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Genealogy

Death of a Cuckoo by Wendy Percival

4631636995_252x379When Gina Vincent’s mother dies, she is shocked to find a photograph that challenges everything she thought she knew about her life. Calling upon the services of genealogist Esme Quentin to help her make sense of it all, their search takes them to an abandoned property formerly used as a home for young pregnant women. Secrets run deep in this building and Gina soon finds herself facing danger as she tries to uncover the truth about her past.

It has been some time since we last read about Esme Quentin (Blood-Tied and The Indelible Stain) so this book was long overdue! Death of a Cuckoo is not a full-length novel, but Wendy Percival has still managed to write a superb page turner, linking mystery and genealogy effortlessly. For anyone who hasn’t read the previous books in the series, this could be read as a standalone and would provide a good introduction to the character of Esme.

In Death of a Cuckoo, Esme takes a back seat in the investigation, providing the main character, Gina, with advice and recommendations of where to go next. As in most books of this genre, this turns out to be more than just a straightforward case of family research as secrets from the past start to impact on the present, putting the lives of all those involved in danger. The mystery was an interesting and plausible one and I felt for Gina as she tried to find out who she really was in the most awful of circumstances.

This is a well-written short read and I hope that the wait for the next Esme Quentin story isn’t as long!

 

Dying Games by Steve Robinson

51oXpj-8ZILWhen twin brothers are found drowned in a Perspex box in Washington D. C., and a family history chart is left at the scene, the police realise that this is one of several recent murders with a link to genealogist Jefferson Tayte. Knowing that his experience will be invaluable, Tayte is summoned by the FBI to assist in catching the ruthless killer who always seems to be one step ahead. With his reputation at stake and the body count rapidly rising, will Jefferson have to pay the ultimate price to stop the sadist in his tracks?

I have become a big fan of Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte books over the years and I await each new instalment eagerly. I was excited, therefore, to receive Dying Games through Net Galley, telling myself that I would wait until nearer publication day before I would read it. This resolution lasted a whole day before I found myself clicking on it on my kindle!

The book begins in a very macabre fashion as a woman is burned to death inside a dolls’ house. This sets the tone for the rest of the book as the twisted killer re-enacts deaths that have appeared in the family trees of the victims. From quite early on, JT realises that the killer is someone he has encountered in his professional life but is finding it impossible to convince the FBI that the man cannot be working alone. In Frankie Mavro, JT has the perfect sidekick – someone who provides him with the necessary authority to undertake his research but who is also genuinely on his side.

Like the rest of this series, once I started on this book, I found it difficult to put down. I do feel, though, that this one is different to the others as it had an almost Dan Brown feel to it with our hero solving clues against the clock in order to prevent a tragedy. The ‘race against time’ element made it a very fast-paced, exhilarating read and I really liked the fact how, in many of the cases, there was no happy ending, as this helped JT to develop a true hatred of the unknown man.

Dying Games is a superb addition to the Jefferson Tayte franchise and I hope this is a series that continues to run and run: the ending of this book has certainly changed the direction of any future plots!

With thanks to Net Galley and Thomas & Mercer for the ARC.

The Missing Man by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

61gMJQkjzYL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_After discovering the truth about his parentage, the time has finally arrived for forensic genealogist Morton Farrier to locate his biological father. The Missing Man takes him to the east coast of America to discover what exactly happened to Harley ‘Jack’ Jacklin after disappearing from the family home following a fatal fire. Knowing that his time in the States is limited, Morton faces a race against time before his father is lost forever.

Although this is a novella, Nathan Dylan Goodwin has managed to pack in an awful lot of story! The plot moves between three time frames, detailing the beginnings of Morton’s grandparents’ relationship, the lead up to and the repercussions of the fire and Morton’s search for his father. With so much jumping around in time, it could have been quite easy to become confused but the author has ensured that this does not happen and keeps you engrossed throughout.

In typical Morton Farrier style, he might be celebrating his marriage with a honeymoon in the USA, but you just know that much of his break is going to be spent on genealogical business! Never usually one to shy away from a difficult case, it was disheartening to see Morton come up against brick walls so it was good to see his new wife encouraging him not to give up. To find out if he does find his missing man, you’ll have to read the book! I will say, though, that it was nice to see Mr Farrier not having to protect himself from people trying to stop his research!

One of the things I like the most about Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s writing is his accurate use of genealogy resources, both online and in record offices. As a genealogist, I find the research side fascinating and I found it interesting to see how Morton applied his UK research skills in the records of another country.

For any fans of other genealogical fiction authors, I highly recommend Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s Morton Farrier books. I look forward to the next full-length installment!

 

 

Unearthed by John Nixon

unearthedWhen skeletal remains are discovered in the garden of their new house, Adam and Ruth Porter know that there is only one person who can get to the bottom of it – Madeleine, Adam’s mother and professional genealogist. What ensues is a taxing investigation which exposes long-hidden secrets and an unknown wartime romance.

Unearthed is the fifth of John Nixon’s ‘Madeleine Porter’ novels and, like the others, is based on an event that occurred in the past that has repercussions in the present. This book is slightly different to the others, however, in that there is less of Madeleine and more of the other present-day characters. There is also more emphasis on tracing living people rather than the ancestors of people who have hired the genealogist.

I found that I enjoyed reading the sections set during the war more than I did the modern-day elements of the story. The chapters set in the past were, at times, heartbreaking, as we saw the effects World War Two had on women of that era. I felt, however, that the modern aspect of the story relied a lot upon coincidence and one part in particular was a tad unbelievable.

I did enjoy reading this book as it was a quick read and the parts about the war were beautifully written. It can be read as a standalone but, if you are interested in this genre, the previous books are well worth a read.

The Somme Legacy by M J Lee

51vc6ddce-lWhen genealogist Jayne Sinclair is tasked with finding details of a 1916 marriage, she takes on what should be an easy case. The only problem is there appears to be no documentation to support the fact that a marriage ever took place, with the recollections of the bride, a long-term resident at an asylum, being the only ‘evidence’. Could lowly shop girl, Rose Clarke, really be the bride of army officer David Russell, heir to the Lappiter estate? With only a few days until the estate passes to the Crown, Jayne has to solve a hundred-year-old mystery that has destroyed the lives of many.

The Somme Legacy, the second of M J Lee’s books to feature genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, was one of my most eagerly anticipated books of 2017, and I’m delighted to say that it lived up to my expectations. The follow-up to The Irish Inheritance is told in two time-frames so we get to see the events as they were unfolding in 1916 and also Jayne’s investigation one hundred years later. Like the previous book, I was pleased with how the research was carried out, showing that researching your family history is not just a case of logging onto a website! Jayne’s determination to find documents that might not even exist adds an air of authenticity to this work of fiction.

The plot is an extremely emotive one, dealing with one of the great horrors of British history – the Battle of the Somme. As someone who lost a family member in this battle, I found the description of the trenches particularly harrowing and felt that the author created an accurate representation of the atrocities experienced by the soldiers. Similarly, Rose’s involvement in the Suffragette movement provided another fascinating aspect to the plot, showing the inhumane way these brave women were treated. The reason behind Rose’s incarceration in an asylum is not revealed straight away, but when it is, it really pulls on the heart strings and makes you despair of the cruelty of some people.

In The Somme Legacy, M J Lee has succeeded in creating a heart-warming love story with more than an air of sadness and intrigue. The main characters are extremely likeable and, I particularly enjoyed the relationship Jayne shares with her father who is suffering from the beginnings of dementia.

For any fans of genealogical fiction, this book is a must read and I hope that a third book is in the pipeline!

The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

When a woman asks for help to discover information about her parents, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier, is less than keen. His recent cases have not gone well and with his wedding to Juliette and the prospect of finding out about his own father looming ever closer, his mind just isn’t on the task. He relents, however, and takes the case, leading him to World War Two Britain and an abundance of secrets and lies.

The Spyglass File is the fourth of Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s Forensic Genealogist series, and one that focuses less on the main protagonist and more on the mystery being solved. The amount of research undertaken by the author on the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and their involvement in decoding German transmissions is obvious and makes for a very accurate retelling of the roles of these often overlooked women. It was interesting to read that much of the plot was based on something that the author had discovered in his own family.

As in previous books, the characters are extremely well-written and it is easy to have empathy for the plight of Elsie Finch. Stuck in a loveless marriage at a turbulent time when nothing is the norm, I found myself willing her to have a happy ending. You will have to read the book to find out whether this is the case, but suffice to say the ending was a satisfying, if unexpected, one!

Of course, as in all Morton Farrier books, it would not be right if he did not experience some sort of danger throughout his investigation! If anyone tells you genealogy is a boring hobby, just refer them to this man! Thankfully for Morton, he just about gets away with his life once again!

The ending has set up the next book nicely, so I am presuming we shall be off to America in the next installment. I can’t wait!

The Spyglass File is available to purchase now.

The Pearl Locket by Kathleen McGurl

imageInheriting a house when your husband is out of work and his redundancy money is quickly dwindling may seem like a dream come true. For Ali, though, her great-aunt’s house brings a wealth of problems. In serious need of renovation and a lot of TLC, Ali and her husband soon wonder if the task is too large to undertake. When writing dating from 1944 is discovered on a wall, the family soon find themselves uncovering a wartime secret that was never intended to be discovered,

Like Kathleen McGurl’s other books, The Emerald Comb and The Daughters of Red Hill Hall, The Pearl locket is set in two time frames, in this case, the present day and World War Two. The two eras intertwine well making the story easy to follow. Often with books of this genre, one setting is more interesting than the other; this was not the case here. The story of Joan and Jack in 1944 and that of Ali and her family in the present day were equally enjoyable and as one chapter ended, I looked forward to the next.

The story of Joan and Jack was incredibly poignant and showed the true cost to the everyday person during World War Two. Although I correctly predicted the fate of both of these characters, it did not spoil my enjoyment of the story. The parallels between Joan and Kelly, Ali’s daughter, were also interesting, showing how life for young people hasn’t really changed between the two eras.

Another great read from Kathleen McGurl.

 

The Irish Inheritance by M J Lee

Genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, is contacted by an American billionaire who is seeking help in order to trace his father. Adopted at a young age, and with no recollection of his early life, John Hughes is desperate to discover his true identity before he succumbs to the illness that threatens to end his life in the following months. With few clues to help her, the former police detective has to use all of her investigative skills in order to make connections to Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916 and the later death of a British Officer on a hillside near Dublin.

Genealogical fiction has, in recent years, become a fast-growing genre with authors such as Steve Robinson, Nathan Dylan Goodwin and John Nixon leading the way. M J Lee has shown that there is now another author to add to the list. In Jayne Sinclair we have a solid lead character whose doggedness is evident throughout the book whether it be in her professional life or in the strained relationship with her husband. We also, however, get to see her softer side when she is with her father. The interaction between these two characters is, at times, touching as both of them try to come to terms with his early dementia.

The story is told in two timeframes: present-day Manchester and Ireland during the First World War and ensuing years. Writing about an issue as controversial as British rule in Ireland was always going to be a difficult task but the author deals with it in a sensitive and informative way, showing the events from the perspectives of those on different sides of the argument.

Something that authors of genealogical fiction occasionally get wrong is the methods used by their characters to research – this is not the case here. The steps Jayne uses are logical, using the Internet, record offices and interviews in order to discover the true parentage of John Hughes.

On the strength of this book, it is safe to say that the Jane Sinclair series promises to be a welcome addition to the growing genre of genealogical fiction.

The Irish Inheritance is available to pre-order on Amazon prior to its release on June 15th.

Thank you to the author for providing me with an ARC.

 

 

 

The Emerald Comb by Kathleen McGurl

51gHd5j42SL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Whilst researching her family history, Katie Smith falls in love with Kingsley House, the crumbling former home of her ancestors, the St Clairs. To her surprise, when the house appears on the market, her husband is very keen to purchase it. As he doesn’t share her love of genealogy, Katie decides to keep her connection to the building secret. This subterfuge ends, however, when a terrible discovery is made and Katie must come to terms with the fact that her family is harbouring a dark secret.

The story is told from the perspectives of two people – Katie in the twenty-first century, and Bartholomew St. Clair in the nineteenth century. Despite being almost 200 years apart, the two stories collide as we discover the truth about Bartholomew, his young wife Georgia Holland and her trusted lady’s maid, Agnes Cutter. Without giving too much away, it is quite apparent early on in the book that Agnes is going to play a larger role than that of just a servant but the extreme measures she takes to secure her needs were a bit of a surprise!

Like Kathleen McGurl’s latest book, The Daughters of Red Hill Hall, there are similarities in the stories that are being told in the past and the present, namely that of disfunctional families and the secrecy surrounding them. It is interesting to see, however, how society has changed in that time and how an indiscretion that happened in the past would be dealt with differently nowadays.

Although the ending does not give complete closure to the story, it is real-life as it is acknowledged that not every genealogical mystery can have a complete conclusion. Enough clues are given, however, to infer that Katie has her own suspicions and I would like to think that she carried on to discover what really happened.

After receiving an advance copy of The Daughters of Red Hill Hall from Net Galley, I was keen to read other books by Kathleen McGurl and I am pleased to say that this one lived up to my expectations. Superbly written with great characterisation, I am looking forward to reading The Pearl Locket next!

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