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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.

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The Murder of Patience Brooke by J. C. Briggs

5A5C8CE0-06A8-4483-886B-8D2789653866It’s 1849 and the infamous writer, Charles Dickens, has established Urania House, a home for fallen women in London. With opposition from many, he knows that he will have more of a battle on his hands after the matron’s assistant, Patience Brooke, is found hanging, covered in blood, outside the property. With the help of his friend, Sam Jones, a Superintendent from Bow Street, he sets out in search of the unknown man with the crooked face, his investigations taking him to the dark side of London. Just what secret was Patience hiding that has made someone kill to prevent it from being revealed?

The Murder of Patience Brooke is the first in a series of books to feature Charles Dickens as the chief investigator. As someone who showed an interest in crime, and wrote about some of the darkest parts of the Victorian underworld, he is an inspired choice as a sleuth, and it was great to read a fictional account of this real person.

The author’s description could have come straight out of a Dickens novel, creating a vivid image of London’s underbelly at a time when the gap between rich and poor was horrendously huge. By including real places such as Dickens’ home for ‘fallen women’, Urania Cottage, there is an air of authenticity throughout the book, making it a great read for anyone with an interest in the Victorian era. Such is the quality of the writing, not only is it easy to picture the squalid abodes, but you can almost smell the poverty.

As well as the superb description, there is also a great murder-mystery with some truly horrible characters being sought by the police. The man with the twisted face was a villain straight out of a Dickens book and his crimes, and those of an even more barbaric character, made my skin crawl. I enjoyed the culmination of the story with the race against time for Dickens and Jones to get their man and thought that the conclusion was fitting and in keeping with the rest of the story.

The Murder of Patience Brooke was an excellent, atmospheric read and I am already looking forward to reading the next in the series, Death at Hungerford Stairs.

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

The Mile End Murder by Sinclair McKay

61dkqcjG65LIn 1860, Mary Emsley, a 70-year-old widow of substantial means, was found bludgeoned to death at her home in London. Although she lived a fairly simple life, Mary was a wealthy woman due to the numerous houses she rented out around the London area, but this wealth brought its own problems. Seemingly disliked by many of her tenants, she employed a few trusted men to collect rents on her behalf although it was not unknown for her to venture into the roughest parts of town to receive the payments herself. Was her death at the hands of a disgruntled tenant or was the cause much closer to home?

With the body remaining undiscovered for several days, clues were limited. It was thought, though, that due to the woman’s distrust of strangers, and there being no evidence of a forced entry, the killer must have been admitted to the house by Mary herself. The police struggled to find a culprit until someone known to the murdered woman came forward with some information. On investigating this tip-off, the police found that there case had suddenly opened up – they now had a firm suspect for the first time.

The Mile End Murder sees Sinclair McKay re-examining the evidence (or lack of) and coming to the conclusion that a huge miscarriage of justice led to the execution of an innocent man. This was a view shared by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the infamous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. He would, some years later, write his own thoughts on the case, The Debatable Case of Mrs Emsley. Miscarriages of justice were not uncommon in the Victorian era, but it is still shocking to see how a man could be sentenced to death on a small amount of circumstantial evidence. The author has come up with another possible culprit although, again, lack of evidence would not see a modern jury find them guilty.

Victorian crime is something I have always enjoyed reading about and Sinclair McKay has written a very readable book dealing with not just the murder but also the social history of the period. The Mile End Murder has been well-researched and will appeal to anyone interested in historical crime of the Victorian period in general.

With thanks to Net Galley and Quarto Publishing Group – Aurum Press for my copy of The Mile End Murder.

 

 

 

The Prodigal Sister by David Field

When the body of a woman is found on the railway tracks, the police initially think it is a case of suicide. When Detective Jack Enright and his uncle Percy discover the true identity of the women, however, they soon realise that all is not what they first assume. Suspecting murder, they need to get close to her family in order to find out the truth, so Jack’s wife, Esther, is tasked to go undercover, putting herself in danger in the process…

The Prodigal Sister is the third book in the Esther & Jack Enright mystery series, and we see the home circumstances of our heroes have changed dramatically. Now married with a young child, Esther isn’t really used to staying at home and so is not completely against the idea of going undercover, even if it could prove to be dangerous. Esther’s role does, indeed, prove to be pivotal in smoking out the killer, even if it is as a result of some rather unorthodox police tactics!

We discover quite early on who the killer is, as they are identified quickly by Jack and his superior officer uncle, Percy. The fun in this book then isn’t ‘whodunnit’, but in seeing the lengths the police (and Esther) will go to in order to secure a confession.    The methods they used place this book very definitely in the Victorian era and helped to provide a snapshot of the psyche of a lot of people of that time.

This is a great series, ideal for anyone who enjoys historical crime fiction, and I’m already looking forward to reading the next one.

Previous books in the series:

The Gaslight Stalker

The Night Caller

 

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.

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!

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.

 

 

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