Rags of Time by Michael Ward #BookReview #HistFic

Rags of Time

London  1639.

Thomas Tallant, a young and ambitious Spice Merchant, returns from India to find his city in turmoil.  A bitter struggle is brewing between King Charles I and Parliament, as England slides into civil war. The capital is simmering with dissent. The conflict is ready to boil over.

But Thomas soon has other troubles to contend with. A wealthy merchant, Sir Joseph Venell, is savagely killed; then his partner Sir Hugh Swofford plunges to his death, in the Tallant household.  Suspicion falls on Thomas, who is sucked into a mire of treachery and rumour within the City of London. As the merchant struggles to clear his name, he becomes captivated by the enigmatic Elizabeth Seymour, whose passion for astronomy and mathematics is matched only by her addiction to the gaming tables.

Pursued by the authorities, Thomas races to unmask the real killer who claims a third victim to implicate him further, toying with his future in a deadly cat and mouse game.  In a desperate race against time, Elizabeth applies her powers of logic and deduction to unearth the clues that will point to the killer, but her way is barred by a secret message from the grave.  Can she crack its code before Thomas, now a wounded and exhausted fugitive, succumbs to the chase?  And, if she succeeds, has Thomas the strength to face his tormentor and win his life and reputation back?

Rags of Time is the first book in an engaging and entertaining new historical crime series, set during the upheaval of the 17th Century. Recommended for fans of Andrew Taylor, CJ Sansom and SJ Parris.

My Review

It is always good to find a new writer of historical novels which have been carefully researched and yet take you straight to the heart of a thrilling murder mystery. Set in the last few years leading up to the English Civil War, it is a dangerous time when, for religious and political reasons, you can never be quite sure who is your enemy and who is your friend. Tom, who has been travelling the world as a spice merchant for the Tallant family, is perhaps rather naïve in his judgement of others. He soon finds himself, unfairly incriminated in a strange murder and he desperately tries to find the real culprit. But his life is complicated by meeting Elizabeth, an educated young woman, who enjoys smoking a pipe and studying the planets at night.  Will this enigmatic heroine be able to work out who is deliberately putting his life in danger?

The story gives us a vivid picture of mid-seventeenth century London life and the plot moves rapidly from one important event to the next. In addition to the complex politics of the day which Tom must navigate as an MP, we also learn about his time spent in Amsterdam during the tulip bulb boom and collapse. After many dramatic scenes and dangerous escapades, we learn the truth and I am thrilled to read that this is the first of a series of crime mysteries set in this fascinating historical era.

Michael

Michael Ward

Mike Ward is an English creator of historical fiction. Born in Liverpool, he was a BBC journalist and journalism academic before turning to non-factual writing.

His debut novel ‘The Rags of Time’ is located in London in 1639. It marks the start of a tumultuous 40 years – civil war, regicide, republic and royal restoration. Politics, religion, commerce, science, medicine – none are left untouched by this ferment of change.

Mike believes it’s the perfect setting for his hero Thomas Tallant’s series of adventures, starting first with ‘Rags’. He is currently working on its sequel.

The Ashes of London (James Marwood & Cat Lovett, Book 1) by Andrew Taylor #BookReview

Ashes of London

A CITY IN FLAMES

London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral – stabbed in the neck, thumbs tied behind his back.

A WOMAN ON THE RUN

The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman, who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom.

A KILLER SEEKING REVENGE

When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…

My Review

Six years after Charles II regained the throne for the Stuart family, London went up in flames.  No-one feels safe in an environment where former Protestants, government agents and hidden Catholics live cheek by jowl.  We arrive in the city as old St Paul’s burns down, surrounded by onlookers; and there we meet our two protagonists, James Marwood, son of an extremist Puritan and Cat Lovett, the daughter of a renegade Protestant. Marwood narrates the majority of the story, but we also follow Cat’s perils, in the third person, as she is manipulated by her untrustworthy uncle.

In a realistic adventure through the narrow streets and ruins of London we follow Marwood’s attempt to please more than one master, looking for a murderer, seeking Cat and trying to protect his elderly father.  Meanwhile Cat, doomed to suffer the fate of many women in the past, decides to escape her uncle’s home and hides out as a maidservant.  The tortuous plot completely involved me in the Royal court, the rebuilding of St Paul’s and the underbelly of 17th century society.  A thrilling, convincing tale.

Andrew Taylor

A Taylor

Andrew Taylor is a British crime and historical novelist, winner of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger (for lifelong excellence in the genre) and the triple winner of the Historical Dagger. He has published over 45 books.

They include the international bestseller, The American Boy (a Richard and Judy selection); the Roth Trilogy (filmed for TV as Fallen Angel); the Lydmouth detective series set in the 1950s; and The Anatomy of Ghosts, shortlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

His most recent books are the Marwood and Lovett Restoration series. The Ashes of London was a Times/Waterstones number one bestseller. The sequels, The Fire Court, and The King’s Evil, have both been bestsellers. The fourth in the series, The Last Protector, will be published on 4 April 2020

The Ashes of London on Amazon UK

The London Property Boy by Patrick Brigham #FridayReads #BookReview

London property

 Michael Mostyne, a thirty-something developer and property dealer, has fallen foul of Great Britains 1970s economic recession. A property crash like no other, it foreshadows the end of a promising career, but it is also the end of his unhappy marriage to Lavender. The tale of his painful struggle to get back on his feet, whilst dealing with the past and an acrimonious divorce, Mike Mostyne leaves his provincial home, moves to London and gets a job running a West London real estate agency. Through hard work, success soon turns to success and his life begins to change for the better. By manoeuvring around his bosses, with their narrow self-interest, his own desire for big money and a wish to be financially independent, means he has to take huge risks.

London is not short of girls, and Mike Mostyne is rarely on his own. Christine, a West End PA and a good time girl, looks at him through a cloud of cannabis smoke. Sofie, a minor Dutch diplomat, disappears when Mike’s son Mark is mysteriously kidnapped by the IRA. And finally, there is Nadezhda Antova, who friends say is an Eastern European honey trap, but who he marries despite their warnings. From rags to riches, and with the next property crash waiting around the corner, will fate finally conspire to finish him off once again? Will, he also find personal happiness with Nadezhda Antova, and why is MI5 so interested?

 My Review

I came to this book having previously enjoyed Patrick Brigham’s “Goddess of the Rainbow,” interlinked short stories set in Northern Greece, but this time we are presented with the biography of Michael Mostyne, a London property dealer, for over 10 years from the 1970s until the early days of John Major’s premiership. Having lived through those years in a very different environment I was fascinated to see the human face behind the booms and dips of this business. At first Michael gained my sympathy after the deceit of both his business partner and his wife Lavender. His devotion to his mother as she began to succumb to dementia showed his underlying humanity as did his love for his son but as you might expect he is driven by the need to make money and is not afraid to bend the rules. I found the scenes involving his family the most rewarding to read. The eventful story held my interest but sadly there was no detailed description of his relationship with his son, Mark, although he appeared to be so important to Michael.

As Mostyn becomes entangled with MI5 and his son is kidnapped by the IRA the plot becomes more complex. His search for new female company results in a relationship with Bulgarian academic, Nadezhda Antova and once again MI5 need his services. As the book reaches its last chapters there is still much more to happen in the crazy life of this interesting man.

The London Property Boy is available on Amazon UK

My review of Goddess of the Rainbow

Patrick Brigham

Brigham

Patrick Brigham has lived in the Balkans for many years. Originally from London, where he was in the property business, he lived in the City until 1993 and then moved to Sofia. As Chief Editor of a magazine called the Sofia Western News, and the first English language magazine in ex-Communist Bulgaria, it introduced him to the intrigues of Eastern Europe, and a firm understanding of the people living there.

Now living in Northern Greece, Patrick has published many murder mystery novels as well as stand-alone literary fiction and a humorous play. Writing for the more thoughtful reader, Patrick Brigham says –

“I have lived quite an eventful life, so much of what I write is based on fact. Most of my books concentrate on a particular subject, and The London Property Boy does just that and has quite a lot of me in it. We should never simply dwell on the past, but a colourful past is where much of our inspiration comes from.”

The History of the Port of London by Peter Stone #FridayReads #SocialHistory

A Vast Emporium of All Nations

Port

The River Thames has been integral to the prosperity of London since Roman times. Explorers sailed away on voyages of discovery to distant lands. Colonies were established and a great empire grew. Funding their ships and cargoes helped make the City of London into the world’s leading financial center. In the 19th century a vast network of docks was created for ever-larger ships, behind high, prison-like walls that kept them secret from all those who did not toil within. Sail made way for steam as goods were dispatched to every corner of the world. In the 19th century London was the world’s greatest port city. In the Second World War the Port of London became Hitler’s prime target. It paid a heavy price but soon recovered. Yet by the end of the 20th century the docks had been transformed into Docklands, a new financial center.

The History of the Port of London: A Vast Emporium of Nations is the fascinating story of the rise and fall and revival of the commercial river. The only book to tell the whole story and bring it right up to date, it charts the foundation, growth and evolution of the port and explains why for centuries it has been so important to Britain’s prosperity. This book will appeal to those interested in London’s history, maritime and industrial heritage, the Docklands and East End of London, and the River Thames.

As a descendent of the families of Lightermen and Barge builders on the River Thames I am fascinated by the rise and fall of trade and shipping in London through the ages.  The 18th and 19th century river particularly fascinates me and Peter Stone’s meticulous research and vivid description of the changes from “a sea of masts” through the emergence of steam power, gave me a vivid picture of this crowded, industrious scene.  The author himself has generations of Thames watermen as his ancestors, giving him the authority and enthusiasm to bring this social history to life.  From the original Roman settlement, where tidal access made communication with Europe easy, to the modern day importance of Canary Wharf and the fast-moving clippers this easily read, true story is a “must have” for those interested in London or history.

The History of the Port of London at Amazon UK

One by Jennifer L Cahill #FridayReads #RBRT

One

 

One” is a light hearted, easy read, set in 2005. The first of a trilogy, this retro contemporary novel will remind you of the simpler life of work, friends and relationships in the “noughties.” Focused on Penelope, a 28-year-old investment banker, we share her search for a significant relationship while maintaining a high-powered job and enjoying time with her friends. In parallel we meet Zara, her young house-mate, newly arrived from the country and struggling with London life.

 

We also encounter Charlie, a musician, who was at University with Penelope and also shares their house; Richard, an annoying ex-Uni friend of conspicuous wealth and Alyx, an irresistible, handsome young lawyer, who travels widely with a successful pop group.  The fact that both Alyx and Richard own castles in Scotland is hard to believe and it is no wonder that Zara feels out of her depth amongst such an affluent group.

 

Each of these young people are looking for good relationships and successful careers but juggling these is not easy and we see the possibility of Penelope being dragged into the life of a stay-at-home wife and mother. It is clear that in the last 14 years women’s roles have moved on.  It is easier to identify with Zara and encouraging to see her increased confidence as she learns to navigate the underground, finds a new job and gains friends.  The books conclusion is dramatic, leaving the reader longing to know how the next few years will pan out for this colourful group.

One is available on Amazon UK

JC

Jennifer Cahill was born in Dublin in Ireland and was educated at University College Dublin. She honed both her ability to write, and her love of writing, in UCD while studying Spanish, which was one half of her International Commerce degree. She went on to Business School in Dublin and moved to London after graduating, and life has never been quite the same for her since. When she is not writing she works with individuals and blue-chip clients to help them navigate and master change. She spent ten lovely years living in Clapham and now lives in Notting Hill in West London.

Her Secret by Kelly Florentia #FridayReads #BookReview

Her Secret

After 8 years living with Nick, their relationship had broken down, but now, at the age of 42, Audrey is happily married to romantic husband, Daniel, a successful business man with a complicated family.  Surrounded by a close group of friends and pleased with the way her career is progressing, Audrey is content, until she is told a secret which she cannot share with Daniel.  She dare not hurt her loved ones and she fears losing their respect.  Then there are further complications as her first love, Nick returns.  She begins to doubt her sanity, believing she is being followed and even in danger.

 

This fast-moving story, set in north London can easily be read as a standalone but it is even more rewarding if you first read No Way Back.  Audrey is a realistic, modern woman. I love her OCD cleaning and her need to own expensive shoes but also her caring, warm personality.  I didn’t predict the amazing ending as I found myself reading late into the night to discover how Audrey would solve her predicament.

Her Secret can be found on Amazon UK

My review of No Way Back

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

American

 

Interweaving real and fictional elements, The American Boy is a literary historical crime novel in the tradition of Possession.

England 1819: Thomas Shield, a new master at a school just outside London, is tutor to a young American boy and the boy’s sensitive best friend, Charles Frant. Drawn to Frant’s beautiful, unhappy mother, Thomas becomes caught up in her family’s twisted intrigues. Then a brutal crime is committed, with consequences that threaten to destroy Thomas and all that he has come to hold dear. Despite his efforts, Shield is caught up in a deadly tangle of sex, money, murder and lies — a tangle that grips him tighter even as he tries to escape from it. And what of the strange American child, at the heart of these macabre events, yet mysterious — what is the secret of the boy named Edgar Allen Poe?

This historical murder mystery shows the extremes of poverty and wealth within a small area of 19th century London. “The American Boy” is well researched and, for me at least, a page-turner. It appears to be heavily influenced by Wilkie Collins writing. I enjoyed following the developing mystery although I found the final denouement a little disappointing.

The reticence Thomas Shield shows to reveal the details of his tête-à-tête with Sophia, do perhaps carry the assumption of 19th century good taste a little too far but the romance certainly kept my interest in the fate of both characters. His earlier confused attraction to two women was harder to believe but perhaps I don’t understand men well enough. It is certainly true that Miss Carswell is a tantalising, enigmatic character, while Sophia seems aloof & unapproachable.

I am not happy with the chosen title and although Andrew Taylor gives his interest in the youth of Edgar Allan Poe as the raison d’être for this book, the boy seems to me to be only an incidental character and if anything is a conceit of the author. Without great knowledge of Poe, I suspect I am missing nuances in the text.

The pictures painted of the three locations, London, Gloucester and Monkshill Park are clearly delineated and atmospheric and the machinations of the plot built up convincingly. Initially the novel adopts a leisurely pace, but this gradually heats up. In contrast to the interactions of the many characters involved in the story, there are also interludes of philosophical observation by Thomas Shield such as,

For the first time in my life, I was about to be a man of substance. The knowledge changed me. Wealth may not bring happiness, but at least it has the power to avert certain causes of sorrow. And it makes a man feel he has a place in the world,

which I particularly enjoyed.

I have read that Taylor initially wrote this story in the third person, but sensibly realised that Thomas Shield was an essential narrator to ensure the reader’s involvement. I found him a very sympathetic character, in spite of his tendency to act like a Dr.Who heroine.

The Betrayal by Anne Allen #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

Betrayal

The Betrayal is set mostly in Guernsey but in two eras. First, we find ourselves in 1940, where Teresa Bichard is distraught at leaving her husband, Leo, on the island while she flees to her family on the mainland with their baby daughter. The Germans are expected to invade imminently but Leo feels he must look after their home and antique business in Guernsey. Fast forward to 2011 and we meet Nigel and his twin sister Fiona, who have bought that antique shop, but from a different owner.

While decorating, the twins find a hidden trap door concealing some paintings which seem to include a Renoir. As an art historian, Fiona has the contacts to authenticate the painting, so she returns to London, but while she is away, events take a sinister turn. Nigel appears to have committed suicide but Fiona (and the reader) does not believe this so she employs a private detective. Is his death connected to the painting and to the betrayal of Leo Bichard, who was sent to a concentration camp in 1942?

This book is full of detailed descriptions of the beautiful beaches and stunning views on the island and delicious meals served in sumptuous surroundings. All Fiona’s friends are wealthy and live in amazing properties which is delightful to read about, but seems slightly like leafing through a glossy homes magazine.

In some ways a cosy mystery but with thrilling use of tension and a warm budding romance, it is a pleasure to read. The inclusion of events during the occupation made it particularly interesting to me. Although book 6 of Anne Allen’s Guernsey novels, it is a standalone story. I shall be seeking out earlier volumes in the series.

The Betrayal is available at Amazon UK

and at Amazon US

Anne Allen

Anne Allen

Anne was born in Rugby to a Welsh father and an English mother. As a result, she spent many summers with her Welsh grandparents in Anglesey and learnt to love the sea. Now she is based in Devon to be near her daughter and two small grandchildren. Her restless spirit has meant many moves, the longest stay being in Guernsey for nearly fourteen years after falling in love with the island and the people. She contrived to leave one son behind to ensure a valid reason for frequent returns. Her younger son is based in London – ideal for city break.

By profession Anne was a psychotherapist who long had a desire to write and Dangerous Waters, her first novel, was published in 2012. It was awarded Silver(Adult Fiction) in TheWishingShelfAwards 2012.

http://anneallen.co.uk/

Rosie's Book Review team 1

Pleasing Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift #TuesdayBookBlog

Pepys

In a spine-chilling first chapter of this Restoration drama, we encounter Abigail Williams, aging actress, spy and mistress to Lord Brunkner. But on this occasion, she has murderous intent. In contrast the following chapter introduces 17-year-old Deb Willet, setting out for London a year after the Great Fire, to be a Lady’s maid and companion to Elisabeth, wife of Mr. Samuel Pepys. Her Aunt Beth, glad to be rid of her, tells Deb that she must, “Please Mr Pepys,” but she soon finds this applies in more ways than one.

An educated girl, Deborah is determined to work hard to make a future for herself and to finance an education for her sister, Hester. However, Elisabeth Pepys doesn’t seem to warm to her and soon her thoughts wander to her mother who went missing many years ago and may well be in London too. She seeks help from Abigail Williams, who has sought her out, but she soon finds herself entangled in a web of lies and subterfuge from which there seems to be no escape.

This is an era, of which I know little, but Deborah Swift’s knowledge and research have brought the murky streets of London, struggling to recover from the destruction of the fire, to life again. The suffering of the sailors, unpaid by the crown and their inevitable decision to rebel, is realistically described and I could not help liking Jeremiah Wells, the young curate, who wanted the best for everyone while struggling with his conscience. All this against the background of a Dutch spy ring and the incorrigible Samuel Pepys, who cannot resist a pretty face or an attractive ankle.

Although instantly appealing to anyone interested in English history, it is also a book for those who enjoy tension and thrilling scenes, especially as the main characters are women of courage. Highly recommended.

Pleasing Mr Pepys at Amazon UK  or at Amazon US

Wonders and Wickedness (The Victorian Detectives Book 5) by Carol Hedges

Wickedness

Here, you will indeed find Wonders in alchemy, seances, and on stage, but there is also Wickedness; murder, blackmail and deceit. It is 1864 and the railways have already caused a fatal accident. A brand new department store has opened but the window display contains an extra body which shocks everyone. Thankfully Detective Inspector Strife and Sergeant Cully are on hand, but they are diverted by a mysterious package delivered to the arrogant Lord Hugh Wynward and his unhappy wife Lady Meriel.

In a complex, ingenious plot several crimes are gradually solved as we meet a delicious selection of fantastic characters, from Felix Lightowler, who fancies himself as a contemporary alchemist, to Boris Finister, a Dickensian fat boy and Rancid Cretney, who constantly mans a neighbourhood watch irritating the police force considerably. Every detail of the characters’ names, clothing and vocabulary fit their context perfectly.

Within the plotline there is humour, pathos and a picture of the dire social consequences of Victorian values. When Stride goes to interview a builder he finds,
“Serried ranks of terraces of two up two down houses. Absent landlords will subdivide them into as many short-term lets as possible adding them to that surprising feature: the brand new suburban slum.
Mr Bellis struts with the aggressive bantam-cock attitude of all small men who’d like to be big men only nature hasn’t permitted it.”

As a connoisseur of all the previous Victorian Detective Books, I knew that I would enjoy meeting up with old friends at Scotland Yard and independent business women such as Lilith Marks and Josephine King but this book would be equally rewarding as a one off read, although it is bound to tempt you to indulge in other gems from the series. When will a producer take up these books for TV or movie?

Wonders & Wickedness can be found on AmazonUK

My review of Rack and Ruin is here