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Monday 30 November 2015

‘In Bitter Chill’ by Sarah Ward

Published by Minotaur Books,
29 September, 2015.
ISBN: 978-1250069177

 When the body of a woman is found in a hotel in the Derbyshire Peak district, despite the evidence of suicide - an empty packer of diazepam and a vodka bottle, Detective inspector Francis Sadler is called to the scene.  The deceased is identified as Yvonne Jenkins, the mother of Sophie Jenkins who along with her friend Rachel Jones was kidnapped   on their way to school thirty years ago in 1978.  Although Rachel is later found wandering along the roadside relatively unharmed, no trace of Sophie is ever found. But why now does Yvonne Jenkins commit suicide?

With the many new developments in today’s policing  Detective inspector Francis Sadler and detective constable Connie Childs are assigned to look at the case again to see if there is anything the original investigators missed.

Rachel has now become a family genealogist. With no memory of the event that at the time created a media frenzy she prefers to live quietly enjoying her job creating family trees for people who want to trace long forgotten relatives.  But the discovery of the body of one of her former teacher’s found in the same woods near where the girls were taken only days after the suicide threatens to rake up the kidnapping story again.  Is this killing related to that thirty year-old kidnapping and if so is the key to what actually happened on that fateful day locked in Rachel’s memory, and if so does she want to unlock it?   

As Francis Sadler and detective constable Connie Childs hash over the case they uncover secrets. Information that did not surface at the time, and although she has no memory of the event, is that ignorance enough to keep  Rachel safe.

Set in rural Derbyshire in winter, this is an amazing debut - atmospheric and cleverly plotted I was gripped from the beginning by this tantalising mystery which has a surprising twist at the end that skilfully ties up the story.  But hopefully not the end for Detective inspector Francis Sadler and detective constable Connie Childs, about whose personal lives we learn a little, and who I hope we see again in future mysteries.
Reviewer: Lizzie Hayes

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces, reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She is a judge for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime novels. Sarah lives in rural Derbyshire where her debut novel, In Bitter Chill, published by Faber and Faber, is set.

‘Plague Land’ by S D Sykes

Published by Hodder & Stoughton,
21 May 2015,
ISBN: 978-1-444-78578-4 PB)

Times were hard in the fourteenth century, even for the well-to-do. During the first couple of decades the Black Death was rampant, leaving villages and estates derelict at worst and short of labour at best. Even after the epidemic abated, dirt and infection flourished and water was rarely safe to drink. Women were chattels, to be used, abused and married off at the will of husbands and fathers. Religion and superstition vied for supremacy in the minds of the uneducated masses.

This is the world S D Sykes’s debut novel Plague Land brings to life – and very effectively she does it, with a lot of stomach-churning description and touches of humour. At the centre of the narrative is nineteen-year-old Oswald de Lacy, lord of the manor of Somershill against all expectation after the plague saw off all the other male members of his family. Recalled from the abbey where he had expected to live out his life, Oswald finds himself not only running the estate but also investigating the murder of one of his tenants, a teenage girl who, only days earlier, had sought him to ask for his help.

Oswald finds himself at odds with almost everyone around him: his mother and sister, the local priest, the village whore who finds herself accused of the crime, the lord of a neighbouring manor. His only allies are a monk who accompanied him from the abbey, and a beautiful young woman whom he rescues from a gang of rapists only to place her in the demanding hands of his mother.

The plot is twisty, with an unexpected resolution, but Sykes’s greatest strength is undoubtedly her portrayal of medieval life in all its squalor and hardship. She also has a deft hand with the folk who inhabit her world, and peoples her narrative with some memorable characters, notably Oswald himself, who is a mix of well-meaning naivety, self-doubt and unexpected competence: better educated and more intelligent than most of the people around him, he sees past the constraints of religion, superstition and convention which inhibit members of all social classes.

The main female characters, despite the restrictions placed on them, are a feisty bunch. Oswald’s mother and sister try to rule the roost; Joan the whore refuses to kowtow to  any man; the daughters of a neighbouring manor are positively feral.

S D Sykes is a new name to historical crime fiction, but on this showing she’ll be around for some time to come. A follow-up to Plague Land is already promised, and a series could well follow.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
S D Sykes  has lived in Somerset, London, Manchester and now in the Weald of Kent. She says that she has always been a storyteller, even as a child - writing her first book at the age of six and insisting it be typed up and bound. After a career writing copy for brochures, direct mail, and company newsletters, she started Plague Land after attending the course in novel writing at literary agents Curtis Brown. Her influences are gothic literature, nature, history and my large and mildly eccentric family.

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.

Sunday 29 November 2015

‘Cut to the Bone’ by Sally Spedding.

Published by
18 April 2015.
ISBN: 978-1326187088

Rita Martin’s life is as hard as you can imagine it gets, with three children and a husband whose priorities are more than questionable. When he phones her on an evening she’s made his favourite meal, telling her he’s not coming home, that hard life gets desperate. Forced to move to Scrub End a name as depressing as the place, post doesn’t even get delivered here it’s so rough.

Louis Perelman is a boy with everything … except for a real mum and dad. A privileged young man who befriends Rita’s eldest son Jez. This friendship is as real to Louis as all the deceptions he concocts to get what he wants.

This is where things get chilling. The harrowing depths a dark soul will go to. The love parents have towards their children can lead to polar opposite results. A story so deep and rich you don’t want to put it down … well maybe to catch your breath. A dark psychological chiller.
A recommended read.
Reviewer: Nicky Cooper Brown

Sally Spedding was born by the sea near Porthcawl in Wales and trained in sculpture in Manchester and at St Martin's, London. My work was detailed, accurate and in demand, but I began to realise words can deliver so much more than any narrative sculpture or painting. Sally’s first crime mystery, Wringland, has a strong historical thread and is set in the bleak fenland around Sutton Bridge. Cloven also invokes the past while in A Night With No Stars, published in January 2005, it's a fourteen year old murder which destabilises the present. Prey Silence, set in SW France, featuring an animal rights activist, was published in July 2006. Come and be Killed, set in the Malvern Hills, came out in January 2007. Her strong familial connections with the Pyrenees, Germany and Holland have provided her with themes of loss and exclusion. The dark side of people, and landscape. The deceptive exterior, the snake in the grass are all themes which recur in her writing. Sally is married to the painter, Jeffrey Spedding.
Nicky Cooper Brown came late to this game we call writing. Growing up, up North, she was always praised for her talents with her hands, rather than her mind, she harboured an artistic flair often drawing and painting into the night. It wasn't until she moved south to the Beautiful picturesque New Forest that she took pen to paper so to speak. Now Nicky enjoys writing short stories and articles and has a funny and light hearted style, but when it comes to her novels she displays a darker side and a taste for psychological thrillers.

‘The Exile’ by Mark Oldfield

Published by Head of Zeus,
10 Septenmber 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-78185-151-7

In 1937, a Basque terrorist cell is captured by Franco’s men... in 1954, head of the secret police Guzman is on the trail of Basque leader El Lobo ... and in 2010, forensic scientist Galindez is still determined to hunt Guzman down.

This novel keeps you on your toes, guessing connections as you move from past to present. The two protagonists are very different. Commandant Guzman, in the 1954 narrative, is a survivor. He’s violent, quick-thinking, and ruthless, though his no-nonsense defiance of authority and his attraction to Magdalena and Nieves make him more likeable. All the same, he’s not a character you want to like, and the later softening revelations feel like the author’s letting him off the hook. Galindez is an enjoyable heroine, feisty and determined to see justice done, awkward around people, but willing to open up to those she trusts, like journalist and radio star Isabel Calderon. The action is non-stop, the body-count high and the excesses and corruption of the regime under Franco vividly described. There is sympathy with the Basque cause and the Spanish setting is vividly created, though I found the use of itallicised Spanish words overdone. 

Clever plotting, fast action and compelling characters in an unusual setting make this PP/thriller very readable ... except that, although there’s no hint of this on the jacket, blurb or title page, it’s actually the second book of a trilogy, billed on Amazon as Vengeance of Memory 2, and it ends on a seriously annoying cliff-hanger. It is very good, so if it sounds your kind of book, I’d recommend waiting till all three are out, then starting with The Sentinel.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor
Mark Oldfield has worked in criminological research for over 20 years. He has a PhD in Criminology from the University of Kent and has carried out research in the areas of risk assessment and prediction and as well as evaluative research on policing, prisons and probation. He has also taught in various Universities on research, crime and criminal justice. The Sentinel combines his professional knowledge with his long-time love affair with Spain which began in 1976 when he first went to the Spain for the Fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.