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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

‘Trust Me’ by Zosia Wand

Published by Head of Zeus,
5 October 2017. 
ISBN: 978-1-78669229-0 (HB)

It's always a treat to discover a talented debut author, and when the genre of the novel is one of my favourites and the setting is one of the most beautiful areas of the UK, the pleasure is doubled.

The genre is troubled families, the location the Lake District, and Zosia Wand clearly knows plenty about both. The family in question is the modern blended kind, rather than the more conventional married couple plus two point four kids. Lizzie and Jonty aren't married; he is twice her age, and the kids are his. Though only one, seventeen-year-old Sam, appears in person for more than a page or two, both leap off the page in technicolor.

That age gap, and the fact that Lizzie is barely ten years older than Sam, lie at the heart of the story. After forming a close not-quite-maternal bond with Sam over several years. Lizzie now finds he is moody and uncomfortable around her. Jonty's attitude to fatherhood has always been on the casual side; Lizzie's early life forced her to grow up very early, and she's happy to take on the role of adult in the relationship and the responsibility for dealing with Sam's problem.  Except... It appears that everyone from Jonty to Sam's grandmother and even a local policeman think that Lizzie is the problem.

A tangle of relationships and emotions ensues. Female companionship is thin on the ground for Lizzie, and it's with some relief that she meets Rebecca, new to the small town they live in. She confides in her new friend, but soon wonders if that was a good idea...

Several times as I read, I found myself shouting out loud at Lizzie, warning her, begging her, desperate for her to calm down and think before she acts. But that's the writer's art: ensuring that the reader knows exactly what's going on when the characters don't, and making the protagonist so real that we can't bear for her to continue down the wrong path. The other lead characters, too, made me want to hug them, slap them, cheer for them, blow the whistle on them, whatever the storyline required. This wasn't a book to read dispassionately; I was right in there alongside the family and townspeople.

Another aspect of that art is to make the location so desirable and tangible that the reader aches to pack a suitcase and head off to a new life. Tarnside isn't a real place, but it seems to encapsulate everything that's good about the Lake District; it's a place this talented author clearly loves.

Trust Me isn't a murder mystery; nobody dies, and though there's a modicum of violence, the real crime is as topical as that blended family. It's billed as a psychological thriller; it's certainly the former, and the thriller label isn't wide of the mark either, especially when the tension ramps up regarding whether Lizzie's view of the darkening situation will be believed.

Did I say a treat and a pleasure? Trust Me was both.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Zosia Wand is an author and playwright. She was born in London and lives in Cumbria with her family. She is passionate about good coffee, cake and her adopted landscape on the edge of the Lake District. Trust Me is her first novel.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘Forget-Me-Not Blues’ by Alison Gray

Published by Alison Gray, 2017. 
ISBN: 978-1-91200358-7

Abby Foulkes is a police detective sergeant in England who has experienced the loss of her husband and is still grieving.  She is not allowed to return to work until she completes a programme of counselling.  She had been involved in a case on the Greek island of Skiathos in the previous year when she had worked with Lieutenant Angelo Christofis.

Gradually Abby becomes interested again in the bone circle murders she had investigated in the Aegean.  She looks at photos from the past remembering a boy who had disappeared whom she had met in 1998.   She decides to visit Greece again, having refreshed her memories of a series of discoveries of bones laid out in circles on various Greek islands from 1990 and 2010.   She has no official status and, in fact, decides to travel under a false name to a commune on Skiathos which may be connected to some of the victims.

Soon after her arrival she and another woman at the commune find a dead body on the beach - this is a far more recent demise of a refugee.   She talks to the Greeks who run the commune offering exercise classes, painting classes and even some counselling.   Other bones are found and Abby eventually discerns a vague picture of the deaths.  She puts herself in danger by so doing.  The climax is dramatic and deadly.  Most of the book is set in Greece and a picture of modern and old Greece is built up.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is the third adventure for Abby.

Alison Gray was born and grew up in Scotland. She now lives in the north-east of England and has lived there since the 1980s. Her first novel Out of the Tower was shortlisted for the Constable Trophy 1992, a competition for the best unpublished novel by a writer from the north of England. It was described by the judges as powerful, strong, heartfelt, admirably tense, a work of great promise and individuality, carefully thought out and with subtlety, deftness and poetic nature of idiom.   The Abby Foulkes mysteries are set in Newcastle upon Tyne and the Aegean. The second mystery Lady's Slipper won Indie Book of the Day Award in November 2015 and the third mystery Forget-me-not Blues was picked as an Official Selection in the Mystery Category of the 2017 New Apple Summer E-Book Awards.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

‘A Great Reckoning’ by Louise Penny

‘A Great Reckoning’ by Louise Penny
Published by Little Brown Book Group,
16 November 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5269-0 (PB)

Former Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has left the Sûreté and taken a long respite after he was seriously injured. Settled, with his wife, Reine-Marie, in the small, isolated village of Three Pines, Gamache has found peace and healing for his wounds, physical, mental and emotional. Now he has recovered and has received offers of many high-ranking positions that will allow him to move back into the world of power that he once inhabited, but he has chosen to take on the job of commander of the Sûreté Academy. Gamache has a good reason for this decision. He has already rooted out the corruption that was eating away at the Sûreté but he knows the only way to truly cleanse the police force is to eradicate corruption at its roots. For years the cadets at the Academy have been trained and bullied by vicious, arrogant instructors, who have created generations of police officers as cruel and corrupt as they are themselves. Gamache is aware that only by getting the cadets when they are young can these evil instructors twist their minds until they no longer know right from wrong. With his son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir as his second-in-command, he is determined to stop this evil.

Gamache makes several bold decisions as he selects his teaching staff and the new yearly intake of cadets. He mixes trusted instructors with others that he wishes to keep near him until he can get sufficient evidence to have them prosecuted. He dithers for some time before admitting as a cadet Amelia Choquet, a young woman who has been leading an out-of-control life and has slipped into prostitution, but Gamache decides to give her a chance to turn her life around.

Back at Three Pines, Reine-Marie and the other residents are trying to solve the mystery of an intriguing, strangely-illustrated map which was found amongst magazines, newspapers and other old paperwork that had been used as insulation in the walls of an old building. Three Pines does not appear on any of the official maps of the district, but it is central to this map. As an exercise in detection, Gamache gives copies of the map to four students, one of whom is Amelia, and sets them the task of revealing its mysterious origin and its concealed message.

When a professor at the Academy is murdered, the crime is clearly tied to a member of the Academy and it seems that Gamache’s bold gamble to cleanse the Academy of corruption and cruelty has failed. A copy of the map of Three Pines is discovered in the murdered professor’s bedside drawer and the corrupt Academy and the peaceful village where Gamache found sanctuary are linked together. Worst of all, Gamache finds himself under suspicion of committing the murder and is in danger of being arrested.

A Great Reckoning is the 12th in the series featuring Chief Inspector Gamache. It is a compelling book, with a strong, lovable central protagonist. Gamache is a man of power, integrity, generosity and kindness. His wife, Reine-Marie, matches him with her strength, gentleness and her instinct to champion the vulnerable. This is demonstrated when Reine-Marie is given the choice of a litter of abandoned puppies and she picks not the adorable, fluffy puppy but the runt of the litter, who many people claim is not a puppy at all. When he sees the puppy, Gamache admits to himself that he would have done exactly the same thing.

The regular characters in the series – the residents of Three Pines and Gamache’s family – are all delightful, eccentric and warm, and must make most readers wish that they were part of such a community. The plot is excellent, intricate and flawlessly interwoven, with a clever discovery at the end. The writing style is elegant without ever losing the delightful touches of humour or slowing down the plot, and the images are exquisite. There are several subtle underlying themes that weave through the book but, for me, the most moving were those of kindness and of finding one’s way home.

Louise Penny is a superb writer. When I first received this book and saw it was 500 pages long, I wondered how I would get through it in time to review it for the December ezine. After the first few pages I was wondering what I could jettison from my schedule because I just had to go on reading. In the end I read it in three days. It is definitely a page-turner. Thoroughly recommended.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Louise Penny was born in Toronto in 1958 and became a journalist and radio host with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, specializing in hard news and current affairs. Her first job was in Toronto and then moved to Thunder Bay at the far tip of Lake Superior, in Ontario. Louise had always dreamed of writing and says, ‘Michael's support allowed me to quit work to write’.  Louise and Michael were married for 20 years. He died September 2016.
The Chief Inspector Gamache books have found a world-wide audience, won awards and ended up on bestseller lists including the New York Times’. Louise says Gamache was inspired by her husband, a kindly, thoughtful, generous man of courage and integrity. She lives outside a small village south of Montreal, quite close to the American border

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats  the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.