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Blood’s Game by Angus Donald

IMG_1162Close to poverty, young Holcroft Blood can’t believe his luck when he begins working for the Duke of Buckingham, one of the most powerful men in England. Noticed almost immediately for his ability to decode ciphers, Holcroft is soon promoted to a position that enables him to betray his master. Meanwhile, Holcroft’s father, Colonel Thomas Blood, has fallen on hard times and makes a living by any means necessary so when he is tasked to steal the Crown Jewels, he knows he is putting the lives of himself and his family in danger.

Charles II is my favourite king (yes, I have a mental list of favourite monarchs!) so when I saw the premise of this book, I knew that this would be right up my street. Although he does not appear much in the book, the first time we encounter the king is certainly a memorable experience with him attempting to evacuate his bowels! He certainly lives up to his ‘Merry Monarch’ nickname, and I was happy to find that although some of his antics are definitely questionable, Blood’s Game does not besmirch his memory in any way!

I initially thought that this would be mainly about Colonel Blood and his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels and, although this is one of the plots in the book, the main character is his son, Holcroft. I really enjoyed reading the rise of Holcroft from the boy who was bullied on the streets of London to the trusted helper of the Duke of Buckingham. Nowadays, he would definitely be classed as being on the autistic spectrum, but back in the Stuart times, his ability to remember card sequences and decode complicated ciphers would have made him an oddity. I was pleased to see that, rather than ridiculing him, Holcroft’s talents were recognised and used to advance his career.

Although this is a piece of historical fiction, the author has stayed close to the facts of the stealing of the Crown Jewels by Blood, embellishing where it is needed. As a direct contrast to his son, Colonel Blood is a thoroughly unlikeable character although, even though I already knew the outcome of his crime, by the end of the book, I was willing him to get away with it! The writing of the characters in Blood’s Game is one of its biggest strengths and Angus Donald has created realistic portrayals of some of the most interesting people in British history.

I am pleased to see that this book is now going to be part of a series – something I will definitely be awaiting with interest!

With thanks to Readers First for my copy of Blood’s Game.

 

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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 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.

 

The Silk Weaver’s Wife by Debbie Rix

517jii+ZhdLIn the year 1704, Anastasia is planning to marry her sweetheart in secret in an attempt to escape her violent father. After her attempt is thwarted, however, she is forced to marry an older silk weaver and begin a new life, against her wishes, in Venice. Not content with swapping one abusive life for another, she plots her escape.  In 2017, another woman, Millie, is also experiencing relationship problems. When her affair with married boss Max is abruptly ended, she is happy to travel to Italy to write an article for work, where she meets, and falls in love, with Lorenzo. She soon becomes fascinated by the silk making process and is determined to identify the mysterious woman in a portrait she has seen.

I admit that I did not know what to expect when I started to read this book as romantic fiction is a genre out of my comfort zone. I do enjoy dual time-frame books, however, and I was intrigued by the mystery concerning the subject of the painting. When I began to read, I started to have reservations as Millie’s story did not really grab me. A soon as Anastasia’s story kicked in, though, I found myself reading at a much quicker pace, desperate to know how she would escape from her husband. As the book progressed, and there began to be cross-overs between the two time-frames, I started to enjoy Millie’s story much more and was keen to know how their respective stories would end.

Of the two main characters, Anastasia was, by far, my favourite: a strong woman who overcame her fears and tragedies to achieve a fulfilling and rewarding life. Millie, on the other hand, I wanted to shake at times for allowing Max to railroad her into decisions that she did not really want to make. I found it interesting that the more independent woman was the one from the eighteenth century, a time when women had fewer rights than their twenty-first century counterparts.

It is obvious that the author has done a tremendous amount of research to merge fact with fiction, providing a fantastic historical account of the silk trade in eighteenth century Italy. Debbie Rix has painted an evocative picture of the book’s locations, whether it be Venice, Amsterdam or Spitalfields and truly transports you back to the eighteenth century.

For any fans of historical fiction or, indeed, any Italophiles, The Silk Weaver’s Wife is a great read.

With thanks to Bookouture and Net Galley for my copy.

On Copper Street by Chris Nickson

51zeLbgjVpLThe day after he is released from prison, in March 1895, Henry White is found stabbed to death at his home in Copper Street, Leeds. Local people are reluctant to speak to the police so DI Tom Harper knows that he will have a hard time trying to solve the case. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unprovoked incident, a young boy and girl find themselves victims of a serious acid attack. As the death toll rises, Harper knows that unless he gets a big break, the culprits will remain at large for ever.

On Copper Street is the fifth of Chris Nickson’s books to feature the main protagonist, Tom Harper, and is arguably his most complex to date, dealing with issues that wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary crime novel. His descriptions of late-Victorian Leeds, however, place this book firmly in the past and it is this imagery that I love the most about this author’s books. Chris Nickson always succeeds in putting a clear picture in my mind of where the story is set, whether it be the police station, the public house of the crime scene. It is clear how much the author knows about the places he talks about in his books.

The mystery is a fascinating one and gives us a chance to see how most of Victorian police work came down to the legwork of the detectives. It was also interesting to see a new role being undertaken by Harper and poses a conundrum for future books – will he be content with being based, mainly, in the office, or will he find himself longing to be back out on the streets?

I have always loved the prominence the author gives to women in this series of books, and Harper’s wife, Annabelle, continues to be a strong character, largely due to her work with the Suffragettes. In an era where a lot of men controlled their wives’ lives, it is refreshing to see a fictional Victorian marriage where the couple appear to be equals.

Another excellent addition to the series.

With thanks to NetGalley and Severn House Publishers for the ARC.

The Sixth Victim by Tessa Harris

Like the rest of Whitechapel, Constance Piper is living in fear of the unknown killer that roams the streets at night – Jack the Ripper. After witnessing a stage hypnotist perform his act, however, Constance has not been feeling herself and begins to think that she has somehow acquired the powers of second sight. She is soon contacted by a lady who fears that the latest victim may be her missing sister – can Constance use her skills to unmask the killer? Just when she needs her help the most, Constance’s teacher and friend, Emily Tindall, has also gone missing. Is her disappearance linked to the man known as the Whitechapel Killer?

The Sixth Victim is a fictional tale set during 1888 when the infamous serial killer, Jack the Ripper, was striking fear across the whole of the east end of London. I originally thought that this was going to be another take on this age-old mystery but was pleased to discover that it merely provided a backdrop for the main plot and the focus was placed on the missing women and a torso that had been found in another part of London.

I warmed to Constance very quickly – a girl who, although living amongst abject poverty, longs to better herself in order to find a way out of the slums of the east end. In The Sixth Victim, the author has managed to create a very colourful image of Whitechapel, showing a stark contrast between the lives of the unfortunate inhabitants to that of the more well-to-do who live in the grand houses and hotels of London. It was easy to imagine (even with out the aid of Constance’s second sight) the sounds and smells of the area and understand why the women of that time lived in constant fear.

I was not sure what to expect when a supernatural element was introduced to the story as this is not my favourite genre of writing, but I felt that it was written well and allowed the plot to move on at a steady pace. It also appears to show how other subsequent books in the series could take shape. Overall, the plot was a good one and I liked how the author has seamlessly merged fact with fiction.

A great read which promises to be the start of a fascinating new series.

With thanks to Net Galley and Kensington Books for the ARC.

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo

Finding himself carrying out surveillance duties after being reassigned, Harry Hole is quite happy spending some time working alone. It is not long, though, before he discovers that a rare high-calibre rifle has been smuggled into the country – one that is favoured by assassins. When a former Nazi sympathiser is found with his throat cut, Harry wonders if there could be a connection between the two occurrences. As the body count rises, it soon becomes apparent that there is someone out there, determined to mete out their own brand of justice. Will Harry be able to find out who he is before more bodies are found?

The Redbreast is the third of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series and is definitely my favourite so far. Indeed, Jo himself, in a recent Q&A session, declared that this is his favourite too. The start of the book is quite harrowing as we are taken back to the trenches of World War Two where a small group of Norwegian soldiers are fighting on the side of the Germans. This section of the book was, at times, a bit confusing but all is explained very clearly in the concluding chapters and is essential in understanding the rest of the plot.

Fast forward over fifty years, and Norway is dealing with a new enemy – the neo-Nazi. Harry and his colleagues must try to find out if there is a connection between the rise of this group and the Marklin rifle that has turned up in the country. Just who is the target of the alleged assassination plot and which of the ex-soldiers is the would-be assassin? From the outset, it was obvious that one of the soldiers mentioned in the opening chapters would be the guilty party but Nesbo has done a good job in throwing you off the scent until the very end.

As seems to be the theme of all of these early books, Harry, once again, has to endure a personal tragedy and so, inevitably turns to drink. Although this case was, to all intents and purposes, resolved, there was still a major part of it that was not – I am sure that this story line will rear its ugly head in one of the following books.

In all, a fascinating read that was a solid mystery story and one that also taught me some aspects of World War two that I did not know too much about.

 

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 Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

img_0987After bones are discovered in the network of tunnels under Norwich, DCI Nelson has a murder to investigate when it is revealed that they are part of a recent burial. To add a macabre twist, Dr. Ruth Galloway has suspicions that the bones have been boiled – could a cannibal be at large? Meanwhile, a homeless woman has gone missing, the only clue seemingly being that she has ‘gone underground’. Are the two cases connected and what, if anything, links them to the disappearance of another local woman? It is up to Nelson and Dr. Ruth Galloway to unearth the mysteries of The Underground before it is too late…

Over the past year, I have read all of Elly Griffiths’ ‘Ruth Galloway’ books and The Chalk Pit was on my list of most anticipated books of 2017. Ruth has become one of my favourite fictional characters and it has been fascinating to see the character development of her and other favourites such as Cathbad and Nelson. All of the characters are extremely well-written, likeable and very realistic.

With homelessness seemingly on the rise, The Chalk Pit is a very topical read and Elly Griffiths deals with the issue in a sensitive and sympathetic way. It is hard not to feel for the plight of the rough sleepers, and people’s differing attitudes towards them is all too true. DS Judy Johnson really comes into her own in this book and the obituary written by her at the end of the book is very moving.

As someone who loves historical as well as crime fiction, I have found Elly Griffiths’ books a perfect read. Although there is less of a historical angle in The Chalk Pit, there is still enough about old bones and communities to whet the appetite! As you would expect with any book involving DCI Nelson and Dr. Galloway, there are some murders to investigate along the way, which tie in neatly to the disappearance of the women.

Elly Griffiths has written another fantastic book and one that, in my opinion, cements her place as one of the best writers of a crime series. My only regret is that I have now finished all the Ruth Galloway books and know that there will be a while until the next one!

With thanks to Net Galley and Quercus for the arc.

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