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The Dancer by John Nixon

When a woman is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, the only clue to her identity is a note found on her person detailing an appointment with genealogist, Madeleine Porter. After it is determined that this is no accident, the investigation stalls, prompting Madeleine to do some investigating of her own. Just what was it that the dead woman wanted help with and did this lead to her untimely death?

The Dancer is the latest installment in the Madeleine Porter mystery series and, although I wouldn’t say it is one of my favourites, it is still a good book, especially for anyone wanting a quick, easy read.

As in previous books, Madeleine uses her genealogical knowledge to help solve a mystery, in this case the identity of a woman suspected of being pushed off a cliff. As someone who researches my own family, I always like to predict the methods about to be used by fictional genealogists and am pleased when our strategies match! From a genealogy point of view, the author clearly knows what he is talking about and the sources he uses are spot on.

I enjoyed the mystery in The Dancer, and although it is easy to predict what is going to happen in parts, I loved how the different strands tied together to create a well-balanced story. I would have liked to have found out more about the dead woman but I suppose that was even beyond the great Madeleine Porter!

I look forward to Madeleine sinking her teeth into another case soon!

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The Vanished Child by M J Lee

51RHw4h2PBLAfter her father’s new wife asks for her help, genealogist Jayne Sinclair embarks on probably the most emotive case she has dealt with so far. On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses that in 1944, she gave birth to an illegitimate son, placing him in a children’s home until she was in a position to bring him up herself. When she was finally in that position, the boy had vanished. With conflicting reports as to what had happened to him, Jayne must investigate one of the most shameful periods in recent history in order to discover his fate.

The Vanished Child is the fourth book in the Jayne Sinclair series and, in my opinion, is easily the best. The storytelling is very emotive, dealing with an issue that many people are still dealing with today – the fate of the child migrants. In the last century, over 100,000 children from the UK were sent to countries such as Canada and Australia for a ‘better life.’ Of course, this better life was not to be for many of the children who were unloved and abused. As someone who discovered two of these child migrants in my own family, this book really struck a chord with me. In my family, two sisters who had lost their mother were sent to Canada despite them still having a father and brother in the UK.

The Vanished Child tells the story of Harry, who is sent to Australia without the consent of his mother, who is desperate to have her son back at home with her. This was the most heartbreaking part of the book – a mother determined to locate her child and a child desperate to be with his mother, but the scheming of the authorities prevented this from happening. Harry was a wonderful character: a boy who despite the horrific life he is having to endure, never gives up hope that one day he will be able to return home.

This was very different to the other genealogical fiction I have read in that, in most of these books, the genealogist is put in some danger as they try to uncover something from the past. Where this book differed, though, is that the focus was firmly placed on uncovering the truth and Harry became the main character rather than the researcher.

If you have never read any genealogical fiction before, this would be a great place to start. As well as penning a sensitive, well-written story, M J Lee has explored a period in British history which still remains unknown to many people today. A must read in more ways than one.

The Wicked Trade by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Genealogist Morton Farrier finds himself researching the shadowy world of Georgian smugglers after a client asks him to research the life of his ancestor, Ann Fothergill. Using a letter she wrote in 1827 as his starting point, research soon points to her connection with the notorious Aldington Gang, a group from the south of England whose reputation spread far and wide. Just exactly how did Ann make her money and why is someone in the present day so interested in Morton’s work?

This is the seventh book in the Morton Farrier series and, I don’t know how he does it, but Nathan Dylan Goodwin keeps pulling it out of the bag! I’m a huge fan of genealogical fiction and it’s fair to say that while some is better than others, I would definitely put this author up there with the best. Such is my love of Morton Farrier, as soon as I realised that another book had been published, I immediately downloaded it and, despite my mounting reading pile, started to read straight away!

Like other books in the series, The Wicked Trade is told in multiple time frames, in this case the present day and the 1820s. Both parts of the story were equally as compelling and I enjoyed finding out about Ann’s life and also the research Morton took to uncover it. As a fellow genealogist, I am always interested in Morton’s visits to record offices and I am always pleased with the author’s attention to detail. Morton’s life has changed a lot since the start of the series, and since the birth of his daughter he has other commitments in addition to his job so it was good to see how he is juggling his personal and professional life.

The story of Ann Fothergill was a fascinating one and showed how it doesn’t matter the circumstances in which you were born, if there is a chance to improve your life you should take it. I found I had mixed feelings towards Ann. I admired her for her ability to turn her life around from an illiterate streetwalker to the owner of public houses but, on the other hand, her involvement with the Aldington Gang and the subsequent events left me with a nasty taste in my mouth.

I loved the historical detail in the book and it painted a great picture of how smugglers operated in the nineteenth century. The use of language that would have been spoken at the time also gave the story a more authentic feel.

There is still much to tell about Morton Farrier so I hope that another book is in the pipeline!

Blood Underground by Dan Waddell

When a body is found entombed in a disused tube station in London, shortly followed by a second one, DCI Grant Foster fears that there is a serial killer is on the loose. With little to go on, he calls in the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes to see if he can come up with a connection between the victims. Nigel’s life is soon put in danger, however, as the killer closes in on their next victim…

Over the last few years, there has been a boom in the genealogical fiction genre with the likes of Steve Robinson and Nathan Dylan Goodwin coming to the fore. The first time I read anything in this genre, though, was a number of years ago when I read the first of Dan Waddell’s Nigel Barnes series. Having not seen anything new recently, I thought that this series was finished so was delighted to hear that Nigel was making a comeback! Blood Underground may only be a short story but it has certainly whetted the appetite for a new full-length addition to the series!

I first found out about ‘ghost’ stations on the Underground during an episode of BBC’s Sherlock and was immediately fascinated by these ‘frozen in time’ parts of London. Dan Waddell’s use of these disused stations provides a very atmospheric, claustrophobic crime scene which will certainly have people thinking next time they are on the tube!

If you have not read any of the previous books in the series, then Blood Underground would be an ideal way to introduce you to the work and investigations of Nigel Barnes. A great short read.

The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival

When Max Rainsford, a former journalist colleague of her late husband, Tim, arrives to quiz Esme about a story he was working on thirty-five years ago, the genealogist is reluctantly forced to revisit her troubled past. Meanwhile, Esme’s friend, Ruth, is desperate to know the story behind her aunt, Vivienne, a nurse during the Second World War who never returned home. As Esme starts her investigation, she soon realises that the two cases are linked and is forced to come face to face with the devastating truth about her husband’s death.

The Malice of Angels is the third full-length Esme Quentin mystery and is by far the most complex. At the start of the book, we see Esme preparing to relocate to Devon where she will be nearer some of her old friends. The appearance of Max Rainsford, however, makes her return to a particularly dark period in her life when her husband was killed whilst pursuing a story. Initially reluctant to help Max with his task, she is soon drawn in after looking at her late-husband’s notebooks from the time of his death. Ever since being introduced to Esme, it was inevitable that her past would, one day, be explored and Wendy Percival has done this with style. I really felt for Esme as she was forced to confront her past and finally discover the true circumstances behind Tim’s death.

The way the two stories intertwined was very clever and I particularly enjoyed reading about a part of World War Two that I didn’t really know too much about – the Special Operations Executive. The story of Vivienne, Ruth’s aunt, was a particularly harrowing one and was one that was filled with subterfuge and cover-ups. It was clear to see how much research the author had done in order to make this complicated plot into a story that was easy to follow. I also liked the short chapters, making you want to read ‘just one more’ before putting it down.

Lately, for fans of Esme, we have been spoilt with The Malice of Angels and, also, the short story Death of a Cuckoo. I hope it won’t be too long before we find out what Devon life holds in store for the genealogist.

The Malice of Angels is available now: The Malice of Angels 

 

The Suffragette’s Secret by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

With the imminent arrival of his first child, genealogist Morton Farrier has set himself the task of researching the family tree of his wife. During the course of his investigation, Morton finds himself fascinated by one ancestor in particular, his wife’s great-grandmother, Grace Emmerson, a militant suffragette. With his mother-in-law convinced that Grace was a respectable woman, Morton must try to discover the secrets that have been hidden deep in the past.

I am a big fan of the Morton Farrier series so I was pleased to discover that Nathan Dylan Goodwin had written a new installment, albeit in the form of a short story. For anyone who is already acquainted with Morton, this book sees a departure from his normal investigations in that, for once, there is no element of danger! Instead, we see him researching the life of a suffragette, mixing fact with fiction to create a well-researched snapshot of the campaign to give women equal voting rights.

During the course of the books, we have seen Morton change from a confirmed bachelor to a married father but this is not the most surprising transformation. It was amusing to see his least favourite archivist have a complete personality transplant upon finding out the news of his new child! This was a very funny aside and I am assuming that she will back to her old cantankerous self by the next book!

If you have not read any of this series, then I would advise you go back and start from the beginning in order to build up the full story of Morton’s life but for existing fans, this will certainly whet the appetite for a new book!

The American Candidate by M J Lee

Genealogical Investigator, Jayne Sinclair, is about to undertake her most high profile case to date after being tasked to research the family history of a potential candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America. When the man who commissioned the research is shot dead in front of her eyes, Jayne realises that someone will stop at nothing to prevent the research from being carried out. Exactly who is the candidate’s mysterious grandfather and why is someone so keen to keep his secrets well hidden? Jayne knows that, if she is to continue with this case, her life is in the utmost danger.

The American Candidate is the third of the Jayne Sinclair series and, in light of recent upheavals in American politics, deals with a very topical subject. Although the first two books in the series (The Irish Inheritance and The Somme Legacy) had an element of danger, this one really ups the ante and is quite violent from the start when someone she has just met is killed in cold blood in front of her. What follows is a mad dash through the streets of London as Jayne and her companion endeavour to escape from assassins disguised as police. This part of the book was very reminiscent of the Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code and, indeed, even mentioned one of the same locations – Temple Church. I found this chase sequence very exciting and, due to the skills of the people chasing them, was desperate to discover how they would manage to get away.

Like the other books in the series, The American Candidate is set in two time frames, the other era being prior to and during World War Two. We discover quite early on that the candidate’s grandfather was heavily involved in the Nazi movement and, at times, this was quite disturbing to read due to its subject content. It is obvious that the author has done a great deal of research and it was fascinating to read about the English supporters of Hitler’s ideology and their campaigns under Oswald Mosley. It was easy to see how some young men could be seduced into believing what they were being told about the ‘enemy’ – again a very topical subject today.

It’s not often that a book with a genealogical slant has a twist so I was not expecting it when one occurred towards the end of this book. This was a very clever move and was one that all seemed so obvious when it was explained!

The American Candidate is a great addition to the series and I look forward to reading the next one.

The Girl From Ballymor by Kathleen McGurl

510u-LpbteLIn Ballymor, Ireland in 1847, Kitty McCarthy is struggling to keep her family alive due to the potato famine that has already killed all but two of her children. In the present day, Maria has arrived in Ballymor to research the life of her ancestor, the Victorian artist Michael McCarthy. Will she be able to discover the circumstances surrounding his early life and also what became of his beloved mother, Kitty?

I have loved all of Kathleen McGurl’s previous books and The Daughters of Red Hill Hall was one of my favourites of last year.  I had, therefore, been eagerly anticipating The Girl From Ballymor, and am pleased to say that it is just as good as the rest!

One of the things I like most about Kathleen McGurl’s books is how she seamlessly merges past with present and this is evident here. Speaking as somebody who has ancestors who left Ireland during the potato famine, I found Kitty’s plight highly emotive and could understand her desire to ensure that her son escaped to a better life. Despite living in horrendous conditions, Kitty was an incredibly strong woman and, like Maria, I too became engrossed in the mystery surrounding what became of her. Inevitably, her story was never going to end well, and when her fate was finally revealed it was tinged with more than a touch of sadness.

Sometimes in a dual-timeline story, I find myself liking one of the timelines more than the other but this is not the case in The Girl From Ballymor. Both parts of the story were equally as engaging and were interlinked in a way that moved the plot on. I felt that Maria was a very real character and could sense her trepidation as major changes were about to affect her life in a huge way.

With its cross-genre approach, The Girl From Ballymor will appeal to fans of historical and genealogical fiction and also anyone who enjoys a gentle mystery. This is another great book from Kathleen McGurl and I hope there isn’t too much of a wait before the next one!

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for the ARC.

 

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!

 

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