The Mortal Sickness: The Lydmouth Crime Series Book~2 by Andrew Taylor #TuesdayBookBlog

When a spinster of the parish is found bludgeoned to death in St John’s, and the church’s most valuable possession, the Lydmouth chalice, is missing, the finger of suspicion points at the new vicar, who is already beset with problems.

The glare of the police investigation reveals shabby secrets and private griefs. Jill Francis, struggling to find her feet in her new life, stumbles into the case at the beginning. But even a journalist cannot always watch from the sidelines. Soon she is inextricably involved in the Suttons’ affairs. Despite the electric antagonism between her and Inspector Richard Thornhill, she has instincts that she can’t ignore . . .

My Review

Having read the first book in this series I was looking forward to meeting police Inspector Thornhill and journalist Jill Francis once more. There is clear chemistry between them but at present this mainly takes the form of antagonism. Once again Jill is involved in the case and this time she accidentally stumbles into danger. The investigation is frustrating for the police who hope to find the culprit before Scotland Yard are involved.

At first the plot moves slowly, introducing us to several important protagonists. Although written in the third person, we are able to discover the feelings and motives of most of the characters. The novel gives us snapshots of three very different marriages; a mutually supportive Vicar, Alex Sutton and his wife, an unhappy couple with money worries, the Newtons and Jill’s hosts Charlotte and Philip Wemyss-Brown, dominated by Charlotte yet content in their partnership. Another significant character is Jemima, the spoilt young niece of the local baronet. Her flirtatious behaviour and sexual activity cause problems for more than one of the men.

The stifling atmosphere of a village at siege is increased by a spate of anonymous letters and Inspector Thornhill wonders how they connect to murder and the theft of the valuable church chalice. Action becomes intense in the last few chapters and I had just identified the murderer when his identity was revealed. I enjoyed this book even more than An Air that Kills and am very much looking forward to reading the third book.

The Mortal Sickness on Amazon UK

My Review of An Air That Kills

The Bookseller of Inverness by S. G. Maclean #BookReview

A gripping historical thriller set in Inverness in the wake of the 1746 battle of Culloden from twice CWA award-winning author S. G. MacLean. Perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom and Andrew Taylor.

After Culloden, Iain MacGillivray was left for dead on Drumossie Moor. Wounded, his face brutally slashed, he survived only by pretending to be dead as the Redcoats patrolled the corpses of his Jacobite comrades.

Six years later, with the clan chiefs routed and the Highlands subsumed into the British state, Iain lives a quiet life, working as a bookseller in Inverness. One day, after helping several of his regular customers, he notices a stranger lurking in the upper gallery of his shop, poring over his collection. But the man refuses to say what he’s searching for and only leaves when Iain closes for the night.

The next morning Iain opens up shop and finds the stranger dead, his throat cut, and the murder weapon laid out in front of him – a sword with a white cockade on its hilt, the emblem of the Jacobites. With no sign of the killer, Iain wonders whether the stranger discovered what he was looking for – and whether he paid for it with his life. He soon finds himself embroiled in a web of deceit and a series of old scores to be settled in the ashes of war.

My Review

This vibrant tale of the residents of Inverness six years after the tragedy of the nearby Battle of Culloden, centres on former Jacobite, Iain MacGillivray, now running a popular bookshop. Hiding his scars behind his hair he endeavours to conduct a quiet life, after returning from exile in Virginia. Iain still lives with his grandmother Mairi Farqharson, one of the three Grande Dames who have been active in the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Stewart family for over 30 years, since his mother ran away, and his father escaped to France.

His peace is disturbed by a scruffy stranger searching through the books he had obtained from the house of “the Old Fox,” an executed Jacobite Lord. When this stranger is discovered murdered in the bookshop during the night, Iain is troubled to find the dirk bears a white cockade of the ’45 Rebellion. From then on, the story gains pace as Iain puts himself into danger seeking out a missing book which may name those of his contemporaries who are traitors to the cause.

There are several other engaging characters including Ishbel MacLeod, who had recently returned from indenture as a servant in America, accompanied by a charming rascal, young Tormod, a half-caste boy she cares for. Others in the town are a mixture of Hanoverian supporters of King George and former Jacobites. The presence of many English soldiers is unnerving, some like Major Thornlie, polite and correct in his manner and others like Captain Dunne violent and uncouth.

I enjoyed reading descriptions of the surrounding countryside, where I have family connections, and there is an increasing air of tension as old resentments surface and revenge is enacted. There are two questions to be answered. Who is the murderer, and can Iain find the other traitors first? Certainly, he realises he can no longer leave the past behind and he finally gains real understanding of his charismatic father, Hector.

There are several dour Scots among the townsfolk, but Iain’s true nature is revealed in his rebellious singing at the Assembly dance. Unsure whom he can trust with the help of true friends he is finally able to start living again. A superb novel, based on the uneasy situation in 1750s Scotland which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

I was kindly given a copy of this book by the publisher which has not influenced my review.

The Bookseller of Inverness on Amazon UK

Tales from the Hamlet: Memories of Italy by Cassandra Campbell-Kemp #TuesdayBookBlog

At the age of 61, Cassandra, a single and peripatetic Brit, was asked to pack up her house and move to Italy to take up the offer of a much-needed job. 15 months later she was made redundant, leaving her unnerved, broke and unable to return home. Her dream of a new life was rapidly turning into a nightmare and, saddled with all her belongings, her antique furniture, over 800 books and her aged Siamese cat she had nowhere to go.

A kind friend offered them sanctuary in a tiny converted former barn in his family’s ‘Borgo’, a cluster of rustic properties grouped around a late-Medieval manor House in the mountains; the beautiful and mysterious Emilian Apennines of northern Italy. There she was befriended and watched over by the owner; an eccentric octogenarian, his household ghosts and 14 semi feral cats.

The experience proved to be challenging yet deeply transformative as she struggled to recover her equilibrium and rebuild her life.

My Review

Cassandra Campbell-Kemp’s memoir of her time in Italy, when she found herself unemployed and without sufficient funds to return to England with her beloved cat and all her belongings, is an amazing account of a courageous woman whose warmth attracts loyal friends and who is prepared to work hard using her fluent Italian and her wide experience of people’s needs when looking for holiday property, to build a successful business.

Grateful to find a delightful, converted barn in the countryside amongst friends and helpful neighbours, she and her frail old cat, Geisha are cherished and nurtured in the Hamlet. A confident and, according to her Italian friends, fast driver she is happy to use her right-hand drive car on the mountain roads exploring the awesome beauty of the Emilian Apennines. Her descriptive passages are detailed and inspiring and the flowing prose also encompasses the delicious meals she is given by friends and in restaurants. Her accounts of the local history are fascinating and her intense interest in the stories is clear.

Despite mobility issues Cassandra battles Italian bureaucracy, worsening as a result of Brexit, plunges into local social life, including amazing local concerts, and she is widely accepted by the community. As winter approaches, Cass decides that she needs to decamp to the UK, but she keeps on her barn rental intending to return in the following summer. This is where the book ends and I am looking forward to her follow up volume.

Tales from the Hamlet on Amazon UK

A stunning collection of Cassandra’s photographs of the area can be seen at www.cassandracampbell-kemp.com

The Gathering Dark: Inspector MacLean #8 by James Oswald #TuesdayBookBlog

A truck driver loses control in central Edinburgh, ploughing into a crowded bus stop and spilling his vehicle’s toxic load. The consequences are devastating.

DI Tony McLean witnesses the carnage.

Taking control of the investigation, he soon realises there is much that is deeply amiss – and everyone involved seems to have something to hide.

But as McLean struggles to uncover who caused the tragedy, a greater crisis develops: The new Chief Superintendent’s son is missing, last seen in the area of the crash . . .

My Review

Returning to the crime investigations of Inspector MacLean always gives me mixed feelings. The plot is never straightforward but likeable Tony MacLean will explore every possible lead to bring the culprit to justice. But there is always a supernatural dimension to each case which can be quite unnerving.

The Gathering Dark starts with a horrifying lorry accident in the centre of Edinburgh. Tony MacLean is a witness to the death of 20 people when the lorry crashes into a bus queue spilling out its load of toxic chemicals. When the authorities realise the tanker should have been carrying harmless rotted green waste, terrorism is suspected, but the first task for the police is to identify all the victims.

Tony should be cutting down on his long hours to support his girlfriend, Emma, with her pregnancy but instead he finds himself looking for the missing son of the Chief Superintendent. As investigations continue the reader is aware of someone shadowing Tony and we share the detective’s nightmares. Madam Rose, the transvestite clairvoyant we had grown to trust in previous books in the series, urges him to take care of his family and as before the local cats gather defensively around his house. However, Mrs McCutcheon’s cat, who lives with them, remains inscrutable.

I found myself reading late into the night as this intriguing tale unfolded and was not really surprised by the mixed fortunes of the final chapters. The next book in the series is on my urgent TBR list.

The Gathering Dark at Amazon UK

My Review of Natural Causes the first book in this series.

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