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January 2022

The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths

When Bill Billington is found dead in his home and it is discovered that he has been poisoned, his wife, Verity, is immediately suspected of his murder. Determined to find the real culprit herself, Verity employs the private detectives Emma Holmes and Sam Collins, pitting Emma against her own husband, one of the police officers involved in the case. With their friend, Max Mephisto currently filming a remake of Dracula with Bert Billington’s son, Seth, they hope that this will give them some inside information on the family, but is everyone telling the whole truth?

The sixth book in the Brighton Mysteries series takes us to 1965 and we are seeing more of the female characters as they come to the fore, investigating the suspicious death. In previous books, the main focus has been on Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto and while Max does have a prominent role in The Midnight Hour, Edgar is more of a background character. It was joyous to read the role reversals as Emma travelled around the country while Edgar stayed at home to look after the children!

As we see women becoming more independent in 1965, there is a stark contrast made to how women were treated in the theatrical world back in Bert Billington’s heyday, a theme that, sadly, has continued and can be seen in the emergence of the ‘Me Too’ movement. It definitely made you wonder how Billington had lived as long as he did!

I really like how this series is developing and Elly Griffiths paints a wonderful picture of 1960s Britain, even referencing the real-life Moors Murders case which adds to the authenticity. I hope that this continues through the years as I look forward to seeing how the 1970s treats the characters.

Unholy Murder by Lynda La Plante

When builders discover a coffin buried in the grounds of an old convent, there are no surprises when the body inside is revealed to be a nun. What is shocking, however, are the scratch marks on the inside of the lid – the woman was clearly still alive when she was buried. Her superiors are keen to dismiss it as a cold case, but Detective Jane Tennison is not so sure and soon she is embarking on an investigation that will pit her against the church and open up old wounds for a member of the team.

Lynda la Plante knows how to tell a good story and she has managed to do it again in this, the seventh in the Tennison series. As each book progresses, we see signs of the detective becoming more like the Jane Tennison of the Prime Suspect series and is already beginning to get a bit of a reputation for doing things her own way. I have enjoyed seeing Jane move forward in time and now that we are in the 1980s, it has been interesting to see her becoming more accepted in her role as opposed to the very overt sexism she experienced during her time in the flying squad in previous books.

The subject matter is, at times, quite harrowing and there may be triggers for anyone who would not choose to read about child abuse. While this is only a small part of the plot, it does help to build up a complete picture of the crime and explains the reasons behind the views of one of the officers involved.

The Tennison series is one of my favourites but this can definitely be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the other books. I look forward to seeing what case Jane investigates next!

The Body Beneath the Willows by Nick Louth

The body of a man is found near to an Anglo-Saxon burial site but his dental fillings show that this is not an ancient burial. DCI Craig Gillard is tasked with solving the case but identification of the body is proving difficult. Everything seems to point towards it belonging to Ozzy Blanchard, a man who disappeared some months ago and was working for the same company that have now uncovered the body. When it is revealed that metal lodged in the neck is part of an Anglo-Saxon dagger, Gillard is perplexed. Just who is the body beneath the willows?

This is the ninth book in the series but can be read as a standalone if you have not read any of the previous books. There are some references to events in previous books but nothing that would spoil your enjoyment should you go back and read the rest.

This is, at times, quite a complex plot with a lot happening as, in addition to the murder, there are sub-plots involving some of the characters that we meet along the way. Thanks to the skilled writing of the author, however, the story is easy to follow and keeps you engaged throughout. There are a few surprises that long-time readers of the series will enjoy and some hints as to potential events in future books.

This is the first book I have read that mentions the Covid pandemic and I liked the way that Nick Louth handled this, referring to it but not making it a major part of the story. This definitely gave an added sense of realism to the book and I will be interested to read if other authors manage to do this as well in their books.

With thanks to Canelo Crime and Net Galley for my ARC.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Forty years ago, Steven Smith found a book written by the famous author, Edith Twyford. Noticing that the book contained lots of annotations, he took it to his English teacher who was convinced that the book was full of hidden messages. Then one day, while on a school trip, the teacher, Miss Isles, disappeared. Now, after an eventful life which has seen him spending time in prison, Steven has decided to try to find out just what happened to Miss Isles, revisiting the places of his youth and reconnecting with the people he knew back then. He soon realises that maybe Miss Isles was on to something and that the Twyford Code is something real and that he is not the only one trying to find the truth.

Janice Hallett’s previous book, The Appeal, was one of my favourite books of last year and I couldn’t wait to see if The Twyford Code lived up to my expectations. The selling point of The Appeal for me was the fact that it was told via a series of emails and messages, providing the reader with the means to solve the case themselves. In The Twyford Code, the author has, again, shunned the traditional way of writing, as this time the story is told in the form of voice recordings that Steven has made on his phone. This led to some funny moments at times due to the spelling mistakes made by the voice recognition system!

The plot is a clever one and one that took me back to my childhood reading of the mystery stories of Enid Blyton due to the search for clues and the group of people investigating. There are some aspects of the plot that I predicted but, on the whole, the numerous twists and red herrings kept me on my toes as I tried to solve the Twyford Code along with Steven. One of the places that features prominently in the plot is a location I know well and this really captured my imagination and gave the book an element of realism for me.

I read the ebook version but I do feel that this would be better to read as a physical book as, throughout reading, I constantly wanted to go back and reread sections to look for things that I might have missed. I think this will be a book that I will revisit at a later date to look for all the things I missed first time around. Janice Hallett is definitely becoming a force to be reckoned with and I can’t wait to see what she brings us next!

With thanks to Viper Books and Net Galley for my copy.

Mind Games: The Ups and Downs of Life and Football by Neville Southall

First of all, if you are expecting this to be a typical footballer’s autobiography then you are going to be bitterly disappointed. Any followers of Neville Southall on Twitter will know that while he certainly still has an interest in football, his social media platform has, in recent years, been used to highlight inequality in society, regularly using experts in certain issues to host ’Twitter Takeovers’.

Mind Games is a more in depth look at these issues, linking them, at times, to things that he has witnessed during his footballing career. Discussing topics such as racism, homophobia, alcoholism and mental health, this is an honest and candid book, highlighting things that have often been taboo subjects in the footballing world.

The former Everton and Wales goalkeeper does also talk about issues affecting footballers and it is here where we get an insight into what goes on behind closed doors, Southall recounting stories from his own time in the sport that will delight fans of both his club and national career.

This is a well-written, honest book that will appeal to all, not just football fans.

With thanks to Harper Collins UK and Net Galley for my copy.

Monthly Round Up – December 2021

I managed to read more books in December than I did in any other month, largely due to finally succumbing to Covid and having a lot of isolation time. I was grateful to have my Kindle! The TBR pile has grown considerably, however!

Books I Have Read

The Wind Chime by Alexandra Walsh

A timeslip novel set partly in the Victorian era and partly in the present day, I’d been looking forward to reading this since enjoying the Marquess House books by the same author.

Darkness Falls by Robert Bryndza

The third in the Kate Marshall series grabbed me straight away and the twisty plot kept me hooked until the end. My favourite in the series so far.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

I can see why this book has received so much praise! Its novel format, the plot being told in the form of emails and messages, really kept me engaged throughout the whole book.

The Foundlings by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The latest in the Morton Farrier series sees the forensic genealogist investigating the case of several babies that were found abandoned in shop doorways. Mystery, murder, mayhem… this book has it all!

The Girl From Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl

The latest dual timeframe novel from Kathleen McGurl is, as the name suggests, set partly in Bletchley Park during World War Two. A superb read about betrayal.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

Like her previous book, The Appeal, the author tells the story in a novel way, this time in the form of voice messages left on a phone. What did happen to a school teacher who took her class on a field trip never to return?

Gangsta Granny Strikes Again by David Walliams

This sequel doesn’t have the same impact as the first in the series but children will love it nonetheless. some of the well-loved characters return along with the infamous Black Cat.

Mind Games by Neville Southall

This insightful look into issues faced by footballers and the wider world in general is well-written and researched and deals with issues such as racism, mental health and homophobia.

The Body Beneath the Willows by Nick Louth

The latest in the Craig Gillard series sees the detective investigating the discovery of a body with part of an Anglo Saxon dagger lodged in his neck. Is it the body of a long-missing man or is something else afoot?

Books I Have Aquired

Brighton, 1965

When theatrical impresario Bert Billington is found dead in his retirement home, no one suspects foul play. But when the postmortem reveals that he was poisoned, suspicion falls on his wife, eccentric ex-Music Hall star Verity Malone.

Frustrated by the police response to Bert’s death and determined to prove her innocence, Verity calls in private detective duo Emma Holmes and Sam Collins. This is their first real case, but as luck would have it they have a friend on the inside: Max Mephisto is filming a remake of Dracula, starring Seth Billington, Bert’s son. But when they question Max, they feel he isn’t telling them the whole story.

Emma and Sam must vie with the police to untangle the case and bring the killer to justice. They’re sure the answers must lie in Bert’s dark past and in the glamorous, occasionally deadly, days of Music Hall. But the closer they get to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in…

BAFTA-winning actor, voice of everything from Monkey to the Cadbury’s Caramel Rabbit, creator of a myriad of unforgettable characters from Lady Whiteadder to Professor Sprout, MIRIAM MARGOLYES, OBE, is the nation’s favourite (and naughtiest) treasure. Now, at the age of 80, she has finally decided to tell her extraordinary life story – and it’s well worth the wait.

Find out how being conceived in an air-raid gave her curly hair; what pranks led to her being known as the naughtiest girl Oxford High School ever had; how she ended up posing nude for Augustus John as a teenager; why Bob Monkhouse was the best (male) kiss she’s ever had; and what happened next after Warren Beatty asked ‘Do you fuck?’

From declaring her love to Vanessa Redgrave to being told to be quiet by the Queen, this book is packed with brilliant, hilarious stories. With a cast list stretching from Scorsese to Streisand, a cross-dressing Leonardo di Caprio to Isaiah Berlin, This Much Is True is as warm and honest, as full of life and surprises, as its inimitable author.

On the tree-lined banks of Surrey’s River Wey, a decaying corpse is dug up by workmen in the middle of an Anglo-Saxon burial site. His modern dental fillings show that this is no Dark Age corpse…

DCI Craig Gillard is called in, but the body’s condition makes identification difficult. One man, however, seems to fit the bill: Ozzy Blanchard, a contractor employed by the same water firm doing the digging who disappeared six months ago, his crashed company car found nearby.

But then an X-ray of the corpse throws the investigation into turmoil. A shard of metal lodged in his neck turns out to be part of an Anglo-Saxon dagger unknown to archaeologists. Who wielded this mystery weapon and why? Does the answer lie in a murderous feud between two local families?

The deeper Gillard digs, the more shocking truths he will uncover.

Sam Cooper has a happy life: a good job, a blossoming relationship. Yet, there’s something he can never forget – the image seared into his mind of his mother, Laurie, dying when he was a child. His father allowed his grief to tear them apart and Sam hasn’t seen him in years.

Until an unexpected call from Firwood hospital, asking Sam to come home, puts in motion a chain of devastating events. On his deathbed, Sam’s father makes a shocking confession.

Who was Laurie Cooper? It’s clear that everything Sam thought he knew about his mother was wrong. And now he’s determined to find out exactly what she did and why – whatever the cost.

What happens if you discover you’ve been lied to by your own family for twenty-five years?

Sam Cooper is about to find out.

A coffin is dug up by builders in the grounds of an historic convent – inside is the body of a young nun.

In a city as old as London, the discovery is hardly surprising. But when scratch marks are found on the inside of the coffin lid, Detective Jane Tennison believes she has unearthed a mystery far darker than any she’s investigated before.

However, not everyone agrees. Tennison’s superiors dismiss it as an historic cold case, and the Church seems desperate to conceal the facts from the investigation.

It’s clear that someone is hiding the truth, and perhaps even the killer. Tennison must pray she can find both – before they are buried forever . . .

Here’s to a great 2022!

My Books of 2021

For me, this year has seen some amazing additions to existing series from some of my favourite authors. There have also been some great debuts from authors who I cannot wait to see what they write next.

In no particular order…

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

I was a bit late to the party with this one but it was definitely worth the wait! Told through a series of emails and text messages, this totally immersive book invites the reader to solve the crime. I can see why this has been a best seller.

The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh

The latest in the Eddie Flynn series is another fantastic read, this time dealing with a potential miscarriage of justice and some of the most corrupt authority figures you’re likely to come across!

The Art of Death by David Fennell

A gripping serial killer book with more than a touch of the macabre. This is the first in the series, the second, See No Evil, is due to be published in April 2022.

Darkness Falls by Robert Bryndza

The third in the Kate Marshall series is probably my favourite to date. A serial killer has been operating for a number of years but nobody has made the connection until the private detectives are asked to investigate the disappearance of a journalist.

Stolen Ones by Angela Marsons

Another fantastic read from one of my favourite authors. Kim Stone has to keep her frustrations in check when a child goes missing and a man turns up at the police station knowing more about it than he is letting on.

When the Evil Waits by M J Lee

After the ending of the previous book in the series, I couldn’t wait to read this one and I was not disappointed! Ridpath finds himself investigating the case of a child killer while having to come to terms with major events in his own life.

Twisted Lies by Angela Marsons

A particularly gruesome addition to the Kim Stone series sees the detective investigating the murder of a tortured man and the disappearance of his family.

Lying Ways by Rachel Lynch

Easily my favourite of the series so far, this explosive fast-paced plot had me on the edge of my seat. If you haven’t read any of the Kelly Porter books yet, I highly recommend them.

The Foundlings by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The latest in the Morton Farrier series sees the forensic genealogist investigating a case very close to home. I loved the use of DNA evidence to solve the case.

The Bodies at Westgrave Hall by Nick Louth

I like a locked room mystery and this murder is the ultimate example of this! A murder takes place but CCTV evidence shows that no one entered the room and no one left.

Have any of these featured on your list?

The Girl From Bletchley Park by Kathleen McGurl

The Present

The Past

In 1942, Pam decides to defer her place at Oxford University to help with the war effort, joining a team of codebreakers in Bletchley Park. Finding herself the subject of the affection of two young men, she makes her choice, setting in motion a series of events that could change her life forever.

The Girl From Bletchley Park is another superb dual timeframe book from Kathleen McGurl. Kathleen seems to have the knack of choosing the perfect eras for these books and she has done it again here, the Buckinghamshire estate being the perfect setting for a book about mystery and betrayal. I visited Bletchley Park several years ago and would thoroughly recommend it as it really brings home how brave and intelligent women like Pam were.

The theme of betrayal runs through both timeframes, albeit betrayal in very different ways. I admired the strength of both women, Pam and Julia, and enjoyed reading a book with such strong female characters who were not afraid to take matters into their own hands when faced with an earth-shattering situation.

I always look forward to Kathleen McGurl’s books and am eagerly waiting to see which historical era she takes us to next.

With thanks to Net Galley and HQ Digital for my copy.

Take a look at my reviews of other books by Kathleen McGurl.

The Emerald Comb 

The Pearl Locket

The Daughters Of Red Hill Hall

The Girl from Ballymor 

The Drowned Village

The Forgotten Secret

The Stationmaster’s Daughter

The Secret of the Chateau

The Forgotten Gift

The Lost Sister

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