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.
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.”
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.
‘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.
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.
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
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.
As all subscribers and Twitter followers must know by now, I am a huge fan of The Skelf series. I’m a Skelfaholic and I’m in a strange cycle of waiting for the next book to be published, devouring it overnight, then longing for the next one again. It’s even worse this time because I have it on good authority that this could be the penultimate book in the series. So one more book and no more Skelfing! I’m going to be like a weasel with a sore head when I have to go cold turkey. It has been wonderful to be back in Edinburgh with this family of three: part private investigators, part undertakers and all round incredible women. For those who haven’t met them yet, the Skelfs are three generations of women. Grandmother Dorothy is in her seventies, but is still active in both the investigative and the funeral parts of the business. In her spare time she still drums like a badass and has a lover almost twenty years her junior. Daughter Jenny is back home, living above the business and struggling with memories of psychopath ex- husband Craig. She’s drowning her pain with alcohol and sex.
Jenny’s daughter Hannah is now a PhD student, working in the astrophysics department, but still finding time to help out in the family business. She’s now married to girlfriend Indy, is feeling settled and might be slowly moving past what happened to her father. Each novel begins with a memorable opening scene and here we kick off with a fist fight at a funeral. The women are also brought diverse and unusual cases, both for funerals and their PI work. A gentleman approaches Dorothy after his wife’s funeral, to ask if they can help him deal with a nighttime visitor. He believes his wife’s spirit is punishing him and he has the bruises to prove it. Hannah is approached by Laura at university, the young woman claims to know her, but Hannah has absolutely no recollection of her. When Laura starts to turn up wherever Hannah goes, she starts to suspect mental health problems, but nothing dangerous. She stops being harmless the closer she gets to the family, especially when Hannah drops into the funeral parlour and finds Laura talking to Indy. Laura wants them to do her mother’s funeral, but Hannah thinks it’s unwise. How can she let this fragile girl down gently?
Aside from their cases Johnstone also picks up those storylines that weave throughout the novels. In the main we are drawn back to Craig, Jenny’s ex-husband and Hannah’s father, who is still haunting the family. Jenny is the most visibly affected by her interactions with Craig’s family, most notably his sister, who seems to have inherited his ability to manipulate and turn to violence to get what she wants. Will Craig ever leave them alone and will Jenny be able to tread the line between her own pain as his ex and Hannah’s pain as his daughter. Both tend to overlook the grief that Dorothy still feels at the loss of her own husband Jim, complicated now by her relationship with police detective Thomas. Indy’s grief is also overlooked a lot, especially since she’s just gone through disinterring her parents in order to give them the cremation in line with their faith. Hannah and Jenny bring the drama and it’s Jenny I was particularly worried about. She’s getting messy, day drinking and embarking on a highly controversial sexual relationship with the wrong person. She never wakes up feeling better, but in the moment she has to drown out the constant pictures in her head. It’s clearly PTSD and she’s in danger of drawing others into her drama, especially Archie who works for the funeral business. Can she rein her behaviour, when professional help seems doomed to failure at this point?
Aside from these incredible women, and the lovely Indy of course, the things I most love about these books is Doug Johnstone’s love for Edinburgh and the way he weaves incredible ideas, philosophy and physics into his novels. I’ve not been to Edinburgh since I was in my twenties, but the way he describes the city makes me want to go back. He doesn’t sugar coat the city either, there’s good and bad here, but as a whole these books are a poem to a place that’s in his soul. Dorothy muses on her home town a lot in this novel and considering she was born in America, this place is her heart’s homeland. She ponders on the people this city produces, including her husband and child, the history, and the architecture almost as if she’s taking stock. She concludes that she’s a person who always looks forward to where life’s going, but grief and loss are like the waves and there’s no telling when it will wash ashore again. Jenny tends to frequent the less salubrious areas of the city. She’s stuck. Her past has quite literally washed ashore and the problem with losing someone is you’re not the only one grieving and everyone grieves differently. She’s not mourning Craig as he truly was. She’s grieving the loss of all that hope; the hope they both had for the future on their wedding day and when Hannah was born. Similarly Craig’s mum and sister aren’t missing the Craig who committed all those terrible crimes. Violet misses the little boy she had and the life she wanted for him and his sister just misses her baby brother.
I loved the elements of Japanese spirituality and having read Messina’s novel The Phonebox at the Edge of the World, I loved the concept of the wind phone. I’ve always thought that a good way of letting go of the past, especially when you’re struggling emotionally, is to make a physical gesture or step in the direction you want to go. That might mean taking off a wedding ring when you’re getting divorced, or moving house to somewhere that isn’t filled with old memories. I found talking to my late husband in my head a bit strange and it only made me miss him more. So I wrote to him in my journal instead. To have a phonebox dedicated to speaking with those who have died seems a very effective way of keeping them in the present with you, but in a controlled and deliberate way. I was reminded of the Samuel Beckett quote:
“Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.”
Hannah seems to be the person who’s most accepting of her losses. She always seems older than she is and with Indy alongside her she has all the support she needs. There’s so much wisdom in these two young women, honed from a combination of Indy’s spirituality, years of working with grieving families and Hannah’s physics knowledge, especially where it tries to explain the universe. The supermassive black holes that are thought to be at heart of every galaxy are mysterious. We know that they have a huge power that acts like a magnet, drawing in items from across the universe into the void. Each of the Skelf women have their own grief to bear, a black hole at the centre of their heart. Each must find their own way to remember a little, to prevent becoming overwhelmed by their memories. To prevent that black hole from drawing in every part of them. Only by reconciling this, can they live in the present moment and make plans for their altered future, a future I can’t wait to read about.
Meet the Author
Doug Johnstone is the author of twelve novels, most recently The Great Silence, described as ‘A novel [that] underlines just how accomplished Johnstone has become’ by the Daily Mail. He has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year three times, and the Capital Crime Best Independent Voice one; The Big Chill was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. He’s taught creative writing and been writer in residence at various institutions, and has been an arts journalist for twenty years. Doug is a songwriter and musician with five albums and three EPs released, and he plays drums for the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, a band of crime writers. He’s also player-manager of the Scotland Writers Football Club. He lives in Edinburgh.
Rachel Savernake investigates a bizarre locked-room puzzle in this delicious Gothic mystery from the winner of the CWA Diamond Dagger.
1930. Nell Fagan is a journalist on the trail of a intriguing and bizarre mystery: in 1606, a man vanished from a locked gatehouse in a remote Yorkshire village, and 300 years later, it happened again. Nell confides in the best sleuth she knows, judge’s daughter Rachel Savernake. Thank goodness she did, because barely a week later Nell disappears, and Rachel is left to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Looking for answers, Rachel travels to lonely Blackstone Fell in Yorkshire, with its eerie moor and sinister tower. With help from her friend Jacob Flint – who’s determined to expose a fraudulent clairvoyant – Rachel will risk her life to bring an end to the disappearances and bring the truth to light.
A dazzling mystery peopled by clerics and medics; journalists and judges, Blackstone Fell explores the shadowy borderlands between spiritual and scientific; between sanity and madness; and between virtue and deadly sin.
It was the female characters that drew me into this interesting mystery that travels from London to the village of Blackstone Fell. Three particular women caught my eye and my imagination throughout the novel: Cornelia ‘Nell’ Fagan, Rachel Savernake, and the minor character of Ottilie Curle. All three women are very different from the usual heroines of Gothic Literature and a world away from their own Victorian mothers. In fact when I compared them with other women in the novel they don’t conform to the average respectable middle class lady one bit. Nell drew me into the story first, perhaps because she’s best described as ‘a bit of a character’. Everyone in Fleet Street knows her and she’s a regular in all the hang outs including the pub. Nell smokes cheroots, drinks like a fish, earns a living as a journalist, is a bit loose with the truth and loves to tell a story. Recently she’s lost her steady job and has been scouting around for stories that might enable her to start freelance work. She stumbles on the mystery of Blackstone Fell and there’s nothing better than a locked room puzzle to get the cogs turning. She bravely decides to undertake research on the ground and where better to stay than the very gatehouse where two men disappeared 300 years apart. She soon gets the message that there are people still living in the village who don’t want this story investigated. Realising it’s more than she can manage alone she begrudgingly asks for the help of Rachel Savernake. Can they solve the mystery together?
Rachel is another independent woman, financially independent and fiercely intelligent. She loves to solve mysteries especially those involving murders. She’s incredibly observant and perceptive, knowing immediately when Nell is spinning a yarn or lying by omission. She has certain standards for those who work alongside her, expecting loyalty and complete honesty. When these standards aren’t met she is ruthless in her decision to dispense with people. There’s a ruthlessness about her investigation technique too. When she finds information or solves a mystery, she doesn’t just hand over what she knows to the police. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, sometimes she knows of a better way to dispense justice, whatever form that might take. One character suggests she plays God and there is an element of that in her personality; a certain arrogance that she’s right, combined with the self-belief that only she knows the best way for someone to pay for their actions. I was also fascinated by Tilly, the medium first consulted by Nell who reappears in the story. She’s from a background of poverty, using the only gift she has to make a living. I was interested in the way her appearance is depicted. Like Martha, who looks after Rachel, Tilly is a marked woman. Martha has a scarred face from a burn, whereas Tilly has a scarred neck from a thyroid condition. Marked women have quite a history in Victorian fiction and they are often used to make a point, like Rosa Dartle in Dickens’s David Copperfield. Martha’s scars are a contrast, enhancing the beauty of the rest of her face. Tilly’s scars and her obesity are used more like a smoke screen. People’s prejudices around women who are marked or deemed unattractive, can throw them off the truth about a person. The fact that her servant is a ‘Moor’, is another aspect that’s unconventional. I realised that Tilly might be all too aware of how people see her and has used that knowledge to hide behind their assumptions.
I loved the novel’s setting. Blackstone Fell couldn’t be more gothic. Not only does the village have a creepy gate lodge where two men have disappeared: there’s a tower that looks more like a folly rather than a practical home; the river with it’s beautiful, but dangerous fall, where one wrong step could mean being dragged into the water and dashed to death on the rocks below; the endless fog and boggy ground of the moor has it’s own dangers for those who’ve become lost or disoriented. Then there’s the sanatorium, with it’s isolated location, mysterious residents and methods. Finally there’s the vicarage, where the fire and brimstone vicar seems to have a disintegrating relationship with his much younger and highly strung wife. Phew! It was a lot to keep straight in my head at times.
The historical background is fascinating too. We’re between two world wars where so much change has occurred both for individuals and society. The social order has shifted, with more upward mobility, more freedom and improved rights for women. I loved the power dynamics at play here and the sense that these years are an in between space. The vicar and his wife illustrate the old Victorian, traditional idea of a women’s lot in life. It seems archaic when compared to the independent paths that Rachel, Nell and even Tilly have carved out for themselves. Tilly’s success as a medium echoes a societal trend, fuelled by the loss of loved ones, both in WW1 and due to Spanish Influenza. Through the medical men in the story, the author touches on the rise of Eugenics Theory at this time; the idea that there were weaker or lesser races and hereditary disabilities that needed to be eradicated. This could be used as a way to rid oneself of an unstable or inconvenient wife or an old uncle with dementia standing between someone and their inheritance. However, when applied to society at large it became the gateway to Mosley’s ‘BlackShirts’ and Hitler’s Final Solution. The plot itself is an interesting puzzle, although at times I did flounder a bit to remember all the aspects or keep characters in order. I’m willing to accept this might be my brain at fault, so I really welcomed the clue finder at the end of the book that helpfully showed me where to find clues for every thread. There were twists right up to the final page so I defy anyone to work it all out, before Rachel explains her reasoning and unmasks the villains. This was an intelligent mystery, with solid female characters, all set within a period of history that provides an unsettling backdrop to the action.
Meet The Author
Martin Edwards has received the CWA Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing, given for the sustained excellence of his contribution to the genre. His recent novels include Mortmain Hall and Gallows Court, which was nominated for two awards including the CWA Historical Dagger. British librarians awarded him the CWA Dagger in the Library in 2018 in recognition of his body of work. His eight and latest Lake District Mystery is The Crooked Shore and earlier books in the series include The Coffin Trail, short-listed for the Theakston’s prize for best British crime novel. Seven books in his first series, featuring Liverpool lawyer Harry Devlin, starting with the CWA John Creasey Dagger-nominated All the Lonely People, have been reissued by Acorn in new editions with introductions by leading writers including Ann Cleeves and Val McDermid.
Martin is a well-known crime fiction critic, and series consultant to the British Library’s Crime Classics. His ground-breaking study of the genre between the wars, The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books won the Macavity and was nominated for four other awards, while Howdunit, a masterclass in crime writing by members of the Detection Club, won the H.R.F. Keating prize and was nominated for five other awards. His long-awaited history of the genre, The Life of Crime, will be published in May 2022. In addition Martin has written a stand-alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, and a much acclaimed novel featuring Dr Crippen, Dancing for the Hangman. He also completed Bill Knox’s last book, The Lazarus Widow. He has published many short stories, including the ebooks The New Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes and Acknowledgments and other stories. ‘The Bookbinder’s Apprentice‘ won the CWA Short Story Dagger, for which he has been nominated for three other stories. He has edited over 40 anthologies and published diverse non-fiction books, including a study of homicide investigation, Urge to Kill. An expert on crime fiction history, he is archivist of both the Crime Writers’ Association and the Detection Club. He was elected eighth President of the Detection Club in 2015, spent two years as Chair of the CWA, and posts regularly to his blog.
It’s been a quieter month in August, at least it is where books are concerned. Personally it’s been the busiest month of the year so far. It’s full on as far as home is concerned because it’s the month where we do trips away my stepdaughters. With their Mum working and me at home, we can easily help each other. We’ve also had their cousins here demo Scotland so theres been a lot of squealing and absolutely no room in the bathroom. They’ve been to Alton Towers, Nottingham’s Kitty Cafe, Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Chatsworth House. Between this I’ve had a back operation that I’ve been waiting for three years now. I’ve had a neurotomy at four sites so have had to spend some time in bed recovering. So I’ve had chance to get ahead with some September reading, because this month I’ve got my MA to restart! We don’t do things by halves in this house. Wishing you all a great September and I hope you enjoy these favourite reads.
Halfway through my binge read of this fantastic new thriller from Helen Fields, I had to look it up and check that it really was a stand-alone novel. Sadie Levesque is a compelling central character: brave, resourceful, determined, intelligent and ever so slightly impulsive. I could easily imagine her as the backbone of a great crime series. Sadie is a private investigator based in Canada where she’s about to be the birth partner for her sister. She has time to fit in one last job, which takes her to Scotland and the atmospheric island of Mull. The Clark family recently moved to Mull from the United States to start a new life, but their new life has been derailed by the disappearance of their seventeen year old daughter Adriana. With her American accent and dark Latino looks, Adriana caused a stir among the teenagers of Mull. Her desperate parents feel the local police force are doing very little to look for their daughter, possibly because they are outsiders. When Sadie finds the girl’s body while searching local teen hang outs, the police become hostile. Adriana has been drowned. The killer has sexually assaulted her, adorned her with a seaweed crown and filled her mouth and throat full of sand. Sadie’s immediate thought is she’s been silenced. Without police cooperation, Sadie must find the killer and is drawn into local folklore, witches, a misogynistic priest and a community that looks after it’s own. Will Adriana be the last girl to die? Fields turns the island into a powerful character in it’s own right, weaving the landscape, history and folklore of Mull into her story. There are some twists to the final stages that came as a huge shock. I love to be surprised and I really was here, with my heart sat in my throat at times. Could the truth be more prosaic than the legends? That men kill and could use the excuse of ancient folklore and witchcraft to cover their tracks. I was torn between this more logical explanation and the sense of an ancient evil at play on this remote and wild island. If anyone knows, the island does.
I’ve been struggling with menopausal symptoms for the last six years so I was really up for reading a book about women who are moving towards middle age. Women become more interesting as they get older, more confident and full of wisdom and experience. I certainly found that in the characters of this book who I fell immediately in love with. They are definitely meant to be a trio.
Nessa: The Seeker Jo: The Protector Harriett: The Punisher
Each woman finds herself bestowed with incredible powers. When Nessa is widowed and her daughters leave for college, she’s left alone in her house near the ocean and has time and quiet hours to hear the voices belonging to the dead – who will only speak to her. They’ve always been there, but she’s been too busy with her family’s needs to hear them. Harriett is almost fifty, her marriage and career have imploded, and she hasn’t left her house in months. Her house was the envy of the neighbourhood and graced the cover of magazines, but now it’s overgrown with incredible plants. However, Harriett realises that her life is far from over – in fact, she’s undergone a stunning metamorphosis. Jo has spent thirty years at war with her body. The rage that arrived with menopause felt like the last straw – until she discovers she’s able to channel it, but needs to control it too. The trio are guided by the voices only Nessa can hear and discover the abandoned body of a teenage girl. The police have already written off the victim. But these women have not. Their own investigations lead them to more bodies and a world of wealth where the rules don’t apply and the laws are designed to protect villains, not the vulnerable. So it’s up to these three women to avenge the innocent, and punish the guilty. I really loved the clever way the author took apart the concept of serial killer stories while writing one. She talked about the popularity of crime thrillers and true crime podcasts and how they appeal to men. They’re written as if the victims are expendable and the killers get special nicknames as if they are comic book villains. The author really got this message across, but without losing any of the power in her story, or the tension that rises as we hope to see the killer caught. Finally, I have to say something about magic realism and being a huge fan of Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Alice Hoffman, I’ve been reading some of the best writers in the genre. Miller’s story is so strong and the characters so well constructed, that I never felt a sense of disbelief. I have quite a collection of magic realism starting with a teenage love for Fay Weldon and Angela Carter. This book can easily sit next to my favourites. It is that good.
I had never come across Tim Weaver’s novels before so I was very lucky to be offered this by the publisher, especially in such a special edition too. When I learned it was the tenth in his David Raker series, I approached it with some trepidation. Would I be able to keep up or would it even make sense? Now that I’ve finished the novel I can honestly say that within the first few pages, I forgot this was one in a series and just got stuck in! Such was the strength of the story and his characters that I was drawn in and captivated to the end.
David Raker is a Missing Person’s Investigator and a widower with one daughter. The missing people in this story are Cate and Aidan Gascoigne, a devoted couple who have been married for five years and together for nine. The newspapers dubbed their case ‘The Mystery of Gatton Hill’ as they disappeared on their way to have dinner from their home in Twickenham. Catherine ‘Cate’ and Aiden Gascoigne were both 37 years old and worked in creative roles; Aiden was a Creative Director for a Soho web design company and Cate was a full time photographer. As they drove to dinner in Reigate, the couple could be seen on CCTV recording laughing together, just before their car plunged down a 90 foot ravine. Their car burst into flames and even though a fire crew arrived soon after the accident the fire was impossible to stop. They then discover an impossible scenario, when trying to recover Cate and Aiden’s bodies, they find they’re no longer in the car. This turns out to be merely the the tip of the iceberg in a chilling and menacing narrative that goes on to reveal a staggering number of murders over the years, and a extraordinarily intelligent serial killer who has no intention of getting caught. Raker is a remarkably tenacious and determined investigator, even when the pressures and dangers threaten to derail the case. This is a wonderfully complex, riveting and engaging read that kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end with its sky high levels of suspense and tension. This will appeal to crime and mystery readers who love truly twisty. thrilling and superior crime fiction, and I think that this can reasonably be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the series before. Highly recommended
I loved this dark thriller from Carol Johnstone, with its bleak setting, mysterious deaths and Norse folklore. Maggie Mackay is a successful investigative journalist, but has always been held back by a negative inner voice and terrible nightmares. She’s been haunted by the idea that there’s something wrong with her and she can see or sense darkness. She thinks this feeling is linked to her childhood and a small village in the Outer Hebrides called Blairmore. Maggie stayed there with her mother when she was very young and caused a furore when, out of nowhere, she claimed that someone in the village had murdered a man. She left the community in uproar, saying she was really a man called Andrew MacNeil who had lived on the island of Kilmery. Her mother believed and encouraged her claims, but when they returned to the mainland this strange interlude wasn’t referred to again. Now 25, Maggie returns to the island, in search of answers. Mainly, she wants to find out if her claims could possibly have been true, but with her history on the island, Maggie may struggle to get people to talk to her. However, this is an island with few inhabitants, but a wealth of secrets and if Maggie gets too close to the truth she may be in serious danger.
The central mystery is fascinating and makes the book very difficult to put down. Charlie feels like the designated spokesperson for the islanders, he approaches Maggie with an apology for the way they treated her when she was a child and there’s a fatherly feel to the way he talks to her. On one hand I felt he was on Maggie’s side, but I also wondered whether he was a decoy – someone sent to give her just enough information, perhaps to deflect her from the reaching the truth. Other people greet her with outright hostility and I had a lot of admiration for Maggie’s tenacity considering how vulnerable she must feel, staying on the island as a lone woman. Maggie also has a bipolar diagnosis and I thought this was well portrayed by the author, even though it adds another layer of uncertainty – can we trust what Maggie is experiencing? I found Maggie’s narration more compelling than the male narrator, but overall loved the pace and the different perspectives that give us an insight into events back in the 1970’s. There were twists I didn’t expect and the final revelations about the mystery felt satisfying. I love how this author likes to wrong-foot her reader and although this was more gothic than horror, there were parts that were very unsettling and left me listening out for creaks in the dead of night. I came away from it with an uneasy feeling, not about the supernatural aspects, but more about what humans are capable of doing and how isolated communities like this one have the perfect environment in which to plot and keep secrets, in some cases for decades. This cements Carol Johnstone in my mind as an author to look out for and i’ll be buying a finished copy for my collection.
This book is one of my picks for the autumn and I really did pick an absolute cracker of a crime novel. It’s chilling, atmospheric and incredibly clever, especially at weaving the setting into the story. I read this straight through and halfway through my binge read I had to look it up and check that it really was a stand-alone novel. Sadie Levesque is a compelling central character: brave, resourceful, determined, intelligent and ever so slightly impulsive. I could easily imagine her as the backbone of a great crime series. Sadie is a private investigator based in Canada where she’s about to be the birth partner for her sister. She has time to fit in one last job, which takes her to Scotland and the atmospheric island of Mull. The Clark family recently moved to Mull from the United States to start a new life, but their plans have been derailed by the disappearance of their seventeen year old daughter Adriana. With her American accent and dark Latino looks, Adriana caused a stir among the teenagers of Mull and was very noticeable in her job at the local pub. Her desperate parents feel the local police force are doing very little to look for their daughter, possibly because they are outsiders. When Sadie finds the girl’s body while searching local teen hang outs, the police become hostile. Adriana has been drowned. The killer has sexually assaulted her, adorned her with a seaweed crown and filled her mouth and throat full of sand. Sadie’s immediate thought is she’s been silenced. Without police cooperation, Sadie must find the killer and is drawn into a mix of local folklore, witches, a misogynistic priest and a community that looks after it’s own. Will Adriana be the last girl to die?
The island is definitely a character in it’s own right here. It even narrates it’s own chapters. Nature is in every part of the book, starting with Sadie who seems more comfortable outside than in. She feels more powerful out there, sleeping in a tent and lurking around in the dead of night, observing the islanders. For the island’s teenagers, the beaches and stone circles become the backdrop for their vigils and parties. Of course Adriana is also found outdoors, in a cave adorned with the plants and products of the sea. There’s something folkloric about the way she is posed and especially the sand, which Sadie finds out is part of ancient lore dating back to the 16th Century if not further. It is part of a ritualistic killing, if her mouth is full of sand she can’t utter the truth about what or who killed her. It is a method used by witches to silence those who might identify them. The outdoors and the sea is in these people’s DNA for generations, many are fishermen and one of the island’s legends is of a ship from Spain that was wrecked on the coast of Mull. On board was a Spanish princess who had dreamed of a beautiful man on a Scottish island and saw him as they reached the shore at Tobermory and fell instantly in love. The man’s wife saw the look in the princess’s eyes and called on the Mull Witch who destroyed the vessel, killing all 300 souls on board. History tells us that the boat was part of the armada and that islanders sank the vessel, a terrible end for the sailors who were seeking help. These deaths, from the 16th century to the present leave their mark. The island is a living thing, we are told, it feels everything. I loved the poetic way the author writes in the island’s sections:
‘Sea deaths bring furious tides. The waves slap the sides of boats, knocking the sailors from port to starboard, and the fish thrash so hard they break nets. Shells smash, scattering vicious fragments on beaches to slice careless feet. Salty tears form an ocean.’
It’s following her instinct and looking into the death of a young woman years before that first sparks the idea of witchcraft. Flora Kydd’s father laments in the village pub that his daughter’s death was glossed over by the police. Her killer had never been found. Sadie finds the Kydd’s house covered with posies of flowers to deter witchcraft and dark symbols burned into the beams to ward off the evil eye. I loved the way the author paired witchcraft with feminism, showing a deep seated misogyny in some of the islands men, particularly the local priest. Sadie stumbles across a group of women in a forest clearing, late at night. They are naked, but covered in clay, dancing around a fire. Their leader, Hilda, talks to Sadie at length dismissing the idea of darker witchcraft and claiming to be a women’s group, offering support and learning the old healing ways of nature. They protest at a community meeting where women have been told they have a curfew and should stay indoors after dark. Hilda has a strong position on this, maybe men should stop killing women. Sadie’s thoughts are going in two different directions. Could Adriana have been killed by unscrupulous members of Hilda’s group who were pressuring her to join in? Or had she become one of the women dancing around the fire and been killed because she was deemed a witch? There are some twists to the final stages that came as a huge shock. I love to be surprised and I really was here, with my heart sat in my throat at times. Could the truth be more prosaic than the legends? That men kill and could use the excuse of ancient folklore and witchcraft to cover their tracks. I was torn between this more logical explanation and the sense of an ancient evil at play on this remote and wild island. If anyone knows, the island does.
Published by Avon 1st September 2022.
Meet the Author.
Helen is a former criminal and family law barrister. Every book in her brilliant Callanach series has claimed an Amazon #1 bestseller flag. The last book in the series, ‘Perfect Kill’ was longlisted for the Crime Writers Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2020, and others have been longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize, Scottish crime novel of the year. Helen also writes as HS Chandler, and has released legal thriller ‘Degrees of Guilt’. Her audio book ‘Perfect Crime’ knocked Michelle Obama off the #1 spot. In 2020 Perfect Remains was shortlisted for the Bronze Bat, Dutch debut crime novel of the year. Now translated into 16 languages, and also selling in the USA, Canada & Australasia, Helen’s books have won global recognition. Her historical thriller ‘These Lost & Broken Things’ came out in May 2020. Her first standalone thriller – The Shadow Man – from HarperColllins was published on February 4, 2021. She currently commutes between West Sussex, Scotland and California. She lives with her husband and three children. Helen can be found on Twitter @Helen_Fields for up to date news and information or at http://www.helenfields.co.uk.
Who doesn’t love a great crime novel or mystery? It seems to be something that’s ingrained in us, perhaps since some of the first literary detectives like Sherlock Holmes. Our enduring love for Agatha Christie and our consumption of Sunday night cozy crime dramas tells me it’s in the blood somehow. I have a strange relationship with crime thrillers that is more to do with the snobbery of my secondary school than the books themselves. Thrillers are something I devour quickly and almost furtively, as if I should be ashamed of enjoying them. Yet some of my favourite contemporary writers are writers of thrillers and crime novels. As we know from last week’s Spotlight I love the Cormoran Strike novels, the Roy Grace series and Doug Johnstone’s Skelf series too. I also enjoy Sophie Hannah, Anne Cleeves, Elly Griffiths, Will Dean, Louise Candlish, Harriet Tyce, and Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. I have started reading Agatha Christie too, after my father in law left me an anthology of her stories when he emigrated to New Zealand. So it was no surprise to me that eight of my most anticipated books for autumn were from this genre. See last week’s post too, for three more excellent crime novels on our way this autumn.
I remember being so impressed with Erin Kelly’s first book The Burning Air, but this book sounds like an incredible feat of imagination and ingenuity. It is ambitious and is one of those books that can only be written when a writer has some experience under their belt. It’s Summer, 2021 and this is a reunion the family will never forget. Nell has come home at her family’s insistence to celebrate an anniversary. Her father is a writer and fifty years ago he wrote The Golden Bones, part picture book and part treasure hunt. It’s a fairy story about Elinore, a murdered woman whose skeleton was scattered all over England. The Golden Bones led readers via clues and puzzles 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 worldwide sensation and a whole community of treasure hunters was formed. The Bonehunters were in frenzied competition with each other, 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 finally reveals the whereabouts of the missing golden bone. And then all hell breaks loose. From the bestselling author of He Said/She Said and Watch Her Fall, this is a taut, mesmerising novel about a daughter haunted by her father’s legacy.
Published by Hodder and Stoughton 1st September 2022.
This standalone thriller from Helen Fields, known for the Luc Callanach series of novels, is an absolute belter of a novel. In search of a new life, seventeen-year-old Adriana Clark’s family moves to the ancient, ocean-battered Isle of Mull, far off the coast of Scotland. Then she goes missing. Faced with hostile locals and indifferent police, her desperate parents turn to private investigator Sadie Levesque. Sadie is the best at what she does. But when she finds Adriana’s body in a cliffside cave, a seaweed crown carefully arranged on her head, she knows she’s dealing with something she’s never encountered before. The deeper she digs into the island’s secrets, the closer danger creeps – and the more urgent her quest to find the killer grows. Because what if Adriana is not the last girl to die? This was a genuinely chilling story, combining the epic landscape, myths and legends, as well as some serious scares. The author embeds this modern murder into the island’s past, with even 16th Century shipwrecks, ancient standing stones and the community’s instinct to look after their own all playing a part in the mystery. Look out for my review on Tuesday this week.
Published by Avon 1st September
As everyone knows, I’m a huge fan of Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway series, so I’m intrigued by this new thriller set in London featuring Detective Harbinder Kaur. A murderer hides in plain sight – in the police. DS Cassie Fitzgerald 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.
This has some great early reviews and I’m really looking forward to it.
Described as disquieting and sensationally sinister in early reviews from fellow authors, there is a bit of buzz in the blogger community about this thriller from Lucy Banks. It’s set in that tension between someone who protests their innocence and has paid for their crime, versus the general public who often feel differently, seeing a criminal is their midst. The public think Ava’s a monster. Ava thinks she’s blameless. In prison, they called her Butcher Bird – but Ava’s not in prison any more. Released after 25 years to a new identity and a new home, Ava finally has the quiet life she’s always wanted. As she forges a friendship with her neighbour, however when the neighbour’s daughter comes to stay things change. Ava is convinced that she’s worked out who she is and when a brick comes through the window she knows that someone has discovered her secret. The lies she’s told are about to unravel. This is a real psychological suspense novel that really draws you deeply into the character’s experience. It poses the question of whether someone has ever paid for their crimes?
Published by Sandstone Press on the15th September 2022
When is the right time to be who you always were?
Jodi Picoult has always been a must read for me, ever since Her Sister’s Keeper, many years ago now. Here she collaborates with Jennifer Finley Boylan, an author I haven’t come across before. Billed as compelling and moving, this reminds me of earlier Jodi Picoult – a story built around a contentious, contemporary issue such as racism, abuse, school shootings or fertility and reproductive rights. Things that are a real flash point in modern America. Just as Picoult did with her novel Wish You Were Here, the authors have picked an up to the minute contemporary issue and I can already imagine challenging conversations around authenticity, identity and gender at every book club up and down the country.
We follow Olivia who fled her abusive marriage and returned to her hometown to 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 is truly happy for the first time. But can she trust him completely? Then out of the blue 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. This is my weekend read and I can’t wait to get started.
Published on 15th November 2022 by Hodder and Stoughton
That’s it for this week, but next week I’ll be looking at Fantasy, Magic and all things spooky.
As many of you know, I’m a big fan of Scandi and Nordic Noir whether it’s on television or in book form. I was also drawn in by the beautiful covers of these books, in fact I’d like a pair to frame and put on the wall. Sometimes books don’t live up to their covers, but I throughly enjoyed the first book following the investigative reporter known only as Jensen. My Name is Jensen set up the main characters beautifully so it was good to be back in the company of both Jensen and her ex-lover, DI Henrik Jungerson. In this second novel both our main characters are in a state of transition. Jensen is no longer working for newspaper Dagbladet and is working freelance, in a style that becomes a mix of private investigator and reporter. She has the help of a young man called Gustav, the nephew of her editor at the newspaper. Jensen knows he has been in trouble at his school, but not the extent of his problems. As they try and get used to each other’s style of working, Jensen is also adjusting to a new apartment with a difficult landlord. The first crime seems to be a burglary gone wrong, with an elderly woman brutally murdered and an incredibly expensive diamond necklace missing. Henrik is the officer on the case, but Jensen is hired by the woman’s rather unpleasant daughter to find the necklace. More murders follow, but what Henrik notices at each crime scene is a photo of the same young girl. They’re not obvious, just placed somewhere in the room, but Henrik doesn’t like coincidences and wants to connect the investigations. His superiors are unconvinced, especially as Henrik’s issues at home and with drink are starting to get out of control. Working the same case means he will cross paths with the one woman in Copenhagen he wants to avoid, Jensen.
This was an interesting case, told by Jensen and Henrik in turn, from their own perspective and with their individual ideas on what the victims have in common. They are remarkably alike in the way they think and are drawn together both by the threads of the case and what feels like a gravitational force. Nobody thinks like Jensen, except for Henrik. She knows he is only a step behind her. Nobody on the force thinks like Henrik and he almost craves her presence, not necessarily in an emotional way, more than that he wants someone to keep up with him and to bounce ideas off. Jensen has the freedom of being freelance, to work when she wants and makes choices on how she investigates that a police officer couldn’t. Breaking into a client’s summer cabin is risky, but it gets her further forward in the case. Henrik couldn’t do this, because he’s hemmed in by police rules and regulations. Yet there are perks to being an officer, such as the ability to look at official records, that Jensen wishes she had. He can also command respect and get families to cooperate in a way she can’t and this can really hamper her investigation. Despite these differences, no one else has worked out the significance of the photograph, in fact he’s pretty much been told that this is a simple case and he should stop complicating matters. Yet he can’t leave it alone. He knows it’s the key. Really they’re a perfect team, pushing each other on and keeping up with each other intellectually.
I enjoyed Jensen’s working relationship with Gustav. She soon realises he’s a bit of a maverick and that he’s been expelled from school for something much more significant than Margarethe is letting on. The mystery itself is an interesting one, not as clear cut as it first appears and with some deeply unpleasant characters too. The pacing is excellent too. Each character coming at the mystery from their own starting point and working towards each other. The author adds to the information we have in every chapter, just enough to keep the reader engaged, but tantalised and eager to read the next section. As for their personal relationship I found it hard to empathise with Henrik’s perspective. He seems to see her as a temptation that he’s unable to shake off; once in her orbit, he’s inexorably pulled towards her. If he piles all the guilt onto Jensen and avoids seeing her, he avoids facing the fact that he made a choice to cheat on his wife. Then, when he realises that Jensen’s landlord is interested in her, he becomes the jealous spurned lover. As if he didn’t choose to stay with his wife. The author manages to convey these complicated psychological aspects of her characters, so even though we might not agree with their perspective, we can understand their emotions. I was left feeling that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to these two characters and I’m interested to see where we go next.
Meet The Author
Heidi Amsinck is a writer and journalist who was born in Copenhagen and now lives in London. She was London Correspondent for the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. She has written many stories of BBC Radio 4, all read by Tim McInnerny. She was previously shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Memorial Prize. My Name is Jensen, her first thriller, was published to critical acclaim in 2021 and has also been translated into Danish and German.
I had never come across Tim Weaver’s novels before so I was very lucky to be offered this by the publisher, especially in such a special edition too. When I learned it was the tenth in his David Raker series, I approached it with some trepidation. Would I be able to keep up or would it even make sense? Now that I’ve finished the novel I can honestly say that within the first few pages, I forgot this was one in a series and just got stuck in! Such was the strength of the story and his characters that I was drawn in and captivated to the end.
David Raker is a Missing Person’s Investigator and a widower with one daughter. The missing people in this story are Cate and Aidan Gascoigne, a devoted couple who have been married for five years and together for nine. The media dubbed their case ‘The Mystery of Gatton Hill’ as they disappeared there, travelling from their home in Twickenham to have dinner. Catherine ‘Cate’ and Aiden Gascoigne were both 37 years old and worked in creative roles; Aiden was a Creative Director for a Soho web design company and Cate was a full time photographer. Cate’s work isn’t of the portrait or wedding variety and David is quite blown away by her talent as he looks for clues in her work. For Cate, photography is an art form and she’s had several successful exhibitions with enigmatic titles. As they drove to dinner in Reigate, the couple could be seen on CCTV recording laughing together, just before their car plunged down a 90 foot ravine. Their car burst into flames and even though a fire crew arrived soon after the accident, the fire was impossible to stop. However, they also find an impossible scenario, when trying to recover Cate and Aiden’s bodies; they’re no longer in the car. The Mystery of Gatton Hill remains unsolved two and a half years later.
Cate’s parents, Martin and Sue Clark, hire Raker because they find themselves unable to live with the unknown aspects of their daughter’s disappearance and feeling their emotional distress he does what he shouldn’t, he promises them he will get to the truth. However, he has no idea just how dangerous, macabre, and twisted the case will turn out to be, as he delves into Cate and Aiden’s lives. His first port of call is to interview 2 witnesses, Audrey Calvert and Zoe Simmons, who came upon the site of the burning car almost immediately. He gets help accessing the police files and photographs on the incident from a Met source, Ewan Trasker, and works his way through the couple’s phone records that he gets from Spike, the hacker. He never expected to be forced to go on the run as he follows the leads that point to Northumberland, and a 30 year old unsolved case of 3 murdered women, a case worked by DI Makayla Jennings. Three is merely the tip of the iceberg in a chilling and menacing narrative that goes on to reveal a staggering number of murders over the years, and a extraordinarily intelligent serial killer who has no intention of getting caught. Could Cate’s artistic interest in the beach where the bodies were found have been the catalyst for her murder? Is it something else altogether? Could Cate and Aiden still be alive? I found Raker a remarkably tenacious and determined investigator, even when the pressures and dangers threaten to derail the case, and he has the added complications of trying to keep Colm Healy safe. This is a wonderfully complex, riveting and engaging read that kept me glued to the pages from beginning to end with its sky high levels of suspense and tension. This will appeal to crime and mystery readers who love truly twisty. thrilling and superior crime fiction, and I think that this can reasonably be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the series before. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
Published by Michael Joseph 9th June 2022
Meet The Author
Tim Weaver is the Sunday Times bestselling author of twelve thrillers, including You Were Gone and No One Home. He has been nominated for a National Book Award, twice selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. He is the host and producer of the chart-topping Missing podcast and is currently developing an original TV series with the team behind Line of Duty. A former journalist and magazine editor, he lives near Bath with his wife and daughter.