It is indeed, and is about the murder of a young man whose body is found on a houseboat on the Regent’s Canal. His name is Daniel, and during the course of the book we are introduced to a community of people who all know – or know of – most of the others in one way or another, even if it’s just by sight. The girl he slept with, the woman in the next houseboat, his aunt, his uncle, his recently deceased mother’s neighbour – they all inhabit this book, and are exceptionally well-drawn characters. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them, and the reveal at the end of the book almost comes as a disappointment, as you’ve enjoyed getting to know the characters so well!
What about the police officers? Sounds like they take second place in this one…
They rather do – it’s not that they aren’t interesting in their own right, but you get the impression they’re there mainly to move along the story of the residents who live around this stretch of the Regent’s Canal, and who, by coincidence, have lives that intertwine in one way or another. It’s a really effective whodunit, and will only increase Hawkins’ reputation as a writer of many talents – originality being one of the most striking ones.
Don’t miss this one!
With thanks to Alison Barrow and all atDoubleday Publishing for the ARC.
BLURB: ‘What is wrong with you?’
Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.
Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?
Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.
Another football book…this is getting to be a habit for crimeworm, isn’t it?
Well, it’s something which I absorb by osmosis as it’s on in our house rather a lot, thanks to Mr. C, and he also talks about it a lot too. So it seemed only polite, when we first got together, to develop an interest in the game too (after all, he’s force-fed books and everything about them a lot of the time!) We both enjoyed Troy Deeney ‘s autobiography so much that when the offer to review this book – an anthology of journalism pieces on the female game – I was delighted to participate.
But do you actually watch women’s football? Or is it only the men’s game that’s on in your house?
That’s one thing I noticed when I first met Mr. C – he loves women’s football just as much as men’s, and is fond of saying that the women are every bit as skilful as the men, with goals and skills that are every bit as jaw-dropping and admirable. He saw his first live women’s football match in Glasgow in 1976, when he was six, and has followed it ever since. He’s as likely to be found watching a woman’s game as a man’s game, and we both adored the last Women’s World Cup, and watching the awesome Megan Rapinoe run amok for the USA. (He also has a bit of a crush on Alex Scott, so is delighted she now presents the unmissable Football Focus!)
But let’s get to the book – is it a good read?
It’s an absolutely awesome read – a collection of superb journalism on all aspects of the women’s game, and it’s history and development over the years, that I think anyone with even the slightest interest in sport in general could enjoy. It’s a fantastic mix from both players, ex-players, journalists, with exceptionally high quality writing throughout.
The one thing that strikes you throughout the book is how hard women have fought to be taken seriously in the game, whether it be as a player, a journalist, or a broadcaster. Whichever field it was in, she was in for an uphill struggle. It’s only now, when women are being paid to play, and write about, the game, that we can appreciate what trailblazers those who went before them were, who did it just for the love of it.
So to sum up your final thoughts…
I’ve always been of the opinion that, if journalism is really good, the writer can get you interested in any subject. I was lucky enough to get the option to read a book on a subject I already had a strong interest in. But I’d urge anyone to pick this book up, whether it be in the library, or the bookshop, or by downloading an eBook sample. I suspect a few pages will have you hooked – perhaps to your surprise!
Very highly recommended!
With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and for Floodlit Dreams for my copy of the book.
Follow the rest of the blog tour!
BLURB: From the doyenne of football writing Julie Welch’s brilliantly illuminating story of the first women’s international match after a 50-year ban to the madcap tale of two black radio rookies in China… From the trials of covering the soap opera that is Newcastle United to the glamour of establishing Real Madrid TV… From the making of the magnificent Emma Hayes to the equally amazing Mums United FC… FOOTBALL, SHE WROTE is a first: a unique collection of 20 women’s voices on the game they love. Penned by a group of experienced and new writers, and embracing memoirs, profiles, interviews and talking points taking in sexuality, diversity and inclusion, it is an anthology to make you think and feel, laugh and cry.
“A brilliantly entertaining collection showcasing a wealth of women’s voices,” ALEX SCOTT MBE
Contributors: Kehinde Adeogun, Isabelle Barker, Kate Battersby, Alison Bender, Jade Craddock, Hayley Davinson, Molly Hudson, Tracy Light, Renuka Odedra, Fadumo Olow, Katie Mishner, Christina Philippou, Jane Purdon, Ali Rampling, Louise Taylor, Julie Welch, Julia West, Cassie Whittell, Katie Whyatt and Suzanne Wrack.
Well, it’s a very different book, to begin with. It’s set almost entirely on Fairfolk Island, an imaginary island, where people not from there (often Australians) are called “mainies” and the islanders pretty much stick together.
To this island arrives 28-year-old Paulina, and there’s no secrets on the cover that she is “the newcomer” of the title, and that she also becomes a murder victim on the usually quiet island (it’s based on the remote Norfolk Island, of which, in my ignorance, I had never heard, although the real – and fictional – island sounds incredibly beautiful!) On an island of 2000 people (roughly the size of the island I grew up – Mull, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides) a “mainie,” which is a bit of a derisory term, as attractive and outgoing as Paulina is easily noticed, particularly by the male half of the population.
So what is Paulina like?
She’s a party girl – a very heavy drinker, with a tendency to be loud and swear a lot. She has a history of eating disorders and self harm – a wee bit of a lost soul. She’s also noticed by men, as I mentioned, and doesn’t waste any time working around the available men – and the unavailable men.
But she’s a grafter – she’ll do any job she can, and she’s loyal to her friends, the main one of whom is Jesse. She’s up early every morning, no matter how late the night before went on, or how much she drank, power-walking around the island to work, or just to enjoy the incredible-sounding views (another similarity to Mull…!)
However, being without family on the island, she’s somewhat isolated. She’s close to her mother, speaking to her on the phone about subjects no-one I know speaks to their mother about! Despite her faults, I found her a hugely likeable character – very real, well-fleshed out, and the way she is treated by the highly sexist, patriarchal population of the island gets worse and worse. I really don’t want to give any more away on this part of the storyline, as I feel it’s an important one.
So is this a “whodunit,” then?
Not in the traditional sense of the word. It’s more a character study, and a study of an island community that’s somewhat backward, compared to the city she came from. Her way of dressing (the tight exercise clothing of sports bras teamed with short leggings) which are so ubiquitous in cities make her stand out on the island. Ultimately, the two clash, ending in her death.
Did this book impress crimeworm, then?
I absolutely adored it! Laura Elizabeth Woollett has a real talent for creating characters and places which are very realistic, and I absolutely romped through this book – something I’ve struggled to do since my head injury a couple of years ago. Paulina is a character I felt real empathy for – her mother and aunt too. Woollett’s an author whose career I’ll definitely be following, as well as investigating both her previous novel, and her short story collection. Just as long as you’re not put off by descriptions of graphic sex scenes – which I don’t see as at all gratuitous, but essential to illustrate Paulina’s treatment by the men of the island, which gets worse and worse. This is definitely a novel to investigate by an author who understands people and relationships intimately.
Don’t miss it!
With thanks to Scribe Books for inviting me on this blog tour, and for the ARC.
Well, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the Quiet People are those who murder people, and are then described on the news by neighbours/workmates/people wanting to get their face on the news as, “Really quiet. We never really got to know them, but they were always pleasant. They didn’t stand out. We didn’t imagine they were capable of something like this…” etc, etc. We’ve all heard it, and it’s a term conjured up by Mr What If. He lives in the imagination of our main character, a crime writer called Cameron Murdoch. We all have Mr What Ifs – that part of us that imagines the worst case scenario. Cameron and his wife, Lisa Cross, write books as a duo, and they have a seven-year-old son, Zach, whose behaviour can sometimes be described as challenging – that is, more challenging than your average seven-year-old. When, after a disastrous day out at a fair, Zach threatens at bedtime to run away, Cameron plays along, telling him to go ahead, but to think of all the things he’ll need to take, plus how he’ll manage to finance his new life of independence. It’s the sort of conversation lots of parents have probably had when their children hit out with the, “running away” threat. Except, in the morning, it looks like he has taken Dad at his word – he’s gone, along with his backpack, and his favourite soft toy, a ghost called Willy.
Why am I getting a bad feeling about all this? Probably because there wouldn’t be a novel if Zach was found in the next street?
Exactly! Now, the problem for Cameron and Lisa is that, over the years, in TV and print interviews, and at festivals, they’ve joked about, “being the best people to get away with murder,” and, “able to commit the perfect crime.” So, as the hours tick by and Zach is nowhere to be seen, the police inevitably focus on those closest to Zach – that difficult child – and wonder whether Cameron and Lisa are responsible for trying to commit the perfect crime. And, of course, all those jokes said in interviews, etc, now don’t suddenly seem so funny…
I’m guessing you won’t be telling us if Cameron and Lisa are responsible for Zach’s disappearance…
No, of course not! But I will say there’s a great deal more to this book than Zach’s disappearance – and it all occurs at a very fast pace. You’ll be kept guessing, and you’ll be kept reading long past your bedtime. It’s superbly plotted, with one part seen from Cameron’s viewpoint, then a part written in the third person. Paul Cleave is a very skilled writer, and has inserted a prologue which gives you the impression that you know exactly where this story is going. He’s definitely a crime writer whose work I’d be keen to read more of. Also, it’s set in New Zealand, for a change – shockingly, I couldn’t think of one crime fiction book I’d read set in New Zealand, but with the proliferation of great crime fiction coming from Down Under at the moment, it surely won’t be long before we see more from there, too.
And it’s from Orenda Books – one of your favourite imprints, yes?
It is – not content with searching all over the northern hemisphere, particularly Scandinavia and Iceland, for new writers for us Brits to devour (as well as publishing lots of great British writers!), it seems Karen Sullivan has headed round the globe to look for new talent – and she’s certainly found it with Paul Cleave. If you’re looking for a book that moves at breakneck speed and keeps you guessing, here’s the perfect candidate!
Don’t miss it!
My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and to Orenda Books for the eARC. My review is completely unbiased.
BLURB: Cameron and Lisa Murdoch are successful New Zealand crime writers, happily married and topping bestseller lists worldwide. They have been on the promotional circuit for years, joking that no one knows how to get away with crime like they do. After all, they write about it for a living.
So when their challenging seven-year-old son Zach disappears, the police and the public naturally wonder if they have finally decided to prove what they have been saying all this time…
Are they trying to show how they can commit the perfect crime?
Electrifying, taut and immaculately plotted, The Quiet People is a chilling, tantalisingly twisted thriller that will keep you gripped and guessing to the last explosive page.
It is! I’m a bit of a football fan (Glasgow Celtic FC) but I live with a really obsessive one, and it was with his encouragement I chose to read this. (I suspect he also plans to read it himself now I’ve finished it!)
Full disclosure – I hadn’t heard of Troy Deeney when the Blog Tour invitation popped into my inbox, but when I asked Mr Crimeworm who he was, he immediately replied, “Course! Played for Watford, mainly. Very good player…great striker. Think he had a few demons, remember some scrapes being in the papers. But he’s a pundit now, so must be doing better…comes across as a nice guy. Like him as a pundit, actually. And he’s big in the Black Lives Matter movement.”
And I suspect that’s what the average football fan would say about Troy. But what does Troy have to say about himself in his book?
Well, he doesn’t sugar the pill – he takes full responsibility for all his actions, as the title of the book suggests, and that theme runs through all areas of his life. He grew up with a brother and a sister in the biggest council estate in Europe, with a mum who worked three jobs and held the family together. She comes across as a real heroine, as she’s frequently heading a one parent family, Troy’s father being “on holiday” – common code for dads in jail. She was a victim of domestic violence, but Troy never once saw her cry.
But Troy found success in football – that was his ticket away from all the bad things…
He did – he’s played in all four leagues, and in the top years of his career was English Premier League Watford’s captain and one of the country’s highest scoring striker, with the massive wage that goes with that.
So he had everything he’d ever wanted – what went wrong…?
Well, you’ll have to read the book for the full details of his fall from grace, but, unbelievably, he ended up in the same place his father spent so many years – prison.
The book details his rebuilding of his life and reputation, and I admired the way he takes ownership of everything that went wrong. He’s had a lot of therapy – that’s clear from the beginning of the book, and it’s been hugely helpful with dealing with his own children and not repeating the problems of the past.
Is it a good read, though?
Definitely, and not just for football fans. His personality and voice is clear. And it’s a likeable voice, a knowledgeable one – he has, unbelievably, become the sort of guy you might go to for advice! His involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement is really inspiring, too.
A guy you’d like to go for a coffee with, then.
100%. But no doubt Mr Crimeworm would have to gatecrash and talk football all day long!
My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blog tour, and Octopus Books for the ARC. My review is unbiased.
BLURB: Troy Deeney is best known as Watford FC’s former captain and a thorn in Arsenal’s side. But behind the successful and gritty football persona is a remarkable story of resilience.
In this brutally honest and inspirational memoir, Troy shares what it was like to grow up on Europe’s largest council estate, where his mum worked three jobs and his father, a notorious drug dealer, was frequently in and out of prison.
He shares stories of self-sabotage, from simply not turning up to Aston Villa’s football trials as a teenager, playing while drunk to being imprisoned for affray at the height of his career.
But Troy never gave up, even when it meant playing professional football with an ankle tag. He went on to score 20+ goals in three successive seasons and became the Club Captain, an FA Cup finalist, promotion winner and Watford’s record scorer. He also became an outspoken player advocate and – in an age of bland footballer interviews – is a sought after voice on football and footballers today.
Engaging, endearing and insightful, this book is where Troy comes to terms with his turbulent past.
So, two things close to crimeworm’s heart are Orenda Books and Icelandic crime fiction – and as is often the case, this combines both. Here’s the lowdown…
The main premise of this story is the disappearance of a half Icelandic, half English woman called Ísafold. She lives in Reykjavik with her abusive fiancée, Bjorn. The story begins with her younger sister, Áróra, arriving in Iceland from her home in Edinburgh for the umpteenth time at the behest of her mother. Usually it’s because Bjorn’s beaten her sister up, but this time things could be more serious, as Ísafold hasn’t been in touch with their mother, nor has she posted on Facebook – most unlike her. So, yet again, Áróra reluctantly heads to Iceland, sure it’ll be another false alarm, and her sister will, despite any beatings and promises to the contrary, soon be heading back into the arms of the persuasive and repulsive Bjorn.
What about Áróra’s job? As that is woven into the storyline too, isn’t it?
Yes, it is – she tracks down missing money that people might have stolen from banks or the companies they work for, or be hiding from a spouse in a divorce case. She takes a cut of the retrieved assets – and she’s not too long in Iceland when she spots a possible case where her skills could be put to use. However, at this point she’s essentially dating the possible rogue she’ll be fleecing of his ill-gotten gains.
There’s plenty going on to keep Áróra busy in Reykjavik then – and there’s lots of other characters who come into the story, aren’t there?
Yes indeed! One thing I utterly adored about this book was that none of the characters were clichés – they were all slightly quirky, and, bizarrely, the book series this aspect put me most in mind of was the wonderful – and classic – Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City – a series I read more than twenty years ago, but which still gives me a warm feeling every time I think of it. Of course, it’s not crime fiction – but Lilja clearly knows, like Maupin, that characters have foibles, odd habits, and more going on in their lives than may appear at first glance. It adds to the depth of story, and really impressed me – I’ve described fellow Orenda alumni Rod Reynolds as a “natural writer,” and I’d put Lilja in the same bracket.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though…
No, certainly not – there’s also some funny moments too – one in particular sticks in my mind when Áróra falls off a table while attempting to install a piece of spyware in her mark’s ceiling, waking him – and has to explain her crashing to the floor as because she’s “just pissed” (which she definitely is!)
There’s also a possible romance on the cards for Áróra too – and not with the sexy but dodgy money launderer. But readers can discover that for themselves…
And the good news is…
The good news is, as well as being an utterly brilliant read, this is the start of a new series featuring Áróra – and hopefully some of her fellow characters from this opener!
Don’t miss this one!
My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blog tour, as well as being really understanding when I was unwell, and Orenda Books for the eARC.
BLURB: Icelandic sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries and aren‘t on speaking terms, but when their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to find her sister. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her … she has disappeared, without trace.
As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is led into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation.
Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, as she tries to track her sister’s movements, and begins to tail Björn – but she isn’t the only one watching…
Slick, tense, atmospheric and superbly plotted, Cold as Hell marks the start of a riveting, addictive new series from one of Iceland’s bestselling crime writers.
Of course it is would be my reply! In fact, this one’s going to be made into a major movie production starring Hollywood megastar Steve Carell – who, in my humble opinion, is perfect for the role!
So what’s the story here?
Basically – and bear with me here, as it does sound insane! – our lead character, Henri Koskinen is an insurance actuary, which means he can work out the mathematical probability of something happening – and does this throughout his whole life. He lives alone, happily, with his cat, Schopenhauer – and that’s not really surprising as he would definitely be an acquired taste as a partner or even flatmate. However, as a book’s main character, he’s, well, utterly fabulous – as well as extremely original! So life’s rumbling along quietly until Henri – who tells the story in the first person – loses his job after a company rejig that doesn’t suit his style of being left alone to get on with his calculations…
Disaster! What does he do next?
Well, luckily (it initially seems…) his brother has died and left him his amusement park, which is in the hands of manager Laura, who oversees a curious mixture of employees.
Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? At least he’s got something to do with his life, as well as an income!
Yes, sounds ideal, doesn’t it, even if it is an utter change of direction. But then he discovers that the only way his brother’s kept the business afloat is by borrowing large sums of money from a variety of dodgy sources…who, not surprisingly, now want a return on their investment…from Henri, obviously! How does an actuary figure out the mathematical probability of getting himself out of this without ending up, well, dead…? Will he find a solution to keep himself – and the amusement arcade – afloat, while learning along the way to work with Laura, Kristian the maintenance man, and the rest of the staff.
Is it as screwball as it sounds?
Pretty much! I’m not usually one for much comedy in my crime fiction – in my opinion very few writers can pull it off – but Tuomainen can, rather like Carl Hiaasen, who’s the only author I’ve read to whom this is remotely comparable – and if I’m comparing it to him you’ll realise what high quality crime writing this is – but then if you’ve read Tuomainen before, you won’t be surprised at that comment. He’s a seriously versatile writer, and very reliable quality-wise too.
Kudos, too, to the translator, as comedy can be difficult to translate, as, I’m told, can Finnish, so to combine the two successfully is a massively impressive achievement.
And this is the first of Tuomainen’s books not to be a one-off novel, isn’t it?
Yes – this is going to be the first in a trilogy, and I think once you get stuck into The Rabbit Factor – bizarre as it may sound – you’ll be as delighted as I am with this news!
With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blog tour, and Orenda books for the eARC. This has in no way affected my review.
Look back at more of the blog tour posts!
BLURB: Just one spreadsheet away from chaos…
What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal.
And then, for the first time, Henri is faced with the incalculable. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from criminal quarters … and some dangerous men are very keen to get their money back.
But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, an artist with a chequered past, and a joie de vivre and erratic lifestyle that bewilders him. As the criminals go to extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…
Warmly funny, rich with quirky characters and absurd situations, The Rabbit Factor is a triumph of a dark thriller, its tension matched only by its ability to make us rejoice in the beauty and random nature of life.
Now we’re at the time of year where we’re encouraged to think of spooky things, with Hallowe’en on the horizon, and for readers of all ages there’s no shortage of creepy and disconcerting books out there. The Lighthouse Witches is both – and it’s really, really good! I was incredibly reluctant every time I had to put it down to go and do something!
So we’ve established it’s a great read – but what’s it about?
This is one of these books you don’t want to spill too much detail about in your review, as much of the enjoyment is the unfolding of the creepy atmosphere! But here’s the basic outline – it’s 1998, and Liv Stay arrives on the island of Lòn Haven, in the north east of Scotland, with her three daughters. There’s Sapphire, 15, Luna, 9, and Clover, 7. She’s arrived to take on the commission of a mural – unusually in a lighthouse, called The Longing. The mural is somewhat bizarre, and the island has an intriguing history, involving witches, strange disappearances, and hauntings – and we’re flung straight into the action when Liv thinks she sees the body of a baby on the floor of the lighthouse…
Fast forward to the present day, and we learn that three of the Stays have disappeared, with only Luna remaining. Until she receives a telephone call, telling her that Clover has, unbelievably, been found, alive and pretty much unharmed.
So I imagine it’s a happy family reunion then?
Well, there’s a problem with Clover when Luna meets her – without getting into spoiler territory, she’s not what Luna expects at all! Still, she’s definitely Clover – that’s indisputable. So after a short stay in hospital (as much for Luna as Clover, as she’s pregnant and has had a series of miscarriages) they depart together, Luna having sent her partner Ethan home early by train. They figure it’ll give the sisters a chance to get to know each other again.
So the book moves back and forward between 1998 and the present day?
Yes, whilst also weaving in historical stories about the island from a book called a “Grimoire” belonging to Patrick Roberts, the man who’s contracted Liv to paint the mural, as he apparentlyintends to use the lighthouse as an office for writing. These stories are very disturbing, telling of witches on the island, the accusations made towards them, and their subsequent punishment. They really ramp up the tension in the book as a whole, which builds and builds nicely as the book goes on.
So it’s an effective read to prepare yourself for the spooks and scares of Hallowe’en?
Oh my yes! It’s a highly entertaining creepy book, and the tension just increases as it goes on. I absolutely adored it – and as I have C.J. Cooke’s previous creepy novel, The Nesting, in my Kindle, I’ll be sure to read it soon!
If you’re a fan of disturbing, shiver-inducing novels, and are looking for something original and attention-grabbing to read this Hallowe’en – or indeed at any time – I can’t recommend The Lighthouse Witches highly enough!
Don’t miss it!
My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me on this blog tour, and Harper Collins for my ARC. This has not affected my review in any way.
Author C.J. Cooke
BLURB: Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse.
A lighthouse that has weathered more than storms.
Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.
Coincidence? Or curse?
Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left.
Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .
But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?
So what is this book about? We’re onto historical fiction, judging by the cover…
We are indeed – one of my favourite genres, although it’s only in the last few years that that’s become the case…now I can’t get enough of it, if it’s set not too far back, and it’s good. (Spoiler alert – this is very good indeed!)
This book is set in 1794, in a London that’s seething with spies, attempting to infiltrate the working mens’ “Corresponding Societies,” which were a prelude to Chartism and the fight for universal suffrage (that is, for all working men over 21.) Paris is in a similar state, and, with the two countries at loggerheads, each are attempting to plant spies in the other’s government or indeed any place where useful information can be picked up.
What else is going on at this time?
There’s an envoy over from the United States, Mr John Jay (this is based on fact) – he’s attempting to negotiate on behalf of the newly independent American colonies. He has with him his son, Theodore Jay, and a slave, Peter Williams, although Theodore is a fictional character.
And who is our main character?
The story is told in the first person from the perspective of Lawrence Jago, who, at the beginning of the book, is a clerk in the Foreign Office to Lord Grenville, the Whig Foreign Minister to the Tory Prime Minister, William Pitt. Don’t worry too much about the politics though! Also working there, as the permanent under-secretary, is George Aust, who is something of a mentor to Laurence. He also has a widowed step-daughter, Anne Bellingham, who Laurence is keen on – she’s bright, and you can’t help thinking how infuriating it must be for her, as she appears to do little with her days bar paint – but that’s how it was for women back then; they were not given any education bar the most basic.
Who else makes up the main cast of characters?
There’s a man called William Philpott, who’s editor of a new weekly newspaper called the Weekly Cannon – he’s loosely based on William Cobbett, a reforming newspaper editor. He gets together with Laurence after one of Laurence’s colleagues is found hanged, and evidence making it look like he’s a French spy is found in his room. Together they attempt to prove this man, Will Benson, is innocent.
A problem for Laurence is that he has, in the past, passed (fairly inconsequential) secrets to a woman called Aglantine, a Jacobine spy, who pops up frequently. Unbeknownst to those he works for, Laurence can read and speak French, as his mother is from France, although she’s now a widow in Cornwall.
Does Laurence know who the true spy is?
Not definitely, but he’s got his eye on a Mr Canning. Unfortunately, he’s well above Laurence in the social strata of the time, being an MP. So making accusations against a man like that isn’t wise, unless you have solid proof – which Laurence is attempting to get, with Philpott’s help.
Unfortunately, Laurence’s judgement may be impaired by the “Black Drop” – opium, which he has a habit of taking…and which may be responsible into leading him into at least one situation with Canning he’s lucky to get out of alive!
Was it a hit with crimeworm?
I absolutely loved this book! Think le Carré-type happenings, but set a good two hundred years earlier. Leonora Nattrass knows the era incredibly well, and brings the London of that time to life deliciously well, throwing in things which were happening at the time – a visiting circus, for example, and waxworks depicting the demise of Robespierre, one of the main architects of the French Revolution, by guillotine. She portrays the city wonderfully, from the drawing rooms of Downing Street, to the meetings of the Corresponding Societies, filled with cobblers, tanners, and other working men. Laurence Jago is a likeable man, but you can’t help feeling a sense of impending doom, as he gets himself in a little too deep as he tries to prove his colleague’s innocence, whilst finding the real culprit!
All in all it’s wonderful stuff – not at all dry; Philpott is a particularly amusing, larger-than-life character. All of the characters are superbly drawn, and Nattrass is a welcome addition to the historical fiction stable.
I gather she’ll be releasing another book next year, called Blue Water, for which I can’t wait! Will Laurence survive to fight another day? Well, I couldn’t possibly reveal that! C’est un secret!
Definitely one of my favourite books of the year so far – an utter joy!
With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Blog Tours for inviting me on this blog tour, and Viper Books for the ARC.
BLURB: This is the confession of Laurence Jago. Clerk. Gentleman. Reluctant spy.
July 1794, and the streets of London are filled with rumours of revolution. Political radical Thomas Hardy is to go on trial for treason, the war against the French is not going in Britain’s favour, and negotiations with the independent American colonies are on a knife edge.
Laurence Jago – clerk to the Foreign Office – is ever more reliant on the Black Drop to ease his nightmares. A highly sensitive letter has been leaked to the press, which may lead to the destruction of the British Army, and Laurence is a suspect. Then he discovers the body of a fellow clerk, supposedly a suicide.
Blame for the leak is shifted to the dead man, but even as the body is taken to the anatomists, Laurence is certain both of his friend’s innocence, and that he was murdered. But after years of hiding his own secrets from his powerful employers, and at a time when even the slightest hint of treason can lead to the gallows, how can Laurence find the true culprit without incriminating himself?
A thrilling historical mystery, perfect for readers of C.J. Sansom, Andrew Taylor, Antonia Hodgson and Laura Shepherd-Robinson.
It is – or it certainly appears to be! It was the exotic setting which appealed to me, as well as the historical aspect – it’s always good to gain a little education while you read! Plus I do like to change genres once in a while, just for a change.
So it’s about Emma Brand, a young woman who’s left her Australian home?
Yes, and relatively quickly she finds herself married to Captain Alec Brand, who captains a boat which travels up and down the Yangtze. Emma joins him on the first journey after their marriage, but news of political unrest further up the river persuades Alec that it would be safer to send Emma back to the International Settlement in Shanghai – a decision she’s not entirely happy with, as she had hoped to see “the real China.”
So she decides to do this back in Shanghai, doesn’t she?
Yes – to the disapproval of the other, somewhat stuffy, European ladies, who are more concerned with the next ball, or bridge game, and have social strictures they all adhere to. Emma definitely stands out, with her attitude of wanting to find out more about the real China.
How does she achieve it?
Partly with the help of the maître d’ of the Club, Chow, who despite the sniffiness and disapproval of the other Club ladies, takes Emma out to discover the real Shanghai. However, at that time there is a great deal of political unrest as the Communists are rising up and making political demands – and white faces on the streets can be putting themselves in danger, as they’re seen as being in control. Emma’s idea of being able to safely see the real China is perhaps somewhat naive…
So things get a bit more dramatic?
They certainly do…and so this book becomes something of a mixture of genres – there’s romance, history and a bit of thriller too! It’s an accomplished debut, and Emma Fancourt looks like being a name to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone!
With thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and HQ Fiction for my copy of the book. This review is completely unbiased.
BLURB: Forbidden friendship, political conspiracy and incendiary passion draw Australian woman Annie Brand deep into the glamour and turmoil of 1920s Shanghai.
Leaving behind the loneliness and trauma of her past in country Australia, Annie Brand arrives to the political upheaval and glittering international society of Shanghai in the 1920s. Journeying up the Yangtze with her new husband, the ship’s captain, Annie revels in the sense of adventure but when her husband sends her back to Shanghai, her freedom is quickly curtailed.
Against her will, Annie finds herself living alone in the International Settlement, increasingly suffocated by the judgemental Club ladies and their exclusive social scene: one even more restrictive than that she came from. Sick of salacious gossip and foreign condescension, and desperate to shake off the restrictions of her position in the world, Annie is slowly drawn into the bustling life and otherness of the real Shanghai, and begins to see the world from the perspective of the local people, including the servants who work at her husband’s Club.
But this world is far more complex and dangerous than the curious Annie understands and, unknowingly, she becomes caught in a web of intrigue and conspiracy as well as a passionate forbidden love affair she could not have predicted: one with far–reaching consequences...