Posted in Netgalley

Left You Dead by Peter James.

I have long been a fan of Peter James’s Roy Grace series so I felt very lucky to get a sneak peek at his latest. I discovered the books when in hospital around six years ago and I spent a great ten days whipping through the novels one after another. Then came that horrible moment of regret that every bookworm experiences after a binge on one author – reaching the latest in the series then having to wait for them to come out! Luckily, we’re now getting the TV adaptation with the wonderful John Simm as Grace so I can dive into those now I’m up to date again.

We meet Grace at a settled point in life. He and Cleo living out in the country together with their son Noah and Grace’s son Bruno, dog Humphrey and even some chickens. That’s not to say there isn’t the usual everyday dramas, at work and at home. The novel opens as Grace has passed on evidence of police corruption to his friend and colleague from the MET, Alison Vosper. The evidence, if it checks out, should be enough to have his hated boss arrested, never to return. If it doesn’t check out, he will have trusted the word of a criminal to topple a man who isn’t shy about showing his animosity towards Grace. This could end his career in the Sussex force. On the home front Noah is entering the ‘terrible twos’ and both Grace and Cleo are juggling home life with two very demanding jobs. Grace’s most pressing worry though is his older son, who doesn’t seem to be settling and is morbidly curious about such things as Egyptian death rituals. Bruno is his son from his first marriage to Sandy, who disappeared without a trace several years ago leaving Grace facing a possible murder charge. She was hiding out in Munich, after living in several cults and having concealed the fact she’d had a son after leaving him. It’s no surprise that Bruno is mixed-up, but what is the best way to support him?

Our case is equally puzzling. Niall Paternoster reports his wife missing, claiming not to have seen her since the day before when he dropped her at Tesco to buy cat litter. On their way back from visiting a stately home, Eden had reminded him he’d forgotten the previous day. They bickered their way back to Brighton, but finding the car part overrun she suggested he stay in the car and she would pop in. However, she never returned and as the store closed a search failed to find her. Knowing that his wife had stayed with friends after an argument in the past, he hadn’t been worried until 24 hours later. Yet, the usual police enquiries fail to find Eden, she’s not captured on CCTV and in fact there’s no proof she was alive after the Thursday before their stately home day trip. Has Roy Grace found himself landed with the trickiest type of crime to investigate and prosecute – a so called ‘no-body murder’?

One of Peter James’s greatest strengths in this whole series is being able to write about the personal as well as the professional, whether it’s the minutiae of daily living or the deepest tragedies we can face. It’s quite shock when it happens in this novel and the author handles it beautifully, capturing that bewildering mix of emotions from shock, to the rawness of grief as well as the regrets and fears. As always Grace faces this with a copper’s brain – his first response is to think, rather than feel. He questions everything about the circumstances, how it could have happened, then the inevitable why and could he have changed anything? He also deals with it by throwing himself into his work. His grief is so enormous he can’t sit in it for too long, he needs a distraction and luckily Cleo understands this behaviour and lets him cope the way he knows best.

The case becomes more and more intriguing, as surveillance picks up a possible extra-marital relationship on the part of the husband. As well they discover a shallow grave with blood stained clothing and the neighbours describing a terrible argument between the couple. However, something just doesn’t smell right for Grace as they identify the woman having an affair with Eden’s husband is her boss. There’s also the matter of an easily discovered knife, seemingly left in haste. Is this one of those infamous small mistakes that catch a killer or is someone trying to set Niall up? The characters in this triangle are hard to like. Niall is mercenary, abusive and seemingly finds women with money who can support him. Eden’s boss is cold and unfeeling at best, but appears increasingly manipulative and suspicious. We don’t know Eden well, until a staggering twist part way through gives us more background on her character. Luckily we don’t need them to be likeable to be fascinated and compelled by Eden’s disappearance. It felt like being caught in a spider’s web, but not knowing who is the spider.

As always, it’s Grace who is the beating heart of this novel and it’s conscience. If the difficulties he’s facing just coping with his grief aren’t enough, there’s the constant tension surrounding his relationship with the Chief Constable. There are the petty everyday differences they have over the investigation (the CC would have scaled it back) and resources (taking away his surveillance team at a critical point in the investigation). Then, underlying it all, what if Grace has taken the word of a criminal to unmask the CC’s corruption, to find he’s been lied to? Every day that goes by with no news, Grace can see his career disappearing. Once he uncovers some vital paperwork that throws a new light on the Paternoster case, Grace is all business. The build up of tension towards the end of the novel is almost unbearable. The author puts his hero in terrible danger, as on a stormy night in a remote place the whole mystery is uncovered and the real mastermind is revealed. By this point I noticed I was holding my breath! It takes a great writer to make the reader feel real emotions alongside a character. Whether it’s the professional or the personal, I find myself willing him on and hoping that, not only does he solve the case, but that he gets home to Noah and Cleo safe and sound. I felt this, so deeply in this novel, especially as Grace himself ponders how he would cope if he lost anyone else important to him. I raced to the end of the novel, not just to see the case solved, but to see him safely home. Roy Grace is one of those rare characters who has burrowed his way into my heart. I look forward to whatever comes next for him.

Published 13th May 2021.

Meet The Author

Known for his fast-paced and gripping stories that thrust regular people into extraordinary situations, Peter James has proven himself to be one of the world’s most successful writers, delivering number one bestsellers time and time again. His Superintendent Roy Grace books have been translated into 37 languages with worldwide sales of over 21 million copies and 17 number one Sunday Times Bestsellers. His latest Roy Grace novel, Find Them Dead spent seven weeks at number one in 2020. The first two novels in the Roy Grace series, Dead Simple and Looking Good Dead, have been adapted for television by Endeavour’s Russell Lewis and the first episode aired on 14th March 2021.

Posted in Netgalley

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse.

I’ve been a little late to the party reading this thriller set in the Swiss Alps. Now I have, I can see why other bloggers have enjoyed it so much.It left me feeling chilled and genuinely claustrophobic. Elin’s brother Isaac invites her to celebrate his engagement to girlfriend Laure at a luxury hotel in Switzerland. The newly renovated hotel is Laure’s workplace and has a complicated history. An architectural triumph for the owner Lucas, the hotel was once a sanatorium for people with tuberculosis. Locals objected strongly to the project due to its position and liability to become cut off by avalanches, but there was also some disquiet about its history and the appropriateness of its new use. Elin and Isaac have a strained relationship, dating back to the accidental death of their little brother when they were children. However, she has been looking forward to trying again with Isaac and is excited to show her architect boyfriend Will around the hotel. Will is looking forward to relaxing with Elin after a tough year including her long sabbatical from work as a police officer. Elin is a detective, but isn’t currently working after an incident lead to her suffering flashbacks, panic attacks and other symptoms of PTSD. Can Will and Elin relax and enjoy their break, or will echoes of the past get in the way?

The author creates a edgy atmosphere immediately. We find out that Lucas’s business partner Daniel disappeared just as the hotel opened, thought to be swallowed up by an avalanche while taking his morning exercise. The remoteness is immediately apparent and I loved the way the author situates the hotel as a huge edifice almost doing battle with the surroundings. Guests can gaze directly out into the woodland and mountains. However, once the night falls and the lights are on, the hotel must be visible for miles. Guests can’t see out, but anyone could be looking in. The decor isn’t plush and ornate like a lot of hotels, but instead hints at the hotel’s past; almost like a luxury monk’s cell. There is nothing superfluous or showy about the bedrooms. There are also little glass display boxes where artefacts from the hotel’s archive are put on show. Elin doesn’t know whether they honour the past in a respectful way or whether they’re distasteful. There’s a real sense of the cold from outside, but also in the hotel’s decor. There’s nothing cozy or welcoming to offset the harsh weather.

It’s not just the venue that has a complicated relationship with the past. This whole visit is shrouded in secrets. Elin hasn’t told her brother that she’s taking a break from the police force. She also hasn’t told her partner Will about her previous friendship with Laure. Although it soon becomes clear that she’s not the only one keeping secrets. Her silence on certain subjects made me doubt her as a narrator creating an edgy reading experience. The venue seems to have tension built into its very foundations and I sensed something evil had happened there. Whatever had happened left an energy that rubbed off on the staff and guests. The author builds on the claustrophobic theme, by layering the imagery throughout the narrative. There is the history of patients literally struggling to breathe within these walls. Then there are Elin’s panic attacks, intensified by the scene where she is pushed into the plunge pool at the spa and struggles to force her way back to the surface. In flashbacks we learn of the tragic day at the beach when Isaac and Elin’s brother died, it’s always there simmering in the background and even Elin doesn’t seem to know the truth of what happened. There’s also the remote location, and the constant threat of avalanche. The author allows these feelings to build towards moments then describes moments of pure terror as an unknown assailant attacks, wearing a black rubber gas mask that makes a strange sucking and whistling noise. There were moments where I literally had to close the book and have a break with a cuppa!

There are a series of questions within the book, so there are a series of answers we’re chasing towards the end of the novel. Will we discover the truth of what happened when the hotel was Sanatorium du Plumachit? Will we find out what truly happened on the beach between Elin and her brothers? Who is behind the attacks at the hotel and what is their motive? The author has created a mystery that’s like a set of Russian dolls, moving from the present back to past events that still have a devastating hold on the here and now. The strange souvenirs left by the killer in glass boxes, are just like the exhibits from the archive, so there must be a link. I read the last few chapters in one go, because I simply had to know what was going on. There was a definite disregard for the next day that night as I was up till 3am racing through the revelations. I thought this was a brilliant thriller, full of atmosphere and with some genuine scares along the way. I absolutely loved it and would recommend it very highly.

Meet The Author

Sarah Pearse lives by the sea in South Devon with her husband and two daughters. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Warwick and worked in Brand PR for a variety of household brands. After moving to Switzerland in her twenties, she spent every spare moment exploring the mountains in the Swiss Alpine town of Crans Montana, the dramatic setting that inspired her novel. Sarah has always been drawn to the dark and creepy – remote spaces and abandoned places – so when she read an article in a local Swiss magazine about the history of sanatoriums in the area, she knew she’d found the spark of the idea for her debut novel, The Sanatorium. Her short fiction has been published in a wide variety of magazines and has been shortlisted for several prizes. You can find Sarah on Twitter @SarahVPearse and Instagram @sarahpearseauthor

Posted in Red Dog Press

Country Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary

The word ‘quirky’ can be very overused, but it seems the most apt work for this fun murder-mystery novel where our detectives are Aubrey, a rescue cat, accompanied by Maudie, a ghost who appears to live up the chimney. This is the second in Alison O’Leary’s books about Aubrey, who lives with a young couple who seem to specialise in waifs and strays. The change of scene to a country setting, comes about because Jeremy is exhausted by St Frank’s, the difficult school he teaches at. When the chance of a school swap to a small village comes up, with country cottage, it’s too good to turn down. So, the couple, their foster child Carlos and Aubrey all make the move imagining a more peaceful life. However, village life is not always as peaceful as city dwellers might expect and it’s not long before Aubrey is sleuthing away.

At first I was a little bit sceptical about a story from a cat’s point of view, but it really does work. Aubrey is an intelligent, alert, and brave little fellow with a lot of respect and empathy for people and his fellow cats. He soon makes friends in the village, particularly with Trevor, but he always seems to know where a human needs him. It’s not long before there’s disconcerting news about a cat murderer who has already claimed a couple of victims. I loved how the cats come together to patrol the village and root out any unsavoury characters hanging round after dark. Aubrey is elected to talk the group of cats who reside at the recycling plant – the village cats decide it’s better that way because Aubrey’s new and has no history with them. He soon has them on side and cat watch begins. This isn’t the only dangerous individual around, at the village fete local the school master is attacked with a knife and dies from his injuries. Harold and his wife Lucinda are regarded by most villagers as eccentrics who run an alternative boarding school on the outskirts of the village. However, no one can think of a reason for anyone to do Harold harm. In fact, Carlos has surprised his guardians Jeremy and Molly, by showing a distinct interest in the flora and fauna of the countryside – albeit having more to do with the alluring Teddy, one of Harold’s pupils teaching him. She is one of only two pupils left since the murder and doesn’t relish leaving the rather loose and creative school philosophy she’s used to.

Jeremy becomes further embroiled through a shy, reclusive villager called Morris (another waif and stray) who most people think of as a scruffy, but amiable drunk. When suspicion falls his way, and local kids start to make a nuisance of themselves by throwing things at his house, Jeremy goes round and makes sure he’s okay. Aubrey visits him too, with Maudie in tow, and passes time by the fireside to give him some company. He finds that if he sits and gives people time, they tend to talk to him and all manner of secrets might be revealed. This mystery deepens with a lady who visits Morris, but also strolls up to the gate at Molly and Jeremy’s but never comes in. What is her link to the village and to Morris? Added I found myself wondering who Maudie is and whether she’s linked in any way? Neither did I trust Quentin – a rather loathsome individual given to pastel coloured cashmere sweaters knotted across his shoulders. He is the teacher who swapped his cottage and job with Jeremy, but did he have ulterior motives for doing so? I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure with Aubrey and I think anyone who has or loves cats would love this book. Just one question though – is it wrong that I was more invested in the cat killer than Harold’s murderer?

Meet The Author

I was born in London and spent my teenage years in Hertfordshire where I spent large amounts of time reading novels, watching daytime television and avoiding school. Failing to gain any qualifications in science whatsoever, the dream of being a forensic scientist collided with reality when a careers teacher suggested that I might like to work in a shop. I don’t think she meant Harrods. Later studying law, I decided to teach rather than go into practice and have spent many years teaching mainly criminal law and criminology to young people and adults.

I enjoy reading crime novels, doing crosswords, and drinking wine. Not necessarily in that order.

Buying Links:

Red Dog Shop: https://www.reddogpress.co.uk/product-page/country-cat-blues

Amazon: mybook.to/CountryCat

Publication date: 23 February 2021

Posted in Red Dog Press

Cover Reveal! Country Cat Blues by Alison O’Leary

This is the gorgeous new cover for Alison O’Leary’s new novel Country Cat Blues. I’m so excited for the second instalment in Aubrey’s life as a feline Sherlock Holmes. I’m glad to be on this month’s blog tour. I’m beginning to wonder what my two cats, Baggins and Hugo Agogo, might get up to as we move into the country next week.

When former rescue cat Aubrey moves to the picturesque village of Fallowfield with his owners and their foster son Carlos, he is keen to explore the delights of the English countryside. However, all is not as it seems among the villagers. The idyllic peace is shattered when a gruesome murder takes place at the village fete. Tensions run high as spectres from the past begin to emerge, and Aubrey is particularly upset when suspicion falls on Morris, who may be almost permanently drunk, but is also a good friend to the local cat population…

Can Aubrey restore the peace in the village and help clear Morris’s name? 

About the Author:

I was born in London and spent my teenage years in Hertfordshire where I spent large amounts of time reading novels, watching daytime television and avoiding school. Failing to gain any qualifications in science whatsoever, the dream of being a forensic scientist collided with reality when a careers teacher suggested that I might like to work in a shop. I don’t think she meant Harrods. Later studying law, I decided to teach rather than go into practice and have spent many years teaching mainly criminal law and criminology to young people and adults.

I enjoy reading crime novels, doing crosswords, and drinking wine. Not necessarily in that order

Buy Links:

Red Dog Shop: https://www.reddogpress.co.uk/product-page/country-cat-blues

Amazon: mybook.to/CountryCat

Publication date: 23 February 2021

Posted in Netgalley

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths.

It was lovely to be back in the world of one of my favourite literary heroines, the archaeologist and academic Ruth Galloway. I always feel at home in this space Elly Griffiths has created, with an evocative feeling of Norfolk at its centre. She presents the wide skies, marshlands and seascapes and their flora and fauna so clearly I feel like I know it. Yet there’s always that sprinkling of the mystical, the pagan, and the long buried beliefs of a Norfolk long ago. This mix of the earthy, real and scientific as opposed to the mystery and magic is something also echoed in her characters: the craggy, straightforward, Nelson; the Druid Cathbad with his cloak, sayings and pronouncements; Ruth somewhere in-between – appreciating the science and procedure of her work, but not fully dismissing the beliefs and mysticism that surrounds the burials she visits and excavates.

The Night Hawks of the title are a local metal detecting group, who stumble upon a burial site out on the marshes towards the sea. Ruth has been here before, excavating a ‘henge site’ with her then professor, Eric – a man whose conflict between mysticism and science still hangs over this place. The group finds a hoard of Bronze Age weapons, but nearby they also find a body. Nelson thinks it might be an asylum seeker, desperately trying to cross the channel in tiny boats and fallen overboard. He rings Ruth anyway, because he knows she’ll be able to date the weapon find and know if there’s any link. The body turns out to be a local boy, Jem Taylor, who has just been released from prison and has a distinctive tattoo of a snake on his neck. Cathbad suggests this may be a nod to the local legend of the Norfolk Serpent. This could be an accidental drowning, but the second body suggests murder. There are no real clues to who might have wanted Jem dead.

The second case Nelson is called to investigate is that of a couple who seem to have died in a murder-suicide at a local farm. Black Dog Farm is linked to another local legend, that of the Black Shuck, a large black ghostly dog that is said to appear to people before they die. Nelson is sceptical of course, but since the suicide note ends with the ominous ‘he’s buried in the garden’ he asks Ruth to excavate. Ruth has already had a strange encounter with a large animal on a country lane, so her mind starts whirring when she finds large animal bones. Maybe Cathbad has more wisdom than they give him credit for. As Nelson and Judy talk to the couple’s children and Ruth thinks about the farm, it seems clear that there’s something very wrong about Black Dog Farm, something that might signal serious danger for all concerned.

I never stop talking about how much I love Ruth Galloway and here she’s back to herself after a period of time living with her partner Frank in Cambridge. Norfolk is in Ruth’s bones it seems. She and Kate seem to belong in the small cottage that looks out to the coastline, with their cat. Ruth seems to be still recovering and I love how Griffiths writes Ruth’s inner thoughts as she contemplates the choice she made: to be true to her love for someone unavailable, leaving her alone at times. As we’re all a bit battered by love and relationships as we hit our forties, I found her contemplation of loneliness within and without relationships truthful and moving. What I love most about this character is her authenticity. She doesn’t dumb down her intelligence, she doesn’t change her style and when absorbed in a really mucky dig can be decorated with mud from head to foot but doesn’t care. She is resigned to live on the fringes of Nelson’s life and knows his loyalty must be with his wife Michelle, but this case is a tricky one and may bring them close to danger once again. If one of of their lives is at risk, what will happen to those loyalties?

This was a great addition to the Galloway series and has all the ingredients I enjoy: a potentially sinister group of men, the appearance of a mystical creature, the mix of hard science, history and pagan ritual. All my favourite characters are present – I’m always intrigued with the attraction between Judy and Cathbad. There are new people too. There’s a new man in Ruth’s department at the university, a researcher whose very keen to take charge of the Bronze Age site and seems to be everywhere they turn on this case. Could he be a threat to Ruth’s settled life, her accord with Nelson, her academic prowess or something even more sinister? I found myself suspicious of him throughout. I was recently having a chat on Twitter, including Elly Griffiths, and we discussed casting for a potential TV series ( come on BBC what are you waiting for?). Ruth Jones seemed to be the choice for Ruth, David Tennant for Cathbad and either Debra Stephenson or Leanne Best as Michelle. Nobody had a good idea for Nelson. We all agreed he needed to be older, a bit craggy but somehow attractive, with a twinkle in the eye. I’m putting forward either David Morrissey or Phillip Glenister – both would have the necessary Northern bluntness I think. Till then I’ll wait patiently for the next instalment, when I expect big changes for my favourite archaeologist.

Meet The Author

I’m the author of two crime series, the Dr Ruth Galloway books and the Brighton Mysteries. Last year I also published a stand-alone, The Stranger Diaries, and a children’s book, A Girl Called Justice. I have previously written books under my real name, Domenica de Rosa (I know it sounds made up).

The Ruth books are set in Norfolk, a place I know well from childhood. It was a chance remark of my husband’s that gave me the idea for the first in the series, The Crossing Places. We were crossing Titchwell Marsh in North Norfolk when Andy (an archaeologist) mentioned that prehistoric people thought that marshland was sacred ground. Because it’s neither land nor sea, but something in-between, they saw it as a bridge to the afterlife; neither land nor sea, neither life nor death. In that moment, I saw Dr Ruth Galloway walking towards me out of the mist…

I live near Brighton with Andy. We have two grown-up children. I write in a garden shed accompanied by my cat, Gus.

Posted in Netgalley

The Vow by Debbie Howells.

#TakeTheVow #AvonBooksUk #NetGalley

Published: 15th October 2020

ISBN: 0008400164

Publisher: Avon Books U.K.

Several years ago I was in London for the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We were staying in Kensington and spent a day browsing the second hand shops for clothes but also for books. In a second hand bookshop I came across a proof copy of Debbie Howell’s first book. I read it that evening in the hotel, and finished it on the train home the next day. My friend was equally gripped. So, I was delighted to be granted the ARC copy of her latest novel The Vow on NetGalley.

This was a very quick read, mainly due to fact I struggled to put it down! Amy, a herbalist who lives near Brighton, is looking forward to her dream wedding. She never imagined she’d be lucky enough to get a second chance at love, but here she is living with the man she’s about to marry. Her daughter Jess has just gone to university so it’s just the two of them. Upstairs hangs the pink wedding dress she chose alongside a soft grey gown for her daughter. One morning, as she delivers an order to a patient, Amy is stopped by an old lady in the street who tells her to be careful because her fiancé isn’t what he seems. Slightly shaken Jess takes a call from her fiancé Matt, he seems distracted and tells her he’ll be late home because he’s out with a client. He says ‘take care, babe’ – something he never says. Jess is unsettled, but tries to carry on as normal. When Matt doesn’t return that night she goes to bed fully expecting him to be next to her as she wakes. However, his side of the bed is still empty. This is just the start of a nightmare scenario for Amy and her daughter Jess – where is Matt, who is he and do the secrets of the past always come back to haunt us?

This is an engaging thriller from Debbie Howells. I love the way she builds the kind, gentle character of Amy, to the point where we believe in her fairy tale wedding and relationship. When the narrator changes to a second character it allows us to re-evaluate everything we know. Is Amy telling us the truth or is she deluded and dangerous? I really wasn’t sure till the very end. I think her job as a herbalist also helps to make her trustworthy, because when someone is a healer we imagine them as empathic, kind and gentle – certainly not capable of murder. The other narrator also has a credible role. She works as a solicitor so the police might lean towards believing her version of events. I loved the opposing chapters, especially when we start to encounter a third, unnamed narrator. We have no idea which woman is speaking about the events of 1996, or whether it’s a third party. Howells drops enough red herrings to distract us – the WPC’s strangely selective answering machine, Amy’s friend who claims to have been propositioned by Matt at a party, or even one of the other women that have become Matt’s victims over the years.

The subject of coercive control has been utilised a lot in fiction of late and here it is only part of the story, but explained well nevertheless, The discussion of gaslighting was accurate and explains why we have a fairytale narrative about Matt from Amy whereas her daughter and her friends have seen a slightly different picture. The scene where he has convinced the normally vegan Amy to eat meat was particularly chilling. The ending, when it came, was slightly too sudden. I find this often happens when reading kindle books because if I don’t keep the word count displayed I don’t have any idea where I am in the book. On the whole this was a very enjoyable and rather addictive thriller that can easily be devoured greedily in a weekend.

Meet The Author


After self-publishing three women’s commercial fiction novels, Debbie wrote The Bones of You, her first psychological thriller. It was a Sunday Times bestseller and picked for the Richard and Judy book club. Three more have followed, The Beauty of The End, The Death of Her and Her Sister’s Lie, all published by Pan Macmillan

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Peacock Room by Anna Sayburn-Lane.

#RandomThingsTours #BlogTour #ThePeacockRoom

Literary sleuth Helen Oddfellow has started her new job as a lecturer in an English Literature department of the university and is hoping for a quiet life. What she gets is anything but. When she is asked to cover a module for Professor Petrarch Greenwood she expected the students to be a little underwhelmed. He is something of a literary celebrity, having followed his lifelong love of William Blake into TV opportunities and book deals. Yet his students behaviour seems strange to Helen. They are subdued and one is genuinely emotional about him, which rings alarm bells to Helen. Petrarch is flamboyant, holds swish parties at his London flat and has very little time for new feminist theories regarding his hero. On the dark web, a strange literary obsession is being used to stir unrest in its largely male following, and an underground police officer is trying to break into the online community by sharing a love of Blake. Their focus is a an artist who produces a graphic novel based on a Blake character, with a disrespectful and violent attitude towards women. How many of his followers even know or understand Blake? As this unrest grows will Helen be able to come between the innocent and a disturbed gunman bent on making his point with bloodshed?

This is one of those times when I really didn’t need to have read the first novel to enjoy this second instalment in the Helen Oddfellow series. The start was slow but I was intrigued with the larger than life and potentially dangerous Petrarch Greenwood. He’s clearly living a rather decadent lifestyle of bedding young students, and stretching his professional ethics. Officially Helen is covering his classes as he has a book deadline to meet, but we get the sense that really he’s being removed to cover up a scandal. The university can’t afford to lose him as he’s their celebrity professor but they also can’t be seen to do nothing. I sensed a really unpleasant character underneath the charm and wondered if he or his assistant was behind the Blake website.

Running through the book is the treatment of women, from the misogyny on the dark web to gender politics within the university. Helen recounts her own reading on Blake and his wife. The question of how involved his wife was in his work is one that’s been at the forefront of feminist theory, something Professor Greenwood is very dismissive about. He’s dismissive about women in general, in fact one is being physically dismissed from his office when we meet him. The behaviour of the female students in his class is worrying too, some are very subdued and don’t want to meet Helen’s eyes. There’s an unpleasant atmosphere, and an undercurrent that I feared didn’t bode well for some of these women. The story started to focus around the events of Professor Greenwood’s party and this is where the book gripped me.

I’m clearly very dark, because when the truth of the party was revealed I was pleased the author had pushed the story to such a disturbing place. It was a great contrast to the tamer beginning of the book and I think it needed it. I didn’t manage to guess all that had happened so I was able to enjoy all the twists and turns to the end. I enjoyed guessing who had the talent and knowledge to be behind the artwork, but the mind to plan such a terrible act of mass murder. However, this wasn’t the only person with secrets and it seemed only Helen was who she professed to be. She is like the calm centre to the novel, but everything around her felt chaotic and changeable. I worried early on that this would be a novel where women were victims, but actually the ending was quite empowering. The women took control, which was a great way to end. I would have liked to know more about some of the characters so maybe some differing perspectives on events would have been interesting. However, I think it was deliciously dark and turned a light on the type of misogyny that seems to be a constant undercurrent on the internet these days. This was intelligent, surprising and as a literary mystery, quite unique.

Meet The Author

Anna Sayburn Lane is a novelist, short story writer and storyteller, inspired by the history and contemporary life of London. Her first two novels introduce the literary sleuth Helen Oddfellow.
Anna shares Helen’s love of literature – mysteries surrounding the Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe and the Romantic poet William Blake feature in the books. She’s pleased her History and English Literature degree finally came in handy!
Anna has published award-winning short stories in magazines including Mslexia, Scribble and One Eye Grey.