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Wednesday 30 September 2020

‘The Merry Month of Murder’ by Nicola Slade

Published independently,
31 July 2020.
ISBN: 979-8667847021 (PB).
Published in Kindle by Darkstroke/Crooked Cat,
10 September 2020.
ASIN: B08D6S6892

The story opens at the end of April 1918 and follows the stories of Alexandra (Alix), Christabel (Christy) and Adelaide (Addy) Fyttelton. The three sisters are well- born but far from wealthy young women, who are struggling to make a reasonable living despite rationing and other privations of war, while they still mourn the death in the trenches of their much-loved brother, Bertie. The narrator of the story is eighteen-year-old Christy, the middle sister and the sensible one. Alix is sweet-natured and hard-working, but she is wrapped up in her dream of finding the perfect husband, while fifteen-year-old Addy is intellectually brilliant but tempestuous and emotionally immature. Their mother helps the family finances by her popular romantic novels but lives more in her fictional world than in real-life, so it is Christy and her practical grandmother, Lady Elspeth Gillespie, who deal with the practical aspects of family survival.

Although the family has little income, they do own two houses, the one they live in and another next door. One way that Christy and her grandmother contrive to earn more money is by having redecorated the spare house and renting rooms to the female relatives of soldiers who are recuperating at the nearby military hospital, Groom Hall. At the start of the book, a new group of convalescent soldiers are due to arrive, which means that there are relatives looking for accommodation. Soon Christy welcomes a meek, down-trodden lady who is grateful for the respite from her overbearing husband, a hearty woman with prodigious energy and an appetite to match, and a fearful, very young bride who is in the last weeks of pregnancy.

Although Christy has not considered marriage, she has an increasingly warm friendship with Harry Makepeace, a young officer, now discharged from the army and working as a solicitor. Harry had been a friend of their brother, which makes him a welcome guest. The family are delighted to meet Harry’s cousins, Mr Edgar Makepeace and Miss Bertha Makepeace, but are less happy about the constant intrusions of Bertha’s friend, Miss Portia Diplock, a domineering woman who believes she has the right to order everybody about, especially younger people like Christy and her sisters.

All continues well with the family: the new lodgers form unlikely friendships, a new, small, temporary school is established in the basement, and Alix seems to have finally met her longed-for perfect mate. In the meantime, Addy helps Christy to come to a decision about her own writing, switching from stories for boys about adventures in the trenches, which Christy had found increasingly depressing, to school stories for girls. The sisters are looking forward to the May Day celebrations in the town, although determined not to be bullied into joining the dancers around the maypole. When a sudden death occurs everybody is shocked and, despite her youth, Christy finds herself assisting the doctor. It is assumed that the death is from natural causes, but Christy finds herself in possession of information that indicates otherwise and has to decide whether taking the matter further is the right thing to do.

The Merry Month of Murder is the second in the Fyttelton mysteries and could be classified as the cosiest of cosy mysteries. It is a delightful read, with fascinating historical detail and thoroughly engaging characters, especially Christy, whose wryly humorous narrative is a delight. In many ways, it reminded me of the ‘Little Women’ books, only for an adult audience and with the odd suspicious death thrown in. This is book that is great fun from beginning to end and a very easy and enjoyable read.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Nicola Slade was brought up in Poole, Dorset. She wrote children’s stories when her three children were growing up, moving onto short stories for several national magazines. Winning a story competition in Family Circle galvanised her into writing seriously and since then her stories and articles have been commissioned regularly. Scuba Dancin, a romantic comedy was her first published novel. After that she wrote a series of Victorian mysteries: Murder Most Welcome  published by Robert Hale Ltd, 2008, featuring Charlotte Richmond, a young widow in the 1850s. Nicola has a second series, featuring former headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her sidekick and cousin, Rev Sam Hathaway. Nicola, her husband and their cat live near Winchester in Hampshire.

Find out more about Nicola at

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 This Game of Ghosts click on the title.

CWA Debut Dagger Writing Competition 2021 Opens for Entries

Budding authors are invited to submit the opening of their novel to the coveted
Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Debut Dagger competition 2021.
The international writing competition opens for entries on October 1.

Created in 1955, the Daggers are the oldest and most regarded awards in the genre, and for over two decades the CWA has been encouraging new writing with its Debut Dagger competition for unpublished writers.

Submissions are judged by a panel of top crime editors and agents and all shortlisted Debut Dagger entrants receive feedback from the judges about their entries.
Moreover, all shortlisted entries are sent to UK agents and publishers of crime fiction.

Anyone is eligible who has not had a full-length novel published by a traditional publisher and who, at the time of the competition closing, has not got a contract with a publisher or literary agent. Independently published authors, provided they fulfil the criteria above, are eligible to enter.

Entries must send in their first 3,000 words and a 1,500-word synopsis of their novel. Writers do not need to have completed their novel in order to enter.

The competition has helped launch the careers of established crime writers, including M W Craven, who entered the 2013 CWA Debut Dagger competition.
M W Craven said: “Little did I know that it would go on to change my life.”

Craven was offered a publishing contract by an independent publisher who were influenced by the shortlisting. He went on to write The Puppet Show, which sold to Little, Brown and went on to win the
CWA 2019 Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year.
It has been sold in 17 foreign language territories, and TV rights have also been sold.

“All this success,” Craven said, “comes from entering the Debut Dagger.”

Linda Stratmann, Chair of the CWA, said:
“Winning the Debut Dagger ensures your work will be brought to the attention of leading agents and top editors, who have to date signed up over two dozen winners and shortlisted Debut Dagger competitors.”

Leanne Fry, who was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger 2020 for Whipstick, said: “The CWA Debut Dagger shortlisting has sparked the sort of interest from agents and publishers that a new writer bashing out her first manuscript on the other side of the world could only dream of. I knew I needed to get my work in front of industry professionals which is why I sucked up the self-doubt and entered the Debut Dagger. It’s been a fantastic experience and I’d encourage every writer out there wondering what on earth to do with that manuscript they’ve been labouring over to submit to next year’s Debut Dagger.”

The winner, who also receives £500, will be announced at the annual
CWA Dagger Awards ceremony.

Also launched on October 1 is the annual CWA Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition.

The Margery Allingham Society, set up to honour and promote the writings of the great Golden Age author, works with the CWA to run the writing competition. Submissions have a limit of 3,500 words and stories must pay homage to the author’s definition of a mystery. The winner is awarded £500.

Linda added: “We’re proud to offer support and advice for writers at all stages of their career. Alongside our writing competitions, we host a welcoming Debuts community on Facebook where budding authors can ask questions, share experiences and help out fellow writers. The CWA’s Debuts mailing list provides information on author events, courses and the writing process via the monthly CRA & Debuts Newsletter, as well as an ezine – Case Files – showcasing the latest crime writing.”

The closing date for submissions to both competitions is 6pm on Friday 26 February 2021.

For tips, case studies of shortlisted and winning Debut Daggers, and full details on how to enter both writing competitions, go to 

Monday 28 September 2020

‘And The Sea Darkened’ by Vicki Lloyd

Published by The Book Guild,
28 August 2020.
ISBN: 978 1913208 738 (PB)

Just off the coast of Essex, linked to the mainland by a causeway, is the island of St Cedd, barren, windswept, surrounded by the snarling sea which eats away at the land. Legends and myths about the island abound: tales of wreckers who decoyed boats to the shore and then killed the survivors; men who can turn themselves into wild beasts and kill at random; ghosts who stalk the land, taunting people whom they drive to madness; malignant sea-dwelling females who lure boats onto the rocks or into the deadly sinking sands.

Two brothers live on the island. Magnus Bostock farms Slegholm Farm in the way that his ancestors have farmed for generations, something that he finds increasingly difficult while his wife, dour, tight-lipped Brenda, wants him to adopt more modern methods. Magnus’s brother Nick will have nothing to do with the farm or farming; although when younger he managed to get away he now finds himself back on St Cedd and trying to make a living taking tourists out on fishing trips. But this isn’t enough, and he finds himself drawn into exploiting the misery of illegal migrants escaping the turmoil of wars elsewhere. This is something that Nick doesn’t want to be involved in, and neither do his two mates who are also involved. But when he tries to tell the sinister Patrick Rokesmith, organiser of the ring of human traffickers, that he wants to give up, Rokesmith threatens him. And there are people behind Rokesmith who are yet more sinister. And then Rokesmith starts to draw in Magnus into the evil activity. This enrages Brenda who can see the dangers involved in the activity.

There is another development when property developer Ethan Langeveldt, an associate of Rokesmith, first buys a field next to Slegholm Farm and parked caravans on it, then obtains planning permission to build houses. This would put paid to Brenda’s ambition to expand Slegholm Farm and make it profitable. Worst of all, someone (or something) is killing Magnus’s sheep, slashing them in a way almost reminiscent of a wild beast. Without any clues as who (or what) and why there is little the police can do.

Not everyone on St Cedd’s is as doomladen as the Bostock brothers .Elaine Maples, landlady of the Dog and Whistle Inn, who although she dislikes life on the island, runs the pub with considerable efficiency although with nothing like the help she feels she ought to be getting from her teenage son Alex and her idle barman Dave. And there is the young girl, Morgan Welland, fey and other worldly, who lives alone in an isolated cottage with only the birds and other wildlife for company. She is aware, as few others are, of the evil on St Cedd although she has no idea of the form it would take and what it would do.

Into this strange mixture of real-life criminality and ancient evil comes Jasmin Kapoor, a young academic who is researching the violent Indian Mutiny of 1857 in which atrocities, such as the Massacre of Cawnpore, were committed by both sides. Jasmin has a personal stake in the research - her own ancestor was killed during the Mutiny – and she believes that a forebear of the Bostocks, great-great-great grandfather of Magnus and Nick, James Bostock, was among the senior officers at Cawnpore and was involved in the pitiless retribution by the British authorities. Magnus’s and Nick’s grandmother, now very ill in a nursing home, knows that there are papers but does not wish to discuss the massacre with Jasmin. But when Jasmin eventually lays hands on the papers something much worse is awakened.

I found this story not just fascinating but enthralling. The power of the writing, the evocation of the bleak, unlovely landscape, grabs the reader and will not let go. St Cedd may be based on an actual place or it may be entirely the creation of the writer’s imagination; whichever it is, it is a strange, uncanny place, best avoided.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Vicki Lloyd lives in Oxford and has a degree in Latin and English from the University of Kent and a Masters in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. Throughout her career, she has worked as an archaeologist, journalist, copy editor, playwright and short-story writer.

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.

‘The Fear of Ravens’ by Wendy Percival

Published by Old Key Press,
29 June 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-3808-600-8 (PB)

This is the fourth in the series featuring the genealogical researcher Esme Quentin and is set in North Devon where Esme is now staying in a rented cottage while she decides whether or not to move permanently to Devon. Esme has a commission to research the history of an old abandoned semi-derelict mill, the Temperance Mill, whose owner, Anna Brannock, has ambitious plans to redevelop it, installing workshops and perhaps even generating electricity. Anna believes that Esme’s research could assist in gaining a lottery grant for redevelopment. However, Anna’s husband Drew thinks that Anna’s plans are over-ambitious and is trying to dissuade her.

But Esme’s activities are not only connected with her genealogical researches into Temperance Mill. Anna’s friend, Maddy Henderson, a photographer with a passion for the restoration of old photographs, is also in the process of taking on her late father’s business of furniture restoration, particularly small-scale items which are highly attractive to purchasers which she sells from a stall in the local market. Esme is assisting Maddy in this venture and it is while she is on the way to join Maddy that she is accosted by Sean Carlton, a private investigator, who is trying to trace a woman called Ellen Tucker who had lived 24 years ago, not at Temperance Mill, but at the nearby Temperance Cottage. Neither Esme nor Maddy know anything about Ellen nor about any rumours about witchcraft and Anna would only have been a child at the time. Maddy suggests that Anna’s husband Drew, being rather older than his wife, might know rather more but Drew, surly by nature, rebuffs enquiries. Later Esme wanders along to Temperance Cottage which is also abandoned but while she is there an old man shouts at her and throws stones. She later learns that he is Joseph Brannock, grandfather to Drew and his brother Alec. Something very odd is going on connected with enquiries into the mysterious Ellen Tucker; a lot of people don’t seem to want Esme or Maddy to find out what happened to her. Ancient stories about witchcraft begin to surface going back not just to the famous Bideford witchcraft trials in the seventeenth century but later episodes connected with the Temperance Mill in the nineteenth century and even years later. But are they connected with the disappearance of Ellen Tucker and the death of Sean Carlton, found dead in his car in a nearby river?

This story has a very complex plot through which the author, with her highly impressive knowledge of the methods of genealogical research, using a wide array of sources, including early Ordnance Survey maps, even earlier Tithe Maps, and long-ago newspaper archives, threads her way with meticulous care. Recommended.

Reviewer: Radmila May

Wendy Percival was born in the West Midlands and grew up in rural Worcestershire. After training as a primary school teacher, she moved to North Devon to take up her first teaching post and remained in teaching for 20 years. An impulse buy of Writing Magazine prompting her to start writing seriously. She won the magazine's 2002 Summer Ghost Story Competition and had a short story published before focusing on full length fiction. The time honoured ‘box of old documents’ in the attic stirred her interest in genealogy. When she began researching her Shropshire roots she realised how little most of us know about our family history.  This became the inspiration behind the first Esme Quentin novel, Blood-Tied.  Wendy continues to be intrigued by genealogy, its mysteries and family secrets and writes about this in her family history blog.

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.

‘Kittyhawk Down’ by Jonathan Nicholas

Published by The Book Guild Publishing,
28 June 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91320856-1 (PB)

In 2012 a group of oil prosepctors came upon a strange sight in the Egyptian desert – a wrecked WWII plane with no sign of the pilot. The Kittyhawk’s numbers identified her as ET574, who went missing with her pilot, Dennis Copping, in June 1942. What had happened?

It’s a good start for a mystery. Nicholas gives the simple facts first, then the first three chapters tell the story of the discovery of the Kittyhawk, in novel style. After that the book moves to the first person, and Dennis Copping tells his own story, from his application to join the RAF in the autumn of 1940. We follow him through the initial training in England, then the actual flying in Libya and Egypt. The war in the desert’s going badly, with Rommel pushing forward. Nicholas, through his narrator, takes us there: the sand, the latrines, basic accomodation, with the men clinging to security in the form of the beds being in the same place in the tent every time they move; the monotonous food, the terrifying flights, the occasional disaster, like where one pilot and a number of soldiers are killed in what turns out to have been a raid on one of their own anti-aircraft posts. We feel the increasing pressure as ordinary men struggle to cope with the extraordinary.

However ... though it’s a cracking good read, and although the book is marketed as a mystery, and the whole look of the book reinforces that, with a photo of the downed Kittyhawk on the cover and an intriguing sub-title, the focus of the book is a vividly written account of the pilots’ life in the desert. WWII enthusiasts or flying enthusiasts will love it.
Reviewer: Marsali Taylor

Jonathan Nicholas has been a professional writer since 2011 when he had a regular column in Police Review magazine and with the publication of his first book 'Hospital Beat'. He has been a full-time author since retiring from the police in 2014. A lifelong aviation enthusiast, he became a glider pilot in 1977 with the Air Cadets and obtained a Private Pilot's Licence in 1978. He is based in Nottingham. --This text refers to the paperback edition.

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.

 Click on the title to read a review of her recent book Death on a Shetland Isle