At seventeen, she hit the road and moved to New York City, where she lives to this day. Kirsten’s first adult novel, The Change, is a feel good feminist revenge fantasy–with witches. The Change is a Good Morning America Book Club pick for May 2022. Kirsten also the author of over a dozen middle grade and YA novels, including the acclaimed Kiki Strike books, which tell the tale of the delinquent girl geniuses who keep Manhattan safe, and How to Lead a Life of Crime. She is not the Kirsten Miller who wrote All That Is Left (which appears on the list of the books she’s written), but she assumes that Kirsten is lovely and talented.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Beyond a Broken Sky by Suzanne Fortin

Beyond A Broken Sky by Suzanne Fortin

I’m a big fan of historical fiction and Suzanne Fortin cemented her place as an author to look out for when I read her debut novel The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger. Her combination of time-slip narrative, history and romance is irresistible. I’m interested in the stories people don’t tell us about themselves and the years spent at war often feel like a parallel dimension where people and stories were lost. People died, became displaced, or were simply too traumatised to relive the events of those years. For many, their ordinary every day lives stopped in 1939 and they lived a completely different life away from friends and family, with a new occupation and a changing sense of self. They could act completely out of character in the high pressure of combat or became worn down by the difficulties of being a civilian in a bombed city, living on rations and making new friendships with the unlikeliest people.To then return and pack everything that’s happened neatly away to restart where you left off seems impossible, but many people did. How often do we hear people say that their father or grandfather never talked about the war? My own father-in-law had been sent to a Russian work camp in Siberia, because his father was in the military. His brother didn’t survive, but he and his Mum escaped and lived in a forest camp with the Polish resistance, gradually walking their way down through the Middle East, across Northern Africa and into Europe and eventually England. I would never have known this incredible story if I hadn’t seen a photo of him as a boy, standing in front of the pyramids. My mother-in-law was a child in the Warsaw Ghetto who escaped through the sewer system. Yet neither dwelled on that life, preferring to look forward where life was less painful. Suzanne’s novels fill that gap, that silence where someone’s experience is perhaps too painful to share. She writes these stories that are often complex and present something new about the war, and about people, that I hand’s thought of before.

It just happened that I’d read Ruth Druart’s The Last Hours in Paris and Joanna Quinn’s The Whalebone Theatre very recently, both of which included characters who were enemy prisoners of war, brought to English camps, but often released into the community to help out farmers or do other work that helped the Allied war effort. Some of these men waited up to three years after the war ended to be returned to their homeland and working within communities led to friendships and relationships with some British people. In Fortin’s latest novel we are taken to Somerset in 2022. Telton Hall is the home of Jack Hartwell, a farmer in his eighties, trying to come to terms with the compulsory purchase of his land and home. Rhoda Campbell is a stained glass expert and restorer, visiting to look at a stained glass window designed by POW Paulo Sartori. She works for a museum that conserves old historic buildings and they hope to move the whole chapel and window to their site. However she finds Jack blocking the driveway in his tractor, in the hope of delaying a little bit longer. It takes Rhoda’s charm and the arrival of his son Nate to get things moving again. As the three of them look at the chapel, Jack’s terrier disappears down a gap between flagstones. Rhoda lays on her front to see where he’s gone and makes a terrible discovery, human bones buried underneath the flagstones. This puts in place a chain of events that reaches all the way back to WW2 and has an effect on Rhoda whose own brother is a missing person.

The story alternates between 2022 with Rhoda’s urge to investigate the mystery she’s uncovered and back to the end of WWII when a young woman called Alice Renshaw finds herself pregnant to an American airman, Brett. As she prepares to marry Brett at the village church, Alice is so happy even though it’s an uncertain future she faces, possibly over in America. However, Brett doesn’t turn up at the church and thanks to his father’s connections he is transferred out of the country immediately. Alice is heartbroken. A few weeks later she’s at Telton Hall, where Louise Hartwell takes on young girls ‘in trouble’ and finds homes for their babies with couples who can’t have children. Louise is also still running the farm, with the help of Jack who is ten, his step-brother Billy, who needs to walk with a stick after being wounded. There are also two Italian POW’s helping with the produce gardens, one of whom is Paolo Sartori. Every time the book delves into the past we hear a little more about the story of Telton Hall, the diverse characters staying there and the connections they form with each other. Each time we go back to WW2, we’re getting closer to the answers and the tension builds, while in the present those that would like Rhoda silenced, come ever closer.

I was gripped by the drama of Telton Hall in the 1930’s and desperate for the hateful Billy to get his just desserts before he can permanently hurt anyone. In the present I was convinced I wouldn’t like the answers to the mystery. I was worried that it would have an impact on characters I’d become attached to, who might have only acted badly due to the extreme circumstances. The ending was a surprise and gave me the answers, as well as putting a smile on my face knowing that there was a happy ending for some. I loved Alice’s ability to trust and love after her experience with Brett. I felt the author really captured that sense of displacement and dislocation that many felt during the war, their separation from ‘normal’ life and the way their actions within that time had repercussions for years to come. Ultimately, the story shows us the amazing ability we humans have to heal, our incredible resilience and capacity to love. This could manifest in holding on to a love that won’t die or in finding we have an endless capacity of love, even when our experiences have shown us a depth of loss that seems insurmountable. For Rhoda it means the possibility of letting love in, despite having no blue print of family life from her own childhood. This book is heartfelt and moving, showing us that like Rhoda’s stained glass we are made up of many parts, each experience and influence adding together to make something uniquely beautiful.

Published on 22nd July by Aria

Meet the Author

Suzanne writes historical fiction, predominantly dual timeline and set in France. Her books feature courageous women in extraordinary circumstances with love and family at the heart of all the stories. 

Suzanne also writes mystery and suspense as Sue Fortin where she is a USA Today bestseller and Amazon UK #1 and Amazon US #3 bestseller. She has sold over a million copies of her books and been translated into multiple languages.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Blackbird by Tim Weaver

I had never come across Tim Weaver’s novels before so I was very lucky to be offered this by the publisher, especially in such a special edition too. When I learned it was the tenth in his David Raker series, I approached it with some trepidation. Would I be able to keep up or would it even make sense? Now that I’ve finished the novel I can honestly say that within the first few pages, I forgot this was one in a series and just got stuck in! Such was the strength of the story and his characters that I was drawn in and captivated to the end.

David Raker is a Missing Person’s Investigator and a widower with one daughter. The missing people in this story are Cate and Aidan Gascoigne, a devoted couple who have been married for five years and together for nine. The media dubbed their case ‘The Mystery of Gatton Hill’ as they disappeared there, travelling from their home in Twickenham to have dinner. Catherine ‘Cate’ and Aiden Gascoigne were both 37 years old and worked in creative roles; Aiden was a Creative Director for a Soho web design company and Cate was a full time photographer. Cate’s work isn’t of the portrait or wedding variety and David is quite blown away by her talent as he looks for clues in her work. For Cate, photography is an art form and she’s had several successful exhibitions with enigmatic titles. As they drove to dinner in Reigate, the couple could be seen on CCTV recording laughing together, just before their car plunged down a 90 foot ravine. Their car burst into flames and even though a fire crew arrived soon after the accident, the fire was impossible to stop. However, they also find an impossible scenario, when trying to recover Cate and Aiden’s bodies; they’re no longer in the car. The Mystery of Gatton Hill remains unsolved two and a half years later.

Cate’s parents, Martin and Sue Clark, hire Raker because they find themselves unable to live with the unknown aspects of their daughter’s disappearance and feeling their emotional distress he does what he shouldn’t, he promises them he will get to the truth. However, he has no idea just how dangerous, macabre, and twisted the case will turn out to be, as he delves into Cate and Aiden’s lives. His first port of call is to interview 2 witnesses, Audrey Calvert and Zoe Simmons, who came upon the site of the burning car almost immediately. He gets help accessing the police files and photographs on the incident from a Met source, Ewan Trasker, and works his way through the couple’s phone records that he gets from Spike, the hacker. He never expected to be forced to go on the run as he follows the leads that point to Northumberland, and a 30 year old unsolved case of 3 murdered women, a case worked by DI Makayla Jennings. Three is merely the tip of the iceberg in a chilling and menacing narrative that goes on to reveal a staggering number of murders over the years, and a extraordinarily intelligent serial killer who has no intention of getting caught. Could Cate’s artistic interest in the beach where the bodies were found have been the catalyst for her murder? Is it something else altogether? Could Cate and Aiden still be alive? I found Raker a remarkably tenacious and determined investigator, even when the pressures and dangers threaten to derail the case, and he has the added complications of trying to keep Colm Healy safe. This is a wonderfully complex, riveting and engaging read that kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end with its sky high levels of suspense and tension. This will appeal to crime and mystery readers who love truly twisty. thrilling and superior crime fiction, and I think that this can reasonably be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the series before. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.

Published by Michael Joseph 9th June 2022

Meet The Author

Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of twelve thrillers, including You Were Gone and No One Home. He has been nominated for a National Book Award, twice selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. He is the host and producer of the chart-topping Missing podcast and is currently developing an original TV series with the team behind Line of Duty. A former journalist and magazine editor, he lives near Bath with his wife and daughter.

Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

Meredith Alone by Claire Alexander.

This was one of those books where it only took a couple of pages for me to be ‘in’ the author’s world and completely convinced by her main character. Meredith hasn’t left her house for more than a thousand days, but her inner world is so rich and full. She was absolutely real to me and I could easily imagine having a coffee and a catch up with her. We meet her at a crossroads in life. She’s trying to make changes. Her daily life is quite full, she works from home as a writer and between work she bakes, exercises by running up and down the stairs, reads and fills in jigsaws of amazing places from all over the world. The jigsaws are the key. Meredith doesn’t stay inside from choice, just standing outside her front door gives her a wave of rising panic. Meredith feels a terrible fear, her heart starts hammering out of her chest, her throat begins to close and she feels like she’s going to die. However, as she looks at yet another jigsaw of something she’d love to travel and see in person, she becomes determined to live a fuller life. Meredith has sessions with an online counsellor and a new addition to her weekly calendar is a visit from Tom, who is a volunteer with a befriending society. With this support and that of her long time best friend Sadie, can Meredith overcome her fear and come to terms with the events behind her phobia?

The author tells Meredith’s story on a day by day basis, with the amount of days she’s spent indoors at the beginning of each chapter. There are also flashbacks that take us to Meredith’s childhood, living at home with her mum and sharing a room with big sister Fi. Underpinning her childhood is such a well-constructed tale of psychological dysfunction. Of course all families are dysfunctional in their own way, but Meredith’s broke my heart. Her mother is inconsistent in the way she treats her daughter, as Fi later says, their mother was horrible to both of them, but saved her fiercest venom for Meredith. She would insult her youngest daughter’s dark hair and withheld medical attention when Meredith developed eczema. She tells her itchy, uncomfortable child that she has faulty genes and it takes Fi to engineer a visit to the GP without their mother knowing. Meredith can remember happy times or at least times where she felt safe, such as a memory of being freshly bathed and drying off in front of the fire with hot chocolate. Fi and Meredith lie in bed at night conjuring up a future where they leave home and get a flat together, finally leaving their Mum to her bitterness and the alcohol. If it’s true that our self image is made up of those rules our parents tell us about ourselves and life, then Meredith is left with low self-esteem, no sense of security and the sense that she is strange or tainted in some way. It’s a recipe for mental ill health and it’s amazing that Meredith grows into such an intelligent and kind-hearted woman. It’s even more amazing that it’s Meredith who has the strength to leave.

I truly enjoyed the friends Meredith manages to make along the way and the resourceful way she tries to make herself part of the outside world from her living room. She chats in a forum of people struggling with their mental health and Celeste becomes a particular friend, even going as far as visiting Meredith and cementing their friendship in person. I loved how her befriending visits with Tom develop, because at first Meredith is slightly suspicious of his motives and keeps the extremities of her condition to herself. They have a drink together and stay in the kitchen doing one of her jigsaws, but soon they’re baking together and the relationship is becoming more of a two way street. Less befriending and more of an actual friendship. They share and Meredith realises that other people around her struggle too in their own ways. She even strikes up a friendship with a little boy who comes to ask if she wants her car washed. The upsurge of positivity in her current life is exhilarating to read, but it’s also necessary because I knew that I was also getting closer to finding out what had brought Meredith home one day, close her door and not go out again. Claire Alexander balances this beautifully and where many authors might have gone for the schmaltzy ending, she doesn’t. She keeps it realistic and in doing so made me aware of everything that Meredith has had going for her all along. She’s so self-aware, independent and knows who she is. Above all, even as she starts to overcome her demons she’s determined to do it on her own two feet. She appreciates support, but gives it as well. She doesn’t want to become dependent on an emotional crutch. Meredith is perfectly ok. Alone.

Published by Penguin 9th June 2022

Meet the Author

Claire Alexander lives on the west coast of Scotland with her husband and children. She has written for The Washington Post, The Independent, The Huffington Post and Glamour. In 2019, one of her essays was published in the award-winning literary anthology We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor. When she’s not writing or parenting, she’s on her paddle board, thinking about her next book.

Posted in Publisher Proof

The Setup by Lizzy Dent.

Lizzy’s last novel was a great modern romantic comedy that, thanks to it’s main character, managed to avoid being too schmaltzy and sentimental. It also contained a healthy dose of self-discovery and self-love for a young woman who was low in confidence and used to drifting in life. In The SetUp she’s done it again. Mara is just the sort of quirky and unsure girl that readers fall in love with and I did. Being in my late forties, Mara reminded me of a time I wasn’t sure of myself and I mostly wanted to give her some hope and a big motherly hug. We meet Mara as she’s leaving for a weekend in Prague with her best friend Charlie. This is going to be real quality time for them, something that’s been difficult to get organise since her friend became a Mum. Everything in her friend’s life has changed and while Mara is pleased for her, she can’t help but feel pushed out. Charlie’s going through a whole raft of life experiences that Mara simply can’t identify with or share. The holiday is an attempt to get their friendship back on track so she’s terribly disappointed when Charlie cancels at the last minute. So Mara is in Prague alone and while wandering one day she sees a sign for palmistry and fortune telling. Mara is astrology mad, often reading her daily horoscope first thing in the morning. So on a whim she decides to have her fortune told. There is a change on the horizon, the fortune teller explains, a tall and dark man will literally walk into her life imminently. This is everything Mara has wanted to hear and she’s still digesting the news when the fortune teller explains she has to run, even leaving the keys for Mara to lock up. Within seconds the door opens and in walks a tall, dark and handsome musician called Josef, all set to play cello in the nearby concert hall. He asks for his fortune and who is Mara to object? She wants to get to know him better, because this might be her ‘one’. So she gives him a very specific fortune – when he comes to play in England later that year he will meet a woman called Mara in the pub on the seafront at Broadgate and she is his destiny.

Mara has been drifting through life. After knowing what she wanted to do from an early age and doggedly followed her dream of going to film school. She now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic cinema and rom-coms too of course. She even has a little card index of all the films she’s seen, because she loves nothing better than showing one of them to someone who’s never seen it before. She completed almost three years of her degree course, when a lack of confidence and blind love and trust for someone proved to be a toxic combination. She thought that he was the one. He thought he knew more about film than Mara, because he had the more serious taste, for art house cinema. As they worked on their final project together, Mara was envisioning them being a great team and she was proud of her script about a taxi driver falling in love with a passenger. All was well until Mara heard what her boyfriend really thought, both of her and her work. Then to add to her broken heart, he stole her film. Unable to stick up for herself and claim the work as her own, instead she packed her bags and left university for good. Now living in sunny Broadgate, on the south coast, Mara is trying to make friends with her work colleagues at the town’s 1930’s lido. Directly on the sea front, the lido is a great example of Art Deco architecture but isn’t used nearly enough by the people of the town. Mara is full of ideas, but it’s whether her boss will agree to them. Every idea she puts forward seems to be blocked or put on the back burner to think about at a later date. Mara senses there is more to this than mere apathy and starts investigating. To improve her finances she advertises for a new roommate and is gratified to find Ash, a local handyman/ builder who is keen to make friends, but also help her revamp the flat. Finally and to add to her new found enthusiasm for work, she decides on a bold new look at the hair salon too. When Josef arrives in the autumn every aspect of her life is going to be perfect.

I’m guessing that Lizzy Dent is placed within ‘women’s fiction’ or categorised as modern romance, two descriptors that critics can be sniffy and superior about. I think this book is the very best of it’s genre and isn’t simply a romance, at least not the conventional sort. What I enjoyed most about this book was the transformation of Mara, from her new look and the confidence it brings, to the inner growth that becomes wisdom and really transforms her outlook on life. As Mara works on the big anniversary project for the lido she starts to appreciate her new home town and the history of the incredible Art Deco building where she works. The excitement about her work brings her closer to her colleagues and they start to really bond as friends, in fact it is Samira from work who recommends a hairdresser to give Mara’s look an overhaul. She starts to appreciate their quirks and their work skills. In turn they are impressed by Mara’s ideas and enthusiasm and their appreciation gives her confidence professionally. The negative voice that was once a constant narrator in her mind, becomes quieter, allowing a stronger, more nurturing voice to develop. I was desperate for this little team to triumph and save such a unique landmark for their community.

Romantically, Mara isn’t remotely self-aware. She believes in fate, destiny and ‘the one’ – a viewpoint that her new roommate Ash finds hilarious. He doesn’t believe there’s a ‘one’ or a specific destiny awaiting him. I loved his common sense approach to life and love. He tries to get Mara to see that Josef is merely a fantasy and the likelihood of him turning up is very slim. He wants Mara to grab hold of life and to make choices for herself: pursue things that make her happy; wear things that make her confident and comfortable; improve her relationship with the family she seems to have cut out of her life. The author keeps us guessing over what will come next for Mara and I wanted to carry on reading straight through in one sitting to find out. I became so invested in her as a character and Ash is so loveable too, the sort of man I just know gives the best hugs. The depiction of female friendships is so positive and true to life. I haven’t had children and only became a stepmum at the age of 46, so I felt that distance when my friends became mums like Charlie. I had to learn how much they needed new friends who were going through the same thing, but they needed their old friends to hang in there just as much. I loved the last minute twist to the tale that forces Mara to make a choice, between the destiny and romantic fantasy of the old Mara and the more confident and certain Mara, able to make her own choices with conviction rather than leaving the universe to decide on her behalf.

Published by Viking 9th June 2022

Meet The Author

Lizzy Dent (mis)spent her early twenties working in a hotel not unlike the one in her first novel, The Summer Job. Soon to be a TV series! She somehow ended up in a glamorous job travelling the world creating content for various TV companies, including MTV, Channel 4, Cartoon Network, the BBC and ITV. She writes about women who don’t always know where they’re going in life, but who always have fun doing it. The Setup is her second novel.

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sunday Spotlight! The Daughter of Doctor Moreau.

I have been a fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing since I did the blog tour for her novel Mexican Gothic. It was a heady mix of fear, desire, and strange happenings, with a feisty heroine with fabulous dress sense. Of course it also had a gothic mansion, decorated with wallpaper printed with wandering mushrooms. Since then I’ve become less keen on wallpaper and mushrooms! I also went back to her previous novels- one of the greatest pleasures a bookworm like me can have is to find a new author then find they have a long back catalogue of books to get your teeth into. I went back to the incredible Gods of Jade and Shadow and The Beautiful Ones, then was lucky enough to be sent Velvet Was the Night. I love the vivid colours and unusual design of her book covers too and have each one sitting on my shelf in hardback. I’m trying to resist buying the signed edition of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau with the bright pink spredges It’s perhaps no surprise that I love the art of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo because this cover is very reminiscent of her work. Mainly I love (and envy) Morena-Garcia’s incredible imagination and the way she changes genre with each book.

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is a feminist retelling of H.G. Wells’s original sci-fi novel. Our main character is not Dr. Moreau, instead it is his 14 year old Carlota Moreau, brought up on an island off Mexico by her scientist father. I love the technique of ‘writing back’, especially with the theme of disability in my case, but there have been a lot of books reframing Greek myths such as Elektra and Ariadne. They bring women into the frame and show events from their perspective, which is often very different from the male ‘heroes’. Carlota has a childhood illness which her father is treating with a drug regime of his own invention. Dr Moreau keeps his daughter close by and she is very naïve about the outside world, but also about her father’s work. With the help of his estate overseer, Montgomery Laughton, Dr. Moreau has created ‘the hybrids’, half human and half animal creatures who blindly obey their creator. Seven years later Eduardo Lizaldi arrives, the son of Dr. Moreau’s patron has come to see his work, but sets in motion the events of the novel. I can’t go into much more without ruining the story, but there is a touch of romance woven into the tale as well.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia talks about the setting and themes of her novel in the afterword, including the ethics of scientific work and the effects of colonialism. As part of her backdrop she addresses the treatment of the Mayan population, as well as the Caste War which raged for years against incomers. There is also a look at the rigidly controlled lives of the 19th Century women. All in all a truly ambitious undertaking, but then I wouldn’t expect any less from this gifted writer.

Meet The Author

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, Velvet Was the Night, Mexican Gothic, and many other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters).

Posted in Publisher Proof

Sunday Spotlight! Whatever Happened to Evie Del Rio by Sarah Watts

Evie Del Rio was the one, as far as Ed Nash was concerned.

Their teenage love was the inspiration for his song ‘Used to Be’ and helped Ed’s indie band, The Mountaineers, to international fame.But when Evie and her family suddenly up sticks and leave their London home without a forwarding address, she leaves a heartbroken Ed behind too.

Over thirty years later, washed up rocker Ed is suddenly back in the limelight when Evie’s love song is used as the theme tune for a new TV drama. Once the song is later featured on TV documentary ‘Musical Muses: The Girl in the Song’ it’s suddenly not just Ed who’s asking…

What happened to Evie Del Rio?

As a child of the 90’s I loved how this book opened with teenager Cassie finding out her mum is the inspiration behind one of the songs of the decade. Thanks to the 90’s becoming all the rage and an inspiration for TV, ‘Mum’s Song’ as Cassie and her brother now call it, is having a resurgence. Written back when her mum and musician Ed Nash were dating in the 1980’s, it wasn’t released until his band The Mountaineers produced their debut album ten years later. Now it’s one of the most downloaded songs of 2018. Cassie thinks the song isn’t bad, but the lyrics that have graced many a wedding become a bit cringe when you realise they’re about your Mum. As a teen I dreamed of meeting Damon Albany, who of course would fall madly in love with me and I would become his muse. So there was an element of nostalgia and wish fulfilment drawing me in from the first page.

Then we see the same situation from Genie’s point of view. Genie is Cassie’s mum and was once Evie Del Rio. Now she’s Genie, mum of two and with ‘a lovely big hunk of a husband’ called Gray. I was intrigued by what had made Evie’s family leave London all those years ago. Along with the change of name, there seemed to be something more going on than avoiding embarrassment over a song and a long ago romance with a rock star. Son Will is really taking the brunt of his mum’s newfound notoriety. Even adults think Genie was some sort of sex kitten and teenage boys don’t hold back. They chant about how many pop stars his mum has shagged on the football field, well they did until he broke someone’s nose. Yet Ed keeps blithely on, talking about his relationship with Evie and the origin of the song. Genie says he’s embellishing, but something about that time clearly gets under her skin. As we travel back and forth to Genie’s teens, when she’s still Evie, we slowly see more of their story revealed and secrets emerge that have been kept for a long time.

I thought this was an interesting idea for a book and as a middle aged stepmum to teenage girls I loved the idea of them getting an insight into the past. Imagine suddenly finding out that the person they see every day was once as exciting and full of promise as they are now. The multiple perspectives kept my interest, because it showed how the situation affects different members of the family. I loved Genie’s husband Gray, a lovely, solid and reliable anchor in a difficult time for his family. There are sensitive issues, but they are handled with care and empathy. I would recommend this nostalgic read, full of endearing characters and with a central mystery that unfolds slowly and with sensitivity.

Published by Cahill Davies 8th July 2022

Meet the Author

I’ve always enjoyed the written word and I have a great passion for music so I decided to put the two together and the result is my debut novel ‘What Happened to Evie Del Rio?’

I like to think I’m enjoying my ‘middle youth’ rather than my ‘middle age’. I’m married and Mum to two sons and a black rescue cat called Hector.

I enjoy going to gigs and discovering new music. I also love reading women’s fiction but I do have a bit of a penchant for crime and psychological thrillers! If I’m not on social media, reading or listening to music then you will probably find me on a football pitch cheering on my youngest son and his team.