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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.

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

The year is 1603 and the reign of the Tudors has come to an end. The Scottish king James, now James I of England, has taken the throne, much to the anger of those who believe that there is another rightful monarch residing in the country. Back in the present day, Dr Perdita Rivers and her sister Piper are still taken aback at the changes that have happened in the past year, but know that even more is ahead. If they can find the one thing that has been eluding them, could they have the evidence that could alter the course of British history forever? With old enemies set to resurface, how much more blood will be shed to prevent secrets from emerging?

The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy is the final book of the Marquess House trilogy and I would advise that you read the previous two (The Catherine Howard Conspiracy and The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy) before starting this one in order to develop a full understanding of the plot. Briefly, and without spoilers, in the previous books we discover that the sisters have inherited their family home, Marquess House, an impressive building containing a wealth of history. They soon discover that the house is hiding numerous secrets that could potentially change everything we thought we knew about Tudor history, and that there are people who would happily kill to keep us all in the dark. 

As someone interested in this era of British history, I’ve loved the journey that Alexandra Walsh has taken me on, merging fact with fiction to the point where it is impossible to see the joins! I enjoy books that challenge my thinking and, as I read this, I found myself researching characters and aspects of the plot in order to get a better understanding of this turbulent time in Britain’s past. By referencing real events such as the Main and Gunpowder Plots, there is an air of authenticity about the book, and the amount of research undertaken by the author is apparent. I admit to not knowing a great deal about Arbella Stuart, but after reading this, I will definitely be finding out more about her.

In the present day part of the story, there are plenty of loose ends left from previous books that I hoped would be tied up by the end and I was pleased to see that they were. I must say that I am very envious of Perdita’s life: living in such a historic building with access to all of that research material sounds like my idea of heaven! 

While I have thoroughly enjoyed the Marquess House trilogy, I am sad that it has come to an end. I hope that Alexandra Walsh has a similar idea in the pipeline as I’d love to read her take on another aspect of history – I’m sure there is plenty of scope for a few more conspiracy theories!

With thanks to Sapere Books for my copy of The Arbella Stuart Conspiracy. 

The Posing Playwright by David Field

The year is 1895 and Detective Inspector Percy Enright and his nephew Detective Sergeant Jack Enright find themselves investigating a highly sensitive case. Playwright Oscar Wilde stands accused of homosexuality and with the possibility of high profile names being mentioned in court, the detectives must work to suppress any scandal. Meanwhile, in a second case, which Percy believes is connected, a peer has vanished on a train, and the carriage he was travelling on has also disappeared! With both detectives clearly out of their comfort zones, they hope that, this time, there will be no element of danger for anyone connected to them…

Like the first in this series (The Gaslight Stalker), David Field has used a real historical event as the backdrop for this book, namely the trial of Oscar Wilde. When reading this book, it must be remembered that it is set at a time when homosexuality was illegal and people’s opinions were very much different to today. As a result, some other reviews I have read have commented on the highly inappropriate language used by some of the main characters. While it is correct to find this offensive today, it would have been common usage in the late Victorian era when attitudes, in general, were very different.

Although the title is The Posing Playwright, and the main plot is, indeed, about Wilde, it was sub-plot that interested me the most, and could have been something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Not only has a man disappeared, but, somehow, so has the whole train carriage he was travelling on! I enjoyed Percy’s investigations on the railway as to how this seemingly impossible feat could have occurred and also learned a lot about the Victorian railway system in the process!

While this was not my favourite in the series, it was still an enjoyable read. I just hope that we see more of Esther in the next book as she only played a minor role in this one.

Take a look at my reviews for the rest of the series:

The Gaslight Stalker

The Night Caller

The Prodigal Sister

The Slum Reaper

 

 

 

The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy by Alexandra Walsh

After years on the throne of England, Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII, was the last of the Tudor monarchs. Or was she? With two more legitimate heirs, known only by a select few, the question of who will take control after Elizabeth’s death is a hotly-debated subject. Now Phillip II of Spain has discovered the secret and it is feared that he will use it to his advantage to claim the throne as his own.

Fast forward over 400 years, and Perdita Rivers and her twin sister, Piper, are ensconced in Castle Jerusalem in Andorra, after their research uncovered a new Tudor bloodline that certain agencies would kill to keep hidden. With their latest discoveries, the sisters are, once again, placed in danger. Is revealing the truth worth more than their own lives?

The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy is the second book in the Marquess House trilogy and follows on from The Catherine Howard Conspiracy. For this reason, it is advisable to read this series in sequence so you can fully understand the circumstances the Rivers sisters have found themselves in.

I really enjoyed the first in this series so was looking forward to reading the next installment. In this book, we spend more time in the past than The Catherine Howard Conspiracy, and this was understandable seeing as we already know Perdita and Piper and the reasons behind them being where they are. Both time frames are as intriguing as the other and I really enjoyed how the two parts were woven together.

As someone who is interested in Tudor history, I especially enjoyed the importance the author has placed on the women of the time, in particular the relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. At a time when the men in power were intent on war, I liked reading about the machinations of the Ladies of Melusine who were covertly discovering more about potential plots than those whose job it actually was! I think we have also been given a hint here as to something that may occur in the third book: Melusina, a female spirit of fresh water… Rivers… hmm…

In The Elizabeth Tudor Conspiracy, we read about an alternative take on the Tudors which, if true, would change the face of British history. The twist relating to the death of Elizabeth was definitely not one that I was expecting!

For fans of dual timeline stories, this is a great read. I am looking forward to reading the final part of the trilogy and seeing where Perdita and Piper’s research takes them next.

With thanks to Netgalley and Sapere Books for my copy.

The Ghost of Hollow House by Linda Stratmann

The year is 1872 and Mina Scarletti has been invited to Hollow House in Sussex to investigate the strange occurrences that have been troubling its occupants, Mr Honeyacre and his wife, Kitty. With the servants refusing to stay at the house due to sightings of ‘the woman in white’ and unexplained noises, the health of Kitty Honeyacre is beginning to deteriorate. Confirmed sceptic, Mina, knows that with the assistance of her trusted friends Dr. Hamid and Nellie, she can solve the mystery of Hollow House.

The Ghost of Hollow House is the fourth in the Mina Scarletti series and, while it does make references to previous events, it can definitely be read as a standalone. For anyone who hasn’t been introduced to Mina before, she is not exactly your average Victorian heroine. Afflicted with a severe curvature of the spine, the diminutive protagonist has accepted that, unlike most women of her status, she will never marry and have children. She, therefore, has carved out a career writing ghost stories under a male nom de plume, spending her spare time uncovering fraudulent spiritualists.

It was during this era that spiritualism became big business and Linda Stratmann has painted a vivid picture of life at this time. Hollow House is the perfect setting for a ghost story with its mysterious history and cast of characters with secrets to hide. The tension is ramped up even further when bad weather forces the house to be cut off from the rest of the outside world and the strange happenings continue to terrify those in residence.

Mina, once again, encounters her nemesis, spiritualist Arthur Wallace Hope, who brings with him a Mr Beckler, a photographer keen to capture images of spirits. They are a nefarious pairing, Beckler in particular making my skin crawl with his intentions towards Mina. It is also obvious that another character, Mr Stevenson, is not who he says he is, adding to the mistrust and suspicion in the house.

I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery and there are certainly clues to help you along the way. Mina is very impressive in the way she handles the case and I thought the retelling of the story at the end, written by her nom de plume was a great way of ending the book. A great read!

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

 

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.

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

 

Lying and Dying by Graham Brack

When the body of a woman is found in Prague, detective Josef Slonský is put in charge of the investigation. Not exactly known for his eagerness, Slonský is paired with young Navrátil who, being newly-qualified, is the complete antithesis of his jaded superior. After links are made to someone in authority, the detectives know that they must tread carefully as their careers could be at stake if the wrong decisions are made.

As a fan of Jo Nesbo, I could definitely see the similarities between Josef Slonský and the Norwegian detective Harry Hole. With a tendency to use an ‘alternative’ method of investigation and a penchant for the local hostelries, they would make a formidable pairing! Navrátil, on the other hand, wants to play by the book but is easily influenced by his superior. Torn between his desire to follow the rules and his need to assist his superior officer, his career path is certainly going to be an interesting one!

The setting, in post-Communist Czech Republic, is interesting and definitely highlights the different lives led by Slonský and Navrátil. I found it easy to picture where the story was taking place and how the fall of Communism has widened the gap between the generations.

I did enjoy the story, but I found my interest waning at times. The ending, however, was explosive – it’s not often that the promise of a twist lives up to its billing, but this one definitely did!

With thanks to Sapere Books for my ARC.

 

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