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Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane by Paul Thomas Murphy

In April 1871, whilst on his beat near Greenwich, a police constable found a young woman dying in the mud, her head displaying horrific injuries. The woman, Jane Clouson, would manage to live for a short time but was never able to reveal the identity of her attacker. A ‘maid of all work’ who was pregnant at the time of her death, it was not long before someone was arrested and charged with her murder. With the police struggling to build a case, however, did they get the right man?

I enjoy reading about real-life Victorian crime and this book has been on my TBR pile for a while. Like the author, this was not a case I had previously heard of and so I was intrigued to see how the investigation would unfold and what the outcome would be. What I found was an incredibly flawed investigation and a suitably flawed outcome.

From the moment witnesses began to come forward, the police had only one suspect in mind – Edmund Pook. Clouson had been the maid at the Pook family home and it had been alleged that Edmund, the son of her employer, was the father of her unborn child. Although this was fiercely denied, the police were not convinced and hastily arrested Pook. This became their first problem. Although there were no serious contenders for an alternative suspect, the speed at which Pook was arrested meant that the police did not have time to build up a convincing case.

Public opinion played a huge part in the case, with newspapers keen to report everything that was happening. As a result, crowds gathered at the court and at the Pooks’ home, all keen to voice their opinions. Witnesses were unreliable, leading to a frustrating trial for the police.

To avoid spoilers, I will refrain from divulging the outcome of the trial, but what I will say is that I agree with the author’s opinion as to what really happened. Paul Thomas Murphy has written a fascinating book about a little-known case in British history, one that kept me engrossed until the end. If, like me, you enjoy reading about long-forgotten murder cases, then this book could be for you!

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Letters from the Dead by Steve Robinson

When Jefferson Tayte is tasked to find the identity of his client’s long lost 4x great-grandfather, the genealogist finds himself drawn into the search for a ruby that has been missing for generations. What is already a challenging case takes a murderous turn when others with knowledge of the ruby suddenly start turning up dead. With letters from 150 years ago being left for Tayte after each murder, each providing more information about a horrendous event in the past, can he solve his client’s mystery before he, too, suffers the same fate?

For some years I have been a fan of Steve Robinson’s Jefferson Tayte books, and I look forward to each one with great anticipation. Once again, the author has managed to produce a tense story that will appeal to fans of mystery, historical and genealogical fiction and has definitely become one of my favourite Tayte novels.

If you thought events in previous books would have made Tayte consider the potential dangers of the cases he takes on, you’d be very wrong! Once again, he finds himself taking on a deranged killer in a story that, at times, had more than the touch of an Agatha Christie about it. There was certainly a hint of And Then There Were None as we see each family member getting bumped off one by one, and the gathering of all the suspects in one room was definitely classic Poirot!

Letters From the Dead, in addition to being set in modern Scotland, also takes place in colonial India. Steve Robinson has certainly done his research to paint a vivid picture of life at this controversial time in British history. The characters were realistic and managed to show the contrast between life at the Residency for the British and the Indians. I enjoyed the slow build-up as we finally discovered just what secrets had been covered up and how this continued to affect people today. This gradual retelling of the story complemented the high octane closing chapters as the plot drew to a close.

If you have not read any of Steve Robinson’s work and are a fan of historical and genealogical fiction or merely just love a good mystery story, then you won’t go wrong with this series which is going from strength to strength.

With thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley for my advance copy.

The Drowned Village by Kathleen McGurl

51JZymFAkPLWhen a lake dries up and reveals the remnants of Brackendale Green, an old deserted village, Laura is spurred on by her grandmother, Stella, to visit. The village has a particular significance for Stella as it was where she grew up before having to leave to make way for the new dam. What secret does the village hold and will Laura be able to uncover it before Brackendale Green, once again, disappears underwater?

Like Kathleen McGurl’s previous books (The Pearl Locket, The Emerald Comb, The Daughters of Red Hill Hall and The Girl from Ballymor), The Drowned Village has a dual time frame, told from the modern-day perspective of Laura, and her grandmother, Stella, in 1935, then an eleven-year-old girl. The stories told in both eras are equally as compelling and their plots tie together seamlessly to provide an entertaining read.

While there are elements of the plot that came as no surprise as the story progressed, this was not a problem as I was so engrossed in what was happening. It is testament to the author’s description that, as I was reading, I was transported back to 1935, and could truly visualise the landscape and houses making up the village of Brackendale Green.

In stories of this genre, the two time frames are often generations apart so it was nice to have the same character, Stella, featuring in both. This also provided a stark reminder to anyone interested in their own family history that they should speak to older relatives now while they have the chance. Although Laura was able to discover the circumstances surrounding her grandmother’s past, she realised that if it wasn’t for the re-emerging of the village, there would be a fascinating and emotive story that would have gone undiscovered.

Due to my love of crime and genealogical fiction, Kathleen McGurl’s books tick all the boxes for me and The Drowned Village is no exception. This is a great, easy read that is highly recommended.

With thanks to HQ and Net Galley for my ARC.

 

 

 

The Tin God by Chris Nickson

51SXPfKJzFL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_It’s 1897 and the people of Leeds are about to go to the polls to vote for a new Poor Law Guardian. For the first time, women have decided to stand for election, leading to unrest amongst those who feel that a woman’s place should be in the home. When the women begin to be attacked, Superintendent Tom Harper has a particular reason for wanting this man off the streets – one of the candidates is his own wife, Annabelle. As the threats become worse, and deadly explosions begin to rip through the venues where the women are speaking, the detectives know they must find the culprit before more lives are lost.

The Tin God is the sixth in the Tom Harper series and is a very timely one with it being the 100th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote in the UK. One of the things I have always enjoyed about this series is the prominence the author gives to the female characters, so often overlooked in books set in this era. We have seen Annabelle Harper’s strength in previous books but, here, she really comes into her own when her own life is threatened. Chris Nickson really brings home how turbulent these times must have been with these forward-thinking women being met with resistance from those firmly stuck in the past.

It is always fascinating to read how the police force of that time solved cases without any of the modern techniques used today, relying instead on pounding the streets, looking for clues. Despite the slow search for a breakthrough, the plot moves on at a fast pace with bombs, murders, attempted abductions, attacks… late Victorian Leeds is not the safest place to live! There is also a sub-plot involving Billy Reed, an inspector now living and working in Whitby, who is investigating a smuggling ring. I do hope, at some point, we see Tom and Billy working together again back in Leeds.

The Tin God is a great read and I highly recommend this series to anyone with an interest in historical crime fiction. Although this is the sixth book, it could be read as a standalone.

With thanks to Severn House and Net Galley for my copy of The Tin God.

 

 

The Night Caller by David Field

image001The women in the East End of London have just got over the horrors of Jack the Ripper when a new attacker appears on the scene – someone is breaking into their homes, stealing their underwear and leaving filthy, threatening messages. With the police refusing to take the crimes seriously, it is up to Esther Jacobs and her fiance, police officer Jack Enright, to investigate the wrongdoings. Are these women being targeted for a reason and just what is the connection to a new female ‘Alliance’? When the case takes a turn for the worse, someone will soon find their life is in grave danger…

The Night Caller is the second of the Esther and Jack Enright Mysteries, a detective series set in Victorian London, the first being The Gaslight Stalker. In the last book, our heroes met and, despite the horrendous circumstances they found themselves in, fell in love. Now planning their wedding, they find themselves involved in a case which becomes a little too close for comfort for Esther. Knowing Esther’s personality, it was not a surprise that she should find herself becoming involved in a female trade union and it was pleasing to see some historical fact being included such as the Bryant and May strike and the role of Annie Besant.

I found much of this book pitying Jack who has spent most of his life with his overbearing mother and is now embarking on a marriage with an equally strong woman. Esther appeared, at times, to be quite unlikable, but I found myself warming to her as the story progressed. It will be interesting to see what the next book has in store for Esther, as she is definitely not the sort of woman to be content with staying at home, looking after any children they have!

The Night Caller definitely transports you back to Victorian London and whereas, in the last book, we saw how the poorest and most unfortunate lived, here we see the lower classes finally trying to fight their way out of poverty. Of course, this would not be what everyone wanted and so we see these women being threatened and, eventually murdered. The mystery was a good one with enough red herrings thrown in to keep you off the scent, and it also had a satisfying conclusion.

I look forward to seeing how married life is treating the Enrights in the next book!

With thanks to Caoimhe O’Brien at Sapere Books for my copy of the book.

The Gaslight Stalker by David Field

512ZJVl391LIt’s London, 1888, and fear is spreading around the East End of London due to the shadowy killer who has become known as Jack the Ripper. One of the victims is known to Esther, a young, respectable Jewish seamstress and she becomes determined to aid the police in their investigations. Ably assisted by Constable Jack Enright, the pairing soon find themselves drawn in to the underbelly of the city where serious crime is an everyday occurrence. As they edge closer to identifying the killer, Esther and Jack have underestimated just how dangerous they are…

As a fan of crime fiction set in the Victorian era, particularly anything involving Jack the Ripper, I knew that this book would be right up my street before I’d even started reading.  Although it is quite a short book, David Field has evoked sounds and smells of the slums of Whitechapel and has created a true image of the horrors that existed at that time. By merging fact with fiction, he has also added an air of authenticity to the plot and I enjoyed reading about characters such as Abberline, Reid and the prostitutes we have all become so familiar with.

Esther is a fascinating character. As a Jew living in an area where antisemitism was rife, she has managed to forge out a humble career for herself – something which would have been extremely difficult for a single woman of that era. I found it interesting how she is living in a common lodging house, yet has managed to not live the life of so many other women at that time. I was pleased when the romance between her and Jack started to develop and, as someone who is not really a fan of romantic fiction, I felt that it was written in a way that was befitting of the time and that it fit in well with the plot.

For anyone who knows anything about the Whitechapel Murders, the plot will not come as a surprise, but what will is the culprit! It was a very different take on the murders and, although the more ardent Ripperologists will scoff, it must be remembered that this is a work of fiction and the ending reflects this.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first in the Esther and Jack Enright series and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, well-written read.

With thanks to Sapere Books for my copy of The Gaslight Stalker.

Mind of a Killer by Simon Beaufort

51mHX+TCFHLPall Mall Gazette reporter Alec Lonsdale is working on a fatal house fire when he is accosted by a woman telling him that there have been more deaths and she has information on them. After a post-mortem reveals that the victim, Patrick Donovan, was murdered and that part of his brain had been removed, Lonsdale is determined to put his journalistic skills to good use and investigate what has happened. Assisted by his colleague, the feisty female reporter, Hulda Friederichs, when more bodies are found, their attempts to uncover the truth are thwarted at every step. Exactly who is stopping them from uncovering the truth?

One of the things I enjoy most about well-written historical crime fiction is the ability to transport the reader back in time, giving you the opportunity to experience the sounds, sights and smells of the era. Mind of a Killer certainly does this, evoking images of downtrodden Londoners, doing anything they can to make ends meet. In stark contrast, we see how life differed for the upper classes, and how vast the divide between the two groups was. Simon Beaufort certainly takes you back to Victorian London to a time when people were distrustful of the new underground rail system  and how journalists were reluctant to print celebrity stories!

By having journalists as the main protagonists, Mind of a Killer moves the story away from it being a typical police procedural. Lonsdale is a great character but he is usurped in every scene by the inimitable Hulda, a strong woman if ever there was one! I was fascinated to read that the character was based on a real journalist who worked for The Pall Mall Gazette. Obviously, the author has taken some artistic licence, but after reading that she was the first female journalist to work on the same   pay terms as her male counterparts, there is certainly an element of the fictional firebrand there!

The mystery is a particularly gruesome one with people being found murdered, horrifically disfigured with their cerebrum removed. It soon becomes apparent that there is more than one killer on the loose and that there are several other conspirators bound to keeping the operation secret. Despite the nature of the crimes, the actual murders are mainly kept off the page meaning that it never becomes too much to read for anyone of a nervous disposition.

Mind of a Killer is a great read which will hopefully become part of a series. Lonsdale and Friederichs definitely have more to offer.

With thanks to Severn House Publishers and Net Galley for the ARC.

An Unquiet Ghost by Linda Stratmann

Cousins George Fernwood and Mary Clifton are engaged to be married but feel that they cannot go through with the wedding until an event from their past has finally been resolved. Twenty years previously, their grandfather died in his bed and it is thought that someone in the family poisoned him. Desperate to find out what really happened, the couple are keen to talk to a medium in order to communicate with their dead grandfather. Knowing that Mina Scarletti has a reputation for unmasking fraudulent psychics, they engage her in assisting in their quest for the truth.

Although I had read some of Linda Stratmann’s Frances Doughty series, I had not yet come across the books featuring Mina Scarletti. This is the third book in the series but I found it could be read as a standalone. Mina is a fascinating character, her scoliosis preventing her from participating in Brighton’s society. Despite her disability, however, she is the epitome of a modern Victorian woman, accepting that she will never marry and writing books published by her family’s publishing house. I admired her tenacity and her ability to use her brainpower to aid her investigations.

The search for a legitimate medium is a fascinating one and I enjoyed reading about the different methods undertaken by these charlatans in order to defraud the bereaved. Like Mina, I found myself searching for ways the ‘readings’ could have been fabricated and was intrigued by how these people were happy to play the ‘long game’ in order to achieve their aim.

Although beyond what Mina has been tasked, she nevertheless becomes interested in solving the murder of Thomas Fernwood. As she is unable to travel a lot due to her scoliosis, some of the research is done via letter. I enjoyed reading the letters that appeared throughout the book and, as well as giving an insight into Mina’s thoughts, it also provides the reader with an understanding of what went on behind Victorian closed doors. I was surprised when the poisoner was revealed although could understand why when the circumstances were explained.

An Unquiet Ghost is perfect for any fans of Victoriana who enjoy a gentle mystery.

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

 

Orchard View by Deborah J Miles

After purchasing the once grand Orchard View, builder, Bill Maynard, has his heart set on making a profit by converting it into bedsits. What he doesn’t bargain on is the discovery of human bones under the patio. After being told that the area was a burial site during the time of the Black Death, he has a decision to make – inform the police of his findings and risk losing money or cover the remains up and pretend they were never there. Whatever he decides to do, the discovery has set in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of many…

Recently, on the BBC, there was a television series detailing the history of 62 Falkner Street in Liverpool. This programme traced the people who had lived at the house from when it was built, telling their stories and linking them to the local and national events of the time. It was this programme I thought of while reading Orchard View, which tells the story of the house and its various residents. Although much of the tale is told from the perspective of the inhabitants, it was also a novel concept to give the house itself a voice. Like any reader, the house had its favourite characters and it was fascinating to see what it thought of the people who lived within it.

The story could have become very disjointed due to the different people living there over the years, so it was a clever to idea to have a constant character, a neighbour, who would remain there throughout. This provided a link between each of the stories and also gave the book a definite edge. You will have to read Orchard View to find out more about this though!

It is hard to say too much about the plot without giving too much away, but what I will say is that it is an intriguing look into the private lives of people and definitely a case of how we don’t always know what goes on behind closed doors. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading, but I found that I soon couldn’t put Orchard View down as I was desperate to see what tragedy would befall each resident. There was certainly a lot of death and misery for one house!

I would like to thank the author for giving me the opportunity to read this book and I thoroughly recommend it. A super read!

Buy Orchard View here: Amazon

 

 

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