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Thursday 29 February 2024

‘Bird Spotting in a Small Town’ by Sophie Morton-Thomas

Published by Verve Books,
29th February 2024.
ISBN: 978-0-85730-853-5 (PBO)

The setting of this novel is as much part of the story as the characters and the plot.  It is an isolated town on the North Norfolk coast with an emphasis on the natural wildlife and especially the local bird population. 

The characters involve Fran the owner of a caravan holiday park and her family and neighbours who include a Romany community who occupy for a season the adjacent field to Fran's park.  There is a deeply tense and rather eerie atmosphere from the beginning of the story and it is clear that Fran is struggling with a family drama which only becomes clear towards the end of the novel. 

When the new schoolteacher at the children's school and Fran's brother-in-law go missing accusations and suppositions multiply in both communities but Fran appears to focus largely on her bird spotting hobby which threatens to take over her sense of family responsibility and her sense of reality.  Her son Bruno is friends with his cousin Sadie, but this is an uneasy relationship, and both children play out a sense of neediness. 

The format of the book comprises of chapters written by Fran from her perspective and Tad an elderly member of the travelling community.  There are some beautiful descriptions of the seascape and the wildlife surrounding this disparate but necessarily connected communities and the author ensures a sense of tension, mystery and  suspicion.  I found the unravelling of the mystery surrounding the families involved fascinating and the book left me wanting to know more of the future of the characters created so thoughtfully by the author.  An unusual and compelling book and I will look out for further stories by this author.
Reviewer: Toni Russell

Sophie Morton-Thomas set her first novel Travel by Night in the North of England, where she lived for a while. She works as an English teacher, has three children (two grown up) and she is studying for her Master's in writing at Cambridge University.

Toni Russell is a retired teacher who has lived in London all her life and loves the city.  She says, ‘I enjoy museums, galleries and the theatre but probably my favourite pastime is reading.  I found myself reading detective fiction almost for the first time during lockdown and have particularly enjoyed old fashioned detective fiction rather than the Nordic noir variety.  I am a member of a book club at the local library and have previously attended literature classes at our local Adult Education Centre. 

Wednesday 28 February 2024

‘Murder at the Wedding’ by Jane Adams

Published by Joffe Books,
2 November 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-83526242-9(PB)

A wedding is to take place between Bridie Duggan and Reggie Fitch. Bridie’s deceased husband headed a known criminal gang, but she had never had anything to do with it. Detective Inspector Sebastian McGregor (Mac) is to be best man. He and his partner Miriam are good friends of Bridie.

A few days before the wedding, Mac is summoned to the office of Bradley Cotton, the Chief Constable, he is concerned that Mac is going to attend the wedding. He says the Duggan family are known criminals, but Mac insists that Bridie is clean. However, Cotton hints that he wants Mac to keep an eye open for anything untoward. He is worried about a turf war breaking out as opposing members of a rival criminal fraternity will also be in attendance.

Also going to the wedding is Rina, the T.V. sleuth, and Mac and Miriam’s close friend, together with the two Peter sisters and the Montmorency twins. All  four of whom are all residents in Rina’s large house.  Other close friends of Bridie, also known to Mac and Rina, travel down with them in a minibus.

The wedding is held in an impressive eighteenth-century venue set in large grounds and built on an island reached via a ferry. On arrival Mac and friends learn of tunnels underneath the house, but are assured they have all been sealed up – but have they? Events lead them to believe otherwise.

It becomes obvious that there is great rivalry between some of the wedding guests. After the ceremony Bridie and Fitch leave for the airport, and quite a few of the attendees leave too. The rest are to stay the night.

The next day while walking in the grounds, Rina and Mac hear a piercing scream, and come across a dead body. It soon becomes clear that it was murder.

Then a ferocious storm hits, the rain is torrential, all the roads become flooded, and the ferry cannot run. So, the police reinforcements are unable to get through.

Mac and Rina do what they can with the help of the venue’s staff, to protect the body and keep it dry. However,  this is only the beginning of the horrors, soon there are more murders. How can Mac and Rina hope to solve all these on their own? How long will it be before the storm abates and help arrives? Is anyone safe?

I do enjoy Jane Adams’s books about Rina and Mac,  and this one does not disappoint. Really thoroughly recommended.
Reviewer: Tricia Chappell

Jane Adams was born in Leicestershire, where she still lives. She has a degree in Sociology and has held a variety of jobs including lead vocalist in a folk rock band. She enjoys pen and ink drawing; martial arts and her ambition is to travel the length of the Silk Road by motorbike. Her first book, The Greenway, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Award in 1995 and for the Author's Club Best First Novel Award. Jane writes several series.  Her first series featured Mike Croft. Several books featuring DS Ray Flowers. Seven titles featuring blind Naoimi Blake, and six titles featuring Rina Martin. Her most ret series is set between the two World Wars and featuring Detective Inspector Henry Johnstone and his sergeant, Micky Hitchens. Jane has also written several standalone novels. She is married with two children.

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.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

‘Whale Fjord’ by Michael Ridpath

Published by Yarmer Head,
24 February 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-73961210-8 (PB)

When a human skull is discovered by two German hiker’s, Inspector Magnus Ragnarsson is called to Selvik a farm close to the shores of Whale Fjord which is about forty kilometres north of Reykjavik, to investigate.  When he and Sargeant Vigdis they arrive, they find Edda, head of the forensic unit is already there, with the news that there are two bodies. 

When asked when he was last there at the place where the skull was found, the owner of the farm Jon Sigurdsson says that he never goes to Gerdur’s Hollow, as Gerdur was a witch who was buried there three hundred years ago and it’s best not to disturb her.  However, Jon’s mother, Frida, says, ‘you are a wuss Jon’ and to the detectives, ‘if you want to know whose bodies those are, they’re probably the two people from Laxaholl farm who disappeared during the war’. A brother and sister Marteinn Halfdansson and his sister Kristin.

Frida is very helpful providing Magnus with an address, for Gudni, Kristin's son, who left farming and became an engineer, and also for an English lady who visited Iceland a few years ago and asked about Kristin. As Magus and Vigdis leave, Magnus has a call from Edda, one of the skulls has a bullet hole in it.

The story switches to August 1940 when Britain invaded Iceland in an attempt to foil any invading attack from the German’s. Lieutenant Tom Marks is a British officer tasked to defend and intercept any landing craft from a safe position protected by great mountain ridges. To confirm for himself the quality of the roads Tom set’s off in a motorcycle, hits a pothole  and comes a cropper. Slightly stunned, he is found by Kristín, a young widow from a nearby farm, who has a small son, Gudni. Tom is truly smitten by Kristin, but he is not the only one. Learning that Tom enjoys fishing the farmer invites him back to fish in his river. Tom  returns with a football for Gudni who is ecstatic.

Moving forward to 2023, as Magnus commences his investigations, there is a shocking, murder, and he is faced with, who, and why?

Magnus is aware that most of the people concerned who were around, 80 years ago, are now dead. But their descendants are still alive. Has the resurfacing of the two bodies caused other recollections to resurface?  Are there secrets that have been hidden for years. Are these secrets about to resurface?

On a personal note, Magnus has been seeing Ingileif for some years, and Ingileif has some questions for him. Questions that maybe he is not ready to answer. Vigdis, who is a single parent is stressed, as she suspects that her mother who takes care of her little girl Erla while she is working, has started drinking again. She says she has been dry for a year but Vigdis is not certain that’s true.

Whale Fjord is the seventh book in the series featuring Inspector Magnus (Jonson) Ragnarsson. I have read and loved all the previous books, and this was another intriguing mystery in this highly acclaimed series. Highly recommended,
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Michael Ridpath was born in Devon in 1961 but brought up in Yorkshire. He was educated at Millfield, Merton College, Oxford. Before becoming a writer, Michael used to work in the City of London as a bond trader.  He has written eight thrillers set in the worlds of business and finance. In 2010 he published the Where The Shadows Lie, the first in the Fire and Ice series featuring an Icelandic detective named Magnus Jonson. He has published six further books in the series.  In between the writing the series he has published three standalone novels the most recent being The Diplomat’s Wife in 2021. He lives in London.

Monday 26 February 2024

‘Unauthorised Departure’ by Maureen O’Brien

Published by Minotaur Books,
1 September 2003.
ISBN: 978-0-31231600-6 (HB)

The threats came by email, with no sender and no address. For DI John Bright they are not the first, but they follow the winding up of one of his biggest cases, and the most recent threats have been directed at his girlfriend Jude. His boss suggests two things, warn Jude to put her on her guard, and take a holiday. John Bright favours neither.

Coincidentally, Jude is pressing for them to take a holiday abroad and against his better judgement John agrees. They settle for a driving holiday through France down to Provence.

Having done this trip myself I can say that Maureen O’Brien captures the mood exactly, I was there. The description of their overnight stay at the sleepy town of Neufchatel brought back many memories, except for the presence of Mariela, the rather gorgeous fiancée of Louis, the owner of the Hotel Sanglier, where they have booked to stay the night. She didn’t feature in any of my trips through France, luckily!

After the traditional French breakfast of bread and croissants which only taste right in France, John and Jude set off to visit Chateau-Les-Mines, which they follow with a picnic lunch and an afternoon siesta in the nearby field. Their idyll is shattered by the presence of several gendarme’s who take John in for questioning. But for what? Although Jude can speak some French, she is unable to ascertain exactly what the problem is. The frustration of trying to make oneself understood in a foreign land, and also get one’s head around the chain of command in a foreign police force is brilliantly portrayed.

Eventually the local English teacher is brought in to help with the language difficulty, and Jude finally discovers that John is a suspect in the murder of Mariela. Whilst John is detained, Jude has nowhere to go, the hotel is not an option and so she accepts the hospitality of M Breton, the English teacher.  Maureen excels wither description of hospitality in rural France.

Being detained for a crime in a foreign land is pretty terrifying especially in a small rural village, where everyone wants it to be ‘the foreigner’. John Bright really has only one option to find the killer himself.

The mystery was exciting, but running along reasonably conventional lines, and then it shocked me, but that’s what thrillers are all about, isn’t it?
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Maureen O'Brien  is an accomplished actor and author who has starred on stage in the West End and throughout the country and on television where her roles range from Vicki in Doctor Who to Elektra in the Oresteia. She has twice won the Sony Best Actress award for her work on radio and also has awards for audiobooks of which she continues to record a huge range. In 1987, encouraged by the production of a radio play Going On, she wrote her first novel Close Up on Death, and since then she has combined both careers.