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Wednesday 31 July 2019

‘The Ghost of Hollow House’ by Linda Stratmann

Published by Saphere Books,
14 May 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-91302841-1(PB)

Ever since Mina Scarletti’s mother was one of many bereaved people who were the victims of a dishonest medium, Mina has gained a reputation as a person who is skilled in discovering the truth and exposing those who profit from deceiving vulnerable mourners. Mina has not got a closed mind, nor does she reject religion and the hope of an afterlife, but she is a practical person who will not accept that strange events have a supernatural origins until she has explored all other explanations. Ironically, Mina herself writes exciting stories of ghostly apparitions and mysterious happenings, although most of her family believe she gets a modest extra income from writing moral stories for children.

Mina’s life is not easy, as she suffers from scoliosis and is regarded with pity and embarrassment by those who do not know her. Those who become better acquainted with her discover the sharp mind, strong nerves and indomitable spirit that overcome the problems caused by her physical frailty. Thanks to the massage and exercise regime provided by her friends, Dr Hamid and his sister Anna, Mina is far stronger and more physically resilient than she has ever been before. This means that she feels able to undertake a journey in winter into rural Sussex when she receives an invitation that is also an appeal for help.

Mr Honeyacre had first encountered Mina in Brighton, when he was mourning for his dead wife and had been drawn into the activities of certain spiritualists. He emerged from the events with a great deal of respect for Mina and also with a second wife, Kitty, a lady much younger than himself, a contortionist who had been a popular entertainer on the stage. Mr Honeyacre still retains his belief in the supernatural and, when he discovers the country house is haunted, he invites Mina to visit him and discover the truth behind the strange happenings. Mina, accompanied by Dr Hamid and her friend, Nellie Jordan, agrees to go and stay at Hollow House.

The first thing Mina sees, within minutes of arriving at Hollow House, is a glimpse of a woman in white looking out of a window, but when she looks again the figure has disappeared. When Mina enquiries about the room she is told that it is kept locked because Mr Honeyacre is storing precious antiques in there. However, the room also contains some old toys that belonged to a family that lived in the house some time ago. One of the toys is an old rocking horse, and this is often heard creaking, as if someone is riding on it. As many strange happenings occur, Mina begins to wonder whether this is not a trick and ghosts really do exist.

Mina is still attempting to discover the truth about what is happening in Hollow House when, to her dismay, an old enemy arrives. This is a persuasive and influential man who has staked his reputation on his belief in ghosts and on the powers of mediums. A few months previously, he had an encounter with Mina and was vanquished, but this has made him even more eager to convert Mina or destroy her. Mina wishes to leave Hollow House but violent December storms result in floods and Mina finds herself trapped in an isolated country house with strange supernatural manifestations and an arrogant man who will stop at nothing to destroy her reputation.

The Ghost of Hollow House is set in 1871 and it is the fourth book featuring Mina Scarletti. Mina is a strong-minded, courageous and intelligent protagonist, with whom it is easy to empathise, and she is surrounded by unconventional but likeable supporters. The plot is intriguing and the historical background is immaculate, not merely in factual details but also in capturing the spirit of the mid-Victorian era, when a woman who dared to stand up to powerful men could find herself in danger of being declared insane. The Ghost of Hollow House is a fascinating book, which I recommend.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Linda Stratmann was born in Leicester in 1948 and first started scribbling stories and poems at the age of six. She became interested in true crime when watching Edgar Lustgarten on TV in the 1950s. Linda attended Wyggeston Girls Grammar School, trained to be a chemist’s dispenser, and later studied at Newcastle University where she obtained a first in Psychology. She then spent 27 years in the civil service before leaving to devote her time to writing. Linda loves spending time in libraries and archives and really enjoys giving talks on her subject.

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.

‘Sleeper: The Red Storm’ by J.D.Fennell

Published by The Dome Press,
25 October 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-99985599-4 (PB)

Sleeper: The Red Storm
recounts a breathtaking series of events that take place in London, Chartres, the French Alps and Rome during the Second World War.  The narrative opens in 1943 London, as a Russian spy is murdered by a supposed colleague in the tunnels of Mornington Crescent Underground Station.  This violent act of treachery prefigures another just outside Chartres where the reader is introduced to central protagonist Will Starling, an agent for the Special Operations Executive who is working with the French Resistance.  He and two Resistance fighters are about to launch a strategic attack on a pylon that supplies essential power to the occupying Nazi forces when, suddenly, they are alerted to the approach of German troops.  Despite suspecting that they have been betrayed, the group courageously persist with their hazardous undertaking.

Back in London Will expresses his concerns that the team had been compromised by a traitor embedded within MI5, a disturbing theme that runs through the novel and creates nail-biting tension as the reader, like Will, doesn’t know who to trust.  Meanwhile, along with fellow agent Anna Wilder, Will is charged with seeking out and destroying an unholy collaboration between the criminal organization known as VIPER and the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan.  It is believed that the alliance is developing a deadly new weapon that must be found and destroyed before it is unleashed upon the world.

Will and Anna were introduced in Sleeper, the first novel of the trilogy, when Starling was a vulnerable sixteen-year-old whose parents had been killed and whose sister, Rose, was missing.  Will still doesn’t know whether Rose is dead or alive and his determination to find her, or discover what has happened to her, adds another strand to the narrative.  In fact, Rose is in Rome where she is being held against her will by captors who prove to be increasingly unpleasant as the story unfolds.  As Will struggles to contain his feelings for Anna, his anxiety about his sister and his desire to avenge his parents’ death, he finds himself confronted with diabolic villains who aim to destroy entire populations in order to control the planet.

The story contains historical fact, science fiction, mysticism and adventure - a sure recipe for a fascinating thriller that wrong-foots the characters and the reader, and characterization is a particular strength of this novel.  Will and Rose Starling are endearing players in the deadly game of war, and both carry physical and psychological scars that make them susceptible to exploitation by nefarious characters posing as friends.  The orphaned teenagers have been forced to mature quickly during one of the most horrific conflicts in European history and have enormous responsibility placed upon their young shoulders.

The Red Storm
is the second in J.D.Fennell’s espionage trilogy, it is a high-octane rollercoaster of a novel in which the action barely pauses for breath and reality frequently melts into fantasy and back again.  Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended – bring on the final instalment!

Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent
J.D Fennell was born in Belfast at the start of the Troubles.  He left Belfast at the age of nineteen and worked as a chef, bartender, waiter and later began a career in writing for the software industry. JD's debut, Sleeper​, was published by The Dome Press in April 2017. These days he divides his time between Brighton and London, where he lives with his partner.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.