Blog Tour – The Chalk Pit – Elly Griffiths

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WINNER OF THE 2016 CWA DAGGER IN THE LIBRARY. Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands. The boiling might have been just a medieval curiosity – now it suggests a much more sinister purpose.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard that the network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

I actually only started reading the Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway series in 2015, and until I read this book, I’d only read the first two. Having said that, I’ve managed to gather all the rest, bar one (A Room Full Of Bones.) That means I’ve got them, er, somewhere whenever I fancy a guaranteed good read. But given the chance to participate in this blog tour, for what is now book no. 9(!) in the series, I couldn’t resist.

Over and above the storyline in each book, there are, imho, two utter joys in opening a Ruth Galloway book. Number one is catching up with the “family” of characters that populate this series: Ruth, of course; DCI Harry Nelson, their daughter, Kate (now 6! Unbelievable!); Cathbad, naturally; DS Judy Johnson; Cloughie; the ambitious Tanya; Michele’s, DCI Nelson’s wife; Phil, Ruth’s irritating department head… all are people who add to our enjoyment of each story.

Secondly, I always learn lots of fascinating details through Ruth’s forensic pathology work (I recently read a book of Kathy Reichs’ novellas – review to come soon – and it was the same, although I’m not such a huge fan of hers.) Thankfully, reading about signs of cannibalism is as close as I’ll ever get to it *crosses fingers*, but these little gems of knowledge also add to my enjoyment of the stories.

I noticed how much more confident, and also witty, Elly Griffiths has become since the first couple of books – she brilliantly skewers all the different types of people who populate the book, particularly the middle class, as well as, of course, our cast. I marked so many quotable sections that made me laugh, but I can’t resist giving you these examples:

She reminds Nelson of his daughters’ friends, those impossibly slim young women with their luxuriant manes of swishy hair. What’s happened to all the overweight spotty teenagers? He’s sure that , when he was growing up, the girls at the neighbouring grammar school were nowhere near this confident and attractive.

‘We should get the results in a couple of weeks.’‘A couple of weeks? Why can’t you get them in twenty-four hours?’‘Because this isn’t CSI Miami.’

Tanya loves liaising, it sounds so much more important than keeping in touch.

And when they’re questioning one of the missing women’s husbands:

‘No. Nothing’s out of place.’ Nelson sees Clough looking round the room in disbelief. A pair of children’s pants are hanging from the light fitting.

I could go on, but I wouldn’t want to spoil any more of the enjoyment you’ll get whilst reading this book, as you absolutely must.

The plot features rough sleepers – some of the men are being brutally murdered, all of whom were friendly with a female rough sleeper, Barbara, who’s gone missing. To her credit, DS Judy Johnson doesn’t dismiss this missing person’s report, as many officers would, assuming the person in question had moved on. But all she keeps hearing is that Barbara had said she was “going underground”, and no-one seems to know if this is a literal or metaphorical explanation of where she is. One of Ruth’s colleagues at the university believes that there is a community of rough sleepers, populating the endless tunnels of chalk mines beneath Norwich – but is this just an urban myth? But then the aforementioned woman, a mother of four, goes missing, leaving her children alone in the house. While the police are pulling out all the stops looking for her, Cassandra, Cloughie’s gorgeous actress partner, disappears after a play rehearsal, again leaving a young child behind. They now have three missing women. It’s crucial they discover whether there is an underground area, and, if so, how they access it. But although they’ve heard talk of it, the police struggle to find a rough sleeper who can tell them anything substantial.

The last 30% of this book sees the tension ramped right up, with poor Cloughie falling to bits without Cassie. I didn’t want to put it down for a minute! And of course there’s the big question: who’s responsible? The answer to that, I would never have guessed. And his reasoning, completely bonkers, in the best megalomaniac traditions!

I’m looking forward to reading all the books I’ve missed out on, but this one is most definitely…

Highly recommended.

(There’s also a superb review by the wonderful Moira at Clothes In Books, which, if you haven’t come across it before, is an endlessly fascinating blog which does exactly what it says on the tin, and I thoroughly recommend you subscribe to it, if you don’t already.)

My thanks to Quercus books, who provided me with a copy of this book, in return for an honest review.

Blog Tour – The Sixth Window – Rachel Abbott

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BLURB: The perfect man… or a perfect stranger?

After eighteen months of grieving for her husband Bernie, killed in a horrific hit and run accident, Natalie Grey has found love with her husband’s best friend – Ed Cooper – and has moved herself and fifteen year old daughter, Scarlett, into his home. But Natalie begins to suspect Ed has a dark side – and even darker intentions.

Desperate to get her daughter to a place of safety, she and Scarlett move to a new home that holds secrets of its own. But has removing Scarlett from one potential threat placed her in far greater danger?

DCI Tom Douglas is also chasing the truth, as his investigation into the suicide of a teenage girl draws him ever closer to Natalie and Scarlett. But will he be too late to protect them from the peril they face, or from the truths that will tear their lives apart?

So, after the great fun I had writing the micro thriller, how was the book? As expected…fantastic! I’ve bought all Rachel Abbott’s books – barring one, which was sent to me – after being persuaded by Cleo at the wonderful Cleopatra Loves Books, who was an early and enthusiastic champion of Rachel’s work. Now, of course, she’s a name every reader knows – the multi-million selling author who did it all her own, with no help from a publishing company, thus inspiring a multitude of other authors to DIY. No agent’s commission, no earning a very small percentage on your work – but you do have to be prepared to do the selling and promotion too, and Rachel Abbott was the first to really understand that part of it. Of course, it did no harm that this was her second career, and that she had, I understand, been very successful in business before. She’s always struck me as the sort of person who could be a success at anything.

Anyway, enough philosophising! When Natalie sees her new partner, Ed, has been looking at pictures of teenage girls, then clearing his browser, she’s understandably worried for her daughter Scarlett, who’s just that age. She looks at Ed in a new light – when he gives Scarlett a hug to comfort her, is that sleazy? Or genuinely trying to comfort her? This ambivalence to his actions runs through the book, demonsrating how easily actions can be misconstrued – for good or bad.

Taking no chances, she leaves him, and after a great deal of searching eventually finds them a flat in an old workhouse in Manchester, to make do until the tenants occupying their old property move out. It’s got two entrances, and one side of the building has large, roomy flats, while the other consists of more utilitarian, basic units. Natalie and Scarlett are in one of the basic ones, although they share a wall with the “posh” side.

While showing them round, Cliff, the caretaker, mentions that an elderly woman who’d lived here previously had been convinced the place was haunted, as she’d heard voices and laughter. (Not the most sensible thing to say when you’re showing new tenants round, especially when one’s a teenager!) Totally stuck alone in town, with all her friends back where they used to live, Scarlett starts to hear voices and laughter, and is initially freaked out being alone in the flat. However, eventually she realises it’s sound travelling through the old pipes from the flat through the wall. So she manages to get into the nicer side to investigate… and that’s when the problems really start!

I’m not going to drop any information into this review about what’s going on in the aforementioned flat, nor am I going to reveal what the title means. It’s a topical story, and I really enjoyed the ambivalence Rachel created as to Ed’s intentions, as well as Bernie having details of this website before his death in an unsolved hit-and-run. Both men are/were policemen, and Bernie had been working in a unit investigating the exploitation of teenage girls, although he’d left that some time before his death. Could it have been murder, or was it, as suspected, joyriders responsible?

While Scarlett gets herself in deeper and deeper, with no idea of the danger she’s facing, DCI Tom Douglas and DI Becky Robinson are re-investigating Bernie’s death; the suicide of a teenager who may have been a victim of these people; and how the girls involved are targeted. Teenagers are pretty savvy nowadays, so you need to identify the most naive, shy, lonely and vulnerable – how is this being done?

I was utterly shocked at who was behind it all – I can bet you will be too! – and was in utter admiration at the way Abbott brought it all together at the end, with some very clever misdirection. It also had my favourite type of ending! Her clear, easy-to-read style means you whizz through the chapters, but doubtless, like me, you’ll be a victim of the “one more chapter…” – then “one more page…” problem that keeps us bookworms up well past our bedtime!

There’s no question this’ll be yet another massive hit for Abbott, and deservedly so. It’s about time I got into my Kindle to read (and review) the earlier stories. But this is a definite winner. The Mistress of Misdirection is on fine form, as ever!

Highly recommended.

I’d like to thank Rachel Abbott and Maura Brickell for my copy of The Sixth Window, in exchange for an honest review. 

Writing A Micro-Thriller – with Rachel Abbott


So, this is Rachel Abbott and I’s micro-thriller. If you haven’t been following the tour, the idea was that all the bloggers were given the same opening, they contributed their own couple of paragraphs (in green), and Rachel had the job of bringing it to a conclusion!

I would just like to thank Rachel Bradley for her superb technical assistance which saved me when I was making an utter hash of this – those who visit regularly know what a technophobe I am! So many thanks, Rachel.

Coming up next – my review of The Sixth Window….

Wait For Me, Jack – Addison Jones

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Set near San Francisco, this warm and funny novel follows the fortunes and failures of Jack and Milly for sixty years. They marry in 1952, and typical of post-war couples, shift up a class. Optimistic and full of plans, they see themselves living the American Dream. Through the years they cling to each other despite having little in common. But the clinging doesn’t always preclude infidelity or disappointment, and the social changes they live through impact on their relationship in complex and surprising ways. Ultimately, though, what holds them together is stronger than what pulls them apart. This is a love story that tells the truth – or one or two truths – about love and marriage.

After reading this book, it’s my opinion that any couple who goes to a church or registry office to enquire about getting married should be handed a copy of this novel. Because from it they will learn – marriage is tough. People change. You may have lots in common when you marry, at 25, 35, 45, but as you evolve as a person your partner may evolve in an entirely different way. And by then you might have children. Do you stick it out, for their sakes? Or do you think, “I’ve only got one crack at life,” and move on, justifying it by saying children are better with two happy parents living separately than an unhappy couple in the same house? (I do agree with that, if you’re both really unhappy, and there are constant rows.) And, of course, as we’re all (hopefully!) living longer these days, it’s not inconceivable that a marriage could last 60+ years, whereas a couple of hundred years ago 40 years was probably regarded as a lengthy marriage.

Wait For Me, Jack is a novel about a marriage where the couple realise, fairly quickly into the marriage, that they really don’t have a great deal in common, apart from mutual attraction – they both sound gorgeous in their youth. It’s told backwards, so we first meet Jack and Milly when they’re in their 80s. Then, at intervals ranging from eighteen months to three years, we step back and see them: elderly, frail and alone; to their children grown and setting off on their own lives; to when the family grew initially – we see all the challenges they face. It’s this Benjamin Button-ish backward structure that makes it so exceptionally original and enjoyable. I know it sounds like a very un-crimeworm-like novel, and normally I’d say it is, but it’s a novel I think everyone interested in relationships and people – which is pretty much all of us, I think – would more than enjoy.

On the side, we get a social history of the major events in the USA, and also understand how this very different couple – Jack’s educated, works in publishing, considers himself cultured, and isn’t entirely faithful; Milly’s happy just being a wife with a family and a home, and loves her soap operas once they have a TV – get together, and, more importantly, stay together. They have a family, and pick up three extra children on the way amidst tragedy, and heartbreak, bringing them into the fold pretty much uncomplainingly – this is primarily Milly’s doing, at least with two of them, but she has Jack’s support. The third (part-time) addition to the family, well, that’s a story in itself, which only demonstrates again Milly’s huge heart.

It also, obviously, is a book about ageing, and the fact that there comes a point – particularly for Jack – when you realise the life you dreamed of is very rarely what you get.

I guess a lot of what I took from it is how much damn hard work the American Dream was for that generation, and the fact that they weren’t going to throw the towel in, Goddamnit, they’d get through it – they’d got through wars, after all, hadn’t they? It also, unsurprisingly, demonstrates how easy men had it – “Pass me a beer, Milly, gee, what a day I’ve had!” Yet she never complains about her huge workload (although of course he does about his!)

It’s an often sad, sometimes funny, yet ultimately uplifting book, and beautifully written (I can’t imagine how long it took to write.) It’s wonderful, and, by the end, well, that title broke my heart.

A must-read.

My thanks to Sandstone Press, who provided me with a copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

My Next Read – Gwen Parrott

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‘Clouds of Witness’ – Dorothy L.Sayers & ‘Dead White’ – Gwen Parrott

When I was around sixteen, an aunt invited me to take some books from a bookcase belonging to the lady whose companion and housekeeper she’d been for nearly fifty years and who had recently died. Even back in the 1970s, that form of employment was archaic. Having been born a bookworm, I gathered a few promising tomes, little knowing that what I had chosen would influence me for the rest of my life.

They were early Gollancz editions of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels of Dorothy L. Sayers. To say that I devoured them doesn’t begin to describe it – I read and re-read them, and during the long summer vacations while I was home from University, I looked forward to starting with the first one ‘Whose Body?’ and working my way through to ‘Busman’s Honeymoon’, before I had to go back to Anglo-Saxon and Ezra Pound.

And I’m still doing it, although not so regularly. Every few years, I catch sight of them on the shelf and find myself drawn into that world again. ‘Clouds of Witness’ is next in line – where Lord Peter’s brother, Gerald, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murdering his sister’s fiancé. I suppose I look at them with different eyes now. When I was young, I was astonished at Dorothy L. Sayers’s wide-ranging scholarship, and thorough research. That’s still striking, but I’m more aware, as I grow older, of what influenced her. I keep hearing P.G. Wodehouse in Peter Wimsey’s voice – he’s really Bertie Wooster with brains, and his imperturbable valet Bunter is, of course, Jeeves.  I’m particularly looking forward in ‘Clouds of Witness’ to the incredible fact that the letter which explains everything at the end is written in French – and is not translated! It appears that in the early editions Dorothy L. Sayers could not be persuaded by her publishers that an English translation was required. How about that for believing in the erudition of your readers?

That’s why she’s always been the author to aim at, for me. She knew that the detective novel could  be more than just pulp fiction. She used all her considerable intellect in her plots and her detailed descriptions of life in the 1920s and 1930s, and never short-changed her audience. When I’m thinking of a new ‘Della Arthur’ novel, I keep her example in mind.

Gwen Parrott is the author of ‘Dead White’ (Kindle), a murder mystery set in snow-bound Pembrokeshire, South Wales in 1947, featuring Della Arthur, a local schoolteacher. The second book in the series ‘Beyond the Pale’ will be published shortly on Kindle. In her other life, Gwen is a Welsh language translator.

Dead White – Gwen Parrott

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A Della Arthur 1940s murder mystery.

BLURB: In a 1940s Welsh village a school teacher stumbles across two dead bodies, and the secrets and lies of a close-knit community.

During the harsh winter of 1947, Della Arthur arrives at a remote Pembrokeshire village in the middle of a snowstorm to take up her new job as headteacher of the local primary school. Losing her way from the train station, she comes across a farmhouse and takes shelter there. After finding two dead bodies inside, Della struggles to discover the truth behind their deaths. She soon realises that in this close-knit community, secrets and lies lurk beneath the surface of respectability.

Della must choose who to trust among the inhabitants of this remote village – should she reveal what she knows to the sardonic minister of the local chapel, Huw Richards, or the Italian prisoner of war, Enzo Mazzati? Della finds herself under siege on all sides, and encumbered by an unwelcome lodger, a missing colleague and a disturbed pupil. It is only when her own life is threatened that she realises how dangerous her discoveries in the farmhouse really were.

This is the first English language, digital edition of the acclaimed Welsh language novel.

I’m hoping Gwen Parrott will soon be translating more of her Della Arthur murder mysteries into English, as this book is an utter peach! It’s a title I came to with no expectations, having no prior knowledge of the author. But she’s a real find, and I’m delighted I read Dead White.

Now, there’s a fair bit of detail in the blurb above – Della gets a nasty surprise after taking shelter in what she presumes to be an empty farmhouse. She makes herself something to eat, carefully leaving money to cover it. Her eyebrows are raised by just the amount of food these people have, and it isn’t only the traditional foods that saw people in the countryside better off, foodwise, in times of rationing, although there’s plenty of them, too – no, it’s food you need ration coupons for. And then there’s the two dead bodies up the stairs…

The next morning, Della meets a cart of locals, accompanied by Italian POWs, who have made many friends locally, as well as proving invaluable helping out with the tough farmwork in their stay in Wales. (They must’ve been all over the UK, as there’s an excellent road they built through the hills from Glencoe to Kinlochleven, as well as the famed beautiful Italian chapel on Orkney.) Unsure of who to trust – from her time in London in the Blitz she isn’t remotely squeamish, and two natural deaths at once seem highly unlikely – she keeps her counsel until she can alert the authorities. She’s one of these roll-her- sleeves-up and get on with it women who kept Britain going during the war, and not much appears to faze her.

However, with only the local policeman around, whose never experienced a crime like this, Della takes it upon herself to investigate how they died, with the help of one of the POWs who was in the police in Italy. It’s definitely murder, and as Leonard and Glenys appeared to be very unpopular locally, and led a life which kept them alone and as isolated from locals as possible, the suspect list appears to be a long one.

Eventually Della makes it to the schoolhouse, which is to be her home. It’s warm, comfortable and well-appointed for the times. It’s still fully furnished, though, as the previous schoolmaster is in a psychiatric hospital, drying out, Della soon ascertains. Not long after her arrival a woman called Lena, claiming to be his sister, appears, all ready to make herself at home, and stays in her brother’s room while she examines their late mother’s furniture to see if there’s anything of value. Della doesn’t much want her there, but is too well brought up to throw her out, and tolerates her late nights at the local pub, The Hut, and noisy homecomings, yelling goodbye to the group of men who saw her home of an evening. She sees Della as staid, and heading for spinsterdom; Della sees her as being a drinker and a good-time girl who wore too much make-up, not particularly interested in doing any work. They tolerate each other, that is, until Della visits her brother in hospital! (I did question wgther

For a small community, there’s certainly plenty going on, and Della’s quick to get the measure of most people. A trip to Cwm Glo, to visit her late fiancée’s parents, not far from Llanelli where Leonard and Glenys were from, gives her further information, and it’s not long before she manages to put what happened together. However, before she can pass on any news, the culprits attempt to murder her and someone whose helping her investigate. Only good fortune sees her saved. However, before the book is out, there are more fatalities. There’s also a secret Della had guessed, but which someone behaved with great chivalry over, and saved a great deal of embarrassment and shame for one of her new friends.

It’s a fast and hugely enjoyable read of a time when Britain was tired – tired of still suffering rationing two years after a war they supposedly won is over, and tired of making-do-and-mending when Yves Saint Laurent is unveiling the New Look in Paris. It really immerses you right into that period, and demonstrates that, when it comes to crime, at least, not a great deal has changed – it’s still the same old motives: love, lust, loathing, and lucre. Not so complicated, no matter how complex the crime looks from the outside. And that’s where the likes of Della, to untangle it all, are invaluable!

Pop back tomorrow, where Gwen will reveal all about what she’s reading.

Very highly recommended (particularly for fans of Golden Age crime fiction.)

Currently  available for £1.99 on Kindle.

I received a copy of this novel from Corazon Crime in exchange for my honest review.

Blog Tour (Part 2) – Her Perfect Life – Sam Hepburn

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BLURB: A brilliantly twisty psychological thriller for fans of I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors.

How far would you go to create the perfect life?

Gracie Dwyer has it all: the handsome husband, the adorable child, the beautiful home and the glittering career. The perfect life.

Her new friend Juliet doesn’t exactly fit in. She’s a down-on-her-luck single parent with no money and not much hope.

So just what is it that draws Gracie and Juliet together? And when the cracks start to appear in Gracie’s perfect life, can both of them survive?

It was really very late Monday night when I finished this one, so I thought I’d ponder my thoughts on the book, then write up most of my review yesterday, and finish it today.

So we have two women, who couldn’t be more different. They had in fact met six years earlier, when Gracie Dwyer met Juliet at a forum for women starting up in business. At the time, Gracie was impressed by Juliet’s PR skills, and took her card, more or less promising to employ her on any PR campaigns she might need help with. Seeing how hugely successful Gracie has become, Juliet blames her for her own lack of success, as she sees how well she could’ve done as the PR part of the team keeping Gracie’s work running smoothly. Her empire by now encompasses a bakery, tearoom/restaurant, with another on the way, cookery books, and TV series. She’s also waiting on the results of opinion polls commissioned by a US TV company on her shows, which would mean colossal amounts of money. So Juliet – somewhat unfairly, as you can’t win ’em all, and nobody owes you a living – blames Gracie for all her money problems, and the fact she doesn’t have the perfect life Gracie appears to. She doesn’t really do herself any favours, as she drinks too much, making a fool of herself in public, and smokes constantly (no wonder she has money problems!), as well as being engaged in a furious battle over Freya’s custody with Ian, her ex.

However, she manages to ingratiate her way into Gracie’s life, mainly as Gracie feels sorry for Juliet’s daughter Freya not having the same opportunities as Elsie, her (step)daughter with Tom, whose first wife died when Elsie was 10 months old, through an allergic reaction to a wasp sting. While Juliet’s at Gracie’s – whilst staying over after an accident – she does her very best to dig into Gracie’s life, figuring no-one can be as squeaky clean as the persona Gracie presents, with no skeletons in the closet. Her plan is to leak any “skeletons”, making it look as though someone from her current PR company is responsible, then ride to the rescue, saving the day.

Scattered throughout the book are old diary entries from someone called Pauline, but we’ve no idea who this is – whether it’s Juliet or Gracie, with one of them having changed their name, or another character we’ll meet later in the book. What is apparent is that when the diary was written, Pauline wants money, and gets involved in clinical trials to get large amounts of money, very quickly.

To go much further would take us into spoiler territory – but what we end up desperate to know is this: is Gracie really just a family-loving cook who’s struck it lucky in the food world? (For some reason, I totally pictured Kirstie Allsop as Gracie; with a house full of Cath Kidston aprons and tea cosies and tablecloths, etc, etc, and her daughter wearing Boden clothes – you know the type!) Or is Juliet (“one of your waifs and strays,” complains Tom) on a hiding to nothing, looking for skeletons that don’t exist?

I got some of the story bang on, but later on Sam Hepburn really shocked me. It takes quite a while to build to the conclusion, which I thought was a teensy bit far-fetched, but hugely enjoyable at the same time, provoking lots of gasps of “no way!” from me. Perfect if you’re still (like me!) slightly obsessed with “domestic noir” psychological thrillers. And I’ll be intrigued to see what Ms. Hepburn comes up with next.


This book is out tomorrow and is currently £2.99 on Kindle.

With thanks to Harper and NetGalley for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – Her Perfect Life – Sam Hepburn

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BLURB: A brilliantly twisty psychological thriller for fans of I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors.

How far would you go to create the perfect Life?

Gracie Dwyer has it all: the handsome husband, the adorable child, the beautiful home and the glittering career. The perfect life.

Her new friend Juliet doesn’t exactly fit in. She’s a down-on-her-luck single parent with no money and not much hope.

So just what is it that draws Gracie and Juliet together? And when the cracks start to appear in Gracie’s perfect life, can both of them survive?

Sam has generously let us have a look over her shoulder, and fill us in on what she’s reading, watching, and listening to at the moment. I’m so nosy, plus I’m always looking for tips on what’s good. so let’s see what Sam does (when she isn’t writing fabulously twisty psychological thrillers!)

My reading, viewing and listening   – Sam Hepburn

This week’s bedtime read has been His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I loved the deftly painted picture of 19th Century crofter life, the misery poverty and oppression and the sympathy evoked for a smart young man pushed to commit murder by the pressures of an existence he can neither endure nor escape. Then of course, there’s the daily listen to the Archers. I can’t believe the scriptwriters let Rob Titchener go mad and run off to America. He was a far more intriguing villain when he was brooding presence casting his shadow across the village, holding down a responsible job and keeping up the façade of being a wronged man. I can’t bear the thought of never hearing from him again. He and his parents – the vile Ursula and the even viler Bruce were all great characters who will be much missed.

To while away the dreary hours on the exercise bike (a new year’s resolution I’m actually managing to keep) I’ve been gorging myself on audio books of the Victorian sensation novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I started with Lady Audley’s Secret and I’m now half way through Aurora Floyd. The style is very different from modern psychological thrillers but these novels have many of the same ingredients – mysteries concerning flawed heroines with dark secrets to keep, played out in domestic settings under the watchful eyes of friends and family. They are real pageturners and totally addictive.

On TV I’ve been enjoying Taboo. It looks wonderful and I love all that Victorian murk although at times it feels almost too grim, dark and sludgy, even for me. I also enjoyed Apple Tree Yard. I thought the casting of the main characters was spot on although I liked the book even more. I can’t wait to see the TV dramatization of Philippa Gregory’s The White Princess as I was enthralled by both the book and the TV adaptation of The White Queen.

Top of my mountain of novels to be read are The Breakdown by BA Paris and I See You, by Clare Mackintosh, both writers whose debut thrillers I devoured in single sittings. I’m also glued to the daily dramas going on in the White House (in any format I can get my hands on). The cast of characters, the plots, the intrigue, the outfits and the wonderfully witty responses to it all by comedians like Trevor Noah and the cast of Saturday Night Live make it as gripping as any work of fiction.

S0, a great read there in His Bloody Project, and The Breakdown and I See You are both high on my TBR pile too! And I must catch up with Taboo; I’ve heard great things. Pop by later for my review…


Blog Tour -The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

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‘The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six…’

1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

Based on the true story of the man known as the Witchfinder General, this exquisitely rendered novel transports you to a time and place almost unimaginable, where survival might mean betraying those closest to you, and danger lurks outside every door.

This book just drips with foreboding and apprehension from the very beginning! The witchfinder’s sister of the title, Alice, must return to her hometown from London following the death of her husband, Joseph. She is pregnant, and after several miscarriages prays she’ll be able to hold onto this child as it’s all she’ll have left of her late husband. However, she knows a husbandless woman with a child is looked down upon, even if she was married when she fell pregnant. She is early enough in her pregnancy to keep it secret, as she is more than aware her brother Matthew – the witchfinder – despised her husband, believing Alice, a minister’s daughter, married below her station, as Joseph was brought up by an old servant of theirs, who found him abandoned as a baby. In doing so she disgraced the family. Still, as several years have passed she prays for a warm welcome from the brother to whom she was so close as a child.

On her return it’s clear that there’s been much change in Manningtree – Matthew has become learned in the law, as well as investing his inheritance from his father very wisely, and now moves among the great and the good of the local area. He is badly scarred, though, on his hands, part of his face, and his torso, due to being burnt at a fire, supposedly whilst in the care of a (careless) wet nurse in Ipswich. His (mentally) ill mother has passed away in Alice’s absence – she, and three older brothers in America, are only only his half-siblings.

It’s quickly apparent that Alice’s welcome will be lukewarm, and she’s been taken in merely through duty. Matthew has a dour maid, Mary Allan, who also spies on Alice’s movements. When he hears she has been to visit Bridget, her mother-in-law, he forebade her going back there. For her part, Alice hears from Bridget that her brother has been engaged by wealthy landowners to find and note down the names and the evidence of witches in the area. It’s been many years since any woman was hanged for witchcraft, and initially Alice assumes it’s a passing fad, which may see a couple of womern jailed for a month or two, as a deterrent. Of course, it reveals itself as an ideal way for neighbours to point the finger at women who are “different” in the area – those mentally ill; those who like to keep themselves apart from others; the physically disabled. Widows without sons, or the unwed, are always the victims, as they they have no man to stand up for them, and are poor, often relying on charity. At first, Alice doesn’t attempt to deter her brother, as she notes with satisfaction a girl she’d seen as a rival for Joseph’s affection has been accused, as has her mother.

But as Matthew’s area for him to carry out his investigations increases, and there is talk of hangings, while his name is mentioned throughout the county and beyond with fear, Alice tries to find a way to protect the spirited and fearless Bridget, who Matthew never liked. And as he draws her into his hideous investigations, tainting her too as a witchfinder’s accomplice, Alice wonders at what point her brother will stop. What happened to the closeness they shared? Can she find any way of appealing to that?

Alice is a wonderful character – spirited; loyal; courageous. There are opportunities for her to make a fresh start, in more than way than one, but it’s as though she feels, as his only blood in the country, she must do her best to make him see sense. But too many buy into the fallacy of witches, and the affair is like a snowball, the areas affected by what is almost hysteria growing.

There is so much more wonderful detail to this book, as Alice’s family secrets are revealed to her, and she plays right into Matthew’s hands. But I was absolutely glued to The Witchfinder’s Sister, in the best possible sort of horror, that is, the fictional kind! Fans of historical fiction, as well as those of real-life tales of witches, will love it. It’s a daring and highly accomplished debut, right up until the final, very chilling line…

Highly recommended.

My thanks to Penguin Viking for my copy of this novel – as well as the herbs for protection! – in exchange for my honest review.

Blog Tour – The Damselfly – SJI Holliday

Product Details

BLURB: An unsolved murder. A community turned against each other. A killer close to home…

Katie Taylor is the perfect student. She’s bright and funny, she has a boyfriend who adores her and there are only a few months left of school before she can swap Banktoun for the bright lights of London. Life gets even better when she has an unexpected win on a scratch card. But then Katie’s luck runs out.

Her tragic death instead becomes the latest in a series of dark mysteries blighting the small town. The new school counsellor Polly McAllister, who has recently returned to Banktoun to make amends in her own personal life, is thrown in at the deep end as the pupils and staff come to terms with Katie’s death. And it’s not long before she uncovers a multitude of murky secrets. Did Katie have enemies? Is her boyfriend really so squeaky clean? And who is her brother’s mysterious friend?

With Banktoun’s insular community inflamed by gossip and a baying mob stirring itself into a frenzy on social media, DS Davie Gray and DC Louise Jennings must work out who really murdered Katie before someone takes matters into their own hands…

The Damselfly is the latest novel from the bestselling author of Black Wood and Willow Walk set in the small Scottish town of Banktoun. Fans of Rachel Abbott, Angela Marsons and Peter James will love this riveting psychological crime thriller as DS Davie Gray tries to hold together a community once again rocked by tragedy.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a particularly fast reader – although blogging has helped speed me up. I’m a bit OCD about reading; I have to read every single word, and not skim-read books. But I absolutely flew through this book – yes, reading every word – in about three sittings, only putting it down through necessity. It’s one of those books that can genuinely be described with that overused word, a “pageturner.”

Holliday’s choice of victim is an absolute heartbreaker, as she’s the sort of girl you’d be gunning for, hoping she’ll get away from her nippy mother, bitchy sister (“as wild as hawthorn and twice as spiky”), and schoolful of kids with little ambition – except, that is, her boyfriend Neil. Her plan had been to escape with him to King’s College in London, where she’d hoped to study a biology subject. Note her choice of university – she could easily do such a course, much cheaper, in Aberdeen, or nearby Edinburgh. But she’s making a statement by putting as many miles between herself, and Banktoun and her family, as she can. She’s encouraged in her ambitions by a science teacher, Lucas “Packety” Crisp, who’s not long qualified, and is somewhat naïve regarding where the boundaries must lie between teacher and pupil. He does nothing but befriend her – but these things are so easily misconstrued by the jealous, small-minded, petty people who weren’t bright or motivated enough to make it in the world outside insular Banktoun.

Holliday also demonstrates how social media can pass rumours like wildfire – although these sorts of places were never slow with gossip. It’s the currency small towns survive on, presumably so the residents don’t die of boredom, as they sit, inanely beeping your messages through the tills at Tesco. This results in a vigilante attack on one suspect. As DC Louise Jennings notes,

“…there are some who will push things further than others…And many who will follow behind, like sheep. Sheep might look a bit stupid, but a herd of them moving together can cause a lot of damage.”

A blog also forms part of the story, with unforeseen results.

With short chapters from the point of view of three characters: Polly, the school counsellor on her first day who’s returned to face her demons, to DC Louise Jennings, and Neil, Katie’s boyfriend, this is a book begging to be gulped down. Each chapter slowly drips more information on the lead-up to Katie’s death. I also admired the way even minor characters have proper personalities and backstories, something many authors omit.

When the final revelation comes, the tension in the scene is wonderfully described. And as for the book’s ending – well, that’s utterly heartbreaking, just as the beginning is.

Superb stuff.

(P.S. Before I go, can I just point out the incredibly beautiful cover, and the gorgeous colours used in it? Kudos to whoever is responsible for it!)

This book is currently at the ridiculously low price of 99p on Kindle – but won’t be for long, so grab it now!

Very highly recommended.

This novel was provided to me by Black & White Publishing in exchange for an honest review.