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Hammer Blow by John Nixon

When genealogist Madeleine Porter delivers the news to a client that she is about to inherit a sizable fortune from a long-lost relative, little does she know that she is about to open a huge can of worms. Researching the family of another client, Madeleine begins to realise that there is a connection between the two families and that they are tied together by an event that took place many years before. Someone else has knowledge of the story, however, and they will stop at nothing to get their revenge…

As a family historian myself, I love the Madeleine Porter books as there is a lot of emphasis placed on the research undertaken by the genealogist. For anyone wanting to start to look into their lineage, these books provide valuable nuggets of advice as to the steps you should take to begin your journey, giving hints as to the sources you can use and where you can find them.


Hammer Blow also has a great plot involving a murder that happened many years previously and the consequences of that fateful day. While, initially, I found myself getting confused by the characters and wishing I’d drawn up a family tree to see the connections, as the story progressed I found myself becoming clearer with who was who. In books like this, I often find a family tree included as part of the book helps, but this is impossible to do in Hammer Blow as it would give away much of the plot.

If you have an interest in family history and are looking for a quick read, I can definitely recommend the Madeleine Porter series. I will be looking forward to seeing where John Nixon takes the wonderful Madeleine Porter next.

The Fear of Ravens by Wendy Percival

After being hired to research the history of an old mill owned by her client Anna Brannock, genealogist Esme Quentin uncovers allegations of murder, witchcraft and a family feud that still exists today. Disturbingly, Anna appears to be the victim of some sort of hate campaign – is there a link to what happened a century ago? It is during the course of her investigation that Esme also finds herself embroiled in a missing persons enquiry after a private investigator arrives, looking for an Ellen Tucker. Why are the local people denying knowing too much about Ellen and how does it link to what is happening to Anna?

I was thrilled to see that Wendy Percival had written a fourth Esme Quentin book and could not wait to see where I would be transported to this time. Although we are taken back to the Victorian era as part of Esme’s research, I liked how most of the events link to the more recent history, a common theme linking everything neatly together.

As a fan of historical fiction and, in particular, genealogical fiction, one of the things I enjoyed most about this book is that the writing style is very different from other authors of this genre. Although we find out about different historical eras, this is not written as a ‘timeslip’ story as in other books. Instead, we experience Esme’s research, the stories of the past being uncovered as we read. This is fascinating to me and, as a family history researcher myself, I enjoyed seeing that Esme’s research mirrored what I would have done!

The plot is a fascinating one, dealing with the subject of witchcraft and how women were condemned for the most trivial of reasons. The Fear of Ravens hits the spot in so many ways, as in addition to being a great historical mystery, there is a cracking whodunit running throughout. When you add the wonderful setting and great characters into the mix, what you have is a book perfect for anyone looking for a read that really draws you into the plot.

If you are a fan of historical fiction, or have never given books with a genealogical slant a try, then I can thoroughly recommend The Fear of Ravens. Although it is part of a series, it can be read as a standalone, but if you would like to find out about the rest of the series, take a look at the rest of the books and some of my reviews:

Blood-Tied

The Indelible Stain

The Malice of Angels

Death of a Cuckoo

Legacy of Guilt

With thanks to Wendy Percival for sending me an ARC off The Fear of Ravens.

The Death Certificate by Stephen Molyneux

When Peter Sefton discovers an inscribed metal disc on a farm, he becomes intrigued by its original owner, taking him on a journey to the dangerous streets of Victorian London. Over 150 years before, Moses Jupp finds himself orphaned at a young age, scavenging on the banks of the Thames being the only way to keep him alive. Through his research, Peter reveals a link to a Victorian antiquities scandal and the farm where he is undertaking his metal detecting, uncovering a tragic tale of death, forgery and unfortunate circumstances.

Ever since I read Stephen Molyneux’s debut, The Marriage Certificate, six years ago, I have been longing for a second book. I just didn’t think I would be waiting six long years! It has definitely been worth the wait, however, as the author has, once again, written a fascinating look into another era, mixing historical and genealogical fiction. Written in two time frames, the majority of The Death Certificate tells us about the life of Moses Jupp with timely chapters looking at Peter’s research, allowing the story to move on quickly.

Although he was not always strictly on the side of the law, I had great sympathy for the character of Moses. Losing his parents at such a young age and having to fend for himself, it was understandable that he was always going to have to do what he needed to do in order to survive. I enjoyed reading about his time as a scavenger and his experience at the ragged school and as a shoe-black. There was a definite feeling of, ‘what if…’, however, as if it were not for a constant thorn in his side, his life would probably have been a lot better, leading to a different outcome on the death certificate purchased by Peter.

If, like me, you enjoy historical fiction, especially that set in the Victorian era, then I am sure that this is a book you will enjoy. If you are a family historian, then this is also going to be right up your street. I really enjoy Stephen Molyneux’s writing and I hope that I do not have to wait the same length of time for his next book – we’ve had a death and marriage certificate, how about a birth certificate next?

Reputations by John Nixon

Treating herself to a trip to Egypt, genealogist Madeleine Porter meets Margaret Smith, a woman who says she has no knowledge of her late husband’s family. Turning down Madeleine’s offer of help, Margaret is inspired to do some research of her own, promising to keep the genealogist informed of her findings. Soon, Madeleine and her husband, Ian, are shocked to discover that their new friend has been found murdered in her own home and are even more perplexed when, the following day, they receive a package from Margaret containing an old newspaper detailing the murder of an elderly couple in 1966. Written on the cutting, in Margaret’s own writing, are the words, ‘Peter didn’t do this’. What secrets have been hidden in the past and why did Margaret have to pay the ultimate price to keep them hidden?

Madeleine Porter is back, and this time her investigations bring her closer to home. The premise is a good one – a woman, Margaret, marries late in life, only to lose her husband without really knowing anything about his family. Spurred on to do some research after speaking to Madeleine, her untimely death spikes curiosity in the genealogist, who wants to know more about the 1966 murder and the potential links to Margaret’s husband. Working alongside her husband, Ian, we are treated to Madeleine’s thought processes as she tries to unravel the mystery – one that is, seemingly, perplexing the police.

This plot had so much potential, but I admit to finding myself confused several times as I was reading, as to the motive behind Margaret’s murder. Although this was explained satisfactorily at the end, I still felt that there were several characters that muddied the waters a bit too much, spoiling my enjoyment slightly.

This is a series that I will still continue to read as I love the genealogical aspect and enjoy reading about Madeleine and Ian, but I feel that this does not live up to the high standards of the earlier books.

 

Family Ties by Nicholas Rhea

Detective Superintendent Mark Pemberton is a workaholic. Ever since the death of his wife, he has taken solace in his police work and hasn’t taken a break in six months. Concerned for his well-being, his superiors assign him with a case that, on the surface, seems a bit more laid back – providing security for the US Vice-President Hartley on his visit to the UK. Hartley is going to Yorkshire to do some research into his family history so, before his arrival, Pemberton engages in some sleuthing of his own. Unearthing the death of Private James Hartley in 1916, found with a bullet in his brain, Pemberton is determined to solve this long-forgotten mystery. What repercussions will this have for Vice-President Hartley?

It is rare to read a police procedural where the crime being investigated is a cold case dating back such a long time and it was this that first drew me to the book. It is worth mentioning that, although this is its first outing as an ebook, Family Ties was originally published in 1994 and the research methods used by the police are very much of the time. If this plot was being written now, it probably could have been solved in a few pages with the use of the internet! Being a genealogist, I actually found the reliance on church and newspaper records and other forms of primary evidence quite fascinating.

Mark is definitely an old-school detective who, once he gets his teeth stuck into something, does not give up. Working through the notes of the officer on the original case, he manages to find a few holes in the investigation and uses the resources available to him to solve an age-old crime. Although this is not a book full of twists and turns, there was a clever twist at the end which changed the crime completely. Several clues had been given throughout the book but I was genuinely surprised when it happened!

Family Ties is a cosy mystery that would make a great quick read for anyone not wanting anything too heavy. I will definitely be seeking out other books in the Mark Pemberton series.

With thanks to Agora Books and Net Galley for my ARC.

 

Blood Underground by Dan Waddell

When a body is found entombed in a disused tube station in London, shortly followed by a second one, DCI Grant Foster fears that there is a serial killer is on the loose. With little to go on, he calls in the help of genealogist Nigel Barnes to see if he can come up with a connection between the victims. Nigel’s life is soon put in danger, however, as the killer closes in on their next victim…

Over the last few years, there has been a boom in the genealogical fiction genre with the likes of Steve Robinson and Nathan Dylan Goodwin coming to the fore. The first time I read anything in this genre, though, was a number of years ago when I read the first of Dan Waddell’s Nigel Barnes series. Having not seen anything new recently, I thought that this series was finished so was delighted to hear that Nigel was making a comeback! Blood Underground may only be a short story but it has certainly whetted the appetite for a new full-length addition to the series!

I first found out about ‘ghost’ stations on the Underground during an episode of BBC’s Sherlock and was immediately fascinated by these ‘frozen in time’ parts of London. Dan Waddell’s use of these disused stations provides a very atmospheric, claustrophobic crime scene which will certainly have people thinking next time they are on the tube!

If you have not read any of the previous books in the series, then Blood Underground would be an ideal way to introduce you to the work and investigations of Nigel Barnes. A great short read.

The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival

When Max Rainsford, a former journalist colleague of her late husband, Tim, arrives to quiz Esme about a story he was working on thirty-five years ago, the genealogist is reluctantly forced to revisit her troubled past. Meanwhile, Esme’s friend, Ruth, is desperate to know the story behind her aunt, Vivienne, a nurse during the Second World War who never returned home. As Esme starts her investigation, she soon realises that the two cases are linked and is forced to come face to face with the devastating truth about her husband’s death.

The Malice of Angels is the third full-length Esme Quentin mystery and is by far the most complex. At the start of the book, we see Esme preparing to relocate to Devon where she will be nearer some of her old friends. The appearance of Max Rainsford, however, makes her return to a particularly dark period in her life when her husband was killed whilst pursuing a story. Initially reluctant to help Max with his task, she is soon drawn in after looking at her late-husband’s notebooks from the time of his death. Ever since being introduced to Esme, it was inevitable that her past would, one day, be explored and Wendy Percival has done this with style. I really felt for Esme as she was forced to confront her past and finally discover the true circumstances behind Tim’s death.

The way the two stories intertwined was very clever and I particularly enjoyed reading about a part of World War Two that I didn’t really know too much about – the Special Operations Executive. The story of Vivienne, Ruth’s aunt, was a particularly harrowing one and was one that was filled with subterfuge and cover-ups. It was clear to see how much research the author had done in order to make this complicated plot into a story that was easy to follow. I also liked the short chapters, making you want to read ‘just one more’ before putting it down.

Lately, for fans of Esme, we have been spoilt with The Malice of Angels and, also, the short story Death of a Cuckoo. I hope it won’t be too long before we find out what Devon life holds in store for the genealogist.

The Malice of Angels is available now: The Malice of Angels 

 

COVER REVEAL: The Malice of Angels by Wendy Percival

If you are a fan of mystery stories with a genealogical slant or even just a fan of mystery stories in general, then I can definitely recommend Wendy Percival’s ‘Esme Quentin’ series. The Malice of Angels is the third full-length story and sees the mystery of a nurse’s wartime disappearance open up old wounds for genealogical investigator, Esme Quentin.

Here is a taste of what is to come:

1

It wasn’t until she turned into the narrow medieval passageway of Fish Street that Esme Quentin suspected she was being followed. He – if it was a he, it was difficult to be sure, encased as the walker was in a hooded trench coat – seemed to be keeping his distance. He slowed as she slowed, held back if she paused, as though biding his time before approaching her. Perhaps she should grab the initiative and challenge him? Demand to know who he was and what he thought he was doing creeping up on a middle-aged woman in the dark?

She stopped and deliberately looked round, but he must have pulled back out of the halo of the street lamp as he’d disappeared into the shadows.

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The Malice of Angels will be published on 13th October 2017.

Take a look at the author’s website: http://www.wendypercival.co.uk

 

Death of a Cuckoo by Wendy Percival

4631636995_252x379When Gina Vincent’s mother dies, she is shocked to find a photograph that challenges everything she thought she knew about her life. Calling upon the services of genealogist Esme Quentin to help her make sense of it all, their search takes them to an abandoned property formerly used as a home for young pregnant women. Secrets run deep in this building and Gina soon finds herself facing danger as she tries to uncover the truth about her past.

It has been some time since we last read about Esme Quentin (Blood-Tied and The Indelible Stain) so this book was long overdue! Death of a Cuckoo is not a full-length novel, but Wendy Percival has still managed to write a superb page turner, linking mystery and genealogy effortlessly. For anyone who hasn’t read the previous books in the series, this could be read as a standalone and would provide a good introduction to the character of Esme.

In Death of a Cuckoo, Esme takes a back seat in the investigation, providing the main character, Gina, with advice and recommendations of where to go next. As in most books of this genre, this turns out to be more than just a straightforward case of family research as secrets from the past start to impact on the present, putting the lives of all those involved in danger. The mystery was an interesting and plausible one and I felt for Gina as she tried to find out who she really was in the most awful of circumstances.

This is a well-written short read and I hope that the wait for the next Esme Quentin story isn’t as long!

 

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