Dissolution by C J Sansom #FridayReads #BookReview

Dissolution

It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066. Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries. There can only be one outcome: dissolution.

But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes . . .

I have come very late to the detective stories of Matthew Shardlake, since this first book was originally published in 2003, but I was fascinated to enter a Benedictine monastery just at the time when it was threatened with dissolution by Henry VIII via the machinations of his Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell.  I have studied the ideal of the monasteries providing alms, care for the sick and accommodation for the traveller by being self-sufficient with their farm, fishponds and gardening. I also know that Cromwell’s accusations of gluttony, fornication and profiteering were based on real crimes committed by many of the monks.

Shardlake provides us with an outsider’s view of the monastery at a remote coastland site where devout, hard-working brothers lived alongside wrongdoers who enjoyed a comfortable life with luxurious food.  His task as a Commissioner to discover the murderer is further complicated by the discovery of another body and several likely suspects.  Expecting his assistant, Mark Poer, to support his efforts, he is distressed when the young man begins a dalliance with Alice, who is helping in the Infirmary.  The claustrophic atmosphere of the monastery is increased by the severe winter weather and the dangerous marshland.

Although long-winded, the mystery is complex, and it is difficult as a reader to guess who is the murderer.  We come to know Matthew very well, dealing with the pain of his humped-back while attempting to maintain dignity and respect.  We see his failings and sometimes rigid religious views but also appreciate his kindness and consideration for others. The problems of keeping office and keeping your head while working for Cromwell’s government are all too evident and I found this account much more realistic than the Tudor world of Wolf Hall.

Dissolution can be purchased from Amazon UK

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Blood Reckoning by Dan Wadell #TuesdayBook Blog #BookReview

Blood Reckoning

Blood Reckoning is the third book about DCI Grant Foster and his occasional working relationship with genealogist, Nigel Barnes.  The two are also linked by Grant’s colleague DS Heather Jenkins, who is Nigel’s girlfriend.  On this occasion the two men are working on separate cases. Nigel is straying away from his usual family research, as he investigates relationships and location for the causes of a young girl’s terrible nightmares.

Foster’s horrifying murder investigations take him back to his early career as a young police officer in Newcastle.  In 1992, a well-respected 73-year-old man had been murdered by two young boys.  On their release, they were given new identities but now Foster must revisit the scene and the circumstances of the murder.  This major part of the novel is a gripping detective investigation by a policeman determined to find the truth without favour. An intense fast-moving plot reveals the far-reaching repercussions of the original case and in an unusual twist Nigel Barnes becomes personally entangled with the latest events.

Unlike the earlier books, crime features more prominently than genealogy, so this novel may have a wider audience, but personally I have enjoyed each of the three books.  The characterisation of the two men is believable and each book stands on its own. A solid contemporary murder mystery.

Blood Reckoning can be purchased at Amazon UK

Dan Wadell

Dan Waddell is a journalist and author of more than a twenty works of fiction and non-fiction. His first crime novel, The Blood Detective, was nominated for three debut awards, included the celebrated CWA New Blood Dagger, and has been published in five countries. He is also the author of the bestselling guide that accompanied the award-winning BBC TV series, Who Do You Think You Are?

An exiled Yorkshireman, Dan has been a cricket fanatic since he witnessed his first England batting collapse aged six. He was a talented junior batsman, played representative cricket for Yorkshire and was even once, briefly, on the payroll of the county club itself. After being lost to journalism for several years, he made a misguided comeback and now captains Acton 2nd XI in the Middlesex County League where, in between taking painkillers, he tries and fails to pass on sage advice to young players. He covered two seasons of county cricket for The Daily Telegraph and his first ever published work was the history of BBC TV’s cricket coverage, And Welcome to the Highlights, where he got to interview David Gower, Richie Benaud and his boyhood hero, Geoffrey Boycott. It has been downhill ever since…

Black As She’s Painted by William Savage #FridayReads #BookReview

An Ashmole Foxe Georgian Mystery

Black as she is

This is the fifth Ashmole Foxe Georgian mystery but only the second I have read.  William Savage is the authentic voice of Georgian Norfolk and the reader soon feels quite at home wandering the streets of Norwich with the finely dressed, eccentric, Ashmole Foxe. My personal fondness is for Dr Adam Bascom from Mr Savage’s other series, but I am beginning to warm to the wealthy, intelligent Mr Foxe. Although a womaniser who loves the best clothes and hates bad weather, he has a need to be busy and is well respected by the community for his ability to investigate crimes and bring the culprits to justice.

The story commences with a hideous murder, shortly after the mysterious departure of the victim’s husband, goldsmith and banker, Samuel Melanus.  The Mayor and important businessmen wish Foxe to discover the whereabouts of Melanus before rumour causes a run on the bank.  Aided by the group of street children who consider Foxe to be their friend, he is able to shadow the activities of the criminal underworld and find the connection between the murder and the strange behaviour of the goldsmith.

As usual, this is a slow process, intermixed with Foxe’s relationships with his friends, including Mistress Tabby, the Cunning Woman, and Captain Brock, newly returned from his honeymoon in Europe. A dalliance with Maria, a personal maid to the murder victim, is followed by an interesting new friendship with the intriguing Lady Cockerham. It was difficult to leave this intriguing, slower paced world and I am tempted to read earlier adventures in the life of Ashmole Foxe.

Black As She is Painted can be found on Amazon UK

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Telling Tales

Ten years after Jeanie Long was charged with the murder of fifteen-year-old Abigail Mantel, disturbing new evidence proving her innocence emerges in the East Yorkshire village of Elvet. Abigail’s killer is still at large.

For Emma Bennett, the revelation brings back haunting memories of her vibrant best friend – and of the fearful winter’s day when she had discovered her body lying cold in a ditch.

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope makes fresh inquiries, and the villagers are hauled back to a time they would rather forget. Tensions begin to mount, but are people afraid of the killer, or of their own guilty pasts?

Telling Tales is one of the “Vera” series by Ann Cleeves which I know so well from the TV series. In this novel, Inspector Vera Stanhope has been called away from her home county of Northumberland to reopen a murder case in a small Yorkshire village by the sea, east of Hull. But first the author takes us into the mind of Emma Bennett, who was 15 years old when she found her best friend, Abigail, lying dead. Now Emma is a dissatisfied mother with a baby, apparently happily married to James. But James has a secret and we are able to read his point of view too.

Vera is, as she is on TV, slightly annoying, but easy to talk to. She is not welcomed by the local police even though the two officers in charge of the original murder investigation have since left the force. Vera is persistent; she discovers that both officers still live locally and are involved with members of Emma and Abigail’s family. Michael Long, father of Jeanie, who was wrongly imprisoned for the murder, is determined to seek out the real killer, while Emma’s father, Robert Winter, who was Jeanie’s probation officer earns our suspicions.

This is a fascinating study of village gossip and hidden secrets, of powerful men and unhappy families. The brooding atmosphere of suspicion and boredom is effectively conveyed, and descriptions of the countryside clearly paint the bleak landscape. The mystery is full of false leads and I didn’t guess who was responsible ahead of the denouement. The TV programmes didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this book and I will certainly seek out more books from this series.

Telling Tales can be purchased on Amazon UK

White Nights (Shetland Book 2) by Ann Cleeves #amreading

White Nights

When Shetland detective Jimmy Perez finds a body in a hut used by fishermen it seems to be a straightforward case of suicide. He recognizes the victim – a stranger with amnesia who had disrupted a local party the night before his death.

Yet this is no desperate act of anguish, but the work of a cold and calculating killer. As Perez investigates, he finds himself mired in the hidden secrets of the small Biddista community. Then another body is found.

Perez knows he must break the cycle before another death occurs. But this is a crazy time of year when night blurs into day and nothing is quite as it seems.

My Review

In contrast to the harsh winter conditions of the first Shetland Book, White Nights is set in the relentless light and birdsong of midsummer when tourists swarm off the ferries and cruise ships, but most of the events occur in a tiny remote community where six young people grew up together. At first there is very little concern about the death of an outsider but once one of their own is murdered, fear and suspicion is rife.
Once again Liverpudlian DCI Roy Taylor has arrived from Inverness to take over the case, but he and Jimmy Perez have grudging respect for each other, allowing Jimmy to quietly talk to Kenny, who found the body, and others who might have seen something that evening. Jimmy’s budding relationship with Fran Hunter is at the early stages so the fact that the murder is linked to the art exhibition Fran has shared with flamboyant artist, Bella Sinclair, worries him.
There are wonderful descriptions of the changing light on the countryside, of the myriad of birds and about the gathering of the sheep for shearing. Very gradually we come to know more about Bella’s past and her affection for her nephew Roddy, a talented musician. Relationships between the other residents of Biddista are examined both by Perez and the reader, while amusing comments are made about the nosy observations of author, Peter Wilding, looking out of his window as he sits writing his latest novel.
The plot darkens as new discoveries are made in a clifftop chasm and Jimmy has to face his vertigo. In a care home, Willy, an old sailor, may hold the key to the mystery but he is lost in the realms of Alzheimer so the links with the outside world must be followed by Taylor and Perez. Another engaging read about passions and greed.

White Nights can be purchased from Amazon UK

My review of Raven Black, the first Shetland book is here

Fear and Phantoms by Carol Hedges #NewRelease #RBRT #BookReview

Hedges CJ

I always look forward to another volume in Carol Hedges’ Victorian mystery series.  Once again, she has created an effective picture of the grime and poverty of 1860s London, filled with vivid characters, good, evil, peculiar and captivating.  In Fear & Phantoms, we face the very real horror of murder and fraud as well as a mysterious vision of the Madonna in the tunnel of the Metropolitan Underground railway.

An intelligent young woman, Helena Trigg, who works as a book-keeper, is baffled when her twin brother, Lambert, a senior bank clerk, disappears and comes under suspicion of fraud.  Luckily, she seeks help from reliable Detective Inspector Stride and kindly Inspector Greig, who wonder if there might be a connection to their current murder investigation. But nothing is that simple.  With wit and humour intermingled with suspense, Carol Hedges leads us through the parallel plot strands.

My favourite characters in this novel are the delightful journalist and author Lucy Landseer and the hard-working, irrepressible young cleaner, Pin.  Lucy is ahead of her time, determined to have a successful career, studying to improve her mind and certainly not intending to be dependent on a man. Pin is poor and downtrodden, but she takes care of “the boy, Muggly,” who has no-one else, and she will not tolerate unfairness or cruelty.  Both these young ladies participate actively in solving the mysteries.

There are so many delicious titbits to discover within this novel, such as names like the Hon. Tom Scallywagg MP and a creepy landlord called Mr Mutesius.  A must within a Victorian novel is a detailed description of the many exhibits in the taxidermists where we recoil in horror at the shelves, “of glass cases, full of birds and beasts in a variety of strange and unlikely poses,” but Pin loves to talk affectionately to “the tiny kittens in frilled bibs and tuckers… having a tea-party in their minute prison.”

This exciting tale can easily be read as a stand-alone or as an introduction to the wonderful series but those of you already familiar with thee Victorian murder mystery books will find all their expectations well-rewarded.

To buy Fear and Phantoms in the UK

To read my review of Diamonds & Dust, the first story about The Victorian Detectives

 

Finders, Not Keepers by D E Haggerty #RBRT #BookReview

Book 1 of the Not So Reluctant Detective series

Finders not Keepers

Finders, Not Keepers is a cosy mystery, with a romantic thread, humour and suspense.  Our heroine, Terri, is a 42-year-old school Librarian with a madcap friend, Melanie and a rather dishy younger neighbour, Ryder.  Recovering from the collapse of her marriage to Alan, Terri decides to clear the attic of the last of his belongings.  While there she discovers a valuable diamond pendant, so needs to contact the previous house owner.  She is astonished to find out that Jessica, who had lived there two years ago, had been murdered, so asks Ryder, a PI, to help her find Jessica’s next of kin.

Terri is a believable character, of substance. She has a successful career but is struggling to afford the mortgage on her much-loved house.  The breakup of her marriage has sapped her confidence, but she is a caring woman who spends her weekends helping charities.  The fact that Ryder is attracted to her, fills her with amazement and she is cautious about responding to someone who might want to control her, as Alan had.  Meanwhile, Terri constantly puts herself into dangerous situations, trying to find the right place for Jessica’s bequest as well as perhaps revealing her murderer.

What I particularly enjoyed in this book is the humour. As a former school librarian myself, I loved the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, especially, “A cardigan is a librarian’s lab coat.”  Melanie’s predilection of calling Ryder, “hot neighbour guy,” is irritating but sums up her character so well.  I shall certainly be seeking out more entertaining cosy mysteries by D E Haggerty.

Finders, Not Keepers is available on Amazon UK

Haggerty

D E Haggerty

D.E. Haggerty was born and raised in Wisconsin but thinks she’s a European. While spending her senior year of high school in Germany, she developed a wicked case of wanderlust that is yet to be cured. After high school, she returned to the U.S. to attend college – ending up with a bachelor’s degree in History at the tender age of twenty while still managing to spend time bouncing back and forth to Europe during her vacations. Unable to find a job after college and still suffering from wanderlust, she joined the U.S. Army as a Military Policewoman for five years. While stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, she met her future husband, a flying Dutchman. After earning her freedom from the Army, she went off to law school. She finished the required curriculum but jumped ship and joined her flying Dutchman in the Netherlands before the graduation ceremony could even begin. In Holland, she became a commercial lawyer specialized in IT for over a decade. During a six-month break from the law, she wrote her first book, Unforeseen Consequences. Although she finished the novel, she hid the manuscript in the attic and went back to the law. When she could no longer live in the lawyering world, she upped stakes and moved to Germany to start a B&B. Three years after starting the B&B, she got the itch to try something new yet again and pulled the manuscript for Unforeseen Consequences out of the attic. After publishing the book, she figured she may have finally found what she wanted to do with her life and went on to write Buried Appearances. When her husband found a job opportunity in Istanbul, she couldn’t pack fast enough. She spent more than two years in Istanbul furiously writing and learning everything she could about the publishing world. When the pull to return to her adopted home became too much, she upped stakes and moved to The Hague where she’s currently working on her next book. Finders, Not Keepers is her thirteenth book.