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Sunday 27 February 2022

‘Revenge’ -The Fortieth Step’ by Stephen Timmins

Published by Diamond Books,
12 April 2021.
ISBN: 978—183840265-5 (PB)

John Hannay, grandson of the legendary hero Richard Hannay, had always been a loner, damaged by the violence of his grandfather’s enemies, which tore apart his childhood and left him isolated and emotionally vulnerable. This changed when these enemies and their successors again threatened not just John’s life but the financial stability of Britain. With the aid of a diverse band of highly skilled allies, John defeated this conspiracy, although at great cost to his health. He is nursed back to fitness by Robbi, a beautiful and talented young woman, who is foremost amongst the group of friends that helped him throughout his battle with his enemies.

John and Robbi marry and settle into John’s manor house. They are very happy, but John knows that his powerful enemies will not be content until they have revenge. Sure enough, on the same day that he receives a summons to attend the House of Commons Treasury Committee as a witness about the financial events in which he was involved, seven letters arrive which spell out the word REVENGE. Once it begins, the revenge campaign is many-pronged, with assaults on John and Robbi’s good names combined with overt violence. It starts almost unobtrusively with an attack on Robbi’s reputation when an obnoxious woman bellows insults at her in a supermarket; it accelerates when a local hunt intrudes on the manor land and a huntsman assaults John using a vicious concealed weapon; then a local newspaper falls under the control of John’s enemies and attempts to publish a libellous article; following which a sniper targets the couple.

The attempts to destroy the couple’s reputation continue, then the threat reaches new heights when Robbi is kidnapped. More political and financial malversation is laid bare as John and his allies continue to fight fire with fire, until they uncover an unforgivable corruption that, at all costs, they must root out and destroy.

Revenge is the second book in the Fortieth Step serial. It is a fast moving, violent thriller in which the protagonists must use all their resources to defend themselves from the evil that threatens them and the innocent people that could be destroyed by power-hungry, morally corrupt and ruthless villains. John, Robbi and their friends are all engaging protagonists, quick-witted, generous and courageous, while their enemies are unmistakeably corrupt and despicable. A great read for fans of thrillers and those who enjoyed the original series featuring Richard Hannay.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Stephen Timmins was brought up on an eclectic diet of historical romance and crime novels Stephen had always wanted to write thrillers and mysteries. Diverted after graduation into the media rat race, it was many years before he started to feel that he had both the experience and the slowly developing ability to write full time. The Fortieth Step, trilogy is his 21st century update of the Richard Hannay novels.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 6 further mysteries. 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
The Curse of the Concrete Griffin
click on the title

‘Spider Light’ by Sarah Rayne

Published by Simon & Schuster,
1st October 2007.

ISBN 978-0-7434-8966-9 (PB)

The Bookseller comment on Spider Light as "extremely dark and disturbing" is an accurate one, at the same time it is curiously compelling and fascinating.  It is set in the Cheshire countryside in an imaginary village (map provided) with a macabre history which overlaps into the present.  The focus of the tragic events is Twygrist the village mill, based, as the author admits, on Nether Alderley Mill in Cheshire, now expertly run by the National Trust and with no violent history.

So, the story moves between imaginary events which happened five years previously, sometimes including associated happenings from the more distant past, and the present.  The chief character in the book, Antonia Weston, a psychiatrist, has just rented Charity Cottage in the village, on release from a five-year sentence in prison. The novel is written mostly from her point of view but at times from the minds of one of the other characters in the book.  There are supernatural suggestions in the village, derived from the violent events, past and present, which have occurred or are occurring.  These are emphasised by references to more frightening parts of nursery stories, persistent music, echoing voices, footsteps, stalkers and other followers.

It is a violent book.  I counted twelve murders, all but one committed by women and including matricide, parricide, killing of a cousin/brother substitute, and, for good measure, an attempted suicide.  There is plenty of information about the running of the local hospital, Latchkill, with its Reaper Wing for violent patients, and some entries from hospital records about the patients and their treatment.  There are also details about the actual running and maintaining of Twygrist Mill in the past, with its present deterioration making it the grim scene for most of the murders.

The title Spider Light describes the half-light/twilight which exists at dawn and evening and in which obstacles and noises take on curious, sometimes threatening, shapes and sounds. This all suggests a gruesome story and one can run out of adjectives to describe the book.  It is a grim but also a good read.  Have a go.

Reviewer: Rosemary Brown

Sarah Rayne's first novel was published in 1982, and for several years she juggled writing books with working in property, pounding an elderly typewriter into the small hours in order to meet deadlines.  Much of the inspiration for her dark psychological thrillers comes from the histories and atmospheres of old buildings, a fact that is strongly apparent in many of her settings - Mortmain House in A Dark Dividing, Twygrist Mill in Spider Light, and the Tarleton Theatre in Ghost Song. She has written more than 25 books to date, and her work has met with considerable acclaim. Her books are also published in America, as well as having been translated into German, Dutch, Russian and Turkish.  In 2011, she published the first of a series of ghost-themed books, featuring the Oxford don, Michael Flint, and the antiques dealer, Nell West, who made their debut in Property of a Lady. Several years ago Sarah also wrote six contemporary horror books, originally under the pen-name of Frances Gordon. Her most recent series features music researcher Phineas Fox. There are five books in the series.

Saturday 26 February 2022

‘Sherlock Holmes and the Explorers’ Club’ by Linda Stratmann

Published by Sapere Books,
11 January 2022.
ISBN: ‎ 978-1-80055483-2

The story is set in 1876. It is told by Dr Stamford when, many years later, he writes his reminiscences of his time as a medical student at Barts hospital, where he met Sherlock Holmes and shared several adventures with him. In these stories, Stamford is Holmes’ early biographer, preceding Dr Watson. While Stamford is working earnestly to become a doctor, Holmes is pursuing his own chosen studies, although Stamford is uncertain how he intends to utilise this knowledge. Stamford has already aided Holmes in one investigation but, at the start of this story, he has not been in close contact with him for some time, but then he hears of a mystery that might interest Holmes. Stamford seeks out Holmes to tell him about a man who died in the hospital after being crushed by a cab. It is not a suspicious death but there is nothing to identify the victim, except that one of his feet boasts seven toes. Stamford thinks that the puzzle of the man’s identity may intrigue Holmes, and if he finds out who the dead man is, they might be able to inform his family. Holmes accompanies Stamford to examine the dead man’s belongings and discovers a concealed piece of paper with a line of numbers on it. This is clearly a code. It takes Holmes some time to break the code and when he does succeed he uncovers a chilling message that warns that the sender suspects murder has occurred and more killings are anticipated. Unfortunately, without knowing the identity of the dead man, there is nothing they can do, although, with the mention of murder in mind, Stamford searches through recent newspapers to discover any unusual deaths.

Things change when the man is identified as Charlie Wilson, who was in service at a boys’ day school. His sister had come to London to tell him about an inheritance they had received. She had gone to see Mr Bradstreet, the headmaster of the school where Wilson worked but Bradstreet was unhelpful and told her that her brother no longer worked for the school. Wilson’s landlady was equally unhelpful and when he did not return to his lodgings she had sold his possessions. Wilson’s sister had only discovered his fate when she happened to hear about the death of a man with seven toes.

Holmes and Stamford go to interview Bradstreet. They discover that he is a younger man than they anticipated, and the school is damp and dilapidated, with buckets distributed around the building to catch the rain. Holmes soon establishes that Bradstreet had written the coded note discovered in Wilson’s possession. When he informs Bradstreet that the note was not delivered and indicates that he has broken the code, the headmaster is clearly appalled. He excuses himself and leaves immediately. Holmes directs Stamford to follow Bradstreet, without being observed, and he succeeds in doing so, shadowing him to St Paul’s Cathedral. Stamford thinks that Bradstreet is trying to contact someone and, at first, he seems to be disappointed but then he hurries up to the whispering gallery and Stamford gets the impression he has seen somebody with whom he wishes to speak. A short time later, Stamford is appalled to witness Bradstreet plunging from the gallery to his death. Stamford is convinced that there was someone else in the gallery, but he is the only person who has seen this and, at the inquest, the Coroner gives the verdict of accidental death.

Now convinced that something very sinister is going on, Holmes and Stamford continue to investigate. They make the acquaintance of Bradstreet’s father and his fiancĂ©e, Miss Ellison. She is adamant that Bradstreet had told her that he had some investments that would bring him a sizeable amount of money, which would allow them to marry, although his father knows nothing of this. The sleuths then discover a link to a small group of Bradstreet’s college friends, one of whom has recently died in a strange accident. These young men call themselves the Explorers’ Club, not because they are planning to travel to exotic places but because they have dedicated themselves to a strange, secret treasure hunt. As they probe the truth behind the Explorers’ Club and its remaining members, Stamford and Holmes place themselves in increasing danger and Stamford again experiences the perils of joining Sherlock Holmes in his investigation.

Sherlock Holmes and the Explorers’ Club
is the second in the series of early adventures of Holmes narrated by Dr Stamford. It is a superbly authentic series, written by an author who is an expert on the Victorian period, and the plot is interesting and coherent. Stamford is an engaging narrator, and he presents a believable picture of Holmes that fits well with the original character created by Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes and the Explorers’ Club is a very enjoyable read, 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 author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. 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
The Curse of the Concrete Griffin
click on the title.