The Lover’s Portrait by Jennifer S. Alderson #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Lover's Portrait

American Art History student Zelda Richardson loves her life in Amsterdam, but entrance into the Master’s course in Museum Studies depends on her performance as an intern at the Amsterdam Historical Museum. She is asked to work on an online project to restore 1500 paintings stolen by the Nazis during World War Two to their rightful owners or descendants but she is not welcomed onto the project by the stiff, unfriendly Huub Konijn, senior curator at the Jewish Historical Museum, who designed the website.

But not content with her editing role, Zelda uses her previous web design experience to brighten up the front page, with her own choice of paintings, in an animation. Despite Huub’s criticism, one of these paintings, Irises, triggers a claimant almost instantly. Rita Brouwer, a large, jolly American woman claims it was painted for her elderly sister, but as Zelda begins to warm to this lady, another claimant turns up. Karen O’Neil is an unpleasant socialite, accompanied by her German lawyer, Konrad Heider. She has paperwork listing the painting in the Gallery of her grandfather, Arjan van Heemsvliet.

In parallel with events in 2015, we read about how many valuable paintings belonging to Dutch Jews were hidden in 1942 by Arjan and his friend, picture framer, Philip Verbeet who was Rita’s father. But both men disappeared and the location of the paintings is still unknown. We know more than Zelda about whom she should trust but part of the mystery is concealed until the end and Zelda’s impetuous, proactive investigation leads her into danger and thrilling action.

The novel gives a detailed account of the large quantity of art that was stolen and how rightful ownership is carefully researched, which of necessity slows down the first part of the story, but there is also a compelling mystery which makes the rest of book a real page turner. Zelda is a determined young woman who stumbles into predicaments because of her desire to reveal the truth and the other characters also have convincing motives and characteristics. A great read.

I have since discovered that this is the second book about Zelda, so I am now looking forward to reading Down and Out in Kathmandu: A Backpacker Mystery, Book one in the series.

The Lover’s Portrait can be purchased at Amazon UK or Amazon US

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Dark Clouds over Nuala by Harriet Steel #RBRT #bookreview

Dark Clouds

It was a pleasure to return to mid-1930s colonial Ceylon and reconnect with the courteous Inspector Shanti de Silva and his amenable English wife, Jane. A painstaking detective, De Silva manages to balance polite acquiescence to his pompous superior, government agent, Archie Clutterbuck, with a determined pursuit of justice.

We join society in Nuala at an exciting time, when a young couple from Australia are visiting Lady Caroline Petrie en route to claiming an inheritance. Ralph Wynne Talbot is the long-lost heir of the Earl of Axford. He is almost too charming and his wife Helen is stunning. Soon there is a tragic death, but is it murder or suicide? Meanwhile Sergeant Prasanna is distracted by the mistreatment of a young lady called Kuveni. She and her family have fled to Nuala from their village due to ill treatment by the headman whom she had refused to marry. This is outside De Silva’s remit but he will try to find a solution since the girl’s plight is so important to his young Sergeant.

The plot of this second volume is faster moving than the first and this time Shanti de Silva puts himself in considerable danger. Alongside the drama Jane manages social problems with great diplomacy and tact, giving us a window into colonial life in this era. This combination of social history, exciting crime solving and a delightful loving couple make Dark Clouds over Nuala a great pleasure to read. I am sure there will be more mysteries for Inspector de Silva to solve, but I also have a desire to read about how he met and wooed Jane when she was the governess to a colonial family.

You might also like to read my review of Trouble in Nuala Volume one of the Inspector de Silva mysteries.

You can purchase Dark Clouds over Nuala at Amazon

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Bamboo Road by Ann Bennett #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

AB Bamboo Rd

 

This third book in Ann Bennett’s Bamboo Trilogy complements the earlier books but can be read on its own.  It tells the story of Sirinya, a young Thai girl who, with her family, helped some of the prisoners building the Burma railway during the Second World War.  We meet Sirinya when she returns to Thailand in the 1970s after the death of her English husband.  There had been dreadful consequences following from the family’s kind actions during wartime and now Sirinya seeks the person responsible for their betrayal.

 

The awful experiences of the British servicemen and the terrifying bravery of those involved in the Thai underground movement do not make easy reading but I had no idea that local aid had been given and the way they managed to deceive the Japanese soldiers is intriguing.  Sirinya’s family are convincingly portrayed and I desperately hoped for a happy outcome.

 

The contrasting scenery in the countryside, in the rain forest and in Bangkok are vividly described and Sirinya’s feelings of love, despair and acceptance reflect events realistically.  Other characters such as her determined, strong mother, Kitima, the quiet, reserved soldier, Johnny and the gentle, supportive Kasem flesh out this unusual tale with people I could imagine and would like to meet.  A very thought-provoking novel which is well worth reading.

Bamboo Road was recently published on Amazon UK  and on Amazon US

My review of Bamboo Island Book Two in the trilogy can be read here

 

The Separation by Dinah Jefferies #Bookreview #TuesdayBookBlog

Separation

This is a story about the separation of mothers and daughters told from opposite sides of the world by Lydia, a young mother abandoned in Malaya in 1955 and her daughter Emma lonely and unloved in England. Initially the main story is of Lydia’s journey during the Malayan Emergency through the dangers of jungle roads where insurgents may kill or kidnap locals or colonials alike. With little money, she searches for her missing husband and daughters gaining help from a mysterious stranger. Her story includes love and tragedy against the background of the steaming heat and lush growth of the countryside.

Lydia’s story is told in the third person, but we have no doubt about her feelings and emotions. Emma describes events in her own words. She is an independent eleven year old, traumatised by the sudden move to cold, drab England after her happy childhood in the tropics. No-one will tell her where her mother is and she misses her terribly. In addition she has to deal with an abusive adult and a harsh boarding school.

I identified strongly with this story, remembering 1950s England and having spent some of my teenage years in Malaya and Singapore. The authenticity of the settings is striking, but what captivates the reader is the passion and drama of the plot. There are mysteries to solve, scores to settle and happiness to hope for.

Dinah Jefferies is a talented writer who is able to give context and characterisation to a moving, thrilling plot. This was a book I read late into the night, not wanting to put it down. Highly recommended.

The Separation is available on Amazon here

D Jefferies

Dinah was born in Malaya in 1948 and moved to England at the age of nine. In 1985, the sudden death of her fourteen year old son changed the course of her life, and deeply influenced her writing. Dinah drew on that experience, and on her own childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s to write her debut novel, The Separation.

Now living in Gloucestershire with her husband and their Norfolk terrier, she spends her days writing, with time off with her grandchildren.

The Parody of Death by William Savage #RBRT #HistoricalFiction #MurderMystery

Parody of death

This is the third Ashmole Fox Georgian mystery, but the first I have read. This was no hindrance as Fox’s tastes and character are soon evident to the reader and indeed in this volume he seems to be on the cusp of a changes in his character being an aging man, over 30! Ashmole lives in Norwich, which in the 18th century was a vibrant city. A rich man with plenty of time on his hands, ostensibly a book seller, but leaving the day-to-day work to the reliable Mrs Crombie, he is becoming an expert at solving murder mysteries.

On this occasion the victim is Richard Logan, the unpopular Tower Captain of the United Norwich Ringers. The Bell Ringers were soon to play the famous “Bloody Peal” but will now be unable to achieve it without their Captain. Soon Fox finds several possible murderers and also mystery concerning Logan’s family and home affairs. Aided by young Charlie Dillon, a former urchin, he is able to make use of the street children and young whores, to spy on the suspects.

The unique character of William Savage’s books is the convincing detail he gives of 18th century life without in any way slowing down the narrative. For instance, we read that the talent of weavers to memorise pattern linked to physical movement made them particularly suited to change ringing in church bell towers, which was so popular at the time and Fox’s queries about the clothing worn by different classes of women produces a fascinating description of their varied attire from his maid-servant

There are a panoply of amusing characters such as the Calderwood sisters, whose lives running a Dame school have made them a fount of local gossip. As Ashmole sits before them, they talk as if he is not in the room,
“Young Ashmole always had nice manners”, Miss Hannah said.
“Nice manners but no morals whatsoever,” her sister replied, “especially in the matter of females.”

Savage has created a believable world of historical authority which I enjoyed dipping into and I thoroughly agree with the judicious decision he makes about the murder which might not have been possible in the present day.

You can find This Parody of Death at Amazon US  or Amazon UK

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The Spyglass Files by Nathan Dylan Godwin #Bookreview

Spyglass

A few years ago I read the first of Nathan Dylan Godwin’s Forensic Genealogist series. This is the fourth volume and, in my view, the best.

Morton Farrier is a professional genealogist whose investigations into past events often lead him into trouble in the present. As he approaches the date of his wedding to Juliette he is trying to avoid new cases, but he is intrigued by the situation of a woman who was adopted soon after her birth, during the Battle of Britain. As he tries to locate her family, we follow parts of the story of her birth-mother, Elsie, who was a WAAF officer in the Y service, listening in to German pilots as they approached England.

It is fascinating to learn about the invaluable work of these young women and to observe the terrifying lives of the fighter pilots they encountered. It is understandable that they were living for the moment.

As Elsie’s story is revealed, Morton becomes aware that criminal activities which started in a cottage on the Kent coast in 1940, reverberate in the present day. We empathise with Elsie, an intelligent girl, threatened by her mother-in-law and seeming to have lost any chance of happiness. Morton’s investigations are intriguing, especially if you are interested in genealogy and the final chapters are surprising and satisfying.

Now I am hoping that Morton will learn more about his own family in a future book.

You can find The Spyglass  File on Amazon UK

Codename Lazarus: The Spy who came back from the dead by A P Martin #bookreview

Lazarus

Codename Lazarus takes us first to Germany in the mid-1930s as Hitler and the Nazis rise to power. We see the unpleasant changes through the eyes of John King, an English academic, whose friends include a Jewish family, the Bernsteins and a young German, Joachim Brandt, who has decided to join the SS.

Moving to 1938, King is recruited by his former professor to the world of espionage, in an attempt to foil the efforts of Nazi sympathisers in England. This requires him to cut off all ties with his former life and after another visit to Germany, he must disappear. However his under-cover activities take place in London, where he has to cultivate relationships with British nationals who wish to aid Germany. A significant relationship with a young German nurse is suspended, but old friends from the past will take a dramatic part in the denouement.

This is an exciting plot-driven story and although we gain knowledge of King’s feelings early in the story, he becomes increasingly more distant as other protagonists take a more active part in the storyline. One of the Nazi sympathisers gains our sympathy and we realise that she has trapped herself in a web of deceit. I was especially interested in the vivid description of pre-war Germany and in the realistic account of the evacuation scene at Dunkirk. The final scenes intensify in excitement and are real page-turners, but I was disappointed at the sudden conclusion which left questions about other threads in the book.

This debut novel is a fluent tale set in a fascinating time. Plotting and descriptions are sound but the earlier parts of the book lead me to expect greater knowledge of the hero’s emotions and confusion at his use of subterfuge and his abandonment of his friends and family. I look forward to reading the next book by this promising author.