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June 2016

The Whitechapel Secret by Martin Loughlin

51wHQ7JyzDL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_When Jack the Ripper tour guide, Ian Groves, sets out one one of his regular walks around Whitechapel, little does he know that his life is about to take an unexpected turn. Initially sceptical when one of his customers tells him that she has evidence that could solve the century-long mystery, his interest is piqued  enough to start to undertake some research. When an unsuccessful attempt is made on his life and he receives news that the aforementioned customer has been found dead, he begins to realise that he has stumbled upon a conspiracy to keep the secrets of the past well hidden. What ensues is a whirlwind tour of Europe in an attempt to uncover the truth. Just who was Jack the Ripper?

It is hard to review this book without making some sort of comparison to the Robert Langdon novels of Dan Brown. There are many similarities: a male protagonist and his female accomplice, a shady secret society, a whistle-stop tour around the cities of Europe… Whereas Brown’s books can be quite lengthy, however, this is a fast-paced, ‘unputdownable’ alternative take on the age-old Jack the Ripper mystery that I read in a couple of sittings. The author has displayed good subject knowledge and his descriptions of the places Ian Groves visits seem realistic. My only criticism (a minor one!) would be that I would have liked the characters to have spent more time on each country as it often appeared rushed.

The conclusion of The Whitechapel Secret was very clever and was not what I expected. It was a fitting ending for two characters I had grown to like throughout the book and who I had willed to succeed. Although Ian’s involvement was due to his interest in Jack the Ripper, I would be happy reading any further adventures of this character!

With thanks to Net Galley and Endeavour Press for my copy of this book.

The Sister by Louise Jensen

IMG_0874 Ever since Charlie died, her best friend Grace has been struggling with life. Opening up their ‘memory box’ only serves to make matters worse, as a letter from Charlie hints of some terrible event that Grace knows nothing about. Knowing that Charlie was desperate to uncover the identity of her father sets Grace off on a mission to achieve what her friend was unable to. When Grace, with the assistance of her boyfriend, Dan, locates Anna, Charlie’s half-sister, she begins to live life again. Soon, though, strange things start occurring: things start to disappear, Dan begins to act strangely and just who is following Grace? Will Grace’s determination to carry out Charlie’s wishes put herself in danger?

One of the main strengths of ‘The Sister’ is that, through the dual-timeframe storytelling, the author is able to introduce numerous mysteries that keep you guessing throughout the book. From the image on the front cover, I assumed that the main premise of the story was going to be the discovery of Charlie’s secret. However, I found that other plotlines took precedence, not least the Anna situation. It is hard to say too much about the plots without giving too much away, but it is safe to say that I’m sure the author has watched Fatal Attraction…

This is definitely a psychological thriller in every sense, as you wonder whether the person Grace senses following her and the red car she keeps seeing are genuine or just part of her paranoia. The characters are also well-written in such a way that you don’t really know who is an ally of Grace and who is out to do her harm until near the end of the book. Although some of the plotlines were easy to figure out, there are several parts of the story that I did not see coming, making it a very suspenseful read.

A very strong debut novel!

With thanks to Net Galley and BookOuture for providing me with a copy.

Lost and Gone Forever by Alex Grecian

51ZBjJC54-L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Walter Day has been missing for a year, presumably taken by the infamous Jack the Ripper. Assumed dead and forgotten about by many, his wife, Claire and Nevil Hammersmith have not given up hope of finding him alive. Former police sergeant Hammersmith has, with the backing of Claire, set up a private detective agency to try to trace Day’s whereabouts but, a year later,  he is no nearer to solving the mystery. All that is about to change, however, when Jack reveals his true motive for the capture of Detective Day…

Lost and Gone Forever is the fifth of Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad books. After the shocking end of the previous book, The Harvest Man, I had eagerly anticipated finding out what would happen next in the lives of Walter Day and Nevil Hammersmith as I could see no way back for Walter – would he really be lost and gone forever? Thankfully, from the outset, we know that Walter is, indeed, alive, but it soon becomes apparent that this book is going to be quite different from the rest of the series. The initial relief turns to despair as you begin to wonder if he will ever be able to resume his previous life and you will him to return to his distraught family.

In Lost and Gone Forever, Alex Grecian has, again, painted a contrasting picture of London’s criminal classes compared to the wealth of the more well-to-do.  Mr and Mrs Parker are truly chilling characters, matched only by Jack the Ripper himself. It is also pleasing to see the strong roles given to the women in the series: Fiona Kingsley continues to please and the addition of Hetty as a colleague of Hammersmith shows how Victorian women were beginning to play more of a role in society.

Never one to shy away from controversy, the author throws in a massive curve-ball towards the end with the death of a much-loved character. Although this did not have the same shock factor as the conclusion of the previous book, it was, nevertheless, not something I saw coming.

In order to fully appreciate this book, reading the rest of the series is recommended. Hopefully, there will be a book six…

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

crossing-placesPerfectly happy with her secluded life in the remote Saltmarsh near Norfolk, archaeologist Ruth Galloway’s talents are called upon by Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson when the skeleton of a girl is found on a nearby beach. Aware that the parents of local schoolgirl Lucy Downey have been missing their daughter since she was taken ten years ago, the body turns out to be two thousand years old. When it emerges that Nelson has been receiving letters about the girl containing references to archaeology and ritual, Ruth finds herself involved in a case that leaves her questioning who she can trust.

Ever since reading The Woman in Blue, the latest of the Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths, I have wanted to catch up on the rest of the series so was pleased to finally find the time to begin my journey! It was with trepidation that I started to read The Crossing Places, as I hoped that reading the series out of sequence would not spoil my enjoyment of what was to come. Thankfully, this did not occur!

In The Crossing Places, we are introduced to Ruth and how she first became involved with the police but we are also introduced to the character of Cathbad. In The Woman in Blue, Cathbad was a character whom I immediately warmed to, despite his quirkiness.Here, however, I found myself disliking what I read about him, so I am looking forward to reading the development of his character in subsequent books.

Elly Griffiths does a good job in mixing fact with fiction and also in creating a ‘whodunnit’ that really does make you doubt the motives of nearly every character! Although my suspicions about the child abductor were confirmed, there were still plenty of other parts of the story that I did not see coming.

This is a great start to the series and I already have the next one lined up to read!

The Fire Child by S. K. Tremayne

Rachel seems to have the perfect life: a wealthy, handsome husband, an impressive home and a beautiful step-son. Behind closed doors, however, things are starting to take a turn for the strange. Young Jamie Kerthern’s insistence that he sees his dead mother coupled with his seeming ability to foretell the future, is starting to play havoc with Rachel’s mind. Why is David, her husband, so dismissive about what is happening and is there anything more to the supposed accident that killed Nina, his first wife? More pressing, though, is Jamie’s prediction that Rachel will be dead by Christmas…

By setting the story around the mines of Cornwall, the author has created an atmospheric psychological thriller that really does have you wondering what will happen next. Although it starts slowly, it soon gathers pace and, at times, tears along at breakneck speed as you desperately try to discover which direction the book is going in. This uncertainty is one of the strengths of The Fire Child as the unpredictability makes it a more enjoyable and exciting read.

It is hard to discuss the characters without giving away too much of the plot other than to say that we don’t really get to see their true personalities until towards the end of the book. This, again, helped to create a tense conclusion and one that I did not predict. Often in books of this genre, you are left trying to figure out some of the events; this was not the case in The Fire Child where all stories reached a satisfying outcome.

A superb read!

With thanks to Net Galley and Harper Collins UK for a copy of The Fire Child.

 

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

In her capacity as local newspaper agony aunt, Cambridge teacher Margot Lewis is used to receiving  distressing letters. None of them, however, shake her quite like the latest one:

Dear Amy,

I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me. Please help me soon,

Bethan Avery.

What makes this even more disturbing is that Bethan Avery has been missing, presumed dead for many years. Coupled with the fact that another local girl has disappeared, Margot finds herself caught up in a mystery that threatens her own life.

From the first chapter, I was hooked on this fast-paced psychological thriller. The author has succeeded in writing an opening that grabs you straight away and makes you want to read just one more chapter… As the book progressed, I found it hard to put down and managed to read it in two marathon sessions!

Like all books in this genre, there is, of course, a twist. There is a real ‘open mouth’ moment when you realise what it is – I had thought that it was going to be something else so was pleased to discover that I was wrong.

Although this could definitely be seen as a standalone book, there is definitely more scope for a series of books featuring the ‘Dear Amy’ column.

A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Thank you to Penguin UK and NetGalley for the advance copy.

S is for Stranger by Louise Stone

519N8czdefL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Estranged from her husband and in the midst of a custody battle, Sophie loves nothing more than spending time with her daughter, Amy. Maybe she should have taken Amy’s announcement that a strange woman had been watching them more seriously because now, after a trip to the fair, Amy is missing. Sophie’s history of alcoholism means that the police and Paul, her ex-husband,  are suspicious of her story and this mistrust is exacerbated when new information emerges. What has happened to Amy? Who is the strange woman? Who is telling the truth?

This book is described as a ‘gripping psychological thriller’ and that is most certainly the case. Fast-paced from the start, the author takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions as you feel sympathy and despair as Amy goes missing, anger as Sophie desperately looks for someone who will believe her story and fear as it slowly emerges exactly what has happened to the child. Throughout the book, you find yourself willing Sophie to succeed as she battles the demons of her past.

One of the main strengths of this book is that, right until the end, you genuinely have no idea as to Amy’s fate. This uncertainty made S is for Stranger a quick read as I read chapter after chapter, hoping that the next part would reveal even the smallest of clues to explain exactly what was going on.

The only thing that stopped this being rated 5 stars was the ending. I felt that there were still too many unanswered questions and that made the solution a bit ambiguous. I would have liked a more conclusive finish.

With thanks to NetGalley and Carina for the advance copy.

 

 

 

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

51ZsZZn3kIL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_In 1895, two young brothers, Robert and Nattie Coombes were to find themselves embroiled in what became known as The Plaistow Tragedy. Spending their days away from their East London home and frequenting Lord’s to watch the cricket, the boys were living in denial of the horror that was about to unfold. In soaring temperatures, an unpleasant smell was beginning to emerge from their home at Cave Road. When the police eventually investigated, what they saw was a sight no one should ever witness – the mother of the two boys had been brutally murdered and her body was in an advanced state of decomposition. Immediately, thirteen-year-old Robert admits responsibility and what follows is a criminal trial that grabs the attention of the press and starts a debate about the ‘penny dreadful’ books that the boy enjoyed reading.

One of my favourite books in recent years is Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher so I was pleased to discover that this author had, yet again, turned to a real Victorian crime (albeit a lesser-known one) in her latest offering. It is obvious that a lot of research has been undertaken in order to provide a full overview of the life of Robert Coombes, both before and after the trial. Although there is no element of doubt as to who the guilty party is, Kate Summerscale succeeds in building up enough intrigue about the other involved characters to make you wonder how, if at all, they will be implicated.

One of the main surprises in this book is how your attitude changes towards Robert Coombes. Portrayed from a young age as someone who was heavily influenced by the gruesome events he read about in his chosen literature, by the end of his life we see a complete change in character to someone who had integrity and a caring personality. This could not have been predicted as the events at Cave Road were taking place.

If you enjoyed any of Kate Summerscale’s previous books, you are sure to enjoy this one.

With thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with a copy of the book.

He Who Dares by Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter

The story of Del Trotter is one that will be familiar to most people. Known primarily for his wheeling and dealing around the Peckham area of London, He Who Dares tells the story of this entrepreneur’s life from his Rock and Chips days right through Only Fools and Horses until we reach the present day. This is a real rags to riches (and then back to rags) story of a man who dreamed of being a millionaire only to find it all taken away from him.

As a fan of Only Fools and Horses, this book appealed to me straight away and had me laughing out loud on several occasions despite already knowing what was about to happen. The book has been written in such a way that you can actually hear the voice of Sir David Jason as you read Del’s immortal lines. Credit must go to the family of John Sullivan, the late creator and writer of Only Fools, for getting the tone of the book just right.

My only criticism would be the omission of some of the stand-out moments from the series. Although it could be argued that people know these stories inside out, what is the story of Del Boy without the shattered chandelier or the fall through the bar? Another funny episode – the one with the blow-up dolls – is also only mentioned in passing. It would have been nice to read more about these iconic moments in British TV.

If you’ve never seen the series (is there anyone who hasn’t?), I’d advise watching that rather than reading this book, but for fans of the Trotter family, this book is highly recommended.

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