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Charles Dickens

The Christmas Carol by M J Lee

Genealogist Jayne Sinclair finds herself with an unusual request when an antiques dealer asks her to discover the provenance of a first edition of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. With the only clues being a hand-written dedication, a name, a place and a date, she only has three days to complete her task before the book is due to be auctioned. With Christmas fast approaching and with the prospect of spending the festive season on her own, Jayne must try to unearth the truth of what happened in Christmas 1843.

This is the latest book in M J Lee’s Jayne Sinclair series and this time we see the genealogist taking on a different sort of mystery. Instead of being asked to trace the family tree of a client, she is tasked to prove that a copy of ‘A Christmas Carol’, dedicated to a local man in 1843, is indeed a first edition. The value of the book could increase dramatically if this could be ascertained although trying to find information about the man could prove impossible in the time frame she has been given to solve the mystery.

Like in all of the previous books in the series, I loved reading of the research that Jayne undertook and was particularly pleased to see her exploring the libraries of Manchester instead of just relying on online sources. I always like reading about places I have visited and the comments about the John Rylands library mirrored my own when I visited, albeit briefly, a few years ago. After being reminded of this wonderful place, I have made a mental note to revisit once the pandemic is well and truly behind us.

Crime fiction set in the Victorian era is a particular favourite of mine and I have been enjoying the Dickens and Jones series by J. C. Briggs. I was pleased, therefore, to see that this would also feature Dickens as a character in the chapters of the book set in 1843. M J Lee paints a vivid picture of Victorian Manchester, showing the sort of lives that the mill workers of the north had to endure. In most books of this type, it is the slums of London that we read about so it was good to read about somewhere different.

The Christmas Carol is a quick read, heartwarming and perfect for this time of year. I hope it won’t be too long before we get to read about Jayne’s latest adventure, possibly with a tie in to her forthcoming holiday with her step-parents?

The Redemption Murders by J C Briggs

The year is 1851 and the police have been called to London’s Blackwall Reach where a death has been reported on the ship The Redemption. The captain, Louis Valentine, has been brutally stabbed to death, the only clue left behind being a  copy of The Old Curiosity Shop, one of Charles Dickens’ books. The book has been inscribed to someone called ‘Kit’ who Dickens immediately recognises as his friend Kit Penney. With his friend now a murder suspect, Dickens sets out to find him, only to discover that he is missing. Is he involved or is he in fear for his own life? As the death toll rises, Superintendent Jones and the famous writer find themselves uncovering a series of dark secrets…

This, the sixth in the series is possibly the most complex plot to date, with a great deal going on, all linking together to create a huge web of intrigue. If you haven’t read any of this series yet, you may wonder how Charles Dickens finds himself involved in this shady underworld and, although this is explained in previous books, you don’t need to have read them to enjoy The Redemption Murders. Each book in the series can be read as a standalone.

One of the things I enjoy most about this series is the descriptions of Victorian London. Although we do get to experience the richer part of society, I particularly like reading about the lower classes and the environment they are forced to live in. J C Briggs writes this extremely well and you can easily picture these downtrodden people, living in squalid conditions through no fault of their own. Dickens has great sympathy for these people and there several links made to the author’s own life which, as many people will know, was not a bed of roses.

Children feature quite strongly in this series and there was one moment with a particular child in this book that was truly heart-wrenching. Throughout the book, we see how these children have to grow up fast, often doing things that they should not be doing at their age.

If you are a fan of historical mystery or are someone who enjoys the books of Charles Dickens, then this is a great series. A superb atmospheric read.

With thanks to Sapere Books and Net Galley for my copy.

Death at Hungerford Stairs by J C Briggs

When the body of a young boy is found at Hungerford Stairs close to the River Thames, Charles Dickens is relieved to find that is not the missing child he has been searching for. Presumed drowned, Superintendent Jones of Bow Street soon has a murder case on his hands when a different cause of death is discovered. After more bodies are found, the detective’s worst fears are realised – they have a serial killer on their hands.

Death at Hungerford Stairs is the second book to feature the author Charles Dickens as one of the main characters, the first being The Murder of Patience BrookeIn the previous book, I was particularly impressed with how the author managed to paint a vivid picture of early-Victorian London, especially the more downtrodden areas. This has continued in the second book, making you feel that you are actually walking the London streets.

I like, again, how the author has merged fact with fiction, with true aspects of Dickens’ life providing an air of authenticity to the plot. Dickens is written as a generous man, keen to help the underprivileged and the down at heel, the references to his early life possibly providing a reason for his benevolence. There is a rich supporting cast, providing some tragic as well as some humorous moments.

The hunt for a child killer could be a difficult subject matter, but the author handles it in an informative yet sensitive way, culminating in a very different motive and culprit to most books of this genre. Although there were a few hints dropped throughout the book, the ending was still a surprise – a clever one at that.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next in the series.

The Murder of Patience Brooke by J. C. Briggs

5A5C8CE0-06A8-4483-886B-8D2789653866It’s 1849 and the celebrated 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.

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