Recent Events

Thursday 29 April 2021

‘Darkness Beyond’ by Marjorie Eccles

Published by Severn House,
29 April 2021.
978-0-72785060-7 (HB)

February 1933 in Folbury, a market town near Birmingham, we first encounter brother and sister Teddy and Thea Millar, successful property developers living in their new property named Casa Nova.  Paul Millar their elder brother - not heard from since the end of the Great War is presumed dead.  Thus, the sudden arrival of Paul without warning is a great shock to his two siblings. Where has he been for the last 14 years? Why no word? What has he been doing?

DI Herbert Reardon and his wife Ellen have purchased the old lodge unoccupied for many years unaccountably having escaped the demolition of the mansion that it once served, and the childhood home to the Millar family.

Two weeks later Wesley Pugh, general manager for the Millar’s finds Paul’s body floating in the canal. To Reardon relatively new to the town the dead man is a stranger, but as his sergeant Joe Gilmour says, Wesley and Paul used to be mates before the war, so it’s understandable he would recognise him. Initially it is assumed to be a suicide not unknown by soldiers returning from the war, some having wandered about shell-shocked with no memory for years, who finally end it all.  But an examination by Dr Kay Dysart tells a different story. Normally a woman of few words she says ‘I feel sorry for his family. Sadness, that a brave man who had faced death in the shape of one enemy, gone through God knows what, had come home to his family and loved ones, only to meet death at the hands of a different adversary’.

And so, Reardon commences his investigation firstly with Wesley Pugh who seems strangely unmoved by the death of his former friend. Reardon’s visit to the Millar’s to inform them their brother had died was less than satisfactory. The subsequent discovery that Paul had a son did provide a possible reason why Paul had returned to Folbury, but why now?   Enquires reveal that Paul’s son Matt is now an artist, living alone.

As Reardon continues his investigations, it is clear that few people seemed to have welcomed Paul back to his home town. All Reardon can glean from Wesley Pugh is that ‘we had our differences.’ 

Meanwhile Reardon is receiving threatening letters from a small-time crook that Reardon had got sent down for breaking and entering, now back on the street and gunning for Reardon. Joe Gilmour thinks that he should take it seriously.

Rich in interesting characters, Wesley Pugh, Connie Randle and her daughter Imogen, and what of the solicitor, Purbright of Purbright, Purbright and Brownlow. All seem to have secrets, but do they have a bearing on the death of Paul Millar, and just what has he been doing for 14 years?

Darkness Beyond is an intriguing mystery with a fascinating 1930’s background. A compelling and enjoyable read, which is highly recommended.

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Marjorie Eccles was born in Yorkshire and spent much of her childhood there and on the Northumbrian coast. The author of thirty-three books and short stories, she is the recipient of the Agatha Christie Short Story Styles Award. Her earlier books featuring police detective Gil Mayo were adapted for the BBC. Her most recent series is set after the Great War and features DI Herbert Reardon. There are five books in the series. She lives in Hertfordshire. 

Tuesday 27 April 2021

‘Farewell My Herring’ L C Tyler

Published by Allison & Busby,
22 April 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-74902735-3 (HB)

The story opens as mid-list author Ethelred Tressider and his agent chocaholic Elsie Thirkettle travel to Fell Hall, a remote location in the rugged countryside in the north of England, where they have been invited to lecture on a creative writing course. The final leg of their journey is by taxi and their spirits are not raised by the driver’s comments on the locality.’ No phone signal after Butterthwaite, a village we passed three miles back.  Not that you can call it a village, school closed 1911, pub closed 1963. Now just a farm and a row of cottages. A man vanished without trace, a year or two back.’ His parting comment ‘I think that you have just made it in time, another hour and there’ll be a couple of inches of snow.

Welcomed by the course director Wendy Idsworth, they are directed to their rooms. To Ethelred ‘You’re in Ripon– a small single room but adequate for a short stay’. To Elsie, ‘as requested, you are in in the Malham suite, you will find it very comfortable’.  Taxed by Ethelred as to how she had acquired such a comfortable billet, Elsie, who always put Elsie first, sapped back ‘Forward thinking Ethelred - have I ever explained the Internet to you?  

Later they meet the other two tutors, writers Jasper Lavant and Hal Compton, and two of the participants Claire and Fliss who have mistakenly arrived a day early much to the annoyance of the efficient Wendy, who does not hide her irritation, telling them to stay out of the way until dinner. Elsie remarks to Ethelread, ‘I’d employ her. She won’t let unimportant things like people or common decency stop her meeting her targets.  Over dinner served by Jenny, Wendy’s general dogsbody, there is much literary discussion about their books from the established authors, and from Claire an aspiring writer, who is partway through her first book.

Heavy snow overnight results in the road to Fell Hall being impassable and thus the early arrivals are isolated from the outside world. Whilst debating whether to start the course with just two participants, it being unlikely that anyone else will make it through the snow, it becomes apparent that they are one person missing.  The remining party search the house and a body is found.

With no contact with the outside world and therefore no way of summoning the police. Ethelred and Elsie decide to track down the killer themselves. As with no idea of motive, which one of them could be next?

The story is told in the first person by Ethelred and Elsie in alternating chapters.  Their approaches to interrogation are different – Elsie adopting an American approach favouring a good cop, bad cop scenario, whilst Ethelred is just, Ethelred

As with all the previous eight books in this series the witty dialogue and humour is wonderful, but in no way detracts from the cleverly constructed plot, which had me foxed up the end. But the clues are there if you can suss them out.  As you would expect if you are as I am, a devotee of this series, chocolate will play a part - in this book 16 chocolate mousses.  

There are many secrets to be uncovered before the mystery is solved, and the ends are tied up satisfactorily.  An enjoyable and intriguing read that is most highly recommended. 

Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

L. C. Tyler was born in Southend, Essex, and educated at Southend High School for Boys, Jesus College Oxford and City University London. After university he joined the Civil Service and worked at the Department of the Environment in London and Hong Kong. He then moved to the British Council, where his postings included Malaysia, Thailand, Sudan and Denmark. Since returning to the UK he has lived in Sussex and London. He was Chief Executive of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for eleven years. He is now a full-time writer. His first novel, The Herring Seller's Apprentice, was published by Macmillan in 2007, followed by A Very Persistent Illusion, Ten Little Herrings, The Herring in the Library, Herring on the Nile, Crooked Herring, Cat among the Herrings and Herring in the Smoke. The Maltese Herring.  The first book in a new historical series, A Cruel Necessity, was published by Constable and Robinson in November 2014. Since then, he has published six further books in this series. The latest being Death of a Ship Builder.

Monday 26 April 2021

‘The Anger of Achilles’ by Peter Tonkin

Independently published,
24 March 2021.
ISBN: 979-872127652-1(PB)

I chose to read this book, the third of Tonkin’s Trojan Murders, because I am fascinated by ancient history, but you don’t have to be knowledgeable about the myths and legends of Greece’s Heroic Age to enjoy this fast-moving story set in 1190 BC.

Achilles has taken the city of Lyrnessus which now lies in ruins. It appears that the only Royal survivor from the battle is Princess Briseis widow of Prince Mynes, son of King Euenus. The story opens with Briseis holding a knife to her throat claiming she would rather die than be dishonoured by Aias who is intent on raping her. He is prevented from doing so by Achilles. Princess Briseis rewards Achilles by accusing him of taking the city by treachery. Outraged by this slur on his reputation for honour, Achilles appeals to King Odysseus who agrees to investigate how the city fell into enemy hands.

The book’s narrator is Odysseus’s bard. A young man with a disabled leg and poor eyesight but a quick brain second only to that of his master. As the conquerors search the defeated city, they find King Euenus who appears struck down in recent days by a stroke and the bodies of Prince Mynes, his twin brother and Briseis’s two brothers laid out in the temple. The lengthy funeral rites of those killed in battle must be conducted with due ceremony and Odysseus’s investigation is further hampered by the approach of the fleet of Prince Sarpedon, a Trojan ally. The much depleted and battle-weary Greek fleet stand little chance against Sarpedon’s superior numbers. It becomes a race against time complicated by the fact that every line of enquiry is thwarted by an unknown assassin in their midst intent on misdirecting their efforts. No one is safe.

A gripping plot with twists and turns that defy the reader to put down the book and tax their detective powers to the full, this is a whirlwind of treachery and deceit that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Among its large cast of characters are many memorable figures, but my favourites are the young disabled narrator, unquestioningly loyal to his master Odysseus and the astute, feisty Princess Briseis. The two work together to solve much of the mystery while Odysseus and his fellow princes see to the funeral rites.   

Needless to say, I loved it and thoroughly recommend it.

Reviewer: Judith Cranswick

Peter Tonkin was born 1 January 1950 in Ulster, son of an RAF officer. He spent much of his youth travelling the world from one posting to another. He went to school at Portora Royal, Enniskillen and Palmer's, Grays. He sang, acted, and published poetry, winning the Jan Palac Memorial Prize in 1968. He studied English with Seamus Heaney at Queen's Belfast. His first novel, Killer, was published in 1978. His work has included the acclaimed "Mariner" series that have been critically compared with the best of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Hammond Innes. He has also written a series of Elizabethan mysteries. Since retiring from teaching he has written mysteries set in Ancient Rome and more recently a series set in Greece.

Judith Cranswick was born and brought up in Norwich. Apart from writing, Judith’s great passions are travel and history. Both have influenced her two series of mystery novels. Tour Manager, Fiona Mason takes coach parties throughout Europe, and historian Aunt Jessica is the guest lecturer accompanying tour groups visiting more exotic destinations aided by her nephew Harry. Her published novels also include several award-winning standalone psychological thrillers. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers, but there was little time for writing when she returned to her teaching career. Now retired, she is able to indulge her love of writing and has begun a life of crime! ‘Writers are told to write what they know about, but I can assure you, I've never committed a murder. I'm an ex-convent school headmistress for goodness sake!’