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The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

People all over the world are familiar with the name ‘Jack the Ripper’, the infamous serial killer who, in 1888, slaughtered at least five women in the Whitechapel area of London. Interest in the case has never waned, with detectives and amateur sleuths determined to work out the identity of the man who instilled terror in the women forced to ply their trades on the streets. But what about the identities of the victims? Their names, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are well-known, but what of their lives? Robert Hume aims to show us that these women were more than just the victims of the Whitechapel killer.

Ever since watching the TV mini-series ‘Jack the Ripper’ starring Michael Caine and Lewis Collins, I have had an interest in the serial killer and, as a result, have developed a penchant for Victorian crime fiction and non-fiction. Whereas a lot of real-life crime books devote much of their content to the victims, the early lives of those taken by the Whitechapel killer have been shrouded in mystery. Earlier this year, I read the brilliant The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold, and so I was pleased to discover that another author has taken on the task of bringing these unfortunate women back into the public eye.

Although there are brief discussions about the crimes and some statements from eye-witnesses, the focus is placed firmly on the women and their lives prior to their untimely deaths. This is done in a very readable way and it was easy to picture the squalid streets and the circumstances the destitute found themselves in. Robert Hume paints a very vivid picture of Whitechapel with its crime-ridden passages where the only refuge for most people was in one of the numerous public houses. It is hard to feel nothing but sympathy for these women who, often through no fault of their own, found themselves selling themselves on the street just to find a bed for the night.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the many photos that accompanied each woman’s story, whether it be images of the victims themselves or of the area in which the crimes were committed. It is good to see the women in happier times instead of just in the mortuary photos that feature in most other books about the subject.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims  is a very readable book for anyone interested in finding out a bit more about the five canonical victims or, indeed, for anyone interested in the social history of the poor in the Victorian era.

With thanks to Pen and Sword History and Net Galley for my copy.

 

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The Posing Playwright by David Field

The year is 1895 and Detective Inspector Percy Enright and his nephew Detective Sergeant Jack Enright find themselves investigating a highly sensitive case. Playwright Oscar Wilde stands accused of homosexuality and with the possibility of high profile names being mentioned in court, the detectives must work to suppress any scandal. Meanwhile, in a second case, which Percy believes is connected, a peer has vanished on a train, and the carriage he was travelling on has also disappeared! With both detectives clearly out of their comfort zones, they hope that, this time, there will be no element of danger for anyone connected to them…

Like the first in this series (The Gaslight Stalker), David Field has used a real historical event as the backdrop for this book, namely the trial of Oscar Wilde. When reading this book, it must be remembered that it is set at a time when homosexuality was illegal and people’s opinions were very much different to today. As a result, some other reviews I have read have commented on the highly inappropriate language used by some of the main characters. While it is correct to find this offensive today, it would have been common usage in the late Victorian era when attitudes, in general, were very different.

Although the title is The Posing Playwright, and the main plot is, indeed, about Wilde, it was sub-plot that interested me the most, and could have been something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Not only has a man disappeared, but, somehow, so has the whole train carriage he was travelling on! I enjoyed Percy’s investigations on the railway as to how this seemingly impossible feat could have occurred and also learned a lot about the Victorian railway system in the process!

While this was not my favourite in the series, it was still an enjoyable read. I just hope that we see more of Esther in the next book as she only played a minor role in this one.

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

The Gaslight Stalker

The Night Caller

The Prodigal Sister

The Slum Reaper

 

 

 

**BLOG TOUR** A Pair of Sharp Eyes by Kat Armstrong

The year is 1703 and young Coronation Amesbury, known as Corrie, is leaving her home in Wiltshire to look for work in Bristol. Before she arrives, she is made aware of a killer that is stalking the town, a killer who has already claimed the lives of six young boys. Locals talk of a travelling man called Red John who is slitting the throats of these young unfortunates without leaving a trail – nobody has any clue as to where he is and very few claim to have seen him. When the killer strikes close to home, Corrie is determined not to rest until justice is served…

I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Kat Armstrong’s debut, A Pair of Sharp Eyes, a book that will delight all lovers of historical fiction. This is one of those books that hooks you from the start as we meet Corrie, a young girl forced to make her own way in life. Although it is assumed that she is a naive country girl, we soon realise that this is someone with her wits about her, her intuition saving her from peril even before she arrives in Bristol! I immediately warmed to Corrie and couldn’t wait to see where her journey would take her.

In A Pair of Sharp Eyes, you are immediately transported back to eighteenth century Bristol, the language and description painting a vivid picture of the contrasting lives of the rich and poor. It was easy to visualise the run-down home of Corrie’s sister and the difficulty she had in just trying to survive. After witnessing her sister’s life, it was understandable why Corrie was keen to secure herself a job as a maid at the house of one of the more wealthy Bristolians.

Some difficult subjects are addressed in the plot, not least the slave trade. I liked Corrie’s attitude towards something she clearly felt was abhorrent and I loved the relationship she had with Abraham – he was probably one of my favourite characters in the book. The characterisation was something that made this book special, a rounded picture being built of each person, their lives slowly unfolding as the book progressed.

Although the blurb discusses the murders of the boys, and this does play a pivotal role in the lives of many of the characters, there is so much more to this book than a historical whodunit. A Pair of Sharp Eyes provides a fascinating look at life in the early eighteenth century when religion and wealth (or lack of it) played a huge role in determining how a person’s life would progress. I feel that, as we have had several hints as to what has happened in Corrie’s past, there is scope for a series and I hope this is what the author has in mind as I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

With thanks to Hookline Books for my copy of A Pair of Sharp Eyes and to Kelly from Love Books Tours for organising the blog tour.

Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths

It has been ten years since the events in The Vanishing Box and things have certainly moved on! Edgar Stephens, now a superintendent, has finally got his act together and is married to his former DS, Emma Holmes, and is the father of three children. Edgar’s friend, Max Mephisto, has made the move to America where he is now a film star, married with children, while his daughter, Ruby, is now the star of her own television show, Ruby Magic.

Now something has brought them all back together in Brighton, stirring up memories of the past. Meanwhile, Edgar is investigating the disappearance of a local schoolgirl, Rhonda Miles, and there are concerns that there could be a connection to two other missing women. With the culprit seemingly close to home, will disaster be averted or will their reunion bring heartache?

For me, Elly Griffiths is one of those authors who automatically moves up your TBR list, no matter how many books you already have to read! Ever since attending a talk she did with William Shaw at Waterstones, I have been excited to see what had happened to Stephens and Mephisto, especially as there is such a gap in time between the setting of this book and its predecessor. I had so many questions at the start of the book, all of which were answered really quickly, leaving me to enjoy the latest installment of the Brighton Mysteries.

In Now You See Them, we see the characters move away from the theatre, the setting of much of the previous books. As a result, we see a lot more police work, with a new officer, Meg Connolly, being added to the team. I really liked Meg who, as a woman, is finding it frustrating that she is forbidden from doing the same tasks as the male officers. She has the potential to be a great character, and, although she is still young, I don’t think it will be too long before she is climbing up the promotion ladder. We also see a different side of Emma who, after years of bringing up her children, is desperate to get back to work. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future as a result of her revelation at the end of the book.

There are several other events in the book placing it firmly in the 1960s. A well-known film star is in the area, scouting out locations, giving the local teenage girls the opportunity to get up-close. With this, and references to The Beatles and Top of the Pops, we see a time when teenagers were beginning to become more prominent in society. Perhaps, the most iconic event in the book, however, is the clash between the Mods and the Rockers which took place on Brighton beach in 1964. This provided a great backdrop to the crime, highlighting how difficult it was for Edgar and his team, as they battle to keep order whilst trying to find the missing women.

I really enjoyed meeting up with Stephens and Mephisto again and particularly loved how we see the women starting to want to follow their own career paths. I do hope that book 6 is in the pipeline as I can’t wait to see how Emma’s plans affect her life with Edgar!

With thanks to Quercus Books and Net Galley for my copy of Now You See Them, which can be pre-ordered now and will be published on 3rd October 2019.

 

 

**BLOG TOUR** The Stationmaster’s Daughter by Kathleen McGurl

The year is 1935 and stationmaster Ted loves working on the railway in Dorset to the point where he never takes any time off. All changes, however, when he meets one of the passengers, Annie Galbraith, and falls head over heels in love. Unfortunately, with the railway due to close and a terrible accident occurring at the station, his life is about to change forever.

In the present day, recovering from recent heartbreak, Tilly leaves London to stay with her railway volunteer father in Dorset. Finding a diary hidden in the old stationmaster’s house, she soon becomes engrossed in Ted’s story and makes it her mission to find out exactly what happened on the day the railway closed and why it had repercussions for so many people…

Kathleen McGurl is one of those authors where, as soon as I know there is a new book coming out, I have to have it! I was so pleased, therefore, to be one of the blogs opening the blog tour for her latest dual timeline novel. I love how the two stories in her books gradually come together, giving you a complete picture of what happened, and this was definitely the case in The Stationmaster’s Daughter.

If I had to choose, I would say that the part of the story set in the past was my favourite. Ted is one of those instantly likeable characters and I found myself rooting for him from the start even though you just know that things are not going to turn out well for him. I was transported back to a completely different time where circumstances prevented him from being with the woman he loved, even if I did feel that the woman of his dreams, Annie, didn’t help his cause a great deal! This part of the story was a direct contrast to what was happening in the present day with Tilly, who, although going through a tough time, was able to deal with her situation in a much more practical way.

The Stationmaster’s Daughter has a fantastic setting and Kathleen McGurl really takes you back to a time when life moved at a slower pace than what we are used to. A perfect summer read with an emotional backdrop, the author has, yet again, written another intriguing, entertaining story. I look forward to the next one!

With thanks to Net Galley and HQ Digital and also to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the blog tour.

Take a look at my reviews of some of Kathleen McGurl’s other books here:

The Emerald Comb

The Pearl Locket

The Daughters of Red Hill Hall

The Girl From Ballymor

The Drowned Village

The Forgotten Secret

 

The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson

51UbsxvrAiL._SY346_It’s July 1899 and the crime rate in Leeds has been unusually low. This all changes when Superintendent Tom Harper receives word of a particularly daring burglary at one of the city’s more expensive residences. Meanwhile, his ex-colleague, Billy Reed, is seeking some assistance after the suicide of his brother who was facing an extortionate rent increase. Investigation uncovers a web of corruption involving some of the area’s influential residents. Who are the ringleaders and will Harper be able to apprehend them before the death toll rises?

I’ve always enjoyed reading historical crime fiction, particularly those books set during the Victorian era. In the Tom Harper series, we are now reaching the end of the nineteenth century, a time which has seen great changes for the Leeds detectives. As in all of his books, Chris Nickson has created a very vivid picture of the time, creating characters that feel real and who you can certainly feel empathy for. Again, we see Tom’s wife, Annabelle, taking a central role in the plot, her new position as poor law guardian giving her a platform to help those unable to help themselves. Annabelle has always been my favourite character, her ongoing fight for women’s equality being a great theme running throughout the books. With her daughter, Mary, seemingly being a chip off the old block, I think we are in for some entertaining times ahead!

It was pleasing to see Tom and his old friend Billy attempting to build bridges as they investigated the reason behind the suicide of Billy’s brother. Although this was set over a hundred years ago, the story is all too familiar to many people nowadays with those in power preying upon the poor and less fortunate. It was easy to imagine Harper’s frustration as he faced brick walls when trying to uncover the identities of those involved, especially seeing as he was desperate to close the case for the sake of Billy. The crooks doing the dirty work, the Smith brothers, are a particularly nasty pair, leaving a trail of death and destruction wherever they go. I spent the whole book willing for their capture!

If you are new to the Tom Harper books, please don’t be put off by the fact that this is the seventh book in the series as it can definitely be read as a standalone. This is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favourite so far, and I eagerly anticipate what the next installment brings for Tom, Annabelle and the rest of the characters we have grown to love.

With thanks to Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for my copy.

 

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

 

The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

After years on the throne of England, Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII, was the last of the Tudor monarchs. Or was she? With two more legitimate heirs, known only by a select few, the question of who will take control after Elizabeth’s death is a hotly-debated subject. Now Phillip II of Spain has discovered the secret and it is feared that he will use it to his advantage to claim the throne as his own.

Fast forward over 400 years, and Perdita Rivers and her twin sister, Piper, are ensconced in Castle Jerusalem in Andorra, after their research uncovered a new Tudor bloodline that certain agencies would kill to keep hidden. With their latest discoveries, the sisters are, once again, placed in danger. Is revealing the truth worth more than their own lives?

The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in the Marquess House trilogy and follows on from The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. For this reason, it is advisable to read this series in sequence so you can fully understand the circumstances the Rivers sisters have found themselves in.

I really enjoyed the first in this series so was looking forward to reading the next installment. In this book, we spend more time in the past than The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, and this was understandable seeing as we already know Perdita and Piper and the reasons behind them being where they are. Both time frames are as intriguing as the other and I really enjoyed how the two parts were woven together.

As someone who is interested in Tudor history, I especially enjoyed the importance the author has placed on the women of the time, in particular the relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. At a time when the men in power were intent on war, I liked reading about the machinations of the Ladies of Melusine who were covertly discovering more about potential plots than those whose job it actually was! I think we have also been given a hint here as to something that may occur in the third book: Melusina, a female spirit of fresh water… Rivers… hmm…

In The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy, we read about an alternative take on the Tudors which, if true, would change the face of British history. The twist relating to the death of Elizabeth was definitely not one that I was expecting!

For fans of dual timeline stories, this is a great read. I am looking forward to reading the final part of the trilogy and seeing where Perdita and Piper’s research takes them next.

With thanks to Netgalley and Sapere Books for my copy.

The Ghost of Hollow House by Linda Stratmann

The year is 1872 and Mina Scarletti has been invited to Hollow House in Sussex to investigate the strange occurrences that have been troubling its occupants, Mr Honeyacre and his wife, Kitty. With the servants refusing to stay at the house due to sightings of ‘the woman in white’ and unexplained noises, the health of Kitty Honeyacre is beginning to deteriorate. Confirmed sceptic, Mina, knows that with the assistance of her trusted friends Dr. Hamid and Nellie, she can solve the mystery of Hollow House.

The Ghost of Hollow House is the fourth in the Mina Scarletti series and, while it does make references to previous events, it can definitely be read as a standalone. For anyone who hasn’t been introduced to Mina before, she is not exactly your average Victorian heroine. Afflicted with a severe curvature of the spine, the diminutive protagonist has accepted that, unlike most women of her status, she will never marry and have children. She, therefore, has carved out a career writing ghost stories under a male nom de plume, spending her spare time uncovering fraudulent spiritualists.

It was during this era that spiritualism became big business and Linda Stratmann has painted a vivid picture of life at this time. Hollow House is the perfect setting for a ghost story with its mysterious history and cast of characters with secrets to hide. The tension is ramped up even further when bad weather forces the house to be cut off from the rest of the outside world and the strange happenings continue to terrify those in residence.

Mina, once again, encounters her nemesis, spiritualist Arthur Wallace Hope, who brings with him a Mr Beckler, a photographer keen to capture images of spirits. They are a nefarious pairing, Beckler in particular making my skin crawl with his intentions towards Mina. It is also obvious that another character, Mr Stevenson, is not who he says he is, adding to the mistrust and suspicion in the house.

I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery and there are certainly clues to help you along the way. Mina is very impressive in the way she handles the case and I thought the retelling of the story at the end, written by her nom de plume was a great way of ending the book. A great read!

With thanks to Caoimhe O’Brien and Sapere Books for my copy.

 

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