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Friday, 18 October 2019

‘Surfeit of Suspects’ by George Bellairs

Published by the British Library Crime Classics,
10 April 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7123-5238-3 (PB)

This book begins with a bang when a violent explosion destroys the offices of the Excelsior Joinery Company. When rescuers reach the scene, they discover three bodies in the wreckage of the building, who are identified as three of the five directors of the company. The next day, as soon as the forensic experts confirm that the explosion was not an accident, the local police call in Scotland Yard. Superintendent Littlejohn and Inspector Cromwell are assigned to the case and head to Surrey to investigate.

Littlejohn is confronted with a surfeit of suspects, plus several possible motives and a vast number of questions. What were the three company directors doing in the office at that time in the evening when the Managing Director, Fred Hoop, who was not present, insists that there was no meeting scheduled? Had Fred Hoop, with or without the connivance of his father, the Chairman of the company, deliberately attempted to destroy all the stock and other assets of the failing company in order to claim the insurance? Or was this explosion intended to murder one of the men and the others were collateral damage? Who, amongst the numerous suspects, was in a position to acquire dynamite and place it in the cellar of the building?

Littlejohn and Cromwell follow up clues in an exceptionally complex case and soon realise that, while there seems to be little reason for killing two of the victims, the same cannot be said for the third man, John Willie Dodd. There are motives for wishing Dodd dead related to both his personal life and his business dealings. He was forced to marry the daughter of a powerful local figure, Alderman Vintner, after he got her pregnant, but soon betrayed her with other women, and recently has been involved with Bella Hoop, the wife of Fred Hoop. Bella, a vain and shallow young woman, has left her husband and is staying with her long-suffering mother. The business reasons for wishing Dodd dead are even more compelling, as he has persuaded all of his co-directors to invest heavily in Excelsior and, when it fails, they will lose everything. Even the local bank manager, a man nearing retirement, is in a difficult position, having allowed loans to the firm which are unlikely to be repaid. At first, the case against the unprepossessing Fred Hoop seems very dark, with both personal and business motives for murdering Dodd, but Littlejohn is a detective with an instinct for corruption and he is determined to delve deeper into the secrets of the swiftly developing, industrial town.

Surfeit of Suspects is one of the books newly republished by the British Library and it is a pleasure to see Bellairs represented there. The plot deals with financial complexities, which Bellairs, whose day job was as a bank manager, manages to make clear and interesting. His characterisation is always vivid, with small, lively, cameo descriptions of the characters as they are introduced, and a narrative that is lightened by quiet, wry humour, as in the case of the unfortunate bank manager, George Frederick Handel Roper. Littlejohn is an appealing protagonist, honourable, hard-working, intelligent and kind to those in trouble, and his friendship with Cromwell works very well. Littlejohn is one of the almost forgotten detectives, who has his roots in the Golden Age, and deserves to be better remembered. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys high quality, traditional, 20th century police procedurals.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

George Bellairs (1902-1982) a bank manager, a talented crime author, part time journalist and Francophile. His detective stories, written in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, combine wicked crimes and classic police procedurals, set in small British communities. Best known for his Detective Littlejohn stories, he is celebrated as one Britain’s crime classic greats.  Discover more about George Bellairs at his website
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.
To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

‘The Washington Decree’ by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Published by Quercus Editions Ltd,
8 August 2019.
ISBN: 978 1 52940 139 4 (PBO)

This stand-alone novel, that crosses the pond and is ably translated from the Danish language into English by Steve Schein, was first published in Denmark in 2006.  What the reader encounters is a rising politician who has suffered two horrifying history - repeats - itself bereavements. The brutal, fatal stabbing of Bruce Jansen’s first wife, Caroll, in China, which they were visiting when he was governor of Virginia, is still a festering wound when, 16 years later, his second wife, Mimi, pregnant with their first child, is gunned down on election night when he scores victory as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Despite the trauma, the grieving President is sworn in and assumes office and, vowing to end gun violence by whatever means, sheds his liberal tendencies and introduces autocratic iniatives that suspend Constitutional rights, censors the media, bars freedom of movement and generally abuses power. 

Dorothy “Doggie” Rogers, newly appointed to the White House, and Press Secretary Wesley Barefoot, reunite with their stalwart band of campaigners who’ve supported Jansen from way back, to make it their mission to stop what’s happening.   To make matters worse, it is Doggie’s right-wing Republican father who is identified as the evil mastermind in the murder of Mimi and now languishes on death row. 

The pace picks up, the reader rides a rollercoaster of twists and turns, the tension rises and in chapter 40, the reader becomes a fly on the wall listening to the true assailant’s conversation with his conspirators.

The author wraps up the story with his usual compositional skill and narrative rhythm; what is nerve-racking is the plausibility of something much like that spinning out of control in the US.  All in all, it’s an intriguing political thriller that’s certain to hook the author’s many fans.
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax

Jussie Adler-Olsen was born Carl Valdemar Jussi Henry Adler-Olsen on 2 August 1950 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  He is a Danish author, publisher, editor and entrepreneur. Jussi Adler-Olsen's career is characterised by his great involvement in a wide range of media related activities.  

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practised in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

‘Music Macabre’ by Sarah Rayne

Published by Severn House,
30 August 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7278-8896-9 (HB)

Phineas Fox was enjoying his new commission gathering background material for a biography on the life and loves of composer Franz Liszt, virtuoso composer-pianist.  His research has been going well until he turns up links to a music hall dancer Scaramel who during the late 1880 and 1890’s was notorious during her career for dancing on tables, at somewhere called Linklighters Supper Rooms in Harlequin Court, and that one of her admirers was Frans Liszt, albeit an aging admirer.  Further investigation reveal rumours that she had somehow become tangled in a murder, although the legend could not be verified.

While his is pondering on this new information in bounces Toby Tallis with whom he had recently co-authored a book Bawdy Ballads Down the Ages, which is doing rather well, and Toby has enthusiastic ideas for a second book. Toby is also cousin to Arabella who is ‘walking out’ with Phin, but unfortunately for Phin decamping to Paris for a month.  Resource to the Internet reveals that Harlequin Court and Linklighters still exists as a restaurant.  Toby instantly books a table and off they go to explore. 

Interspersed with Phin’s research into the period we meet Daisy, Scaramel’s maid in the 1880s, who tells the historical story and who along with her brother, nicknamed Link, becomes a target for a killer. Scaramel has an idea for women to warn each other of possible danger from the notorious Jack the Ripper, and it is here that we understand the link to Liszt.  

Phin is keen to talk to the owner of Linklighters to see if any old papers still exist and so we meet Loretta, who has her own agenda.  He also discovers some sketches of the area and the era in a nearby bookshop but could Phin’s keenness to discover the truth behind the possible murder be Phin’s undoing.

I was fascinated by the clever blending of fact and fiction and the explanation of ‘Linklighters’ being street urchins carrying sticks with lighted tar to guide gentlemen and their ladies through the gloomy London fogs for a charge.  Also, the network of ghost rivers that run under London.

In the author’s notes at the end of the book she says Jack the Ripper got into the story in a far stronger way than she had bargained for.  Although, many people do, I personally have no fascination with Jack the Ripper.  I don’t waste time or thought on horrible people and he definitely falls into that category.  However, I love mysteries and this book falls clearly into that category.   I think it is brilliant and extremely clever and kept me guessing to the end. It also poses intriguing hypothesis and I have no hesitation in heartily recommending it as a’ not to be missed read’.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett 

Sarah Rayne's first novel was published in 1982, and for several years she juggled writing books with working in property, pounding an elderly typewriter into the small hours in order to meet deadlines.  Much of the inspiration for her dark psychological thrillers comes from the histories and atmospheres of old buildings, a fact that is strongly apparent in many of her settings - Mortmain House in A Dark Dividing, Twygrist Mill in Spider Light, and the Tarleton Theatre in Ghost Song. She has written more than 25 books to date, and her work has met with considerable acclaim. Her books are also published in America, as well as having been translated into German, Dutch, Russian and Turkish.  In 2011, she published the first of a series of ghost-themed books, featuring the Oxford don, Michael Flint, and the antiques dealer, Nell West, who made their debut in Property of a Lady. Several years ago Sarah also wrote six contemporary horror books, originally under the pen-name of Frances Gordon.

‘A Hidden Life’ by Mia Emilie (The Watchers Trilogy)

Published by Mia Emilie,
19 August 2019.
ISBN 978-1-9161399-0-9 (PB)

This book concerns a fascinating, real life, unsolved historical mystery - the death in 1560 of Amy Dudley (some other sources call her Amy Robsart). We plunge into the story when Sir Samuel Banks, the Sheriff of Oxford, comes to see the body of Lady Dudley which is laid out in a cellar of Cumnor Place.  It is his job, firstly, to find a jury to ascertain the cause of death.    Sam hopes to hand the matter over to the Justice of the Peace, Reynard, but the man says he is ill and gives the investigation back to Sam.  Sam has been a royal spy and death doctor and his skills in these regards are valuable as he tries to discover the cause of the death of Amy Dudley and whether someone was responsible for her death.

The way lives are lived in the 16th century is beautifully shown; the ordinary folk suffer harsh conditions -  wearing no shoes, being dirty and being totally dependent on the masters for food and lodging of the rudest kind, while the men of the upper echelons have to travel by horseback considerable distances in foul weather and be prepared to fight those who attack or traduce them.   The political machinations within the Court and parts of society are dangerous waters for gentlemen to wade through.  Those who are embroiled in high level politics have to have a group of men to use in protection or to attack other people.   Sam’s ability in a fight is a very valuable attribute which he has to use fairly frequently. 

Mia really illustrates the totally different attitudes and circumstances of the 16th century to our own while showing our common humanity over relationships within and outside families.   Realism in her descriptions helps to get that period feel.  She provides details in passing that illuminate the Elizabethan era, for example,  Hugh, the Undersheriff wears his writing desk - that is he has hanging round his neck a container with parchment, ink and pen - all men carry daggers, and there is the job of rat catcher in large houses and Oxford Colleges.  Whatever your status in society there is common ground in the experiences of deaths of children - in this case from the pox.

This is a rollicking story - exciting and frightening incidents abound as Sam forges on in the hope of solving the central mystery of Amy Dudley’s death.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is Mia’s first book and it is the first of the Watchers trilogy which will consider Amy’s death as three investigators in different eras try to solve the mystery.

Mia Emilie lives in South West England with her family, rascally dog and a huge collection of books. Having studied creative writing from degree to PhD level, Mia was awarded her doctorate last year and is now a full-time crime writer. A Hidden Life, is her debut novel and the first instalment in, The Watchers, trilogy.  

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.

Monday, 14 October 2019

‘Call Me Evie’ by J.P. Pomare

Published by Sphere,
18 April 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7651-1 (HB)
978-0-7515-7389-3 (PB)

A middle-aged man and a teenage girl arrive in an isolated beach town in New Zealand and establish themselves in a tumbledown house with few neighbours. The man’s name is Jim, we are told, and that of the girl is Evie. They have to live a secluded life, Jim tells Evie, because way back in Melbourne, where they lived before, she did something terrible and someone might find her. In order to stop them being recognised Jim shaves all her hair off, and then his own. But Evie can’t remember what it is that she is supposed to have done. 

However, some memories do come back: for one thing, her name is not Evie but Kate. Her mother is dead – possibly suicide, possibly something else – and her father ever since looked after her. But Kate/Evie can’t remember her father and she has no idea who Jim is. She begins to remember her life at school in Melbourne and her friendship with a girl called Willow, a destructive friendship particularly when a romance between Kate/Evie and a boy called Thom begins to blossom and Willow is jealous. Kate/Evie knows that something dreadful happened involving Thom; but was it something she did or something someone else did? But in the present in New Zealand Kate/Evie is on heavy medication administered by Jim and the more she tries to get away from his iron grip back to Melbourne and what she remembers as being happier times the more remorseless Jim’s grip becomes. And there definitely are people who are watching them both, and do the neighbours, particularly a boy called Iso who does seem to be anxious to establish a relationship with Kate/Evie, know more about her than she knows about herself?

Essentially this is a novel about buried memories and the recovery of those memories and whether, when recovered, they are truthful. The narrative is from the point of view of Kate/Evie – Kate in the past tense when recollecting her time in Melbourne, Evie in the present tense when in New Zealand, both skilfully woven together and constituting a dramatic tale in which there can be no certainty. Recommended. 
Reviewer: Radmila May

J. P. Pomare grew up on a horse-racing farm in small-town New Zealand with his three older siblings and his father. He left for Melbourne where he developed his craft, entrenching himself in the Australian literary community. For almost two years he produced and hosted a podcast called On Writing, interviewing almost thirty local and international authors including Joyce Carol Oates, John Safran, Dorthe Nors, E. Lockheart, Chris Wormersley, and Sofie Laguna.  He has been published in several journals and has also won a number of prizes include the KYD Unpublished Manuscript Prize. Call Me Evie is his first novel.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

‘The Bodies in the Library’ by Marty Wingate

Published by Berkeley Prime Crime,
10 October 2019.
ISBN: 978-19848-0410-5

The story is told in the first-person viewpoint of Hayley Burke, the new curator of the late Lady Georgianna Fowling’s First Edition Library, based in Middlebank House in Bath. The library specialises in Golden Age detection novels and Hayley is in a difficult position because she bluffed her way into the job and has no knowledge of Golden Age crime fiction. The library’s secretary, Mrs Woolgar, is very knowledgeable about the subject and is aware that Hayley is not qualified for her job. Mrs Woolgar had been Lady Fowling’s personal assistant and is dedicated to keeping her memory and her library exactly the same as it had been in her lifetime.

Hayley’s personal life is as out of control as her career as a curator. She is in her forties, divorced and in a tenuous long-distance relationship with a man more interested in setting up his business venture than in spending time with her. She has a student daughter that she spoils, providing money whenever it is asked for and facilitating her daughter’s selfishness and lack of independence, in an attempt to make up to her for her parents’ divorce. Hayley’s most positive relationship is with her elderly mother, who is frail in body but has an incisive mind. Hayley spends every weekend with her, and she encourages Hayley to do the obvious thing to solve her work problem, which is to become acquainted with the Golden Age authors.

One of Hayley’s innovations is to allow a group of fan fiction writers to use the library for their meetings. Mrs Woolgar whole-heartedly disapproves of this decision, and this influences her reception of Hayley’s other ideas, such as hosting a series of literary receptions. Fortunately, Hayley has one of the Board of Governors on her side and when there is a possibility of collaboration with Bath University, Hayley’s plans seem more feasible. Added to which, Hayley meets university lecturer Val Moffat, and a warm friendship follows. Hayley is already regretting allowing the quarrelsome fan fiction group access to the library and is considering rescinding her agreement when disaster strikes, and a member of the group is found murdered in the Middlebank House library.

As well as having to deal with the horrified reactions of Mrs Woolgar and most of the Board of Governors, Hayley has her first unpleasant encounter with Charles Henry Dill, Lady Fowling’s nearest living relative, who is still trying to find a way to overthrow the conditions of her will and take over Middlebank House. It is soon evident that Dill has researched Hayley’s background and is going to blackmail her to resign, not just because of the murder but because her ignorance of the Golden Age makes her unfit to hold her job as curator. Hayley does the only thing she can. She starts reading Golden Age books, beginning with Agatha Christie’s The Body in the Library. Soon Hayley is attempting to solve the murder, using an amateurish attempt to emulate the methods of Miss Marple, until she accidentally draws too close to the killer and places her own life is in danger.

The Bodies in the Library works well as a stand-alone novel, but all the indications are that it is intended to be the first in a series. It is based on an amusing concept; the plot is interesting, and the characters are likeable. I especially enjoyed the way that Hayley’s relationships with several of the other protagonists developed, especially when the rather prickly Mrs Woolgar showed her kinder side. The story is set in England and the narrating protagonist is English, but the book is an American publication and contains some American spellings.

The Bodies in the Library is a gently paced, cosy crime novel and an enjoyable read.-------
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based author and speaker about gardens and travel. She is the author of The Garden Plot, first in the Potting Shed mystery series. There are now 7 books in the series. Marty’s garden articles appear in a variety of publications, including Fine Gardening, American Gardener, Country Gardens, and Gardening How-to. You can hear her on the podcast A Dry Rain, available free from iTunes. She leads garden tours to European and North American. The Bodies in the Library, published 9 October 2019 is the first in her new series.

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.
To read a review of Carol latest book
Strangers and Angels click on the title.

Monday, 7 October 2019

‘Death in the Cove, by Pauline Rowson

Published by Fathom Rowmark,
26 September 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-99288895-4 (PB)

Recently promoted Inspector Alun Ryga of Scotland Yard is sent to Portland Island in Dorset following the discovery of the body of a man, dressed in a pinstriped suit, in called Church Ope Cove, a secluded bay.  This is Ryga’s first major investigation, and he is keen to prove his worth.

Along with the local Sergeant Jack Daniels, Ryga visits the mortuary. Although having died from a stab wound, on initial investigation the dead man shows no sign of a brutal attack, and Ryga surmises that he did not appear to have put up a fight against his killer.

The body had been discovered by war photographer Eva Paisley, who had been out in the early morning taking photographs and used by virtue of her job to the sight of dead bodies took photographs of the body in situ.  

The story is set in England in 1950, a country still recovering from the war and subject to rationing. Also, to many old-fashioned attitudes as when Ryga tells the local police Inspector Crispin that although because of the tide they had to move the body they luckily have the photographs Eva Paisley took. He remarks that he doesn’t think her snaps will be any use.  Ryga on the other hand places his trust in Eva despite Inspector Crispin’s misgivings.  It is to be hoped that he is not disappointed.

Settling in at the Quarryman Arms, Ryga meets landlady Sonia Shepherd, an attractive woman in her early thirties. As the story progresses Ryga, a thoughtful, observant man, is sure that Sonia has something to tell him, but each time she seems to get near it something happens, and the moment passes.  Before long there is a second murder.

This is the first book in a new series, and one I will be avidly following.  The story is well-plotted and like a lot of good crime fiction reaches back into the past for the solution. I own to being particularly drawn to this period of what is of course now history.  But I was a teenager in the 1950’s and Pauline Rowson captures the period perfectly and reminded me of so many things that I had forgotten.   When a suspect is challenged that he seems to know more than he should, he said he read it in the newspaper, but no newspaper can be found.  Check in the lavatory suggests Ryga. It may be hanging there as toilet paper.

The clues are there, but I followed the red herring and didn’t guess the murderer.  Will you?  Don’t miss this first book in what is sure to be a first-class series.  Whilst the murderer is unmasked there are left some tempting hooks for the next book.  Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Pauline Rowson was born and raised in Portsmouth and still lives on nearby Hayling Island. She has used her home town for a series of tense crime novels built around the personality of DC Andy Horton. Her books display an accurate knowledge of police procedure linked to a gift for vivid story telling and a love of the sea. Her first novel Tide of Death was published in 2006. Then came In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill, followed by Deadly Waters, Blood on the Sand and then Footsteps on the shore. It is fact that Rowson is an author hugely admired by so many overseas readers, from the United States to China. She deserves so much more recognition in her own country. That must happen soon.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

‘The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas’ by Syd Moore

Looking for a Christmas present:

Published by Point Blank,
26 September 2019.
 ISBN: 978-1-78607-681-9 (PB)

Many readers will be familiar with this author’s Essex Witch Museum series, featuring proud Essex girl Rosie Strange, who was bequeathed the museum in the village of Adders’ Fork by her grandfather Septimus, and the Museum’s curator, the highly desirable but elusive Sam Stone. However, although Rosie and Sam do appear in some of the stories, sometimes together, sometimes not, they’re not in all of them. Thus, in the first story, ‘Septimus and the Shaman’, Septimus recounts to Sam, who is researching witchcraft tradition for a Ph.D., his encounter with a shaman during World War II when the British occupied Iceland. 

The second story, however, features the elderly lady Norah who has lived on her own in Adders’ Fork since the death of her husband with no company apart from successive cats all called after departed members of her family, friends, lovers, until the final feline calls for her.

It is not possible to outline all the stories. One, however, Death Becomes Her, has been shortlisted for the CWA 2019 Short Stories Award. It features Police Officer Stacey Winters of the City of London Police. Like most police officers she is distressed by encounters with death. But unlike anyone else, from her teenage years she is visited by the actual apparition of Death who materialises to warn her that he is about to visit his next victim. And in another, readers who have been following Rosie’s pursuit of Sam will like to know that in Christmas Eve at the Witch Museum (which features many inhabitants of Adders’ Fork who fulfil all the Essex clich├ęs affectionately depicted) Rosie gets to dance with Sam under the mistletoe. But does she get any further? The following story which is based on the witch persecutions of the 17th century is much more serious in tone while the final tale, A Christmas Carole, is a retelling of Dickens’s classic Christmas Carol.

All in all, this is a great collection of seasonal stories just right to be popped into a Christmas stocking.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Syd Moore is an author inspired by the history and legacy of the 19th Century Essex witch trials. She is also co-creator of Super Strumps, the game that reclaims female stereotypes through the medium of Top Trumps, and was founding editor of Level 4, an arts and culture magazine based in South Essex. She has worked extensively in publishing and the book trade and presented Channel 4's late night book programme, Pulp.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

‘Secrets at St Bride’s’ by Debbie Young

Published by Hawkesbury Press,
5 August 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-911223-43-6 (PB)

Gemma Lamb is desperate to escape her controlling, bullying boyfriend, Steven, but has no idea how to accomplish this when she has failed to get every job she has secretly applied for. The apartment they live in belongs to Steven, and all of her friends have been fooled into thinking him the charming, considerate man that Gemma had believed he was, before she discovered what he was really like. Gemma has drifted apart from her parents, who never liked Steven and she feels trapped, alone in the world, with nowhere to go.

The answer to Gemma’s problem comes when she is offered the job of teaching English at St Bride’s, an exclusive and eccentric boarding school for girls. This live-in post at a beautiful Victorian mansion in the Cotswolds, with excellent security, is just what Gemma needs and, miraculously, the headmistress, Miss Harnett, values kindness above qualifications. Gemma can hardly believe her luck and just prays that nobody will discover that, although she gained her teaching certificate, Steven’s jealousy had prevented her from gaining practical experience by taking a teaching job after she qualified.

Although the book opens with a brief prologue, which indicates that there is danger in the offing, the main thrust of the book is about Gemma settling into a remarkable but kind and welcoming school. Gemma has not told anybody about her disastrous relationship with Steven and she soon realises that many of her fellow teachers have secrets of their own. Why does the Maths teacher, Orianna Bliss, change her appearance so drastically and so often? And is Mavis Brook, the Geography teacher who is also in charge of the school library, selling off valuable antique books for her own profit? Above all, what is the truth behind the remarkably rugged Head of PE, in this school that advertises that it is staffed only by females? However, when Steven tracks Gemma to her refuge, she has more to worry about than her colleagues’ secrets, as she discovers just how far he will go to force her to return to his control.

Secrets at St Bride’s is described on the cover as ‘a school story for grown-ups’, and all those who enjoyed school stories in their youth will relate to this story, with Gemma as the ‘new girl ‘ discovering her new community, and it is a pleasure to watch her regain her self-belief as she realises that she is a good teacher and that she has found a new, accepting community. St Bride’s is certainly an extremely eccentric school, but it is also warm and funny with an delightful cast of characters, both mistresses and pupils. Secrets at St Bride’s is a ‘feel good ‘book and remarkably easy to read. I would describe it as a gentle page-turner, and I enjoyed it very much.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Debbie Young was born and raised in Sidcup, Kent. When she was 14, her family relocated to Germany for her father’s job. Debbie spent four years at Frankfurt International School, broadening her outlook as well as gaining the then brand new IB (International Baccalaureate). She returned to the UK to earn her BA (Hons) in English and Related Literature at the University of York, then lived and worked for a while in London and the West of England as a journalist and PR consultant.  In 1991 she moved to the Cotswolds. In 2002, she married a Scot named Gordon whom she met in Swindon – and not, as village rumour once had it, a Swede named Scottie.  In 2003, her daughter Laura was born.  Best Murder in Show was the first in her series featuring Sophie Sayers. There are now a further three books in this series.

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
To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

Friday, 4 October 2019

‘A Place to Lie’ by Rebecca Griffiths

Published by Sphere
22 August 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-6201-9 (PB)

In a Bayswater street an unnamed woman, traumatised by fear of an unknown pursuer but galvanised to desperation by hunger and a wild need for chocolate, dies from stab wounds inflicted by a World War II Nazi knife. And in her last conscious moments she returns to the place where all her fear began when she was not much more than a child, a beautiful place of sunlit meadows and shadowy woods.
She is identified by the contents of her purse as being Caroline Jameson with one sister living, Joanna Peters, now happily married with children, a successful concert pianist. The sisters were long estranged but after being asked by the police to identify Caroline’s body, she is overcome by guilt that she allowed the rift between the two of them to linger unhealed. So, she sets out to find out the truth behind Caroline’s death. It seems that it was Caroline herself who inflicted the fatal wound when making an unprovoked attack on a young man in a local supermarket. His name is Kyle Norris and so far as is known he and Caroline had no previous contact.

The search leads Joanna to the idyllic Gloucestershire village of Witchwood on the Welsh border where the two girls had been sent to stay with their great-aunt Dora when their mother, shattered by the death of their father and seeking refuge in alcohol, tries to kill herself. Joanna, the younger of the two, prettier and musically talented, quickly makes a friend of Ellie, whose mother Liz is married to Ian Fry who keeps the local pub. Carrie, on the other hand, on the brink of puberty, is much the plainer of the two and, in the tradition of teenagers, pretty disagreeable. However, she takes a fancy to Dean, Ian’s handsome son by an earlier marriage and is happy to give Liz and Ian a hand in the bar from time to time especially since Dean flirts with Caroline; unfortunately she takes him seriously and this has repercussions which reverberate far into the future. Nonetheless the three girls get on reasonably well together and are happy to wander together in the deep woods, unaware that they are being watched by at least one person. And then Ellie disappears, and the happy times are over and the tranquil village is revealed as being not a peaceful paradise but more a village of the damned.

The narrative is skilfully interwoven between the present day and the past. And there is a surprising yet convincing twist at the end.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Rebecca Griffiths grew up in rural mid-Wales and went on to gain a first-class honours degree in English literature. After a successful business career in London, Dublin and Scotland she returned to mid-Wales where she now lives with her husband, a prolific artist, and their dog and pet sheep.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.