Nucleus by Rory Clements

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Zaffre| January 2018| 453 pages| Hardback| My own copy| 5 stars

Nucleus by Rory Clements is the second book in his Tom Wilde series (the full list is at the end of this post). I have been reading them out of order, as I came across them. I think I’d have understood the relationship of the characters better if I had read the series in order from the start, but that has not stopped me from enjoying them.

Blurb

WINNER OF THE CWA HISTORICAL DAGGER 2018.
The eve of war: a secret so deadly, nothing and no one is safe

June 1939. England is partying like there’s no tomorrow . . . but the good times won’t last. The Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, in Germany Jewish persecution is widespread and, closer to home, the IRA has embarked on a bombing campaign.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, in Germany Otto Hahn has produced man-made fission and an atomic device is now possible. German High Command knows Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is also close, and when one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is drawn into the investigation. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin, and from the US to Ireland, can he discover the truth before it’s too late?

I’ve found this quite a difficult book to summarise as there are various elements to the plot. I think the publishers’ blurb merely skims the surface, but to go into detail would give away too much. With several plot lines, this is a mix of historical fact and fiction, set in 1939 when England and Germany are on the brink of war. It is a fast-paced and gripping book, involving murder, IRA bombers, and espionage, with many twists and turns

In Nazi Germany Jews are in fear of their lives, trying to leave the country. Some have made it to England and America. In both countries the race is on to develop an atomic bomb.

There’s a large cast of characters – the main one being Tom Wilde, an American professor of history at Cambridge University, who has returned from America after a meeting with President Roosevelt. There he was asked to liaise with two Americans in England, Colonel Dexter Flood and also to keep an eye on Milt Hardman, an American millionaire who is staying at Old Hall in Cambridgeshire with his family.

And so Wilde is drawn into Hardman’s world, meeting a Hollywood actress, drinking champagne, playing tennis, and partying. And then he soon finds himself having to deal with an increasingly complex situation when one of the Cavendish scientists, an introverted genius who was due to move to America to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam, and then another one goes missing.

Meanwhile Albert, Eva Haas’ young son is also missing, apparently having been abducted from a Kindertransport train. Eva is a German Jewish physicist, who along with Arnold Lindberg, an elderly scientist rescued from Dachau, has arrived in Cambridge. Lydia, who is Tom’s neighbour and lover is a friend of Eva’s. She was to meet Albert in England and goes to Berlin to try to find out what has happened to him. There she is helped by Bertha Bracey and Frank Foley (real-life heroes). Bertha was working to rescue German Jewish children, organising Kindertransports, finding homes and schools for the children in Britain, and Frank, who was MI6’s top spy in Berlin. He broke all the rules to make sure as many Jewish people had visas to leave the country, saving many thousands of people.

I was totally immersed in the plot. It’s full of danger and action, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned much – not only about atomic fission, but also about the situation in Germany leading up to the Second World War – I hadn’t heard of the work of Bertha Bracey and Frank Foley before.

I’ve read three of Rory Clements’ books in his Tom Wilde series, with links to my posts:

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First published in 1950 A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years and now I have at last read it. It was not quite what I had imagined it to be, about Alice Springs in Australia. It is actually set in three parts, with just the third part set in Australia, not in Alice Springs but in Willstown, a fictional town in the outback.

Narrated by Noel Strachan, a solicitor, this is the story of Jean Paget. It begins a few years after the Second World War, when he tells her she has inherited a considerable sum of money from her uncle. But it is held in trust until she reaches the age of thirty five. Until then she will receive about £900 a year to spend. She wonders what to do with the money and eventually decides she wants to go back to Malaya, where she had been a prisoner of war, to dig a well. She tells Noel about what had happened to her in Malaya.

The second part is about that time in Malaya during the War at the time when the Japanese invaded the island. Jean and a group of European women and children were forced by the Japanese to walk for hundreds of miles from place to place before finally managing to stay in one village. Able to speak Malay and being courageous and resourceful, she takes on the role of the leader of their group. She met an Australian soldier, Sergeant Joe Harman, also a prisoner, who was driving a lorry for the Japanese and they became friends with disastrous consequences. This section is the best in the book to my mind.

On her return after the War she writes to Noel telling him how she set about organising the villagers to dig the well so that the women would have fresh water close to their houses and also build a washing-house. And it is here that she learns more about what had happened to Joe and decides to carry on travelling to Australia to find him and thank him for the help he had given her and the other women.

The third part is set in Australia. Jean is an organiser and on her arrival in Willstown she discovers that this is a place where the young women leave as soon as they are old enough. There are no jobs or entertainment to keep them there. So Jean decides she wants to make the town into a town just like Alice Springs. And she does this with remarkable success building a workshop for the girls to make shoes and handbags, providing an ice cream parlour and a public swimming pool and shops. At the same time her search for Joe is eventually successful. She continues writing to Noel about her life in the Australian outback, letters full of detail about her enterprises and the difficulties of cattle ranching in such isolated places – a bit too much detail for me really. But the episode where Jean helped in rescuing an injured stockman is full of drama.

This is really just the bare bones of the story – there is so much more to it than that. Others have commented on the casual racism in the book. It tells it as it was, how people lived at the time, and reflects the attitudes that people had. Jean is of course the main character, a woman somewhat ahead of her time with great strength of character, determination and entrepreneurial skills. The resourcefulness she showed in Malaya is developed in Australia.

In his Author’s Note Shute explains that the forced march during WW2 took place in Sumatra and not in Malaya and the women in the group were Dutch and not British. As in his novel, the local Japanese commander was reluctant to assume responsibility for these women and, to solve his problem, marched them out of his area and took them on a trek all around Sumatra that lasted for two and a half years.

Jean Paget was based on Mrs Geysel, whom Shute had met when he visited Sumatra in 1949. She had been one of the Dutch party, then aged 21, recently married and with a young baby she had carried for over twelve hundred miles around Sumatra. A remarkable story that I really enjoyed.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Synopsis from Amazon:

For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of how Kya, the youngest child of five, grew up, living in a rundown shack in the marshlands in North Carolina. At the age of seven, her mother left home, then her older brothers and sisters also left, leaving her alone with her father, a violent drunkard. He then also abandoned her. It is also a murder mystery and these two strands interweave throughout the book. I wrote about the opening of this book in this Book Beginnings and The Friday 56 post.

Left alone, Kya survived with help from Jumpin’, the general store owner, who lived in Colored Town and his wife, Mabel, and also from Tate, an older boy who taught her to read and write – she only went to school for one day and after that she managed to hide from the school truant officer. Thinking about it after reading the book I did find the story of Kya’s early years rather unbelievable – the fact that such a young child managed to survive independently and that no one paid more attention to the disappearance of her mother and father bothered me. But, as I was reading it seemed plausible and it certainly did not lessen my enjoyment of the book.

I loved the setting, in an area completely unknown to me, beautifully described by Delia Owens. The details of the marshlands, in the coastal region of North Carolina, its wildlife, flora and fauna brought the setting to life for me. I liked the way that Kya gradually began to trust a few people, letting them into her life – she couldn’t have survived physically or emotionally otherwise. Her interest in her surroundings, encouraged by Tate, led to amazing things for her. So much so that she became an expert on the natural world around her.

But, when Chase Andrews, a handsome sporting hero adored by the other teenage girls, pursues her, she believes him when he promises to marry her, only to discover from the local newspaper that he was engaged to marry someone else. Later when Chase is found dead she is suspected of his murder. The latter part of the book became a courtroom drama that didn’t quite live up to the earlier part of the book for me. And before the end It became increasingly clear to me just who had killed Chase.

This is a story of loneliness and of the effects of rejection – a story of survival and the power of love combined with a murder mystery, and full of fascinating characters that had me racing through its pages. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And for those like me who didn’t know the meaning of the saying, ‘where the crawdads sing’ this is how Tate explained it to Kya when she asked him:

‘What d’ya mean, where the crawdads sing? Ma used to say that.’ Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: ‘Go as far as you can – way out yonder where the crawdads sing.’

‘Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.’ (page 111)

  • Publisher: ‎ Corsair, 2019
  • Language: ‎ English
  • Paperback: ‎ 370 pages
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 4*

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

4*

All I knew about David Copperfield: The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) by Charles Dickens is that it is said to be his most autobiographical novel. I think I must have watched a TV serialisation years ago but I remember very little about it. It was first published as a serial in 1849 and 1850, and then as a book in 1850.

It’s a long novel with a multitude of characters, including David’s cruel stepfather, Mr Murdstone, the family housekeeper Peggotty, his school friends Steerforth, who he mistakenly idolises and, my favourite character, Tommy Traddles, who has a heart of gold, and a remarkable upstanding head of hair. Then there’s another favourite character, David’s great aunt Betsey Trotwood, who wages war against marriage and donkeys and her companion, the simple-minded Mr Dick; Mr Micawber, always in debt and in and out of the debtor’s prison, and the odious and nauseating Uriah Heep are both memorable characters.

I was totally immersed in their world, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian England, the living conditions of the poor contrasting with the decadent wealth of the rich, and the dramatic intensity of episodes such as the terrible storm at sea off Yarmouth. There’s drama, comedy and tragedy, melodrama and pathos as the story follows David’s life from his birth to his adulthood, covering his childhood, early schooldays, his time as a young boy working in a factory, then as a student in Canterbury where he lodged with the lawyer Mr Wickfield and his daughter, Agnes.

Betsey later established him in London where he worked in the Doctor’s Commons, under the tutelage of Mr Spenlow, whose daughter, the beautiful, frivolous and to my eyes, the utterly pathetic Dora totally captivated him. The sections of the book involving Dora are rather too sentimental for my liking. Then there’s Pegotty’s family – her brother Daniel, a fisherman, their nephew Ham and niece, Little Em’ly who is David’s childhood friend and sweetheart. They live in a converted boat on the beach at Yarmouth. And not forgetting Barkis, who marries Pegotty, after telling David to tell her, ‘Barkis is willing‘. Their sections of the book are the ones I enjoyed the most. I could go on and on, not forgetting David himself as describes the misfortunes and obstacles he met and the friends he makes.

I enjoyed reading David Copperfield, which was Dickens’ own personal favourite of all his novels, but it is not mine – it’s a bit too long for me. I think my favourite is Bleak House, which I read after seeing the TV adaptation in 2005 with Anna Maxwell Martin, Gillian Anderson, Denis Lawson, and Charles Dance. Maybe I’ll read it again to see what I think of it now. These days I prefer shorter books and Bleak House, like David Copperfield is long with many characters and sub-plots.

The Queen’s Lady by Joanna Hickson

Harper Collins|20 January 2022|451 pages|e-book via NetGalley|Review copy|4*

Publishers’ Description:

As lady-in-waiting and confidante to Queen Elizabeth, wife of Henry VII, Joan understands royal patronage is vital if she and her husband, Sir Richard, are to thrive in the volatile atmosphere of court life.

But Tudor England is in mourning following the death of the Prince of Wales, and within a year, the queen herself. With Prince Henry now heir to the throne, the court murmurs with the sound of conspiracy. Is the entire Tudor project now at stake or can young Henry secure the dynasty?

Drawn into the heart of the crisis, Joan’s own life is in turmoil, and her future far from secure. She faces a stark choice – be true to her heart and risk everything, or play the dutiful servant and watch her dreams wither and die. For Joan, and for Henry’s Kingdom, everything is at stake…

My thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Joanne Hickson’s first book in her Queens of the Tower series, The Lady of the Ravens (my review), so I was keen to read the sequel, The Queen’s Lady, continuing the story of Joan Vaux, Lady Guildford. She was a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth, the wife of Henry VII and had became a good friend and confidante of Elizabeth. Her son Henry, known as Hal, had also became a good friend to the young Prince Henry.

It begins one evening at the Tower of London in April 1502. There’s strange atmosphere, as the ravens sit hunched in silence in the trees around the White Tower, Joan thought, as if awaiting some sad event, sensing death. One of the things I had particularly enjoyed in The Lady of the Ravens was Joan’s fascination for and care of the ravens of the Tower of London firmly believing in the legend that should the ravens leave the Tower for good then the crown would fall and ruin would return to the nation.

1502 had begun with pageantry and the New Year celebrations for the wedding of Prince Arthur, the heir to the throne, and Katharine of Aragon. It looks as if the ravens had indeed sensed death because in April he became seriously ill and died. It was Joan who had to break the news to Elizabeth and help console her in her grief. His death left Prince Henry as the heir to the throne.

In addition King Henry’s agents had uncovered a new Yorkist plot against the throne. Joan’s husband, Sir Richard Guildford is a Privy Councillor and loyal to Henry, but Henry is persuaded that he could be guilty of treason and he is imprisoned. Joan’s life is suddenly turned upside down. What happens next is fascinating to read covering Joan’s involvement in both national affairs and in her personal life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is beautifully written, grounded in its historical context, full of colour and life. At the end of the book there’s a Glossary of words and terms that are not commonly in use today, which I wish I’d realised was there earlier. Intriguingly, Joanna Hickson promises in her Author’s Note that she has ‘more fascinating fifteenth century lives in sight’. I’m looking forward to see what she writes next.

The Author:

Joanna Hickson became fascinated with history when she studied Shakespeare’s history plays at school. However, having taken a degree in Politics and English she took up a career in broadcast journalism with the BBC, presenting and producing news, current affairs and arts programmes on both television and radio. Now she writes full time.

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

I read the Wordsworth Classic edition of Little Dorrit with Illustrations by Hablot K. Browne (Phiz) and an Introduction and Notes by Peter Preston, University of Nottingham. As always, I read the Introduction after I’d read the novel. I finished reading it in June and started writing this review. But it is only today that I realised I hadn’t finished it, so, this post is not as detailed as I would like it to be.

Summary from the back cover:

Little Dorrit is a classic tale of imprisonment, both literal and metaphorical, while Dickens’ working title for the novel, Nobody’s Fault, highlights its concern with personal responsibility in private and public life. Dickens’ childhood experiences inform the vivid scenes in Marshalsea debtor’s prison, while his adult perceptions of governmental failures shape his satirical picture of the Circumlocution Office. The novel’s range of characters – the honest, the crooked, the selfish and the self-denying – offers a portrait of society about whose values Dickens had profound doubts.

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens’ eleventh book, was published serially from 1855 to 1857 and in book form in 1857. The novel attacks the injustices of the contemporary English legal system, particularly the institution of debtors’ prison. I found it hard going in parts, ponderous, sombre and serious. But as it’s a long book other parts are more lively, comic and far more enjoyable. That said it is also long-winded, far too wordy, melodramatic with a multitude of characters and a long-drawn out and convoluted plot. It is a great sprawling epic of a novel.

It is satire and Dickens spares no one, but it is those sections that hold up the flow of the novel. I found the first rant at the corruption and workings of the government Circumlocution Office, explaining that its purpose is ‘How Not to Get Things Done’, entertaining at first, but eventually repetitive and increasingly incredible. The account of the Barnacle family going round and round in circles, producing nothing but red tape, became excruciatingly boring.

I can’t say that I particularly liked any of the characters, and some of them are merely caricatures. rather than characters. Little Dorrit is so meek and self-effacing and far too good for her own good. Her father, known as the Father of the Marshalsea, is a most annoying character. He is the prison’s longest inhabitant, the longest debtor, the one to whom the other prisoners pay homage which makes him pompous and full of his self-importance. So much so that he fails to realise he is exploiting Little Dorrit.

But it is Dickens’ description of life in the Marshalsea, a debtors’ prison, that fascinated me, based on Dickens own father’s imprisonment there. The families could live with the debtors and were free to come and go, until the prison gates were locked at night. It was a separate society that worked on a system of hierarchy, run by the prisoners who had access to a pub, The Snuggery, and a shop, for those who had money. But it carried a terrible stigma of shame and corrupted them all – even Little Dorrit lied to herself about her father’s true situation. Once you were imprisoned there was practically no way you could be freed, unless your debts were paid and that was impossible when you couldn’t earn any money.

There are so many characters and so many sub-plots that I’m not going to attempt to write about them, other than to say at times I was amused and bemused, caught up in the stories, and dismayed at its length and complexity. Although I’ve been critical of some of the novel in this post and I think it could be my least favourite of all of Dickens’ books that I’ve read, overall I did enjoy it enough to give it 3.5 stars on Goodreads.

Short Nonfiction: Breathtaking by Rachel Clarke

Little, Brown Book Group| 26 January 2021| 154 pages| 4*

Novellas in November is hosted by Cathy and Rebecca. This week the focus is on short nonfiction.

I’ve watched TV programmes about Covid-19, seeing what it was like in a number of hospitals as the virus took hold in the UK, so a lot of the information in Rachel Clarke’s book, Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic wasn’t new to me. But, I wanted to read this book to get an inside perspective on what it was like working in the NHS during the pandemic.

There have been so many fears that the NHS would be overwhelmed and reports criticising the way the government has dealt with the situation – and this is still the case now as winter approaches and the number of daily confirmed cases of coronavirus is still high, whilst hospital waiting lists for non-Covid-19 treatment remain high. Add to this there are now reports that doctors are saying that casualty departments are on the ‘edge of a precipice’, leading to dangerous levels of handover delays with patients forced to wait in ambulances for up to 11 hours outside hospitals. On TV I’ve seen the enormous queues of ambulances outside hospitals waiting to admit patients!

Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and her book recounts her experiences during the first four months of 2020, when she worked on the Covid-19 wards in the Oxford University Hospitals system. Taken from her diary that she kept at the time it has an immediacy as she records her insomnia, her fears for her family and also the tremendous resilience, courage and empathy that she and the rest of the hospital staff had.

She tells the now familiar story about the PPE shortages, the lack of funding they experienced and criticises the government for their failure to act quickly enough – which I echo. Although it is a grim account, as I expected, it is also uplifting to know the care they took of their patients and the attentiveness to their patients’ needs despite the fact that many of the staff were not trained in intensive care and had never dealt with anything like this before.The way they had to prioritise patients is shocking, but I suppose inevitable given the lack of resources and staff.

She found that being a pandemic doctor was revelatory:

The crisis has undeniably revealed sweeping truths about social and economic inequalities, class divisions, global interconnectedness and the fact that our society’s most vital key workers were, and remain, among the lowest paid and the least empowered. Historians will dissect the issues for years to come. My revelations were about people. I learned from ward to ward, from bedside to bedside, paying meticulous attention to one human being and then another. I discovered how to distinguish what we absolutely cannot do without from what is really in the end, superfluous. (page 18)

This book is a snapshot, written at the time:

It depicts life and death, hope, fear, medicine at its most impotent and also at its finest, the courage of patients in enormous adversity, the stress of being torn between helping those patients and endangering your spouse and children, the long, fretful nights ruminating over whether the PPE you wear fits the science or the size of the government stockpile. I needed, I think, to take a stand with my pen and simply say: I was there. I have seen it, from the inside. I know what it was like. Here, with all its flaws and its inherent subjectivity, is my testimony. Make of it what you will. (pages 18-19)

Breathtaking records the compassion and kindness of numerous people, and pays tribute to both NHS staff and volunteers in dealing with such a distressing and immensely horrific situation.

The Way Home by Mark Boyle

I am way behind with writing about the books I’ve been reading. It seems to be getting worse this year. It all began last year during the first lockdown when my ability to concentrate just disappeared and it’s not fully come back yet. Now I have five books that I’ve read but not reviewed.

This is review of just one of them. When I sat down to write this post I’d intended to write short reviews of at least two or three of the books, but once I began I found that was impossible – I had too much to say about them. From being a post with short notes on what I’ve read recently this post as morphed into one of the longest posts about just one book that I’ve written – and I still don’t think I’ve captured the essence of it.

The Way Home:Tales from a Life Without Technology by Mark Boyle, a former business graduate, who lived entirely without money for three years. He has written columns for the Guardian and has irregularly contributed to international press, radio and television. He lives on a smallholding in Co. Galway, Ireland. This book follows the events of his first year of living without technology, interspersed with an account of a visit to Great Blaskett off the coast of County Kerry, to the south of Boyle’s new home. The Islanders were eventually evacuated to the mainland in the early 1950s.

The first thought I had about this book is that the concept of living without technology is alien to me. There is no way I could live like that and I wondered how he came to that decision and how he managed it with no running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio or light bulb. He built his home with his bare hands, learning to make fire, collecting water from the stream, foraging and fishing.

He had to clarify just what constitutes technology and what doesn’t. It wasn’t that easy to decide when you consider that even the pencil can be described as technology. He questioned where to draw the line such as the Stone Age, the Iron Age, or the eighteenth century? The more he thought about it the less important it seemed. He wanted to explore what it means to be human,

… to discover what it might feel like to become part of one’s landscape using only tools and technologies (if I must call them that) which, like the Old Order Amish people of North America, do not make me beholden to institutions and forces that have no regard for the principles and values on which I wish to live my life. (page 14)

The book follows the seasons of the year and rather than being the story of his life without technology is a collection of

observations, practicalities, conversations over farmyard gates, adventures and reflections, which I hope will provide an insight into the life of someone attempting to pare the extravagance of modernity back to the raw ingredients of life. (page 15)

It’s not a ‘how to’ book, nor is it a guide to living without technology. It’s an account of what it was like for him. He writes about the loneliness he experienced, the lack of contact with his parents and friends, and the damage to his relationships, particularly to his girlfriend, Kirsty, who initially shared his technology-free life. Without the internet and a phone it is difficult to keep in touch with people. There are letters and these became important to him, otherwise the way to communicate face to face was by walking. Formerly a vegan he found it difficult to adapt to killing in order to eat, for example killing a deer, skinning and butchering it. His thoughts on life and death had to undergo a dramatic change.

Life without technology is inevitably slower and more arduous. Living where there is no tap for instant water, and no switches to turn on a light is not simple either. One of the things he found difficult to adapt to was the way of writing. Previously he had used computers to write everything. Hand writing, however, involves a whole new way of thinking. He could no longer use the typed word, or online research, and without the use of spell-check, copy and paste or delete it is much harder to restructure a page and you have to start again. Eventually his thinking slowed down, so that he thought twice in order to write once. As I’m older than Boyle, I remember the process in reverse and my delight at being able to organise my writing using copy and paste with much more ease and speed than before, when I did literally ‘cut’ and ‘paste’, or rather staple, when writing.

There is so much more in this book that I haven’t covered in this post. I think it’s a remarkable and fascinating book, and it gave me much to think about. It’s ironic really, considering its subject, that I bought the e-book version, read it on my Kindle and wrote and posted this review on my laptop. It is also ironic that in order to publish the book, having written every word of it by hand, Mark Boyle had to get it typed up – which he did himself, reluctantly and with big reservations. It was not easy for him. He describes the effects of doing it as follows:

I felt less purposeful, like I no longer knew what my life was about, or what I stood for. By evening I felt entirely disconnected from the landscape around me, like I was no longer a part of it, but in some strange virtual universe instead. The natural light hurt my eyes as I re-emerged outside.

In some ways it was good and important for me to temporarily re-enter that world of things, so as to dispel any romantic memories I had about life being much better and easier with machines. The experience of it was such that, having made the compromise, I’m not sure I would make it again. (page 324)

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Oneworld Publications (4 April 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 334 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1786077272
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1786077271
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My rating: 4*

Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers

I’ve read some of Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery series and enjoyed them immensely. But up until now have not read the first book in the series, Whose Body?, first published in 1923. It’s an amusing Golden Age mystery that kept me entertained throughout. Lord Peter is a wealthy amateur detective, a friend of Inspector Charles Parker, a Scotland Yard detective. He called ‘Lord’ as he is the younger son of a duke.

When the naked body of a man, wearing only a pair of pince-nez is found in Mr Alfred Thipp’s Battersea bathroom, Lord Peter is asked by his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, to help solve the mystery of whose body had found its way into the bath. The police investigation is being led by Inspector Sugg, who doesn’t welcome what he calls Lord Peter’s ‘interference’ in the case. He thinks the dead body might be that of Sir Reuben Levy, a wealthy London financier who had vanished from his bedroom, leaving no trace. Meanwhile Charles is investigating Sir Reuben’s disappearance himself. Although the body in the bath at first appears to be Sir Reuben it soon becomes clear that it is not and that the two cases are not connected. But are they?

As I began reading I was a bit put off by the dialogue between Lord Peter and his valet Bunter, who used to be his batman in the army. The dialogue is supposed to be witty banter between the two of them but to my mind it was irritating and superficial, definitely dated, and reminded me a just a tiny bit of the Jeeves and Wooster stories. But that was just at the start – it’s not at all like Jeeves and Wooster! I enjoyed watching the mystery unfold, which put Lord Peter’s life into grave danger. There are many complications and twists and turns that did stretch my credulity. It has a serious side too as events trigger traumatic memories for Lord Peter of his time in the trenches of the First World War

My rating: 4*

There are 15 books in the series (linked to my reviews when I’ve read the book):


   1. Whose Body? (1923)
   2. Clouds of Witness (1926)
   3. Unnatural Death (1927)
   4. Lord Peter Views the Body (1928)
   5. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
   6. Strong Poison (1930)
   7 Five Red Herrings (1931)
   8. Have His Carcase (1932)
   9. Hangman’s Holiday (1933)
   10. Murder Must Advertise (1933)
   11. The Nine Tailors (1934)
   12. Gaudy Night (1935)
   13. Busman’s Honeymoon (1937)
   14. In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939)
   15. Striding Folly (1972)

A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

Canongate Books| 19th August 2021| 405 pages| Review Copy| 5*

This is the third book in Ambrose Parry’s historical series starring Will Raven & Sarah Fisher, set in 19th century Edinburgh. I loved the other books, The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying and A Corruption of Blood is equally as good, if not better.

Description

Edinburgh. This city will bleed you dry.

Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.

Back at 52 Queen Street, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.

Raven’s efforts to prove his erstwhile adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations will take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

Ambrose Parry is the pseudonym of crime fiction author, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist. Will is a doctor working with Doctor James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, who discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform (a real historical character), and Sarah, is the Simpsons’ housemaid, but she now assists Professor Simpson and is studying medicine. The two of them have a complicated and somewhat spiky relationship, which continues in this novel.

The combination of a crime fiction writer and an anaesthetist works excellently in Ambrose Parry’s novels. The research into the history of medicine is extensive, making this book a combination of historical fact and fiction, a tale of murder and medical matters, with the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into an intricate murder mystery. 

The mystery begins when the body of a baby wrapped in a parcel, is found floating in the Forth. The child had been strangled with a length of white tape. Sarah meanwhile is involved in finding a missing child. When Sir Ainsley Douglas, a prominent and wealthy member of Edinburgh society is found dead from arsenic poisoning, Will reluctantly gets involved in the murder investigation. How the mysteries interlink gradually becomes clear and although I soon realised how Sir Ainsley had been murdered, I was puzzled about who did it and was completely taken by surprise when the culprit was revealed.

Like all good historical fiction, this book weaves together fact and fiction. The Historical Note at the end of the book sorts out what was real and what was invented. The subjects covered include details about infectious diseases, the difficulties women experienced in obtaining a medical degree, and crimes children suffered in the 19th century. I think A Corruption of Blood is an exceptionally excellent murder mystery and an informative historical novel, with great period detail and convincing characters. I look forward to reading more books by Ambrose Parry.