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Friday, 24 September 2021

‘The Heart Stone’ by Judith Barrow

Published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press,
18 February 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-912905-27-0 (PB)

Cards on the table from the start: this heart-tugging and ultimately uplifting slice of history isn't really a crime novel. Crimes are committed - rape, domestic abuse, and that most monstrous of crimes against humanity, war; but in the early part of the twentieth century, they were a sad fact of everyday life.     

Judith Barrow has created an atmospheric story around them, with liberal sprinklings of hope, romance and the ultimate triumph of good to lighten the considerable load that ordinary women carried throughout the First World War and the years that followed. Jessie works in her mother's bakery, and her love for Arthur has just begun to blossom when war is declared. After a single night of passion she is left pregnant when he enlists, and branded slut and scarlet woman by the whole neighbourhood, but mainly by cruel and vicious Amos Morgan, her fragile mother's second husband.

The novel follows Jessie's progress through the war, supported by her suffragist friend Clara, and Arthur's mother who takes her in when her stepfather throws her into the street. The heart stone of the title refers to a secret she and Arthur shared, a stone in a wall close to where they made love the first and only time.

If it was a crime novel, it would be far from cosy. The arduous lot of working-class women is portrayed in achingly colourful detail, and the attitudes, living conditions and daily life of the time are woven into a background which must have been meticulously researched because it feels so real. The hell endured by the men in the trenches has been well documented; here, the women's lot back at home, as they wait for news of husbands, brothers and sons and try to maintain some form of life for them to return to is presented just as vividly.

Judith Barrow has a talent for pulling at the reader's heartstrings and often giving them a painful twist. There has to be light at the end of the tunnel, so you'll be glad to know it all ends happily for Jessie - but she has plenty to withstand along the way. It isn't crime fiction other than in the broadest sense. Instead, it's the story of a survivor, told with passion and a deep instinct for the world she inhabits.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Judith Barrow originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for over forty years. She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David's College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

‘How Did I Not See?’ by Kally Haynes

Published by The Book Guild,
28 May 2021.
ISBN: 978-1-91355162-9 (PB)

Kate Taylor goes online and meets someone named Jason, they arrange to meet. However, he doesn't show up at the agreed time and place. Instead, she gets talking to a Greg Anderson who is really charming and good looking. She falls for him and months later they are married.

At last, she thinks, I have the perfect life, all we need now is a family. However, months pass, and she is disappointed at not getting pregnant.

Greg then starts acting strangely, he tells her he is involved in a private poker game but not to tell anyone. He says he has a chance of winning one million pounds and needs to stay away from time to time to be near the venue.

At first, she believes him but starts to be a bit suspicious and consoles herself with lots of red wine. Against Greg's wishes she confides in her friend Susie who thinks his story is rather far-fetched and suggests he may be having an affair. With her mind now in turmoil Kate drinks more than ever and ends up in bed with a man she hardly knows. She is mortified when she wakes up beside him in bed.

It seems Greg knows him and happens to mention him one day, tells her this Nick is a member of the Mafia, she is horrified, especially when she thinks she may be pregnant. Whose baby is it?

Her friend Susie assures her Nick is not a criminal, but who does Kate believe? The more she learns from all concerned, especially when Nick unexpectedly pays her a visit and tells her bad things about Greg, the more her mind is in turmoil. Who does she believe, is Greg all that he says he is, is Nick as innocent as she is given to believe, and can she trust her friend Susie?

In her desperation Kate employs a private detective, but even that fails to work out as she hoped. All Kate has to keep her going through all this devastating uncertainty is her dog Timmy and endless bottles of red wine.

How on earth can this turn out well?

A well thought out clever plot about a certain manipulative person with suspicion falling on one character after another. Recommended for readers who love a cat and mouse story with a very satisfying ending.

Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Kally Haynes worked in promotions and appeared on Central TV. Having a flair for fashion she moved to London and had jobs in Bond Street, Kings Road, and Covent Garden. Longing for her own business she returned home and formed a successful promotional import company, using her creative outlet. Since selling that, she is now a director of a cleaning company, But her real dream is writing, so taking a creative writing course and her past experiences of narcissist control in relationships, is what inspired her to write How Did I Not See?


Tricia Chappell. I have a great love of books and reading, especially crime and thrillers. I play the occasional game of golf (when I am not reading). My great love is cruising especially to far flung places, when there are long days at sea for plenty more reading! I am really enjoying reviewing books and have found lots of great new authors.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

A Favourite Book: ‘The Woodcutter’ by Reginald Hill

 by Lynne Patrick

Sometimes you just know that a book is going to stay with you long after you finish reading it.

Reginald Hill became one of my top five authors the first time I picked up a Dalziel and Pascoe. He will always be best known for that series, an object lesson in how to turn a police procedural into something much more interesting; but for me this truly great crime writer achieved his peak a couple of years before his untimely death with a standalone.. At nearly 200,000 words The Woodcutter is a bit of a doorstop, but I read it the first time over a weekend, which places it firmly in the page-turning category.

At its simplest it could be called a tale of revenge. Having risen through his own gargantuan efforts from humble origins to become a hugely successful entrepreneur, Wolf Hadda’s life crashes around him when he is found guilty of a whole raft of charges including massive fraud and paedophilia. He spends years in prison claiming his innocence; then, having manipulated his way to freedom, he sets out to clear his name and ensure justice is done.

But it soon becomes clear that simple is one thing this book is not. Wolf’s past is a multi-layered tapestry which keeps revealing new details and aspects. Many of the characters, especially Wolf himself and Alva Ozigbo, the mixed-race prison psychiatrist who is drawn deep into his case and his life, are complex and sometimes bewildering. The plot, if that’s the right word, is positively labyrinthine, and full of surprises.

All the same, Reginald Hill had an immense and enviable talent for plain old-fashioned readability. However baffled I was, I was also fascinated, intrigued and thoroughly involved, and I kept right on reading.

It’s a book I will return to, confident that on the second, fifth or twentieth reading I’ll still be finding new twists, new depths, new things to relish. Rest in peace, Reg, and in the knowledge that you won’t be quickly forgotten.

Reginald Hill died in 2012, having collected or been nominated for just about every available crime writing honour, including the CWA’s Diamond Dagger lifetime achievement award, in the course of a 40-year career. In that time he wrote the six-book Joe Sixsmith series, nearly thirty standalones and several volumes of short stories, as well as the twenty-four Dalziel and Pascoe police procedurals (sort of!) for which he is best known.

All his work is characterized by a gentle wit, a prodigious imagination and an incisive intelligence. If ever a crime writer deserved acclaim simply as a great writer regardless of genre, Reg Hill was that writer. His death left a large gap in the lives of his many readers. 

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Bloody Scotland Hybrid Festival Concludes on a High

'Congratulations on keeping Bloody Scotland going the last two years. It's been so important to do so.' - Lee Child

Crime writer, Craig Sisterson, quoting his six-year old daughter, described himself as ‘nerv-cited’ at the prospect of heading to Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival in Stirling this weekend.

It’s an emotion many people shared - nervous about meeting people at a festival for the first time in two years, nervous about the amount of technology and live streaming. However, by the time the Fun-Lovin’ Crime Writers came on stage at 10pm on Friday night with 2 digital events, 2 live ones and 2 hybrids successfully concluded the only emotion was excitement. The band could barely contain their delight at being on stage together for the first time in two years and their enthusiasm was infectious, the Albert Halls was jumping.

The next day the Festival resumed its usual buzz with authors and publishers alike bustling into the green room to pick up bags and wave a cheery goodbye or to pick up passes ‘nerv-cited’ about what was ahead. The Golden Lion Hotel, the hub for Bloody Scotland for the last five years pulled out the stops to welcome the Festival back with crime inspired cocktails and menus.

The only Covid casualty of the weekend was the annual Crime Writers Football Match which normally takes place on Cowan’s Lawn on Saturday afternoon, but it didn’t stop the crime writers playing football and on Sunday a team made up of the Fun-Lovin’ Crime Writers headed to Edinburgh to represent crime fiction at the Homeless World Cup of which Val McDermid is a patron.

Highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly Stephen King in conversation with Linwood Barclay which was streamed live into the Albert Halls with Craig Robertson as the on-stage compere with a combined audience of over 700. Thankfully the event went without a hitch and one crime writer can hold bragging rights for the rest of his life as Stephen King opened proceedings holding up a copy of Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre. Chris who has been at every Bloody Scotland festival since inception said:

‘This has felt like one of the most special Bloody Scotland’s certainly the most emotional. Everybody just seems so grateful to be participating in a festival again and there’s an unprecedented level of excitement about it. In short, it’s great to be back.’

A hybrid festival obviously doesn’t come without hitches and one of the more dramatic ones was a problem connecting Kathy Reichs’ by live link on Friday evening. Crime writer and co-founder of the Festival, Alex Grey, proved herself to be the unexpected star of the show when she effortlessly filled what could have been 40 awkward minutes.

Real-life events which had some of the best audience reactions were Ian Rankin talking about the book he had completed for William McIlvanney and Val McDermid in conversation with Abir Mukherjee who revealed that when his mum invited her for a curry, she was disappointed to realise it wasn’t Val Doonican. A digital only event carried over from last year was the Never-Ending panel, this year featuring an A-Z of writers from around the globe.

As ever the Festival was brimming with aspiring and debut writers, the Pitch Perfect panel took place on-line this year but the ‘Spotlighters’ the new crime writers who appear on stage in front of the biggest acts in the Albert Halls were wildly enthusiastic, the highlight being Tina Baker who took her support role seriously when she dressed as a bee ahead of The Killer Bs event starring Chris Brookmyre and Mark Billingham. This year there was a Debut Panel for the first time featuring all the authors shortlisted for the Bloody Scotland Debut Crime Book of the Year Award and Alex Gray’s New Crimes panel was one of the most well attended events in the Ballroom.

Debut author, Heidi Amsinck, who visited Bloody Scotland for the first time said:

‘I’ve been bowled over by the kindness and generosity of the crime writing (and reading) community. In the wake of the pandemic, it’s been fantastic to witness an obviously undiminished enthusiasm for the genre, and a richer-than-ever seam of dark creativity. I will definitely be back’

The Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival closed on a high with some incredibly high-profile names in quick succession and finished later than usual at 8pm on Sunday night leaving the team exhausted but exhilarated.

Director of Bloody Scotland Bob McDevitt said:

‘In all my years of organising and attending book festivals, this was the one where I genuinely didn’t know what to expect and then the authors turned up, the sun came out, the audiences laughed and applauded and suddenly I was right in the middle of a Bloody Scotland that can hold its head up with all that have gone before. It really was good to be back!’

Nearly all the events will be available on catch up at until 30 September so there is still time to immerse yourself in the Bloody Scotland experience. Dates for next year are today revealed to be 16-18 September 2022 when the Festival will officially be celebrating its 10th Anniversary with an even more spectacular festival.