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The Fear of Ravens by Wendy Percival

After being hired to research the history of an old mill owned by her client Anna Brannock, genealogist Esme Quentin uncovers allegations of murder, witchcraft and a family feud that still exists today. Disturbingly, Anna appears to be the victim of some sort of hate campaign – is there a link to what happened a century ago? It is during the course of her investigation that Esme also finds herself embroiled in a missing persons enquiry after a private investigator arrives, looking for an Ellen Tucker. Why are the local people denying knowing too much about Ellen and how does it link to what is happening to Anna?

I was thrilled to see that Wendy Percival had written a fourth Esme Quentin book and could not wait to see where I would be transported to this time. Although we are taken back to the Victorian era as part of Esme’s research, I liked how most of the events link to the more recent history, a common theme linking everything neatly together.

As a fan of historical fiction and, in particular, genealogical fiction, one of the things I enjoyed most about this book is that the writing style is very different from other authors of this genre. Although we find out about different historical eras, this is not written as a ‘timeslip’ story as in other books. Instead, we experience Esme’s research, the stories of the past being uncovered as we read. This is fascinating to me and, as a family history researcher myself, I enjoyed seeing that Esme’s research mirrored what I would have done!

The plot is a fascinating one, dealing with the subject of witchcraft and how women were condemned for the most trivial of reasons. The Fear of Ravens hits the spot in so many ways, as in addition to being a great historical mystery, there is a cracking whodunit running throughout. When you add the wonderful setting and great characters into the mix, what you have is a book perfect for anyone looking for a read that really draws you into the plot.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, or have never given books with a genealogical slant a try, then I can thoroughly recommend The Fear of Ravens. Although it is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone, but if you would like to find out about the rest of the series, take a look at the rest of the books and some of my reviews:

Blood-Tied

The Indelible Stain

The Malice of Angels

Death of a Cuckoo

Legacy of Guilt

With thanks to Wendy Percival for sending me an ARC off The Fear of Ravens.

**BLOG TOUR** The Secret of the Chateau by Kathleen McGurl

It is the end of the 18th century and Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the privileged life they lead at the court of Versailles to set up home at a chateau, the ancestral home of Pierre. With attitudes towards the aristocracy changing rapidly, will the couple manage to start a new, more bourgeois life or will their aristocratic life catch up with them?

In the present, Lu and her husband, along with three of their friends have upped sticks to France to start a new life as joint owners of French property – the chateau Aubert. When people start to talk about the ghost that is known to live there, Lu’s interest is piqued and she begins to research the history of their house, revealing a secret that has remained hidden for centuries…

As always, it is a privilege to be part of the blog tour for one of Kathleen McGurl’s books as this is an author whose work I always eagerly anticipate. As in previous books, the story is told in two time frames: the present and, in this case, the lead up to and the aftermath of the French Revolution. It soon became apparent how much research the author has done into this turbulent time, not only with her historically accurate account of the events In France but also with the descriptions of the Alpes Maritimes. It was easy to visualise the setting such was the description, Kathleen McGurl painting a very picturesque view of this area of south east France. (If you want to see some pictures that inspired the book, take a look at https://www.pinterest.co.uk/kathmcgurl/future-novel/) .

In the two main characters, we see contrasting personalities. Lu is someone who is in need of a purpose in life after retiring from work to care for her mother. The death of her mother has left her at a loose end and so the opportunity to relocate to a chateau in France with her husband and friends seems like an ideal opportunity. Her uncertainty about the venture, however, is the complete opposite to Catherine, a woman who, despite her tender years, knows her own mind, even though her desire to emulate Marie Antoinette could end up being her downfall.

As someone who researches my family history, I liked reading about the discoveries made by Lu as she attempted to find out about the previous occupants in the chateau. This was where the two story lines converged, leading to a harrowing revelation about what actually happened to Pierre and Catherine Aubert. I found this very moving and, although I won’t give any spoilers, I was pleased that there could be closure for characters in both time frames.

As expected, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret of the Chateau and loved the slow, mysterious build-up leading to a heart-breaking yet satisfying conclusion. This is a standalone, but I can definitely recommend all of Kathleen McGurl’s previous dual time frame books:

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

With thanks to HQ Digital, Net Galley and Rachel’s Random Resources for my ARC and for my spot on the blog tour.

 

The Death Certificate by Stephen Molyneux

When Peter Sefton discovers an inscribed metal disc on a farm, he becomes intrigued by its original owner, taking him on a journey to the dangerous streets of Victorian London. Over 150 years before, Moses Jupp finds himself orphaned at a young age, scavenging on the banks of the Thames being the only way to keep him alive. Through his research, Peter reveals a link to a Victorian antiquities scandal and the farm where he is undertaking his metal detecting, uncovering a tragic tale of death, forgery and unfortunate circumstances.

Ever since I read Stephen Molyneux’s debut, The Marriage Certificate, six years ago, I have been longing for a second book. I just didn’t think I would be waiting six long years! It has definitely been worth the wait, however, as the author has, once again, written a fascinating look into another era, mixing historical and genealogical fiction. Written in two time frames, the majority of The Death Certificate tells us about the life of Moses Jupp with timely chapters looking at Peter’s research, allowing the story to move on quickly.

Although he was not always strictly on the side of the law, I had great sympathy for the character of Moses. Losing his parents at such a young age and having to fend for himself, it was understandable that he was always going to have to do what he needed to do in order to survive. I enjoyed reading about his time as a scavenger and his experience at the ragged school and as a shoe-black. There was a definite feeling of, ‘what if…’, however, as if it were not for a constant thorn in his side, his life would probably have been a lot better, leading to a different outcome on the death certificate purchased by Peter.

If, like me, you enjoy historical fiction, especially that set in the Victorian era, then I am sure that this is a book you will enjoy. If you are a family historian, then this is also going to be right up your street. I really enjoy Stephen Molyneux’s writing and I hope that I do not have to wait the same length of time for his next book – we’ve had a death and marriage certificate, how about a birth certificate next?

The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The death of a 92-year-old man wouldn’t ordinarily make the newspapers, but this was no ordinary elderly gentleman. Notwithstanding the fact that he appears to have committed suicide, there is another major problem: this man actually died in the 1940s. Tasked by a woman to investigate the real identity of the man who has been living under the name of her long-dead brother, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier finds himself involved in the shady world of 1950s espionage. Meanwhile, he has a problem of his own to solve when a close DNA match poses problems for the Farrier family.

As a family historian and a fan of genealogical fiction, I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s previous books centred around Morton Farrier. Farrier is a likeable character and it has been great fun to go with him on his professional and personal journey as he researches the family history of his clients whilst also trying to untangle his own complicated genealogy. The Sterling Affair, however, is a step up from the author’s previous offerings, mixing mystery, genealogy and espionage with ease and creating a genuinely enthralling story.

It is plain to see how much research has gone into this book as the author mixes fact with fiction making it impossible to see where one ends and the other begins. The Suez crisis is not a period of history that I profess to know a lot about and so I enjoyed learning about the events in the middle east and the involvement of Britain in its development. Told in two time frames, it allowed us to see events as they were unfolding in the 1940s/1950s and also Morton’s research in the present day. As always, Morton’s research was thorough and I liked reading about different sources that I (as yet) have not had the opportunity to use.

As well as the fascinating main plot, I was also drawn in by the plot regarding Morton’s own family. Just when you thought he couldn’t have any more skeletons in his closet, his DNA throws up an amazing twist, with a story line worthy of a book of its own. I hope that this is a case that the genealogist takes on as I would love to read the outcome in the next book.

The Sterling Affair is a gripping read, thrilling and educational at the same time. Highly recommended.

Take a look at my reviews of other books in this series:

The America Ground

The Spyglass File

The Missing Man

The Wicked Trade

 

 

The Merchant’s Daughter by M J Lee

When a DNA test reveals that the famous actress Rachel Marlowe has African ancestry, she calls upon genealogist Jayne Sinclair to try to discover more about this mysterious antecedent. With a family line that dates back to William the Conqueror, Rachel’s family are reluctant to believe the science, convinced that there must be some error. With a short timescale in which to solve the mystery, Jayne’s research is made even more difficult with the realisation that someone will stop at nothing, even serious injury, to prevent her from discovering the truth.

The Merchant’s Daughter is the seventh of the Jayne Sinclair series and is probably one of my favourites to date. With more and more people having their DNA analysed on sites such as Ancestry, this is a very topical plot and one that all people (like me) who have done such a test will find fascinating.

Like in previous books in the series, the story is told in two time frames, in this case Jayne’s present-day investigations and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. One of the things I like most about this series is the historical aspect, and the author’s willingness to write about what could be termed a controversial subject. As someone with a connection to the slave trade in their family, I found the plot a fascinating one and am glad that books like this are being written so that we never forget the barbaric treatment of these people.

The main historical protagonist is Emily Roylance, a character whom I immediately warmed to. I thought it was a clever idea to have Emily tell her story via her memoirs as this helped the plot to move on quickly and made me desperate to know the circumstances behind her being where she was. In a book full of unpleasant characters, Emily’s strength and courage shone through.

The most pleasant surprise for me was how much of the story was set in my home city of Liverpool. M J Lee has certainly created an accurate picture of the life of the wealthy and I could visualise Hope Street at the time when Liverpool was profiting from the slave trade. Similarly, I was pleased to see Jayne visiting the International Slavery Museum, somewhere I have been several times and a place which definitely opens a person’s eyes with regard to the treatment of such people.

I really did enjoy The Merchant’s Daughter as not only does it discuss an important aspect of British history, but it is a fast-paced read with a great mystery. I can’t wait to see what era the author decides to tackle next!

Take a look at my reviews of the rest of the series:

The Irish Inheritance

The Somme Legacy

The American Candidate

The Vanished Child

The Silent Christmas

The Sinclair Betrayal

Reputations by John Nixon

Treating herself to a trip to Egypt, genealogist Madeleine Porter meets Margaret Smith, a woman who says she has no knowledge of her late husband’s family. Turning down Madeleine’s offer of help, Margaret is inspired to do some research of her own, promising to keep the genealogist informed of her findings. Soon, Madeleine and her husband, Ian, are shocked to discover that their new friend has been found murdered in her own home and are even more perplexed when, the following day, they receive a package from Margaret containing an old newspaper detailing the murder of an elderly couple in 1966. Written on the cutting, in Margaret’s own writing, are the words, ‘Peter didn’t do this’. What secrets have been hidden in the past and why did Margaret have to pay the ultimate price to keep them hidden?

Madeleine Porter is back, and this time her investigations bring her closer to home. The premise is a good one – a woman, Margaret, marries late in life, only to lose her husband without really knowing anything about his family. Spurred on to do some research after speaking to Madeleine, her untimely death spikes curiosity in the genealogist, who wants to know more about the 1966 murder and the potential links to Margaret’s husband. Working alongside her husband, Ian, we are treated to Madeleine’s thought processes as she tries to unravel the mystery – one that is, seemingly, perplexing the police.

This plot had so much potential, but I admit to finding myself confused several times as I was reading, as to the motive behind Margaret’s murder. Although this was explained satisfactorily at the end, I still felt that there were several characters that muddied the waters a bit too much, spoiling my enjoyment slightly.

This is a series that I will still continue to read as I love the genealogical aspect and enjoy reading about Madeleine and Ian, but I feel that this does not live up to the high standards of the earlier books.

 

The Sinclair Betrayal by M J Lee

There is one family that genealogist Jayne Sinclair has been reluctant to investigate – her own. After discovering that the father she thought had died when she was a child is, in fact, still alive, old wounds are opened up. To compound the issue even further, she finds out that he is currently residing in prison after killing a civil servant in cold blood. Claiming that the life he took was an act of revenge for his mother’s betrayal during World War Two, Jayne must try to uncover the truth about her grandmother’s past in order to solve an age-old mystery.

From the beginning of the series, it has always been apparent that there was something interesting lurking in Jayne’s family history. Spurred on by her stepfather, who urges Jayne to find out about her past before it is too late, we are taken on an emotive journey back to World War Two where we discover the secret life of her French grandmother, Monique.

The action flips between two time frames – Jayne’s modern-day research and Monique’s life in World War Two as a member of the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The dual time frames work well together and I particularly like how we see Jayne discovering something during her research and then reading about the actual event during the war. Both time frames were as enjoyable to read as each other, and I found myself flying through the book, desperate to know what was going to happen next.

One of the things I enjoy most about books like this is the historical aspect and the chance to learn new things. Although I had previously read about the SOE, M J Lee paints a vivid picture of life for the operatives and there were some genuine ‘heart in the mouth’ moments when reading about the dangers these brave people put themselves in. The story was, at times, heartbreaking, especially when the fate of Monique was revealed and was made even more poignant when reading about the real-life women of the SOE and their tragic ends.

I have read all of the other books in this series but I think that this my favourite so far. If you have never read any of the Jayne Sinclair books before, I can heartily recommend them, although you do not need to have read them before reading this one – it can be read as a standalone.

Take a look at my reviews of the rest of the series:

The Irish Inheritance

The Somme Legacy

The American Candidate

The Vanished Child

The Silent Christmas

 

Legacy of Guilt by Wendy Percival

As someone who researches their family history, I have been so pleased to see the rise of genealogical mystery as a genre. Perfect for anyone who likes to solve a puzzle while they are reading, these books also often contain a murder for those of us who like a good fictional killing! If this is a genre you have not yet experienced, can I recommend you start with one of the several short stories that are available, such as this one, Legacy of Guilt, by Wendy Percival. This short story is available as a free download on Wendy’s website, https://www.wendypercival.co.uk/.

Wendy’s books feature genealogist Esme Quentin, and in this prequel Legacy of Guilt, we discover how she embarked on her new career. Widowed and still coming to terms with her loss, Esme has a new house and is at a crossroads in her life. A chance encounter with her long-lost cousin leads her into using her genealogical skills to uncover a hidden past and deeply buried family secrets. Here, we see Esme at the very beginning of her new job, learning her trade with the help from a friend. From reading the other books, and knowing that she is now a successful genealogist, it was interesting to see her relying on the advice of others, something all of us researchers have done at one time or another.

If you are after a quick read and an introduction to this author or genre, then Legacy of Guilt is a great place to start. The other books in the series are:

Blood Tied

The Indelible Stain

The Malice of Angels

Death of a Cuckoo

With thanks to Wendy Percival for generously providing The Legacy of Guilt.

 

 

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.

 

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