Posted in Netgalley, Publisher Proof

The Dazzle of the Light by Georgina Clarke

Just a couple of weeks ago I was waxing lyrical about Kate Atkinson’s novel Shrines of Gaiety and then another novel passes my way covering the same territory and the same time period. While I loved Atkinson’s novel on it’s own merits, this one feels more urgent and alive. I felt immediately in the story and fascinated by the two main female characters. Ruby is one of a female gang known as the Forty Thieves (the Forties) who commit crimes from pick-pocketing for the young members to shoplifting and even jewellery theft for those more experienced members. Ruby has been one of the Forties for years and due to her looks doesn’t always attract suspicion in the fancier stores. In fact, she’s on a joint job with her lover Billy from the Elephant Boys, when she first runs into Harriet Littlemore. Harriet is the real deal, a young woman from a very good family, engaged to an up and coming member of parliament. Harriet has ambitions beyond being an MP’s wife, she wants to be a journalist and her father permitted her to ask for a job with the evening paper. She’s been hired to write pieces for the woman at home, such as ways to wear the new style of hat, but Harriet has ambitions for so much more, thinking she might write a piece about the young thief she’s seen. However, her fascination with Ruby seems to be much more than journalistic interest.

The story follows these two women as they each pursue their ambitions. Ruby wants to do more work with the Elephant Boys. She wants to take on bigger jobs and wear beautiful clothes and jewellery. When she meets Harriet again, on a shoplifting run in a department store, she cheekily suggests she should update her style. Perhaps she should cut her hair in the new shingled way that’s the height of fashion, Ruby tells her, then she could wear the new style of hat she’s considering. Like a woman in a trance, Harriet goes to a French hairdresser and has her long hair cut short. She’s amazed by how much it suits her and hopes to see Ruby with her new fashionable look, even if it does cause a stir at home, particularly with her traditional mother. She’s furious when the story about the jewellery heist she witnessed is written by one of the male reporters at the paper. So she decides to write a piece on Ruby, the Jewel of the Borough, and gets one of the artists to draw a sketch from her description. In a way, Harriet admires Ruby. She sees Ruby’s freedom, her nerve and confidence, and contrasts it with her own restrictions. She has no idea what her article will truly mean for Ruby. We see what Harriet can’t, because we’ve met the rest of the Forties and Ruby’s other mentor Solly, who runs a jewellery business. The women of the Forties are in a hierarchy, with Annie ? At the top. Many have been thieving since they were children, looked after by the Forties in return for their tiny hands making their way into pockets. The ones that are married are struggling to feed their kids and to avoid their husband’s fists. Most have done time in Holloway and without the Forties, they and their families would be cold and hungry. From Ruby’s perspective, money is freedom and Harriet certainly has plenty of that.

I loved the way the author showed, that despite their differences in class and means, Ruby and Harriet are still second class citizens due to their gender. Although Ruby has earned some equality thanks to her sleight of hand and is chosen by leader Annie, to do jobs with the Elephant Boys, her personal life is very different. Solly is a father figure to her and always keeps a room for above the jewellers, but when it comes to her lover Billy she has no real power. She has confidence in her allure, but when she’s forced to lie low for a while Billy soon moves on to the next warm body. She often has to give up her body to seal a deal, whether it’s a little extra for the man who fences the more risky pieces of jewellery she’s stolen or romancing someone to get information out of them for Peter who runs the nightclub. This work gives her a rather glamorous roof over her head when she really needs it, but she definitely earns her money. Peter has a big job coming up with the Elephants, something that involves men of money and influence. Ruby has no clue how respectable these men are, or their standing in society. It seems to her that all men will use women, no matter how respectable they may seem. Harriet is completely powerless when it comes to the men in her life. She has a life set up for her as Ralph’s wife and her parents can’t understand why she isn’t satisfied with her lot. She has money, beautiful clothes and a handsome fiancé who is going to be a man of great influence. They can’t understand that she wants something for herself, something she has earned on her own merits. I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted both of these women to break out of the prison they are in, choose a different life and perhaps become close. I didn’t want the system to win.

The setting for this fascinating story is beautifully built by the author. We’re post-WW1, a period of huge shifts in the class system and changes for both men and women. The author shows how the class system and expectations of women have changed through Harriet’s relationship with her parents. They still have pre-war attitudes and are expecting Harriet to fall in line. Even the changes she makes to her appearance show that shift from the restrictions of Edwardian dress and the relative freedom of the 1920’s fashions with shorter skirts, no restrictive undergarments and shorter hair. These fashions suit women who are busier and don’t have hours to dress in the morning. Financial changes mean only the very wealthy can afford the help of a ladies maid every morning. Ruby can wear the latest fashions to please herself, when she can afford them. She loves the glamour of the clothes she wears to the club, where she needs to attract the more discerning gentleman.

For the men, those who were in the trenches found them democratising. Bullets and shells don’t care about the class you’re from and although there was still a hierarchy, they died in the mud together. This led to some strange allegiances back in the post-war world. It’s clear to Ruby that there’s a big job on the cards, Billy has hinted as much and her time at the club throws her close to the planning. There are men involved who would never normally give the Elephant Boys the time of day, so they must need them to do the dirty work. These are men from the highest class, who usually drink at their club or the Savoy, but don’t mind slumming it at the club if it makes them money or the company of a woman like Ruby. I desperately wanted some of them to get their come uppance, knowing that’s not always the way of the world. The real winners though are those that can move between worlds, like Peter Lazenby. Though the polish and charm of all these men hides something more brutal. Despite her misdemeanours I was as charmed by Ruby as Harriet was and I wanted her to find a middle ground where she survives comfortably. As for Harriet I wanted her to break out of her parent’s upper class restrictions. I wanted her to have a love affair with someone unsuitable and a friendship with Ruby, if not a full on passionate affair. This was a fantastic book, full of characters, historical detail and that verve and energy that seems synonymous with 1920.

Published by Verve Books 17th November 2023

Meet The Author

Georgina Clarke has always been passionate about stories and history. The Lizzie Hardwicke novels give her the opportunity to bring to life her love of the eighteenth century and her determination that a strong, intelligent and unconventional woman should get to solve the crimes – rather than be cast in the role of the side-kick. Georgina was born in Wolverhampton, has degrees from Oxford, Cambridge and London, but now lives in Worcester with her husband and son and two lively cats.

Her first two novels, Death and the Harlot and The Corpse Played Dead, are published by Canelo. She is currently cooking up plots for the next novels in the series. 

If you would like to visit her website, you can find her at: 

http://www.georginaclarkeauthor.com

She is also to be found tweeting (probably far too often than is good for her) at: 

@clarkegeorgina1

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Pain Tourist by Paul Cleave

‘In movies the monsters are always zombies, vampires, or some weird kind of mutant, but in this moment his eleven year old brain tells him he was wrong all this time. What he’s looking at now are monsters. Real monsters.’

I loved the central premise of this novel from Paul Cleave, the idea that there are pain tourists – people who gain satisfaction from soaking up the pain and misery of others. I’ve always used the term ‘emotional vampires’ to describe something similar and it has levels, from those who revel in reading lurid tabloid coverage of a celebrity break-up to something much more disturbing. We all know those people who have a tendency to insert themselves into other people’s life dramas and grief or who get a kick out of watching true crime or the accounts of serial killers, such as the page after page of obscene detail that filled the pages of tabloids following the discoveries at Cromwell Street, the home of Fred and Rose West. It seems lately as if everyone is watching serial killer documentaries and actors from Dominic West to David Tennant are queueing up to play them. I think here, by imagining the more disturbing lengths someone might go to in order to feel part of that crime or tragedy, the author really made me think about this trend.

The novel opens as a tense and violent crime is being committed. An eleven year old named James is watching his parents being threatened at gunpoint by three masked men who have broken into the family home in the night. As the intruders try to obtain the whereabouts of a safe from his parents, using whatever means to make them talk, James is trying to set up an escape plan for his sister Hazel. As both James and his mother’s lives were threatened, my heart was racing wondering why his parents don’t tell the gunmen! James’s quick thinking saves his sister, in a heart-stopping escape she gets to a neighbouring house, but it earns him a bullet to the head after watching both his parents killed. The terrible tragedy is compounded by the fact James’s family did not have a safe. However, one had been recently fitted a few doors away where a diamond dealer had just moved in with his family.

Cleverly, Cleave then splits the narrative in two directions, in an almost ‘sliding doors’ type story. James’s life continues into the future with his family intact or James comes out of a nine year coma, convinced he’s been living a life way beyond the four walls of his hospital room. For the cops who worked the case, a lot has happened in the last nine years since they failed to solve the murder of Hazel and James’s parents. Theo Tate left the force and is now a private investigator after a terrible tragedy touched his own family. Rebecca Kent is still a police officer, but is marked by tragedy in a more physical way, every reaction from strangers reminds her she now has a scar running down her face. The pair come together to revisit the case, when Kent is informed that James has woken up. Now, despite her relentless hunt for a serial killer nicknamed Copy Joe, Kent is tasked with reopening the cold case. Feeling hopeful that James may remember some new detail to add to existing evidence she also wonders if he could become a target for the killers, who are still at large? James can’t speak, but can communicate with pen and paper. The investigators are shocked by the detail packed into James’s story as he starts to write more. His ‘ComaWorld’ diary seems to flow out of him with very little thought or res. Nine notebooks, one per year, document a life unlived by anyone but James. Familiar names and events start to become apparent to his sister, such as his accuracy on each day’s weather or the book she was reading to him slipping into the narrative. What nobody expected him to reveal is that Kent has more than one serial killer on her hands.

This was such an original and complex thriller. As you might expect, considering I’m a writing therapist, the ‘Coma World’ stories were fascinating to me. The aspects of real life that Hazel notices are brilliant plot devices, but also play with the idea that the unconscious mind is still very much alive and picking up on what’s going on around it. From a therapy angle, James’s narrative could be seen as the mind’s way of healing itself while his body is asleep. One therapy technique I’ve seen involves the client writing a different narrative ending to something that’s happened. It helps the client discuss how a different ending might feel – would they feel more closure about the event for example? By exploring this, we can then discover and discuss why the real ending caused so many problems. The way James writes, in longhand and over a period of days fascinated me too. Is he scared if he doesn’t write it down it will be lost to the truth? The complex level of detail is incredible, as if he’s still seeing it running like a movie in his mind’s eye. I wondered how he kept it so rigidly to one year per book, suggesting there was a lot of detail he chose not to record. What we choose to edit out of a narrative is sometimes as important as what we leave in. When it becomes clear he’s been aware of other patients in the room, we can see how his mind is weaving their names and other facts into his narrative – he’s heard all their conversations too.

Tate and Kent were great characters to guide us through these complex interwoven cases. Kent is driven, but slightly less idealistic than Tate. She’s made peace with the fact that some cases don’t get solved in a way he hasn’t. It’s clear why she’s stayed inside the police force and he’s preferred to forge his own path. He’s an incredible investigator but perhaps not so good at office politics and coping with an imperfect system. Kent is desperately trying to solve the case of Copy Joe, a serial killer who copies the methods of previous serial killers, like the Christchurch Carver. Whoever he copies, he likes to leave the crime scene exactly the same way, almost like an homage to the murderers, showing his admiration. Are they looking for a fan of the ‘True Crime’ genre? Someone who perhaps started with the odd book, the podcasts, and the documentaries until he’s had to experience the same thrill. It’s an uncomfortable concept and made me question our enjoyment of such narratives, especially when true crime documentaries are constantly in the daily top ten on Netflix or other streaming service. When it comes to curiosity, how far is too far? When does an interest become an urge, an action. Tate’s private life was so devastatingly sad and I was moved by his visit with his wife. He loves her still and they sit and talk like any other married couple, the difference being, that as soon as Tate walks out of the room she will forget everything all over again. He chooses to bear a terrible loss alone. This showed another, devastating, side of brain injury -a patient who is physically capable, but with a brain that erases every interaction leaving a blank slate. She is happy in the moment, but that present moment is all she has.

From the explosive opening, which really gets the adrenaline flowing the tension ebbs and flows depending on the narrative or case we’re following that chapter. Towards the end, as all these cases come together in one terrible night, the heart really started pounding again. I did get a bit confused between locations and who was where towards the end. So I had to keep going back, desperately trying not to miss a moment as the twists and turns came thick and fast. I found it was Tate and Kent I was rooting for, not just that they would solve their cases, but that they would survive! I found the way James was constantly moved around in these final chapters a bit concerning. My experience in occupational health and care needs had me asking all sorts of questions. If James couldn’t walk how was he managing in these different spaces, using various different surfaces to sleep on from beds to couches? I kept wondering how he was getting to the loo – I’m laughing at myself as I write this, because honestly the way my brain works! This says so much about my inner life. I just kept thinking ‘how has he been discharged from hospital without an occupational therapy assessment and a multi-disciplinary meeting?’ Of course these facts are like the days James edits out of his narrative, not very interesting or helpful to the plot. The details of a character’s loo habits tend to dissipate the tension and excitement. This was an incredibly fast read, giving you some idea of the pace and that addictive pull you want in a thriller. Each character is cleverly written to draw you in, but you’re always left on edge and unsure. The multiple endings are brilliant, I just thought it was solved and I could breathe, then the author pulled the rug out from under me. Yet I loved that we get to have multiple endings, as James’s doctor suggests they write a book together, framing the narrative in yet another way.

Meet The Author


Paul is an award-winning author who often divides his time between his home city of Christchurch, New Zealand, where his novels are set, and Europe, where none of his novels are set. His books have been translated into over twenty languages. He’s won the won the Ngaio Marsh Award three times, the Saint-Maur Crime Novel of the Year Award, and Foreword Reviews Thriller of the Year, and has bee shortlisted for the Ned Kelly, Edgar and Barry Awards. He’s thrown his Frisbee in over forty countries, plays tennis badly, golf even worse, and has two cats – which is often two too many. The Pain Tourist is his (lucky) thirteenth novel

Posted in Netgalley

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

I was granted access to this novel on NetGalley and couldn’t wait to read it, bumping it to the top of my TBR when I had a free weekend. This is Jodi Picoult in her element. Her last book was an interesting take on the pandemic and a couple of her recent novels have been more experimental, moving away from the legal case structure of her earlier work. When I met Jodi Picoult several years ago I asked about her writing. Did she start with character, or was it the controversial issues she explores that start the writing process? Having covered racism, school shootings, teen suicide and abortion it seems that these complex issues drive her imagination. She admitted that these issues do spark her creativity and if an issue stays in her mind for a couple of weeks she knows it has potential. Then she starts to research and during that process, characters form and make themselves known to her. I loved the flow of Picoult’s writing and the tension she builds around the featured legal case, but thought she’d maybe moved away from this way of working. When Jennifer Finney Boylan approached her with the idea to write a book together with a trans character at it’s heart, Jodi Picoult had been thinking about setting a novel around trans rights for a number of years. The structure of Mad Honey feels like vintage Picoult and even where Jennifer Finney Boylan takes over the narration I didn’t notice a huge difference in tone or style. I’ve never read Jennifer Finney Boylan, but she is the first openly transgender American to write a bestselling book, a book that is now thought of as an important part of the transgender canon. She is the perfect writer to join Picoult in this venture that’s bound to be controversial considering the trigger warnings I’ve seen used. Picoult and Boylan haven’t shied away from controversy in choosing to write about one of today’s hottest and most complicated topics; the complexities of being transgender. Yet the combination of authors takes away the debate over ‘own voice’ narratives and brings a sensitivity and knowledge to the project it wouldn’t have had if Picoult had written alone.

We meet Olivia and her son Asher, who live near a small town in New Hampshire. When Asher was a toddler she fled her abusive marriage to return to the place she grew up. Her timing was perfect, as her father was starting to struggle physically and needed to teach Olivia all the wisdom he’d accrued in a lifetime of keeping bees. Now Olivia is the bee expert, tending daily to her hives where each queen bee is named after a musical diva: Celina, Gaga, Beyoncé. The toddler who was just steady enough on his feet to intervene when his father attacked his mother, is now a six foot ice hockey player in his final year before leaving for college. Asher is a popular teenager with lots of friends and now he has girlfriend Lilly too. Lilly understands starting over, so Olivia feels they have something in common. She likes Lily when she’s been over to the house and she’s successfully helped them with the bees, who are a good judge of character. Lilly feels happy for the first time in her life and Asher is a huge part of that, although there is still a part of her that wonders if she can truly trust him, be open and be vulnerable. Then out of the blue Olivia takes the call every parent dreads. It’s the police. Lily is dead and Asher has been arrested for her murder. She calls her brother Jordan to come to New Hampshire and be Asher’s lawyer. In her mind there’s no way that the gentle boy she knows could have done this. However, as the case starts to unfold she realises that Asher has hidden more than he’s shared. Could he be exhibiting the same tendencies as his father? As Olivia knows more than anyone, we rarely know the people we love as well as we think we do.

I think it’s incredibly hard to take on writing about someone else’s experience, especially someone from a minority group. When it comes to books about disability, my own minority, I do prefer ‘own voice’ narratives. After all, who better to write a character with a disability than a writer with a disability? Failing that I want to know that an author has done their very best to represent that minority, through research and spending time with people who have a disability. I want to know they’ve asked the hard and sometimes uncomfortable questions that take them to the heart of how living in that body might feel. Armed with that they can hopefully create a character who feels real rather than clichéd and avoids stereotypes. I have to be honest and say I don’t know enough about being transgender to judge whether the authors have everything right, but I can see they’ve tried and truly wanted to write about transgender rights in a mainstream novel that’s very likely to be a bestseller. I guess time will tell how the book is received as it moves out into the world. In her acknowledgments, Jennifer Finney Boylan quotes a terrible statistic; in the year that she and Piicoult wrote the book, ‘more than 350 transgender people were killed around the world, more than a fifth of them inside their own homes’. This awful number stayed with me and I was glad these authors are starting a conversation, with a mainstream audience who might not seek out information about being transgender ordinarily. It helped me have a conversation with my 75 year old dad who becomes confused between gender and sexuality and is totally baffled by labels like transgender, transsexual, non-binary. I think these are conversations everyone should have and maybe the book is an entry point, inspiring people to read more ‘own voice’ narratives.

Picoult speaks for me when she says it never occurred to her to think of a transgender woman as anything other than a woman, but it was good to have my view challenged, because it showed me how vehemently some corners of society disagree with me. We are given a lot of background information that clearly comes from both author’s research, but is presented in the guise of Olivia educating herself. She talks about how common it is for animals to change gender, from clown fish to bearded dragons and female hyena’s who can have retractable penises. She’s pressing home the argument against those who claim transgender people are unnatural and that if you were not born with the sexual organs of a woman then you’re not a woman. There does seem to be a huge emphasis on the ability to procreate, but where does that leave women like me who can’t have children? Or those who’ve had a hysterectomy? Are we not real women too? I was very interested in something called ‘passing’, a concept that applies to race, disability, sexuality: an African-American man may be treated very differently if he has a lighter skin tone; a gay man may ‘pass’ as straight in order to be avoid prejudice at work; someone with an invisible disability like mine can be seen as able-bodied with all the benefits of both ways of being. If a transgender woman has a naturally feminine look she can pass as a woman more easily than someone who is is taller or broader. This ability to pass means no one, not even someone the transgender woman is in a sexual relationship with, need ever know that their assigned sex at birth was different. Of course this then begs the question of whether there is an obligation to disclose this information and when? All of this debate comes into the novel’s courtroom sections, in the guise of expert testimony so it doesn’t feel like endless exposition. There are times when opinions may be offensive to some readers, but I think they reflected the reality of being transgender and the discrimination faced.

The story flows beautifully and really grabbed hold of me quickly. I found myself unable to do anything until I’d finished reading, so I let uni work and household chores pile up, completely engrossed in the terrible situation both Asher and Lily’s mums find themselves in. I did feel this was Olivia and Ava’s story, despite our narrators being Lily and Olivia. For me the transition between the two writers is seamless. I really couldn’t tell whether I was reading Jodi or Jennifer’s writing and I know they worked hard at this, swapping sections for re-writes at times. I did feel for Olivia who has fled a terrible situation to protect her boy from her violent husband. I understood how she and Asher had become a tight unit, now challenged by Asher’s age and this new person coming into their small world. I thought the aftermath of being a victim of violence was tackled really well, as Olivia’s job keeps her hidden from the world. She doesn’t make friends and relationships haven’t been on her radar at all. I felt the weight of this massive change looming over them, Asher going away to college and leaving his mum alone for the first time. Her protection of them both has been necessary, but she must be lonely at times. It was interesting to see her reaction to a possible romance, could she take down those walls and start to build a life for herself? By contrast, Lily’s chapters are lighter than Olivia’s, capturing that moment of being on the cusp of adulthood. Lily is brim full of potential and possibility. She’s like a newly transformed butterfly taking it’s first flight. Then all of a sudden she’s gone and it feels like a light has been snuffed out. How much harder must it be for Ava, who has nurtured and protected her daughter in much the same way as Olivia has protected her son? Ava stayed with me after the book had ended because her loss is unimaginable and her only solace is to retreat into the natural world where she feels at home. I found myself hoping she experienced the healing power of nature and didn’t feel too lonely out there on the Appalachian Trail.

I enjoyed the bee analogy that ran through the book, the reference to Mad Honey referring to bees who’ve collected pollen from rhododendrons and laurels. Unfortunately the honey produced is poisonous, causing dizziness, convulsions and cardiac symptoms. The ancient Greeks used it in germ warfare, it’s success dependent on the eater’s expectations of sweetness not deadly poison. The analogy between this and Olivia’s husband is clear as she describes the love bombing in their early relationship and her utter shock when he first lashes out in anger. Her biggest fear is that Asher could be cut from the same cloth as his father, when she sees nothing but her sweet boy. However, she knows that her own mother-in-law would have struggled to accept that her boy was a monster behind closed doors. The tension is brilliantly handled, rising slowly as we get to the final days of the court when I found myself biting my nails! I wasn’t sure how I felt about Asher and the potential verdict, I wasn’t sure I believed his version of events and if Asher was found innocent, would we ever find out what happened to Lily? The twists and turns here were brilliant, with the killer blow delivered just as everything is starting to calm down.

I’m hoping that this novel can be a gateway novel, an introduction to that inspires readers to really think about the experience of transgender people, hopefully inspiring readers to search out writing by transgender authors going forward. There is one scene where Olivia seeks out the woman who runs the town’s record store, because she’s known to be transgender. Here she gets to ask the questions that are running through her mind and although he’s a reluctant authority on the subject, he doesn’t get offended by her insensitivity or ignorance. What he does reinforce for her is that no one can speak for all trans women, because ‘when you’ve met one trans woman, you’ve met one trans woman’. What it reinforces for me is that gender and sexuality are a spectrum, there are as many ways of being as there are people. Our need to categorise, label and compare creates a pyramid of bigotry and ultimately divides us. All we can hope is that future generations find ways of relating to each other that bridge these man made divides. It’s only then that all people can live ‘with power, and fierceness, and with love’ and, as one of our characters says, without the obligation ‘to explain and defend the things I have known in my heart since the day I was born.’

Mad Honey is published on 15th November by Hodder and Stoughton

Meet the Authors.

Jennifer Finney Boylan is a bestselling author, transgender activist and professor at Barnard College. She is also a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She has written thirteen books, including novels, collections of short stories, and her memoir. Her 2003 memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders was the first book published by an openly transgender American to become a bestseller and has become as ‘a seminal piece of the trans literary canon”.

Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight novels, including Wish You Were Here, The Book of Two Ways, A Spark of Light, Small Great Things, Leaving Time, and My Sister’s Keeper, and, with daughter Samantha van Leer, two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire. Her next novel, Mad Honey, co-written with Jennifer Finney Boylan, is available on November 15th.

Posted in Personal Purchase

The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith

I have loved the characters of Cormoran Strike and his business partner Robin Ellacott for a long time, after seeing one of Robert Galbraith’s books in a charity shop and deciding to give it a go. I’ve bought every book in the series since and Strike has become one of my literary crushes – the troubled, wounded, war hero with a rescuer complex and rugged good looks is right up my street. Then there’s Robin, the country girl from Yorkshire who has bags of Northern common sense and is also brave, intelligent and caring. Their friendship works due to respect; he respects her intelligence and investigative abilities, whereas she respects his experience and never pushes beyond his boundaries. Their ‘will they/won’t they’ romance has had me on tenterhooks. I had heard this might be their last outing, so I was expecting their relationship to be resolved in some way. I also expected the main case to grab me immediately, just as their previous investigations did. This combination that has always kept the Strike books instantly readable, no matter if they do weigh the same as a house brick. The leading character’s issues aside, the cases have always been complex and multi-layered, with enough drama to keep me on the edge of my seat as I move towards the conclusion.

This time the agency is delving into two different worlds – the art world and the world of online gaming. Edie Ledwell and Josh Blay are artists who met while training and created a cult cartoon called The Ink Black Heart, set in Highfield Cemetery and peopled by odd little characters such as a talking human heart and a pale wispy ghost. The fans of this cartoon are real super fans, with two of them creating an online game for players to create a character and complete challenges around the graveyard. There was also a facility to meet other fans and talk on private channels during the game. However, fame is never straightforward and when Edie and Josh are found in Highfield Cemetery, attacked with a knife, rumours abound. With Edie dead at the scene and Josh paralysed in hospital, Strike and Robin are tasked to find out who had a grudge against the pair. Edie particularly, was bombarded with online abuse from misogynistic trolls, but it’s a character from the online game that Robin and Strike need to unmask. Anomie is a cloaked, faceless character, j one of the moderators and possibly even the creator of the game. The question is, how do they find someone, whose presence in the real and virtual world is a mystery?

It felt to me as if Robin really stepped up in this novel and took the primary role. Strike struggles physically this time, because years of not looking after himself have started to take their toll. His stump becomes inflamed and unable to take his prosthetic leg or bear his weight. Despite this Strike continues as long as he can, until even he has to accept medical help and enforced rest. So Robin’s detective skills come to the fore, as she infiltrates the art centre and commune, as well as the online game. I really enjoyed her undercover work on this case, firstly becoming Jessica a young woman who works in marketing and finance, but always wanted to explore her artistic side. She signs up to an art class at the centre to improve her skills and meet those who rubbed shoulders with Edie and Josh. She then visits comic-con as a journalist to interview someone they believe is very active in the game – Strike’s disguise amused me greatly here. I’ve always enjoyed Robin’s inner world and here I loved how much confidence her investigative role gives her. Her personal life has given her confidence a battering, especially now that her husband and the woman he was cheating with have a baby together. She has avoided her home town for a while, knowing they’ll be parading their offspring. Robin has worked out that it was the rape she went through at university that led to her settling with ex-husband Matthew. He was there and knew what had happened, it was infinitely easier than having to share this part of her past with someone new.Her feelings for Strike became more obvious when he turned up at her wedding and she left the celebrations to speak to him, much to husband Matthew’s disgust.

Strike is her best friend and she doesn’t want to lose that, but in this story other concerns also come to the fore. She feels inexperienced and unsophisticated in comparison to other woman she has seen with Strike, such as his ex-girlfriend Charlotte and his current girl Madeleine. Robin has no idea how beautiful she is, but Strike is very aware of the effect she has on men when she enters a room. What she doesn’t know is that Strike is currently comparing her with Madeleine, and his girlfriend is not doing well by comparison. Madeleine is well-groomed and always fully made up, plus she’s part of the same sophisticated London set as Charlotte. Strike has noticed the clean smell of Robin’s just washed hair and admires her simplicity. There are no games with Robin, she is always honest and says what she feels. Yet when Strike does weaken and try to kiss her when they go for birthday drinks, she looks so surprised that he interprets it as revulsion, but I think it’s fear. They are both frustrating, but the tension has to continue. The alternative is unthinkable, because people of my vintage remember Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd in Moonlighting and the disaster it became when their characters consummated years of flirting. If Strike and Robin ever did get together, I have no doubt it would have to be the end of the series.

It was within the case that I started to have some issues with the book. This is a long novel and the case concerned a wide range of people both real and virtual. Trying to remember where each character fit in the story was one thing, but when I realised they were possibly in the game with a user name too, it became much more complicated. I found it hard to follow the clues that pointed towards who Anomie was. There were also long sections written in private channels within the game. This felt awkward, although it wasn’t so bad when just two people were chatting, it became impenetrable to me when several channels were open at once with the same characters talking to different people at the same time. Although it gave an insight into how these characters communicated and talked behind each other’s backs, it was hard to keep track. The issues of misogyny and trolling felt like they’d come from the writer’s personal life and the type of trolling she’s been experiencing lately. Studies show that women who game online are exposed to misogynistic abuse and often use male avatars to avoid this type of trolling. So it was true to the story, but often felt she was trying to make a point, especially when we started skirting around subjects like trigger warnings and cancel culture. The sections that bothered me most were those around disability, particularly invisible disabilities and chronic illness. Strike is a hero, because of the war injury he sustained. He’s in that section of ‘acceptable’ disability that includes those who’ve acquired a disability in combat or try to ‘overcome’ their disability such as a Paralympian or other disability athlete. However, there are two characters in the book who have chronic illness, most notably ME or come under scrutiny from Strike and Robin as possible suspects in the case. Inigo uses a wheelchair and has an adapted home, character wise he is shown to have little patience, yelling at his children and wanting his environment just so. There’s an inference that his disability shouldn’t rule him out as the killer, as he could be playing on his symptoms. The second ME sufferer is a young girl who Strike goes to interview, but as he arrives at the house, she has fled out of the back door. This sudden movement immediately has him wondering whether she is also putting on her symptoms. However, Strike himself uses a flash of his disability to get into the family home – who would refuse a chair to a man with a prosthetic leg?

In the same breath the author does include articles about the Ink Black cartoon being ‘ableist’, showing an awareness of how problematic representations of disability can be. She also quotes the ‘spoonies’ blog, which refers to limited units of energy as spoons and exploring the difficulty of using more spoons than you have. I have always praised Galbraith’s depictions of Strike’s disability. Yes, he’s portrayed as a hero, but he’s not invincible as this novel’s physical difficulties shows. Where representation does become problematic here is that Strike is portrayed as wounded, but also a ‘hero’. He comes under the disability theory heading of a ‘supercripple’ – always able to perform beyond his abilities particularly when tasked with rescuing Robin. He’s also depicted as a sexual being, desirable to women still and clearly able to perform in the bedroom. Yet the character of Inigo, an ME patient, is not seen as sexual. In fact, again he’s under suspicion – aspersions are cast on his marriage, their sex life, and his character. I think this is possibly an attempt to show the reader how suspicious people are of those with invisible disabilities. It’s something I’ve experienced in my own life. However, there’s just something I’m uneasy about in these depictions. I was reminded of Ricky Gervais’s clever depictions of disability in The Office, where David Brent tries, in his own inimitable way, to educate his workers on how to approach a co-worker in a wheelchair. We’re supposed to be laughing at Brent, who’s so tone deaf he never asks how his colleague feels about being the subject of this impromptu lecture on disability awareness. He insults her as he tries his best not to, and that is the joke. Uneasily though, I wondered how many tone deaf people were laughing at what they complain is political correctness or at the wheelchair user who looks uncomfortable and embarrassed. This knife edge type of writing can go either way and I wondered how many people with ME would be comfortable with Galbraith’s representations of their disability. Since coming under scrutiny in the previous Strike novel for the depiction of a notorious serial killer dressing as a woman to lull the women he approached into a false sense of security. I would have thought it best to avoid controversial representations altogether. I have to take into account my own invisible disability, which may have prejudiced my feelings on the subject.

In all, this is another solid read from Galbraith, in terms of storyline and character development. It’s both entertaining and dramatic, with some complex and eccentric characters along the way. I love that we saw an even more vulnerable side to both characters, especially Strike. It was also great to see his dealings with ex-girlfriend, and trouble-maker, Charlotte taking a more realistic line. Maybe this clears the way for a different approach to matters of the heart for Strike and it’s this hope that will keep me looking out for the next instalment.

Holliday Grainger as Robin Ellacott and Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike in the BBC series.

Meet The Author.

Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series is classic contemporary crime fiction from a master story-teller, rich in plot, characterisation and detail. Galbraith’s debut into crime fiction garnered acclaim amongst critics and crime fans alike. The first three novels The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013), The Silkworm (2014) and Career of Evil (2015) all topped the national and international bestseller lists and have been adapted for television, produced by Brontë Film and Television. The fourth in the series, Lethal White (2018), is out now.

Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym of J.K. Rowling, bestselling author of the Harry Potter series and The Casual Vacancy, a novel for adults. After Harry Potter, the author chose crime fiction for her next books, a genre she has always loved as a reader. She wanted to write a contemporary whodunit, with a credible back story. 

J.K. Rowling’s original intention for writing as Robert Galbraith was for the books to be judged on their own merit, and to establish Galbraith as a well-regarded name in crime in its own right. 

Now Robert Galbraith’s true identity is widely known, J.K. Rowling continues to write the crime series under the Galbraith pseudonym to keep the distinction from her other writing and so people will know what to expect from a Cormoran Strike novel.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Red As Blood by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

After a couple of years of book blogging, I’m coming to the conclusion that Orenda Books are infallible when it comes to choosing what to publish; I’ve not come across a bad book yet. Of course there are some I like more than others, but that’s just personal taste. I read the first in this series based around financial investigator Āróra and it set the scene well. Āróra has returned to Iceland in order to look for her sister, who went missing while living in a volatile relationship. It was an enjoyable beginning, but this book was absolutely, unputdownably, brilliant. It had me reading at 3am, chewing my fingernails with tension and unable to get up the next morning until I’d read the final page.

Our heroine is still in Iceland and even has a new home, but hasn’t yet broken it to her mother that she’s staying put. The truth is she can’t leave, not until she’s found her sister Īsafold or at least her body. She’s bought a drone and when she has time, can be found driving the endless tracks formed between lava floes with her drone covering the ground either side of the car. She’s also still working and has picked up an interesting case from businessman Flosi, whose wife Guaron has been abducted from their home while cooking their evening meal. She was halfway through cooking langoustines with lemon and garlic butter and in the kitchen theres an overturned chair and bread burning in the oven. All that’s been left is a printed letter on standard paper warning that Flosi shouldn’t involve the police and they will be in touch with a ransom demand. Āróra isn’t the police, so Flosi is hoping that she can help him find the money for the ransom and manage the situation, but Āróra is thinking of the best way to bring the police into the situation without the kidnappers knowing. Daniel is the best police officer for this kind of complex situation. The team move in slowly, disguising themselves as family members and friends supporting Flosi, but in the meantime looking into all the circumstances surrounding Guaron’s disappearance. What Flosi doesn’t seem to realise is that, by it’s nature, an investigation like this looks closely at everybody, including those closest to home.

I’m interested in Āróra as a character. She’s driven, both at work and in her quest to find her sister. I love her inner world, particularly the pull she has between the UK and Iceland. Her drive and resilience seem largely nurtured by her father who was a professional strongman and believed in training his daughters in the same way he would a son. It is his voice she hears when she’s finding things difficult or when she’s in a really tight spot and fighting off those who might harm her. It’s as if he’s the voice of the logical side of the brain, the side that she tries to kick into at times of stress. She’s also very logical and methodical with her work, able to find subtle clues and complex patterns within financial information that others might miss. She soon realises that Flosi isn’t necessarily the mild mannered local businessman he appears to be. This makes her wonder, if he’s willing to withhold information on his business dealings what else is he omitting from his testimony? However, where personal feelings for others are concerned, Āróra’s calm and methodical nature does become overwhelmed. Many people have gently reminded her that she might never find Īsafold, but she can’t let the search go because she’s consumed by guilt that this last time her sister called her for help, she didn’t come. Daniel also overwhelms her sensible side and we see that more here as the pair are drawn to each other, but will she allow herself to explore those feelings?

We are also allowed into the lives of Daniel and his team, showing the toll that their job takes on their personal lives. Helena is a brilliant investigator, but doesn’t allow herself to get too close to people. She has a system for her personal life, a small number of women whose company she enjoys who are also comfortable with a no-strings arrangement. When she wants company she calls them in order of preference to see who is free for the evening. Yet she never lets herself share a meal, a movie or anything about how she feels with them. Daniel finds his job a huge hindrance to a personal life, especially like this case where he has to drop everything at a moment’s notice and disappear for a few days or weeks with no explanation or contact. He is consumed by his job too, but there are hints of a softer side to him,not just in the way he feels about Āróra, but in the way cares for Lady G a trans woman who lives in his garden office.

The case is fascinating, with hints of dodgy money dealings and possible involvement with the Russian mafia. Flosi has a more complex life than at first appears. He has a daughter called Sarah who works with him, but doesn’t like to live with him due to tensions with Guaron. Guaron is his second wife and it’s as if Flosi hasn’t grown up and realised that long term relationships are not as exciting as those first thrilling months when we fall in love. It is all sharing meals, watching tv at night, and the gentle domestic routine. He already rejected this way of life when he left his first wife, but at the first sign of trouble she is still willing to come over with Sarah and cook for the team and offer Flosi support. There are signs his relationship with Guaron has reached that comfortable stage, but he isn’t forthcoming with the team about his doubts or his solutions to the boredom he’s felt in his marriage. Every little piece of information has to be dragged out of him, but is he being deliberately obstructive? Sometimes he seems genuinely clueless about the importance of being honest in finding his wife. I wasn’t sure he even wanted her found, and with a resentful daughter, over-involved ex-wife and other distractions my suspicions were pulled in one direction then another. The author paced these revelations beautifully, raising the tension and sending me racing through the pages. This really is an intelligent thriller that will not only keep your attention but will keep you guessing all the way to the end.

Meet the Author

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurdardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award- winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, with Snare, the first in a new series and Lilja’s English debut shortlisting for the CWA International Dagger and hitting bestseller lists worldwide. Trap soon followed suit, with the third in the trilogy Cage winning the Best Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year, and was a Guardian Book of the Year. Lilja’s standalone Betrayal, was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel. In 2021, Cold as Hell, the first in the An Áróra Investigation series was published, with Red as Blood to follow in 2022. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. Lilja is also an award-winning screenwriter in her native Iceland. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Sunday Spotlight! Books To Look Out For This Autumn

There are so many great books this autumn, but I’ve narrowed it down to those I have and I’m looking forward to reading the most. It’s all here, from spooky Halloween reads to feel-good fiction, thrillers to historical fiction and a splash of horror. Here’s a little preview of these great books.

In the midst of the woods stands a house called Lichen Hall. 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. I loved this author’s previous book The Lighthouse Witches and I can’t wait to get stuck into this one.

Published on 13th October 2022 by HarperCollins

I loved Caroline’s first two novels, both set in the aftermath of WW1 and full of historical detail, characters to empathise with and that chaos that seems to thrive in war’s aftermath. Between the two World Wars the country was in a state of flux, with huge changes in class structure, gender and the finances, both public and personal. This book is set in England, 1932, when the country was in the grip of the Great Depression. To lift the spirits of the nation, Stella Douglas is tasked with writing a history of food in England. It’s to be quintessentially English and will remind English housewives of the old ways, and English men of the glory of their country. The only problem is –much of English food is really from, well, elsewhere and can one cookbook really manoeuvre people back into those pre-war roles?

Stella sets about unearthing recipes from all corners of the country, in the hope of finding a hidden culinary gem. But what she discovers is rissoles, gravy, stewed prunes and lots of oatcakes. Longing for something more thrilling, she heads off to speak to the nation’s housewives. But when her car breaks down and the dashing and charismatic Freddie springs to her rescue, she is led in a very different direction . . . Full of wit and vim, Good Taste is a story of discovery, of English nostalgia, change and challenge, and one woman’s desire to make her own way as a modern woman.

Published on 13th October 2022 by Simon and Schuster U.K.

Rachel Joyce is one of those authors I’ve had lick to meet twice, at book signings, where I’ve been one of the last people to queue with my old books under my arm and her latest in my hand. Her last book Miss Benson’s Beetle was an incredible read about extraordinary women. Now she reverts to a series of books that have celebrated very ordinary people doing extraordinary things and Mrs Fry is no exception. Ten years ago, Harold Fry set off on his epic journey on foot to save a friend. But the story doesn’t end there.
Now his wife, Maureen, has her own pilgrimage to make.

Maureen Fry has settled into the quiet life she now shares with her husband Harold after his iconic walk across England. Now, ten years later, an unexpected message from the North disturbs her equilibrium again, and this time it is Maureen’s turn to make her own journey. But Maureen is not like Harold. She struggles to bond with strangers, and the landscape she crosses has changed radically. She has little sense of what she’ll find at the end of the road. All she knows is that she must get there. Maureen Fry and the Angel of the North is a deeply felt, lyrical and powerful novel, full of warmth and kindness, about love, loss, and how we come to terms with the past in order to understand ourselves and our lives a little better. Short, exquisite, while it stands in its own right, it is also the moving finale to a trilogy that began with the phenomenal bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and continued with The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy.

This is a slender book but it has all the power and weight of a classic.

Published by Doubleday 20th Oct 2022. Kindle Edition available from 5th October.

I have already started this book and had a nightmare of epic proportions the very first night. I’m suggestible and have a wild imagination, but I think the opening to this book is strangely unsettling. I felt uneasy, even though the chapters I read didn’t have any particularly terrifying events. It’s the strangeness that creeps up on you.

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..

Published by Head of Zeus/ Aries 15th September 2022.

I’m a sucker for historical fiction with a gothic edge, so this really captured my imagination as soon as I read the blurb. Obviously my counsellor brain is always ready for tales of supposed madness and hysteria too.

I must pull myself together. I had to find Dr Rastrick and demand my immediate release. My stomach knotted at the prospect, but I knew I was perfectly sane and that he must see reason.

In 1886, a respectable young woman must acquire a husband. But Violet Pring does not want to marry. She longs to be a professional artist and live on her own terms. When her scheming mother secures a desirable marriage proposal from an eligible Brighton gentleman for her, Violet protests. Her family believes she is deranged and deluded, so she is locked away in Hillwood Grange Lunatic Asylum against her will.In her new cage, Violet faces an even greater challenge: she must escape the clutches of a sinister and formidable doctor and set herself free. This tantalizing Gothic novel from Noel O’Reilly tells a thrilling story of duty and desire, madness and sanity, truth and delusion from within a Victorian asylum.

Published by HQ 8th December 2022

Spring 1937: Teresa is evacuated to London in the wake of the Guernica bombing. She thinks she’s found safety in the soothing arms of Mary Davidson and the lofty halls of Rochester Place, but trouble pursues her wherever she goes.

Autumn 2020: Corrine, an emergency dispatcher, receives a call from a distressed woman named Mary. But when the ambulance arrives at the address, Mary is nowhere to be found. Intrigued, Corinne investigates and, in doing so, disturbs secrets that have long-dwelt in Rochester Place’s crumbling walls. Secrets that, once revealed, will change her life for ever . . .

Who is Mary Davidson? And what happened at Rochester Place all those years ago? Set between the dusty halls of Rochester Place and the bustling streets of modern-day Tooting, this emotive, intricately layered mystery tells the spellbinding story of two people, separated by time, yet mysteriously connected through an enchanting Georgian house and the secrets within its walls.

Published by Penguin 8th Dec 2022

I always look forward to an Orenda book, because I know I’m going to great a fantastic and often thought provoking read. I’m on the blog tour for this in November and I’m looking forward to this one. James Garrett was critically injured when he was shot following his parents’ execution, and no one expected him to waken from a deep, traumatic coma. When he does, nine years later, Detective Inspector Rebecca Kent is tasked with closing the case that her now retired colleague, Theodore Tate, failed to solve all those years ago.

But between that, and hunting for Copy Joe – a murderer on a spree, who’s imitating Christchurch’s most notorious serial killer – she’s going to need Tate’s help … especially when they learn that James has lived out another life in his nine-year coma, and there are things he couldn’t possibly know, including the fact that Copy Joe isn’t the only serial killer in town…

Published by Orenda Books Nov 10th 2022

In between the serial killers, ghostly apparitions and terrifying ‘creepers’ I need some light relief. I was looking for something warm and uplifting and this could be it. Newly installed at All Souls Lutheran, Mallory “Pastor Pete” Peterson soon realizes that her church isn’t merely going through turbulent waters, but is a sinking ship. With the help of five loyal members of the Naomi Circle, the young, bold minister brainstorms fundraising ideas. They all agree that the usual recipe book won’t add much to the parish coffers, but maybe one with all the ingredients on how to heat up relationships rather than casseroles will…

Pastor Pete has her doubts about the project, but it turns out the group of postmenopausal women has a lot to say on the subject of romance. While Charlene, the youngest member at fifty-two, struggles with the assignment, baker-extraordinaire Marlys, elegantly bohemian Bunny, I’m-always-right Velda, and ebullient Edie take up their contributions enthusiastically. After all, their book is really about cooking up love in all its forms. But not everyone in the congregation is on board with this “scandalous” project. As the voices of opposition grow louder, Pastor Pete and these intrepid women will have to decide how hard they’re willing to fight for this book and the powerful stories within—stories of discovery, softened hearts, and changed lives.

Published by Lake Union 6th December 2022

Although this book is already out I’m saving it for the autumn, because it’s one of my Squad Pod’s Book Club reads. I loved Quinn’s debut novel The Smallest Man so I’ve had my eye on this for a while. I also love unusually named heroines, ever since Mary Webb’s Precious Bane, and Endurance Proudfoot is a brilliant invention. It’s usual, they say, for a young person coming to London for the first time to arrive with a head full of dreams. Well, Endurance Proudfoot did not. When she stepped off the coach from Sussex, on a warm and sticky afternoon in the summer of 1757, it never occurred to her that the city would be the place where she’d make her fortune; she was just very annoyed to be arriving there at all.

Meet Endurance Proudfoot, the bonesetter’s daughter: clumsy as a carthorse, with a tactless tongue and a face she’s sure only a mother could love. Durie only wants one thing in life – to follow her father and grandfather into the family business of bonesetting. It’s a physically demanding job, requiring strength, nerves of steel and discretion – and not the job for a woman. But Durie isn’t like other women. She’s strong and stubborn and determined to get her own way. And she finds that she has a talent at bonesetting – her big hands and lack of grace have finally found their natural calling. So, when she is banished to London with her sister, who is pretty, delicate and exactly the opposite to Durie in every way, Durie will not let it stop her realising her dreams. And while her sister will become one of the first ever Georgian celebrities, Durie will become England’s first and most celebrated female bonesetter. But what goes up must come down, and Durie’s elevated status may well become her undoing…

Published by Simon and Schuster 21st July 2022.

There are a few formidable women in my autumn reading and this is another brilliant historical fiction novel for the list. This is billed as a ‘rich and atmospheric’ new novel from prize-winning author Sally Gardner, set in the 18th century between the two great Frost Fairs. Neva Friezland is born into a world of trickery and illusion, where fortunes can be won and lost on the turn of a card. She is also born with an extraordinary gift. She can predict the weather. In Regency England, where the proper goal for a gentlewoman is marriage and only God knows the weather, this is dangerous. It is also potentially very lucrative.

In order to debate with the men of science and move about freely, Neva adopts a sophisticated male disguise. She foretells the weather from inside an automaton created by her brilliant clockmaker father. But what will happen when the disguised Neva falls in love with a charismatic young man?

It can be very dangerous to be ahead of your time. Especially as a woman.

Published by Apollo 10th November 2022.

Will Carver is an incredible writer and his imagination knows no bounds. His books are always so completely original.

Eli Hagin can’t finish anything. He hates his job, but can’t seem to quit. He doesn’t want to be with his girlfriend, but doesn’t know how end things with her, either. Eli wants to write a novel, but he’s never taken a story beyond the first chapter. Eli also has trouble separating reality from fiction.

When his best friend kills himself, Eli is motivated, for the first time in his life, to finally end something himself, just as Mike did… Except sessions with his therapist suggest that Eli’s most recent ‘first chapters’ are not as fictitious as he had intended … and a series of text messages that Mike received before his death point to something much, much darker…

Published by Orenda Books 24th November 2022.

This book sounds like a very dark fairy tale and aren’t they the best ones? 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 fight it. This is a gothic fantasy romance about a maiden who must unleash the monster within to save her kingdom.

Published by Orbit 29th September

Twelve-year-old Bird Gardner lives a quiet existence with his loving but broken father, a former linguist who now shelves books in a university library. Bird knows to not ask too many questions, stand out too much, or stray too far. For a decade, their lives have been governed by laws written to preserve “American culture” in the wake of years of economic instability and violence. To keep the peace and restore prosperity, the authorities are now allowed to relocate children of dissidents, especially those of Asian origin, and libraries have been forced to remove books seen as unpatriotic—including the work of Bird’s mother, Margaret, a Chinese American poet who left the family when he was nine years old.

Bird has grown up disavowing his mother and her poems; he doesn’t know her work or what happened to her, and he knows he shouldn’t wonder. But when he receives a mysterious letter containing only a cryptic drawing, he is pulled into a quest to find her. His journey will take him back to the many folktales she poured into his head as a child, through the ranks of an underground network of librarians, into the lives of the children who have been taken, and finally to New York City, where a new act of defiance may be the beginning of much-needed change.

Our Missing Hearts is an old story made new, of the ways supposedly civilized communities can ignore the most searing injustice. It’s a story about the power—and limitations—of art to create change, the lessons and legacies we pass on to our children, and how any of us can survive a broken world with our hearts intact. This sounds absolutely epic and I’m so excited to have been granted a copy on NetGalley, so I’ll keep you all informed.

Published 4th October 2022 by Penguin Press

1643: A small group of Parliamentarian soldiers are ambushed in an isolated part of Northern England. Their only hope for survival is to flee into the nearby Moresby Wood… unwise though that may seem. For Moresby Wood is known to be an unnatural place, the realm of witchcraft and shadows, where the devil is said to go walking by moonlight. Seventeen men enter the wood. Only two are ever seen again, and the stories they tell of what happened make no sense. Stories of shifting landscapes, of trees that appear and disappear at will… and of something else. Something dark. Something hungry.

Today, five women are headed into Moresby Wood to discover, once and for all, what happened to that unfortunate group of soldiers. Led by Dr Alice Christopher, an historian who has devoted her entire academic career to uncovering the secrets of Moresby Wood. Armed with metal detectors, GPS units, mobile phones and the most recent map of the area (which is nearly 50 years old), Dr Christopher’s group enters the wood ready for anything. Or so they think. I love the mix of historical fiction and a touch of the supernatural so this one is a definite title for the TBR.

Published on 13th October by S

If someone says gothic, paranormal, romance to me, I’m there with bells on! As a lifelong fan of Wuthering Heights it’s very much my sort of thing. 1813. Lizzie’s beloved older sister Esme is sold in marriage to the aging Lord Blountford to settle their father’s debts. One year later, Esme is dead, and Lizzie is sent to take her place as Lord Blountford’s next wife.

Arriving at Ambletye Manor, Lizzie uncovers a twisted web of secrets, not least that she is to be the fifth mistress of this house. Marisa. Anne. Pansy. Esme. What happened to the four wives who came before her? In possession of a unique gift, only Lizzie can hear their stories, and try to find a way to save herself from sharing the same fate. This sounds to me like a Bluebeard type tale and perfect for a cozy autumn afternoon in front of the log burner.

Published 24th November 2022 by Penguin.

Three women
Three eras
One extraordinary mystery…

1899, Belle Époque Paris. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.

1949, Post-War Québec. Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.

2002, Quebec. A former schoolteacher is accused of brutally stabbing her husband – a famous university professor – to death. Detective Maxine Grant, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.

Under enormous personal pressure, Maxine makes a series of macabre discoveries that link directly to historical cases involving black magic and murder, secret societies and spiritism … and women at breaking point, who will stop at nothing to protect the ones they love. I’m so excited about this one I’ve ordered a special copy from Goldsboro Books it’s simply stunning and I’m dying to read it.

Published by Orenda Book on 15th September 2022

Bleeding Heart Yard by Elly Griffiths

Another stunning cover here. From the author of the Ruth Galloway crime series this is a propulsive new thriller set in London featuring Detective Harbinder Kaur. A murderer hides in plain sight – in the police. DS Cassie Fitzherbert has a secret – but it’s one she’s deleted from her memory. In the 1990s when she was at school, she and her friends killed a fellow pupil. Thirty years later, Cassie is happily married and loves her job as a police officer.

One day her husband persuades her to go to a school reunion and another ex-pupil, Garfield Rice, is found dead, supposedly from a drug overdose. As Garfield was an eminent MP and the investigation is high profile, it’s headed by Cassie’s new boss, DI Harbinder Kaur. The trouble is, Cassie can’t shake the feeling that one of her old friends has killed again. Is Cassie right, or was Garfield murdered by one of his political cronies? It’s in Cassie’s interest to skew the investigation so that it looks like the latter and she seems to be succeeding.

Until someone else is killed…

Published on 29th September 2022 by Quercus

And I can’t believe I forgot…..

I possibly forgot this one because I’ve already read and reviewed it for NetGalley and it really is a cracker. After going in a slightly different direction with her last two novels, Jodi Picoult is back in her usual territory here. After teaming up with author Jennifer Finney Boylan, from a Twitter conversation, Picoult is back to tackling a controversial issue with a tense legal case at the centre of the drama.

Olivia fled her abusive marriage to return to her hometown and take over the family beekeeping business when her son Asher was six. Now, impossibly, her baby is six feet tall and in his last year of high school, a kind, good-looking, popular ice hockey star with a tiny sprite of a new girlfriend. Lily also knows what it feels like to start over – when she and her mother relocated to New Hampshire it was all about a fresh start. She and Asher couldn’t help falling for each other, and Lily feels happy for the first time. But can she trust him completely? Then Olivia gets a phone call – Lily is dead, and Asher is arrested on a charge of murder. As the case against him unfolds, she realises he has hidden more than he’s shared with her. And Olivia knows firsthand that the secrets we keep reflect the past we want to leave behind ­­- and that we rarely know the people we love well as we think we do. Each author has written the story from a different character’s perspective, sometimes taking us back in time to understand their experiences. I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment so I won’t give you any more of the plot, but I will say it’s a belter of a novel that will make you question your own prejudices.

Published on 15th November 2022 by Hodder & Stoughton

Posted in Monthly Wrap Up

Books of the Month! September 2022.

What an excellent reading month it’s been and a good mix of independent publishers as well as the majors. As part of the Squad Pod Collective, this month we’ve been reading Sandstone Press novels as part of our Sandtember feature. Next month will be Orentober – a celebration of Orenda Books, two of which feature here. I’ve been a lot busier and had so much more clarity this month, possibly something to do with us moving into the cooler months of autumn which are my favourite of the year, possibly due to it being Halloween, my birthday, Bonfire Night and the run up to Christmas. Plus Strictly is back on the telly. Here we have mainly thrillers and crime fiction, but very different from each other. I think some of this month’s books may easily reach my Books of the Year list in December. Hope you all have a great October!

This is an October review, but I read it as soon as it was delivered to my Kindle. I loved her first in the series so I was eager to see what Āróra was up to now. I won’t tell you too much, just a quick outline of what to expect from this excellent thriller. When entrepreneur Flosi arrives home for dinner one night, he discovers that his house has been ransacked, and his wife Gudrun missing. A letter on the kitchen table confirms that she has been kidnapped. If Flosi doesn’t agree to pay an enormous ransom, Gudrun will be killed. Forbidden from contacting the police, he gets in touch with Áróra, who specialises in finding hidden assets, and she, alongside her detective friend Daniel, try to get to the bottom of the case without anyone catching on.

Meanwhile, Áróra and Daniel continue the puzzling, devastating search for Áróra’s sister Ísafold, who disappeared without trace. As fog descends, in a cold and rainy Icelandic autumn, the investigation becomes increasingly dangerous, and confusing. Chilling, twisty and unbearably tense, Red as Blood is the second instalment in the riveting, addictive An Áróra Investigation series, and everything is at stake…

Out 13th October from Orenda Books

I thoroughly enjoyed this twisty thriller from an author I read automatically these days, knowing I’m going to get a quality thriller. Here we’re brought into the arty, bohemian world of the Churcher and Lally families and their adjoining houses on the edge of the heath. Frank Churcher and his friend Lal have been friends since the 1970s when they shared drugs, alcohol, women and ideas. Frank has called everyone together to celebrate the 50th Anniversary edition of his book The Golden Bones. This could be one reunion that tears the family apart…

Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Fifty years ago, her father wrote The Golden Bones. Part picture book, part treasure hunt, Sir Frank Churcher created a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. Clues and puzzles in the pages of The Golden Bones led readers to seven sites where jewels were buried – gold and precious stones, each a different part of a skeleton. One by one, the tiny golden bones were dug up until only Elinore’s pelvis remained hidden.
The book was a sensation. A community of treasure hunters called the Bonehunters formed, in frenzied competition, obsessed to a dangerous degree. People sold their homes to travel to England and search for Elinore. Marriages broke down as the quest consumed people. A man died. The book made Frank a rich man. Stalked by fans who could not tell fantasy from reality, his daughter, Nell, became a recluse. But now the Churchers must be reunited. The book is being reissued along with a new treasure hunt and a documentary crew are charting everything that follows. Nell is appalled, and terrified. During the filming, Frank is set to reveal the whereabouts of the missing golden bone, but as one of his grandchildren climbs the tree for the treasure all hell is going to break loose. This was an addictive thriller, with complicated family dynamics and a brilliant final chapter.

Orenda Books must get so fed up with me banging on about the genius of Doug Johnstone and his wonderful creations; the Skelf women. Set in Edinburgh, Grandmother Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah live in the shadow of death every day. Jenny and Dorothy live literally above a morgue, as the family’s funeral business is run from the ground floor. They also run a private investigation business from their kitchen table. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events. As usual there’s a shocking opening, with a fist-fight by an open grave. This leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.

As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly… you can look for my full review of this in my Sept 2022 archive, but it really is a cracker.

This was one of those blog tours I was asked to do and I went in blind. I knew nothing about the author or the book, but straight away I was intrigued. You are invited to cast your eye over the comfortable north London home of a family of high ideals, radical politics and compassionate feelings. Julia, Paul and their two daughters, Olivia and Sophie, look to a better society, one they can effect through ORGAN:EYES, the campaigning group they fundraise for and march with, supporting various good causes. But is it all too good to be true? When the surface has been scratched and Paul’s identity comes under the scrutiny of the press, a journey into the heart of the family begins. Who are these characters really? Are any of them the ‘real’ them at all? Every Trick in the Book is a genre-deconstructing novel that explodes the police procedural and undercover-cop story with nouveau romanish glee. Hood overturns the stone of our surveillance society to show what really lies beneath. Be prepared to never take anything at face value again.

Now I’d been waiting all year for this one. It’s been up there with Jessie Burtons House of Fortune as the ones I’ve most been looking forward to this year. I wasn’t disappointed. Kate Atkinson has written a crime novel that lays bare a decade in flux, a London that’s drowning in decadence and a generation determined to leave loss and grief behind them.

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time. At the heart of this glittering world is notorious Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems. I loved the historical background to this fascinating story and my only complaint was that I wanted to spend more time with some of her characters. See my September archive for the full review, but I was dazzled and drawn deeply into Atkinson’s world.

Tuva Moodyson is another character I’m always banging on about on Twitter. I think she’s an incredible woman and I love the representation of her disability too. Here Tuva is back at work after the shooting of her girlfriend, police officer Noora. Noora survived but now exists in a persistent vegetative state, in bed and cared for round the clock by her mother. In the circumstances, Noora’s parents understood that Tuva needed to go back to work. Dean takes us straight into the action, as Tuva finds an armoured hunting dog wounded by the side of the road. In the course of taking the dog to the vet, Tuva leans of a farm further down the road where a group of survivalists live. It’s not long before she hears that a girl’s gone missing from Rose Farm, and while the police will be investigating, Tuva wants to find her story. There are two businesses on the farm, a café and spa, so Tuva visits to get to know a couple of the residents up there. Andreas, who patrols the compound with his dogs, shows Tuva the security system and training they have in place for their members, including underground bunkers if necessary. Are these people simply ‘preppers’, getting ready for the end of the world, or is something more sinister going on? Who is the mysterious Abraham? What was missing girl Elsa Nyberg to do with the preppers and is she still alive? As usual, Tuva throws herself in and soon her own life is in danger.

This was an interesting and addictive book from Lucy Banks and I loved it. The public think Ava is a monster. Ava doesn’t think she’s to blame. She’s spent twenty five years in prison and now it’s time to start a new life. With a changed identity, her name is now Robin, she has a roof over her head and she hopes for the quiet life she’s always wanted. However, her idea of quiet is an uninhabited island off the coast of Scotland, just her and the seabirds. This reminds her of the places they lived when she was small, when her father was working for a bird protection charity. He would teach her to catch and tag the puffins. There’s no hope for a quiet life, as probation officer Margot pops in unexpectedly pushing her to apply for jobs because ‘the state can’t keep you forever’. There’s Bill next door, who likes a chat and flirt over the garden hedge, not to mention his daughter Amber who really isn’t sure of their new neighbour. Finally there’s her unwanted visitor; the strange person in black who lurks and watches; the person who sent the poison pen letter; the person who throws a brick through the window. We see everything through Robin’s mind and a slow unease starts to creep in here and there. Is she the murderer she’s been painted as or is she misunderstood? I went from feeling sorry for Robin, to being terrified of her. Absolutely brilliant!

So that’s this month. I’m having a week’s break from blog tours to read Robert Galbraith’s The Ink Black Heart, which has been staring at me from the TBR shelf for past fortnight. Here are some of next month’s reads.

Posted in Random Things Tours

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson transported me right into the centre of that fascinating time between two World Wars: the glittering hour, the roaring twenties, the age of the flappers and the Bright Young Things. It feels like a period of madness, where a generation turns to decadence in their determination to move beyond mourning and death. Gwendolen Kelling travels to London for the first time since the funeral of the Unknown Warrior and she’s shocked by the change of mood. From the ‘enshrouded city’ that was ‘sternly armoured in the breastplate of grief’ to a place invigorated and ‘dressed for spring’. After a war spent nursing those horrifically injured in combat, Gwendolen is ready for anything. She’s down from York on a mission for a friend to find two teenage girls who’ve run away to London to be dancers. Freda and Florence are young and naive with, perhaps, an inflated sense of their own talent. Gwendolen’s search brings her into the orbit of Nellie Coker, matriarch of a family running a series of clubs that are as jewelled as their names – the Amethyst being their first. From time to time she hires dancing girls, hostesses available to dance with the patrons. Nellie is fresh out of prison and needs to stamp her authority on her family and those in the criminal fraternity who have been circling her businesses ever since she went inside. Gwendolen comes into the sphere of DI Frobisher too, someone else keen on observing the Cokers. So far he’s been relying on his officer Maddox to infiltrate the family, but he’s unsure on which side Maddox’s loyalties truly lie. Could the unlikely Miss Kelling be able to walk the tightrope between the police and the Queen of Clubs (and amateur psychic) Nellie Coker? Kate Atkinson explores this period of history through the dark underbelly of London and a gruesome series of murders, whilst also commenting on the act of writing itself.

Atkinson tells her tale through a series of interrelated characters who have no idea of the small world they’re inhabiting. Two of Nellie’s sons show very different ways of operating within this world and their family. Niven is the strong, silent and possibly sinister, elder son. Quietly loyal, he pops up here and there with his equally loyal dog. He has the enigmatic quality of Peaky Blinder’s Tommy Shelby – someone playing so many sides, it’s impossible to know the outcome he’s working for. There is a gentleman underneath, capable of the big romantic gesture, but makes no promises and likes to stay in control. Younger brother, Ramsay, is entirely opposite, out of control in every way he can be – drugs, alcohol and gambling. Unfortunately in the Coker’s world such vices leave you open to manipulation and there are vulture’s circling. Barman Quinn is one such character – obligingly close by when Ramsay is in need of a little pick-me-up or a means of floating away from Nellie and Niven’s disappointment or his own feelings of inadequacy. Ramsay has a dream of writing the great modernist novel, one that chronicles the age and captures the decadence of London’s nightlife. A gritty crime novel is his aim where his detective shines a light on the dope, the gangs, the parties, the fancy-dress, the gambling and even the Bright Young Things. He aims to weave a tapestry of all those threads and even has a title – The Age of Glitter. This clever device, where Ramsay is writing the very book in which he’s a character, is typical Atkinson brilliance.

I loved the character of Freda, the fearless teenager who has run away with her lumpen friend Florence. Blithely sure of her abilities to dance and to survive in the capital. She’s possibly underestimated her talent and the dangers they both face. She’s plucky and I was really willing her to succeed. We know something Freda doesn’t though, raising the tension for the reader. DI Frobisher knows that girls are going missing and many end up being fished out of the Thames in a terrible state. Will Freda be one of them? Gwendolen Kelling is intriguing and the epitome of a modern woman. After being at the tough end of military nursing her eyes have been opened. She has money from her mother’s will, more than she expected since both her brothers were killed in the war. As a woman of means she can now make independent choices and has no one (no man) to stop her travelling to London. She finds a suitable boarding house with a respectable landlady, but once she starts to make enquiries she finds herself treading a very fine line between the Cokers and the Police. She’s on a night undercover with Constable Cobb when a fight breaks out that leaves a gang member on the dance floor with copious amounts of blood pouring from a chest wound. Gwendolen is in her element and takes charge, stemming the blood flow and requesting everything she needs to treat the wound. It brings her to the attention of Nellie and her son, Niven. With Constable Cobb disappearing into the night, Niven treats Gwendolen to a suite at The Savoy and sends her a brand new dress from Liberty to replace the one covered in blood. Gwendolen is almost torn between these two opposing men she’s met – the dashing and mysterious Niven who gives off ‘wounded hero’ vibes or the principled and distinguished Frobisher? However, it’s Nellie who makes a proposal. Could Gwendolen manage the Crystal Club for her? With a beautifully appointed and very pink flat on offer above the club, this could be the best opportunity to spy for Frobisher and to find Freda?

My only gripe with the novel is that sometimes I wanted to spend more time with a character than I could. I wanted to follow where Florence went and I would have loved to spend more time with Niven. The structure isn’t always the easiest to follow, but it does work as a series of threads interwoven to create a tapestry. Each named chapter flits between points of view. Sometimes we go backwards in time such as Frobisher’s war and the meeting of his wife Lottie, who is deranged by grief and mute. We also look into Gwedolen’s painful history with her manipulative mother. We might flit between two different characters whose worlds overlap, but have no real knowledge of each other, then we get two consecutive accounts of the same event. We are slowly building up to knowing the whole picture, but everyone has their own colour to paint. I wondered whether the fractured structure was also a comment on the historical period and massive social change that has occurred since before WWI. It’s a period I’m particularly interested in and Atkinson has really nailed the aftermath of war, especially how it affected each gender differently. Women were pushing forward, pursuing their own dreams and their own means. War has necessitated their move beyond the domestic sphere and into the world of work. Once men returned from war they expected their jobs back and some companies had reserved jobs for returning soldiers, but obviously the great loss of life meant the jobs market still needed women. As it was a lot of men were without work and their expectations of having a wife at home were dashed. Attacks on women were more common, especially where there was unrest around a particular workplace.

I found the blatant misogyny that Freda encounters hard to read at times, especially when it’s clear how young she is. She’s preyed upon by a West End theatre manager, men in clubs and even an on duty police officer when she visits the station to report Florence as missing. The assumption that she’s young and unaccompanied, therefore must be a prostitute, really shocks her. The women in this book are often in danger, not just from the killer, but from any man they encounter. However, Niven and Frobisher could not be further apart in terms of occupation and background, but both treat Gwedolen like a gentleman, even if there’s a assumption underneath that she can’t look after herself. We see social mobility in the Coker’s rise to become wealthy, through the growth of their businesses and Nellie’s understanding that the younger generation want to party and forget. Their wealth lets them rub shoulders with a huge range of people from Maltese gangsters, to wealthy socialites the Bright Young Things. Ramsay attends ‘spielers’ with everyone from the aristocracy to hardened criminals. There’s even mention of a member of the Royal Family brushing shoulders with the Cokers. I found myself making comparisons with the television series Peaky Blinders, both families are caught up in the period’s state of flux, moving them beyond the confines of their class, but do the upper echelons of society truly accept them?

I loved that Atkinson used Ramsay’s writing journey in the beginning and ending of her novel. I found myself smiling at his ambition to write a crime novel that was also ‘a razor sharp dissection of the various strata of society in the wake of the destruction of war’. Shirley, his sister, complains he is trying to shoe-horn too much into the novel and asks why doesn’t he just stick with the crime? Ramsay works as Atkinson’s own doubts and the mental journey she takes while writing, but also echoes those outside criticisms we often hear about crime novels not being literary. I read criticism after Atkinson’s last Jackson Brodie novel that she puts way too much – poetry, philosophy – into a crime novel. As if these things are too high brow for crime readers. Putting aside a book’s need to be marketable, writing can surely be whatever the author wants it to be and shouldn’t have to conform rigidly to a set of genre rules? In the end Atkinson succeeds where Ramsay struggles and has produced a novel as eclectic as the age it represents and just as dazzling, glittering and fascinatingly dark.

Meet The Author

Kate Atkinson is an international bestselling novelist, as well as playwright and short story writer. She is the author of Life After Life; Transcription; Behind the Scenes at the Museum, a Whitbread Book of the Year winner; the story collection Not the End of the World; and five novels in the Jackson Brodie crime series, which was adapted into the BBC TV show Case Histories. The BBC adaptation of Life After Life is on the iPlayer now.

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 Personal Purchase

Wolf Pack by Will Dean.

Yay! Tuva is back!! My current favourite literary heroine is back investigating another story in the remote and slightly quirky surroundings of the town of Gavrik, in Northern Sweden. We left Tuva at the end of Bad Apples on a cliffhanger, but Will Dean throws us straight into the action and the frozen forest. As Tuva is driving she finds a hunting dog at the side of the road, armoured but still injured. It’s owner isn’t far away and he blames wolves. As she rushes the dog and his owner to the vet, Tuva wonders if there are such wolf packs roaming the land close to Gavrik? She doesn’t know it yet, but there’s more than one type of wolf close by.

And when there’s a pack on the hunt no one’s safe….

Rose Farm is a closed community, home to a group of survivalists and completely cut off from the outside world. Until now.
When a young woman goes missing within the perimeter of the farm compound Tuva must try to talk her way inside the tight-knit group to find her story.

In a frantic search, Tuva attempts to unmask the culprit and gains unique access to the residents. But soon she finds herself in danger of the pack turning against her – will she make her way back to safety so she can expose the truth?

At first, Tuva seems somewhat settled into everyday life, but sadly we soon find all is not well in her world. Her lover Noora, a Gavrik police officer, was shot in the last novel. She didn’t die, but nor did she recover. Noora now lies in a persistent vegetative state, uncommunicative and requiring round the clock care. Tuva’s emotions are complicated, she’s grieving for someone who is not here, but who hasn’t left either. It is Noora’s mother who has stepped in to care for her daughter. With incredible care and compassion, she has suggested that Tuva return to her work and life in Gavrik, while still accepting her as a vitally important part of Noora’s life.

The story of the missing girl is an intriguing one and perhaps less fast paced than the last novel. Elsa Nyberg was reported missing by her father and was last seen around the Rose Farm complex. Tuva takes a look at the heavily guarded compound, surrounded by high perimeter fencing, ditches, barbed wire and a military trained security man, always seen with a large dog by his side. It’s a bit of a contradiction, as two businesses run from the farm and are open to the public; a shop and café, plus a spa. There are definitely public and private faces in this community. On the quiet this community is nicknamed the ‘Wolf Pack’, a group trained to military standards, armed to the teeth and ready for the apocalypse. Or maybe they’re simply a benign group of ‘preppers’ with an underground bunker and a pantry full of tinned food? The central figure is a slightly reclusive figure called Abraham, a painter and philosopher who is ready for the end times. Tuva senses a story, especially when she finds out that a few decades before the resident farmer went berserk and almost killed his whole family before killing himself. The only survivor was a baby, just a few months old. Tuva wonders if history is repeating itself.

I am always amazed with Tuva’s tenacity, but also her audacity when investigating her stories. She is always brave, often to the point of recklessness. She certainly puts herself at the centre of things, driving onto the public part of the compound and engaging with those community members who work in the cafe and spa. At some points she even finds her way onto the private areas of the estate, even inside the main house where she finds some disturbing evidence of Elsa’s presence. I wasn’t as terrified for her life as I was in Bad Apples, but there was one section where security guard Andreas invites her to try the Wolf Pack’s underground obstacle test – if a potential member doesn’t complete the course they are not tough enough to join. The narrow underground chamber and tunnel fill with water, so that the tunneller must hold their breath and dive through and under small submerged areas. I couldn’t believe it when Tuva took up the challenge and disappeared underground, the tension ratcheting up by the second. This scene really tapped into my claustrophobia and left me a bit breathless! It reminded me how badass Tuva really is.

The murder is gripping and I was interested to know if any of the residents at Rose Farm were involved in it’s past tragedy. I was interested in how Tuva infiltrated online survivalist forums to get the low down on community members and to gauge what their beliefs and aims might be. Although any group has it’s weaker links and I started to wonder whether Abraham was who he seemed or was it an alias for someone else? In a complete contrast to the last book, this time people are not covering who they are with masks. Here we have wolves masquerading as everyday people. When Elsa’s body is found there is an ancient symbol tattooed in white ink on the back of her neck. It’s not anything that Tuva’s seen before, but does suggest an element of the occult or perhaps another part of the group’s initiation ritual. We’re used to quirks in Tuva’s investigations and all of the quirks from previous books are still here, such as the Troll sisters and the comically awful toppings offered at the pizza restaurant. There’s always a question of whether the remoteness breeds eccentricity, or whether eccentric people choose to pursue their way of life in an out of the way place. There are certainly more than the average share of murderers and Tuva is determined to find the truth, even if it places her in danger.

However, I do think this was a more subdued, thoughtful Tuva than in previous books. She’s valuing the people around her more, such as Lena and Tammy. She makes time to eat with Tammy out at the food truck and at home and even pursues the bond she’s made with the boy next door. I found it very touching that after a tough day she went to her neighbour and ask if she could read him a bedtime story, gaining comfort from the ritual. It’s a habit she’s started with Noora too, reading to her over FaceTime in the evening. She muses on her apartment, more as a home rather than just a place to crash when she’s exhausted. She wonders whether her memories of Noora in the apartment are too traumatic, but decides that she gains comfort from knowing they spent time together there. I was incredibly moved by the time she spends with Noora and the powerful feeling of belonging she gets simply by lying next to her. They don’t have to speak or hear in order to communicate. In fact, Tuva doesn’t have to struggle to communicate, which she often does, especially if her hearing aids are damaged or lost. With Noora she can take her hearing aids out and just ‘be’ and there is peace in that.

Published by Point Blank 8th September 2022

Meet The Author

Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.