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Jayne Sinclair

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 Merchant’s Daughter by M J Lee

When a DNA test reveals that the famous actress Rachel Marlowe has African ancestry, she calls upon genealogist Jayne Sinclair to try to discover more about this mysterious antecedent. With a family line that dates back to William the Conqueror, Rachel’s family are reluctant to believe the science, convinced that there must be some error. With a short timescale in which to solve the mystery, Jayne’s research is made even more difficult with the realisation that someone will stop at nothing, even serious injury, to prevent her from discovering the truth.

The Merchant’s Daughter is the seventh of the Jayne Sinclair series and is probably one of my favourites to date. With more and more people having their DNA analysed on sites such as Ancestry, this is a very topical plot and one that all people (like me) who have done such a test will find fascinating.

Like in previous books in the series, the story is told in two time frames, in this case Jayne’s present-day investigations and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. One of the things I like most about this series is the historical aspect, and the author’s willingness to write about what could be termed a controversial subject. As someone with a connection to the slave trade in their family, I found the plot a fascinating one and am glad that books like this are being written so that we never forget the barbaric treatment of these people.

The main historical protagonist is Emily Roylance, a character whom I immediately warmed to. I thought it was a clever idea to have Emily tell her story via her memoirs as this helped the plot to move on quickly and made me desperate to know the circumstances behind her being where she was. In a book full of unpleasant characters, Emily’s strength and courage shone through.

The most pleasant surprise for me was how much of the story was set in my home city of Liverpool. M J Lee has certainly created an accurate picture of the life of the wealthy and I could visualise Hope Street at the time when Liverpool was profiting from the slave trade. Similarly, I was pleased to see Jayne visiting the International Slavery Museum, somewhere I have been several times and a place which definitely opens a person’s eyes with regard to the treatment of such people.

I really did enjoy The Merchant’s Daughter as not only does it discuss an important aspect of British history, but it is a fast-paced read with a great mystery. I can’t wait to see what era the author decides to tackle next!

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 Sinclair Betrayal

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 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.

The Vanished Child by M J Lee

51RHw4h2PBLAfter her father’s new wife asks for her help, genealogist Jayne Sinclair embarks on probably the most emotive case she has dealt with so far. On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses that in 1944, she gave birth to an illegitimate son, placing him in a children’s home until she was in a position to bring him up herself. When she was finally in that position, the boy had vanished. With conflicting reports as to what had happened to him, Jayne must investigate one of the most shameful periods in recent history in order to discover his fate.

The Vanished Child is the fourth book in the Jayne Sinclair series and, in my opinion, is easily the best. The storytelling is very emotive, dealing with an issue that many people are still dealing with today – the fate of the child migrants. In the last century, over 100,000 children from the UK were sent to countries such as Canada and Australia for a ‘better life.’ Of course, this better life was not to be for many of the children who were unloved and abused. As someone who discovered two of these child migrants in my own family, this book really struck a chord with me. In my family, two sisters who had lost their mother were sent to Canada despite them still having a father and brother in the UK.

The Vanished Child tells the story of Harry, who is sent to Australia without the consent of his mother, who is desperate to have her son back at home with her. This was the most heartbreaking part of the book – a mother determined to locate her child and a child desperate to be with his mother, but the scheming of the authorities prevented this from happening. Harry was a wonderful character: a boy who despite the horrific life he is having to endure, never gives up hope that one day he will be able to return home.

This was very different to the other genealogical fiction I have read in that, in most of these books, the genealogist is put in some danger as they try to uncover something from the past. Where this book differed, though, is that the focus was firmly placed on uncovering the truth and Harry became the main character rather than the researcher.

If you have never read any genealogical fiction before, this would be a great place to start. As well as penning a sensitive, well-written story, M J Lee has explored a period in British history which still remains unknown to many people today. A must read in more ways than one.

The Irish Inheritance by M J Lee

Genealogical investigator, Jayne Sinclair, is contacted by an American billionaire who is seeking help in order to trace his father. Adopted at a young age, and with no recollection of his early life, John Hughes is desperate to discover his true identity before he succumbs to the illness that threatens to end his life in the following months. With few clues to help her, the former police detective has to use all of her investigative skills in order to make connections to Ireland’s Easter Rising of 1916 and the later death of a British Officer on a hillside near Dublin.

Genealogical fiction has, in recent years, become a fast-growing genre with authors such as Steve Robinson, Nathan Dylan Goodwin and John Nixon leading the way. M J Lee has shown that there is now another author to add to the list. In Jayne Sinclair we have a solid lead character whose doggedness is evident throughout the book whether it be in her professional life or in the strained relationship with her husband. We also, however, get to see her softer side when she is with her father. The interaction between these two characters is, at times, touching as both of them try to come to terms with his early dementia.

The story is told in two timeframes: present-day Manchester and Ireland during the First World War and ensuing years. Writing about an issue as controversial as British rule in Ireland was always going to be a difficult task but the author deals with it in a sensitive and informative way, showing the events from the perspectives of those on different sides of the argument.

Something that authors of genealogical fiction occasionally get wrong is the methods used by their characters to research – this is not the case here. The steps Jayne uses are logical, using the Internet, record offices and interviews in order to discover the true parentage of John Hughes.

On the strength of this book, it is safe to say that the Jane Sinclair series promises to be a welcome addition to the growing genre of genealogical fiction.

The Irish Inheritance is available to pre-order on Amazon prior to its release on June 15th.

Thank you to the author for providing me with an ARC.

 

 

 

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