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March 2019

Family Ties by Nicholas Rhea

Detective Superintendent Mark Pemberton is a workaholic. Ever since the death of his wife, he has taken solace in his police work and hasn’t taken a break in six months. Concerned for his well-being, his superiors assign him with a case that, on the surface, seems a bit more laid back – providing security for the US Vice-President Hartley on his visit to the UK. Hartley is going to Yorkshire to do some research into his family history so, before his arrival, Pemberton engages in some sleuthing of his own. Unearthing the death of Private James Hartley in 1916, found with a bullet in his brain, Pemberton is determined to solve this long-forgotten mystery. What repercussions will this have for Vice-President Hartley?

It is rare to read a police procedural where the crime being investigated is a cold case dating back such a long time and it was this that first drew me to the book. It is worth mentioning that, although this is its first outing as an ebook, Family Ties was originally published in 1994 and the research methods used by the police are very much of the time. If this plot was being written now, it probably could have been solved in a few pages with the use of the internet! Being a genealogist, I actually found the reliance on church and newspaper records and other forms of primary evidence quite fascinating.

Mark is definitely an old-school detective who, once he gets his teeth stuck into something, does not give up. Working through the notes of the officer on the original case, he manages to find a few holes in the investigation and uses the resources available to him to solve an age-old crime. Although this is not a book full of twists and turns, there was a clever twist at the end which changed the crime completely. Several clues had been given throughout the book but I was genuinely surprised when it happened!

Family Ties is a cosy mystery that would make a great quick read for anyone not wanting anything too heavy. I will definitely be seeking out other books in the Mark Pemberton series.

With thanks to Agora Books and Net Galley for my ARC.


Critical Incidents by Lucie Whitehouse

After she is dismissed from her role as a detective in the Met, Robin Lyons is forced to return to the family home in Birmingham. Having to share a bunk bed with her teenage daughter, Lennie, is not ideal but at least she has a new job as a benefit-fraud investigator to occupy her time. Someone who is delighted to see her return, however, is Corinna, her friend of twenty years. When a tragedy occurs at Corinna’s home and her husband is declared missing and wanted by the police on suspicion of murder, Robin knows she must launch her own unofficial investigation into what has happened. With a possible connection to the disappearance of a local young woman, Robin starts to wonder how well we actually know the ones we love…

Having read several police procedurals lately, it was nice to read something that had the feel of this genre but with a slight twist. Robin, being a former detective, brought her policing skills to her new role as a private investigator, but without the jurisdiction of an official law enforcer. With a return to the Met a possibility, albeit a very small one, I enjoyed reading how she tried to exploit her police contacts, but also bent the law slightly to try to find out exactly what had happened at the home of her friend, Corinna.

I liked Robin and, in particular, admired her tenacity. She had a very interesting back story and one part, in particular, which was revealed towards the end of the book, was particularly shocking. There is definitely more to discover about her past, especially in relation to her daughter, Lennie, and I feel that this is something that could be explored in any further books in the series. The ending of this book certainly kept it open for a follow-up and I would be intrigued to see how this would pan out.

There were several plots running through the book, each as fascinating as the other. I liked how the plots merged, especially because they happened in a way I did not expect. My only criticism with Critical Incidents would be the sheer number of characters in the book. I did, on several occasions, have to stop to think about who was being referred to and how they fit in with the investigation. While this did not stop my enjoyment of the book, it did, at times, slow down my reading.

I feel that this could be the start of a great new series and I look forward to seeing what Lucie Whitehouse has in store for Robin.

With thanks to Matt Clacher  and 4th Estate Books for my proof.


**BLOG TOUR** The Forgotten Secret by Kathleen McGurl

42075145Ireland, 1919: Ellen O’Brien is about to start a new job ‘up at the big house’ but the war in Ireland is getting closer to home. Soon, everyone around her is getting swept up in an increasingly violent situation with Ellen, herself, finding her loyalties torn.

Almost a hundred years later, after the death of a family member, Clare Farrell has inherited an old farmhouse in County Meath. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to escape from an abusive marriage, she leaves her past behind and embarks on a new life in Ireland. The house, however, is in a poor state of repair and, whilst working on improving her living environment, Clare discovers a long-forgotten hiding place containing some mysterious artefacts. With only the renovations to occupy her time, she soon uncovers a secret that has remained buried for several decades.

Ever since reading The Daughters of Red Hill Hall, I have become a huge fan of Kathleen McGurl’s time lapse stories, and I was really looking forward to this one. I’ve always liked how the stories are told in two distinct time frames yet their plots gradually converge so we are seeing the same story told from two different perspectives.  In The Forgotten Secret we meet two main protagonists, separated by almost a century, but each embarking on a new life, not knowing what the outcome will be.

I found I had a lot of respect for Clare, a woman who seemingly had a happy home life. Looks can be deceiving, though, and when you scratched beneath the surface, we discovered how controlling her husband, Paul, actually was. Stopping her from working, isolating her from her friends, choosing her clothes… the list could go on. I was pleased when she finally took the plunge and left her husband, starting a new life in Ireland. The discovery of the artefacts and her subsequent investigation do not take a central role in her story, but do help to add some detail to the story of the other main character, Ellen.

The chapters featuring Ellen were my favourite, moreso as the book progressed. Set against the fighting in Ireland between the Volunteers and the ‘Black and Tans’, we see a young woman who is caught up in a war that she quickly needs to learn about. Although I have read other books on this subject, I did enjoy the way the author explained what was happening and was also grateful for the historical overview she provided. Ellen’s story is a fascinating, yet tragic, one and I admired her tenacity which saw her come out the other side.

Another part of Ireland’s history is also dealt with, and it is one that leaves a particularly nasty taste in the mouth – that of the Magdalene laundries. Although the descriptions are not overly graphic, Kathleen McGurl paints a bleak image of the conditions and made me feel so angry for the women who were incarcerated there.

The Forgotten Secret is not an action-packed but is much more a plot-driven book. One part did fox me, though, and provided a great twist that I was not expecting. This is another great book from Kathleen McGurl, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

With thanks to HQ Digital and Net Galley for my copy and to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the blog tour.

Take a look at my reviews of some of Kathleen McGurl’s previous books:

The Drowned Village

The Girl from Ballymor

The Pearl Locket

The Emerald Comb

The Daughters of Red Hill Hall

Twisted by Steve Cavanagh

Usually when I write a review, I start with a brief synopsis of the plot, ensuring that I don’t give anything away. This review is going to be very different however, as I feel that the best way to read Twisted is to go into it completely blind like I did, as any discussion of the plot will inevitably spoil your enjoyment of what is a truly brilliant book.

Ever since reading Steve Cavangh’s previous book, Thirteen, the fourth in the Eddie Flynn series, I could not wait to read Twisted, especially seeing as it is a standalone. My interest was certainly piqued when I read the book’s blurb:


1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

Straight away, I was hooked. We know that the person referred to in the blurb is the mysterious J. T. Lebeau, a highly successful thriller writer who has chosen to remain anonymous. This fact, and the blurb, is the only information I am prepared to give other than to say that I don’t think I have ever read a book with such an apt title! Twists are delivered one after the other, most of which I did not see coming at all. Despite the complicated plot, never once did I feel confused as Steve Cavanagh has made it addictive and easy to follow.

If you are looking for a book to keep you awake until the wee small hours, a book that makes you want to read ‘just one more page’, then Twisted is the book you are looking for. I am sure that this is going to be one of my favourite reads of the year and looks like being a huge success for the author.

With thanks to Net Galley and Orion for my ARC.

Can I also recommend the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone podcast, presented by Steve Cavanagh and fellow crime writer Luca Veste – a highly entertaining take on the world of crime fiction.




The Catherine Howard Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

51UcdiN3gyL._SY346_After having no contact with her grandmother throughout her life, Dr Perdita Rivers is shocked to discover that on her death, she has inherited Marquess House, her vast estate in Pembrokeshire. Finding herself wealthy beyond her wildest dreams, Perdita sets out to discover the reason behind her estrangement from her grandmother. She soon realises that something is afoot at Marquess House after discovering documents claiming that the fifth wife of Henry VIII was not, in fact, executed, but instead managed to escape his tyranny. Will Perdita discover the fate of the Tudor Queen and find out just how her grandmother is connected?

I am a fan of fiction containing a dual timeline and so The Catherine Howard Conspiracy was definitely a book that appealed straight away, especially with its Tudor link – another of my interests. I was intrigued to read about Henry VIII’s fifth wife, as she is one of the Tudor Queens that I know least about and I loved how the author has merged historical fact with fiction, to the point that I began to wonder which parts were real and which were not!

History has perceived Catherine as a flirtatious, naive young woman but Alexandra Walsh paints a completely different picture of the ill-fated queen. In The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, we see her constantly in fear of her husband, whose behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic. Several scenes were truly heartbreaking as we see how she is being mistreated and I was willing her to escape his clutches. I particularly enjoyed the relationship she had with Henry’s previous wife, Anne of Cleves, the only other woman who truly knew what it was like to be married to the king.

Perdita, I found, to be quite a complex character and my feelings towards her changed throughout the book. I did, however, find myself incredibly envious of her having all of that priceless historical documentation at her disposal! I admired her tenacity when, faced with a potential life-threatening situation, she was determined to uncover the truth about what had happened to Catherine Howard.

As I knew that this was the first in a trilogy, I couldn’t wait to see how the author would end this first installment. I liked how, although the main mysteries in the book had been solved, there is a clear indication of what is going to happen in part two.

This is a fantastic read and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

With thanks to Sapere Books and Net Galley for my ARC.


On My Life by Angela Clarke

After a whirlwind romance, Jenna is preparing to marry Robert and become stepmother to his teenage daughter, Emily. Everything changes, however, when Emily is murdered and Robert is nowhere to be found, a trail of his blood leading the police to believe he has been dragged, dying, from the house. Arrested and charged with the murders, Jenna is adamant that she is innocent and that someone has set her up. Finding out that she is pregnant, she knows that she must, somehow, prove her innocence in order to provide a life for her unborn child.

Every now and then a book comes along that really makes you sit up and think about what you are reading – this is certainly one of those books. I have read several books set in women’s prisons but what sticks out here is the research that Angela Clarke has clearly done to provide an eye-opening account of what really goes on inside such a place. It was easy to picture the scene inside of the prison and, at times, felt genuine fear for Jenna as she tried to hide the fact that she was the ‘blonde slayer’ from the other inmates. Knowing she was innocent, I spent the whole book rooting for her and hoping that justice would prevail.

The book is told in two time frames, both as gripping as the other. As well as the real-time plot of Jenna’s prison life, we travel to the near-past to witness the build-up to the murder. It doesn’t take long to realise that all is not well in Robert’s life and that there are secrets that his family would prefer to be left hidden. Prior to the murder, we see Jenna discovering some of these secrets, leading her to wonder if it could be someone close to home who has set her up. Angela Clarke gives us just enough information about these characters to make you wonder which one, if any, it could be. A couple of events in the book did lead me to the right conclusion, but I was still left shocked when the whole truth was finally revealed.

It was, perhaps, the prison scenes that I enjoyed the most, especially those involving Jenna and her cellmate, Kelly. It was nice to see a genuine friendship developing and was a huge contrast to scenes involving the more violent inmates. It was inevitable that, at some point, Jenna’s identity would be revealed and I felt genuinely scared for her as, one by one, the other women began to turn on her.

Angela Clarke has done a fantastic job of highlighting the poor prison conditions, in particular those of pregnant women. I was already a fan of the author’s social media series but I feel that On My Life could be the book that puts her firmly in the public eye. This is a must read.

With thanks to Hodder & Stoughton / Mulholland Books for my copy. Take a look at my reviews of Angela Clarke’s other books:

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