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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.

 

**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

The Asylum by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

After seemingly completing one of his research cases, forensic genealogist, Morton Farrier feels that there is more to this story than meets the eye. Further investigation leads him to the suspicious death of a woman in an asylum many, many years ago. Morton must now ensure that all of his facts are right before revealing the awful and life-changing truth to his client.

The Asylum is a prequel to Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s Morton Farrier series and as it is only 93 pages long, is an excellent introduction to anyone who has not yet come across this brilliant series. For regular readers, like me, you will be pleased to know that as well as the mystery being investigated, we also get a chance to discover how Morton met his partner, Juliette.

The mystery is an emotive one, dealing with the controversial issue of asylums and the reason women could find themselves incarcerated. Again, we see the steps Morton took to solve the mystery, using the sources that would have been available at that time. There were also some light-hearted moments, though, and I particularly enjoyed reading about his solo trip to the asylum and his realisation when studying a photograph in more detail.

The Asylum is another great addition to the series and I hope it won’t be too long before we get to read the next one.

The Silent Christmas by M J Lee

With Christmas fast approaching, genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, only has a few days to uncover the secrets of her latest case. Her client, David Wright, has asked her to research the history of some objects he has recently found in his attic, objects that appear, on face value, to be worthless. Just why, then, has a label, a silver button and a lump of old leather been kept for all these years? By the end of the book, all will be revealed…

The Silent Christmas is the fifth of the Jayne Sinclair mysteries but this novella can be read as a standalone. With the approach of the centenary of World War One, this is a very timely read and one that will bring to life one of the most famous occurrences from the 1914-18 conflict.

Jayne Sinclair is a great character and I like how she uses real-life methods and websites to aid her research. I also enjoy when her past career, that of a police officer, rears its head, in this case when she meets an old ‘associate’ who can help her to identify the items. This character always makes me smile when he makes an appearance!

M J Lee has managed to merge fact with fiction to the point where it is hard to see where the two meet. It is obvious that the author has done a lot of research into the subject and, as a result, has written a fascinating, easy-to-read book. The ending sets up another plot nicely, and I hope we don’t have to wait too long before we see Jayne researching this part of her life.

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