Reading Bingo 2020

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I’ve played the Reading Bingo Card since 2015, with the exception of last year.  I like it because during the year I don’t look for books to fill in the card – I just read what I want to read and then see whether the books I’ve read will match the squares. I also like it because it is an excellent way of looking back at the books I’ve read and reminding me of how much I enjoyed them.

Here is my card for 2020:

A Book With More Than 500 pages.Moonflower Murders – 608 pages, this may be long but Anthony Horowitz’s style of writing suits me – so easy to read, I whizzed through it. This is a follow up novel to Magpie Murders. But it is a most complicated murder mystery, combining elements of vintage-style golden age crime novels with word-play, cryptic clues and anagrams. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out.

A Forgotten Classic Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate.

The British Library series of crime classics presents long forgotten classics many of which had been out of print. Somebody at the Door was first published in 1943 and it’s set in 1942 giving a vivid picture of what life was like in wartime England. It’s a murder mystery as Henry Grayling after travelling home on the 6.12 train from Euston, never reached his home. There are plenty of suspects for Inspector Holly to investigate.

A Book That Became a Movie The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. It’s fast-paced, violent, and complicated, with damsels in distress, gangsters, corrupt officials, and plenty of dark, violent and bloody situations as well as murders.The Big Sleep has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, and again in 1978, with Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark.

A Book Published This Year Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin, published in July. This is a story of love and loss – and hope. Violette, the caretaker at a cemetery in a small town in Bourgogne, is a character I really warmed to; she is optimistic, brave, creative and caring. It’s a story full of warmth and happiness and life in the cemetery is full of surprises and joy. It was not what I expected to be and I am so pleased I’ve read it.

A Book with a Number in the TitleA Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry. It continues the story of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and Winona, the young Indian girl they had adopted, told in Days Without End. It’s historical fiction set in Tennessee in the 1870s in the aftermath of the Civil War. I just love everything about this book, so beautifully written, rendering the way the characters speak so that I could hear them, and describing the landscape so poetically and lyrically that the scenes unfolded before my eyes.

A Book Written by Someone Under ThirtyThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, the winner of the 2013 Booker Prize. It’s historical fiction set in New Zealand in the 1860s, during its gold rush and it has everything – gold fever, murder, mystery and a ghost story too. Eleanor Catton was 25 when she began writing The Luminaries and 28 when she won the Booker Prize. I loved the pictures it builds up of the setting in New Zealand, the frontier town and its residents from the prospectors to the prostitutes, and the obsessive nature of gold mining.

A Book With Non-Human Characters The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. The main character in this book is a stray cat, Chibi, who made herself at home with a couple in their thirties who lived in a small rented house in a quiet part of Tokyo. At first the cat was cautious and just peeked inside their little house but eventually Chibi spent a lot of time with the couple coming and going as she pleased.

A Funny Book – the only story I read in 2020 that came anywhere near to being funny was a short story – Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit by P G Wodehouse. Actually I didn’t find this very funny at all, even though I’ve read other Jeeves and Wooster stories that are funny. There is no yule-tide spirit in this story!

A Book By A Female Author The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. This is a horror story, but it’s not gore. Instead it is macabre and has a chilling atmosphere. It’s more of a psychological study than a horror story. The best parts are, I think, the descriptions of Hill House – the dark horror at the centre of the story. Four people are staying at Hill House to investigate if it is really haunted.

A Book With A MysteryRemain Silent by Susie Steiner. I could have chosen any one of the many crime fiction novels I’ve read this year, but I’ve picked Remain Silent, the third Manon Bradshaw book about the death of a young migrant. It is not just a gripping mystery, it is a tragedy, a scathing look at modern life, centred on the exploitation of immigrant labour, racism and abuse that some of the foreign workers have to endure.

A Book With A One Word TitleSword by Bogdan Teodorescu. This is crime fiction in which a serial killer is on the loose, but with a difference – it’s a complex novel, a political thriller focusing on the political and social dimensions of the racial conflict between the Romanians and the Roma or ‘gypsies’. The killer is hunting down his victims from the minority Roma community. As the racial conflict continues the ethnic tension rises highlighting the corruption and manipulation by the politicians and by the mass media in particular.

A Book of Short StoriesMeasure of Malice: Scientific Stories edited by Martin Edwards. I’m cheating a bit here as by the end of the year I had only read four of the fourteen short stories in this collection. I like to take my time reading short stories and unfortunately I took too long and I only finished it a few days ago. I enjoyed the stories, as always some are better than others.

Free Square – for this square I’ve chosen The Shortest Book I read, which is The Shortest Day by Colm Tóibín, a novella of just 31 pages. It’s storytelling at its best – a tale of wonder and mystery, about a burial chamber, a prehistoric monument in County Meath in Ireland, that was built around 3200 BC – older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. It’s ringed by a stone circle, stones brought from the Mournes and Wicklow Mountains.

A Book Set On A Different ContinentThin Air by Michelle Paver, set in the Himalayas on Kangchenjunga. A group of five men set out to climb the mountain in 1935. Held to be a sacred mountain, Kangchenjunga is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world – believed to be the haunt of demons and evil spirits. Based on fact, this is a very atmospheric and chilling story.

A Book of Non FictionAnd Now For the Good News by Ruby Wax, a positive look at some recent developments in community, business, education, technology, and food that promise to make the world a better place. It’s easy reading, written clearly in a breezy conversational style, covering a large amount of information. She emphasises the importance of compassion and kindness, of community and on working for the good of all. Maybe, above all she focuses on the benefits of mindfulness and on positive experiences.

The First Book By a Favourite AuthorThe Dry by Jane Harper, the first Aaron Falk book, crime fiction set in a small country town in Australia, where the Hadler family were brutally murdered. I read and loved the second and third books, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, before I read The Dry. I was delighted to find it’s just as good as everyone said it is – it won many Literary Awards!

A Book You Heard About On Line – Many of the books I read these days are books I’ve heard about on line. I’ve chosen The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson, Nordic noir, the third novel in Ragnar Jonasson’s Hidden Iceland series. It’s 1987 when Hulda is worrying about her daughter, Dimma and her relationship with her husband, Jon. Alongside the story of what is happening in her personal life, she is also investigating the disappearance of a young woman and a suspected murder case, a particularly horrific one in an isolated farmhouse in the east.

A Best Selling BookHamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, was named one of the top 10 books of the year by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and is also the Waterstones book of the year. It is historical fiction inspired by Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son and is a story of the bond between him and his twin sister, Judith. (At the time the names Hamlet and Hamnet were considered virtually interchangeable.)

A Book Based On A True StoryThe Guardians by John Grisham is a novel based on a real story and a real person, which gives it a really authentic feel. Guardian Ministries is based Centurion Ministries founded by James McCluskey, working to prove the innocence of convicted criminals, convinced of their innocence. 

A Book At The Bottom of Your To Be Read PileOliver Twist by Charles Dickens. This had been on my TBR list for many, many years, so I’m really pleased that at long last I have read the book.

A Book Your Friend LovesThe Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter by Lucinda Hawksley was recommended to me by a friend, who thought it was very good. She was quite right and I loved this biography of Victoria’s sixth child – her fourth daughter, born on 18th March 1848. Louise She had a difficult childhood, disliked and bullied by her mother and she often rebelled against the restrictions of life as a princess. In her adult life she was a sculptor and painter, friend to the Pre-Raphaelites and a keen member of the Aesthetic movement. There were hints of love affairs dating as far back as her teenage years, and notable scandals and was the first member of the royal family to marry a commoner since the sixteenth century.

A Book that Scares You – There were parts of Looking Good Dead by Peter James. By the end of the book the tension rose and culminated in the most terrifying scenes by the end of the book. I raced through it, trying not to visualise the gruesome details and impatient whenever the action moved away from the murder mystery. It’s a thriller about Tom who puts himself and his family in great danger after he picked up a CD that another passenger had left on the train – it’s a snuff movie – enough said.

A Book That Is More Then Ten Years OldA Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill the sixth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in November 1980 and televised in 1997 with the actors Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan in the lead roles. Three women have been found dead, strangled and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet. As more murders follow,  the killer is soon known as the Choker and it seems as if his motive for the murders is  compassion.

The Second Book In A SeriesStone Cold Heart by Caz Frear. I didn’t get on with it very well. However, I’m in the minority as there are lots of 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It’s a police procedural written in the first person present tense narrated by DC Cat Kinsella who is part of the Murder Investigation Team 4, and her personal life is a major part of the book.

A Book With A Blue CoverThe Deep by Alma Katsu. This isa mix of fact and fiction. It moves between 1912 as the Titanic sets sail on its maiden voyage and 1916, as its sister ship the Britannic, converted to a hospital picks up soldiers injured in the battlefields to take them back to England. There is a large cast of characters, some are real people and others are fictional; the stories on the two ships are told from their different perspectives. It didn’t grip me as much as The Hunger, her earlier book, although it’s a very atmospheric novel.

The Secret Garden – Book and Film

Recently I watched the 2020 film of The Secret Garden. The first thing so say it is that it is not like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book. The basic premise is the same – Mary Lennox is an orphaned child who goes to live with her uncle in Yorkshire where she discovers a secret garden. I’m not going to describe the differences between the book and the film – there are so many – but the main difference is the garden itself. And that is what disappointed me the most about the film.

The ‘garden’ is not a garden – it is a huge version of maybe the Amazon rain forest, a digital fantasy, nothing like the garden in the book. And Misselthwaite Manor has been morphed into Misselthwaite Hall, a huge palatial building dominating the Yorkshire skyline. And what has become of Ben Weatherstaff, the gardener and Mrs Sowerby, Dickon and Martha’s mother? They are just not in the film!

If you don’t like modern versions of old favourites, then steer clear of this film – it is nothing like the book. It’s CGI ‘magic’ is simply not the real Magic of the natural world.

This is what I wrote about the book when I last re-read it 8 years ago. I’m tempted to read it again to obliterate the film from my imagination.

I read The Secret Garden several times as a child and the story has stayed with me ever since. For years my picture of the ideal garden has been a walled garden, just like the secret garden. The story can be read on different levels. As a child it seemed to me to be a straight forward story of Mary Lennox, orphaned after her parents died of cholera in India. Up until the age of nine she had lived a cosseted life looked after by servants, in particular her Ayah, ignored by her parents. After their death she was sent to live at Misselthwaite Manor, on the bleak Yorkshire moors, with her uncle, who was a hunchback recluse, who took little interest in her. Soon after Mary’s arrival, her uncle went abroad leaving her again in the care of servants. These were very different from the servants in India and Mary struggled to adjust.

Soon after she discovers she is not the only child in the house, when she finds Colin, her cousin, a hypochondriac, unable to walk, who believes he won’t live to grow up. Both Mary and Colin are selfish children, hating both themselves and the adults in their lives. Both also hate the outdoors, but encouraged by Martha, her maid, Mary wanders in the gardens of the Manor house and comes across a walled garden, which apparently has no door. There seems no way to get inside it – until guided by a robin, she finds an old key buried in the earth. I loved the descriptions of the Yorkshire countryside, the garden and how under the influence of Martha and her younger brother Dickon and even the grumpy gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, Mary blossomed as the year progressed along with the garden.

Reading it now I can see it is full of symbolism using nature, the Bible and myths, that I never noticed as a child. The image of the garden is used as both paradise lost and paradise regained. As the garden is nurtured and begins to blossom so do Mary and Colin, through springtime and into summer, culminating in the autumn when both are brought to full health. Dickon is accompanied by a young fox, a lamb, a crow and tame squirrels, reminiscent of St. Francis of Assisi and plays his pipe to charm the animals, like Pan. His mother, Mrs. Sowerby, is a plain-speaking down-to-earth Yorkshire woman, full of common sense and wisdom, who through Dickon and Martha helps the children, feeding Mary and Colin with both her words and wholesome food. At times I thought the language becomes over sentimental and a bit syrupy (I never thought that as a child). But there are descriptions that still appeal to me, such as this description of the roses in the garden:

And the roses – the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sundial, wreathing the tree trunks, and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades – they came alive day by day, hour by hour. Fair, fresh leaves and buds – and buds – tiny at first, but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air. (page 210 in my copy)

Above all it is the power of Magic that is invoked in this book. The magic of nature, that makes plants and people grow and develop, the magic of the power of positive thinking and prayer, of the healing power of the mind, and of laughter and love. Sometimes it seemed too simplistic and yet at the same time I was swept along with the sentiments and enjoying the experience of re-reading this book.

My Life in Books 2020

I’ve done different versions of this in the past. This year I’ve added Annabel’s lockdown question.

Using titles from the books you’ve read this year complete the following sentences. The links take you to my reviews.

In high school I was the one who was: Writing Wild

People might be surprised by: The Mystery of Princess Louise

I will never be: (in) Yesterday’s Papers

Every Monday morning I look like: The Luminaries

I fear: The Lost Lights of St Kilda

I hate being: (in) The Mist

Wish I had: The Secret of High Eldersham

The last meal I ate was: (with) The Last Protector

At a party you’d find me with: The Lady of the Ravens

I’ve never been to: The Dutch House

A happy day includes: (watching the) Blue Tits in My Nest Box

Motto I live by: And Now for the Good News

On my bucket list is: (learning) How to Disappear

In my next life, I want to have: A Thousand Moons

My life in lockdown was like: The Year Without Summer

What’s your Year in Books been like? Do let me know.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 January, 2021.

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

I hope I get on better with this book than I did with my last Classics Club Spin book, which was Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I did start reading it, but didn’t get very far – it wasn’t appealing to me at all!

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

My Friday Post: Giant’s Bread by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Giant’s Bread is by Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott. It’s one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. She wrote six novels under this pseudonym – Giant’s Bread was the first one, published in 1930. In the same year she also published The Mysterious Mr Quin and, Murder at the Vicarage – Miss Marple’s first book. 

It begins with a Prologue:

It was the opening night of London’s new National Opera House and consequentially an occasion. Royalty was there. The Press were there. The fashionable were there in large quantities. Even the musical, by hook or by crook, had managed to be there – mostly very high up in the final tier of seats under the roof.

They were there to see the performance of a new musical composition called Giant’s Bread.

And chapter one begins:

There were only three people of real importance in Vernon’s world: Nurse, God and Mr Green

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Poor Myra, She’d had a rotten deal on the whole. A fine looking creature, but he’d married her really for the sake of Abbots Puissants – and she had married him for love. That was the root of the whole trouble.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Vernon Deyre is a sensitive and brilliant musician, even a genius, tormented and driven by forces even he didn’t understand. His sheltered childhood in the home he loves has not prepared Vernon for the harsh reality of his adult years, and in order to write the great masterpiece of his life, he has to make a crucial decision with no time left to count the cost. But there is a high price to be paid for his talent, especially by his family and the two women in his lifee – the one he loves and the one who loves him.

Young Nell Vereker had always loved Vernon, loved him with a consuming passion that was alien to the proper social world in which she lived. But when Vernon sought solace in the arms of Jane Harding, a stranger and enigmatically beautiful older woman, Nell felt she could endure no greater pain. But Fate had only begun to work its dark mischief on this curious romantic triangle — for before their destinies were sealed, one would live, one would die, and one would return from the grave to be damned…

~~~

Mary was Agatha’s second name and Westmacott the name of some distant relatives. She succeeded in keeping her identity as Mary Westmacott unknown for nearly twenty years and the books, much to her pleasure, were modestly successful.

WWW Wednesday: 12 August 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

 What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

This week I’m doing this in a different order as after I finished the last book I read I haven’t been able to decide what to read next.

So this a combination of what I might read currently and in the future.

I’ve dipped into a few books these last few days:

Would you recommend any of these books?

  • Bilgewater by Jane Gardam – described on the back cover as ‘One of the funniest, most entertaining, and most unusual stories about young love.’ I loved Old Filth some years ago.
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman – the first book in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy. Historical fiction about Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maude, and the long fight to win the English throne. Penman’s The Sunne in Splendour is one of my absolute favourites.
  • For the Record by David Cameron – described in the blurb: ‘The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is one of the most controversial political events of our times. For the first time, the man who called that vote talks about the decision and its origins, as well as giving a candid account of his time at the top of British politics.‘ I’m not sure he’ll really be candid!
  • A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry – the sequel to Days Without End, which I loved. This is about Winona, a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole. I watched Barry’s talk on Sunday as part of the Borders Book Festival online. From what I’ve read so far I’m not hooked yet.
  • A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville – inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Macarthur, who travelled to Australia with her husband and their infant son in 1790. I love her books.

Recently Finished: 

The last book I read was His and Hers by Alice Feeney and I posted my review on Saturday.

It’s a standalone psychological thriller. I was utterly gripped by it and compelled to read it, puzzled and amazed by the cleverness of the plot. But it’s not a comfortable read, dark and twisted with some gruesomely graphic scenes that I read very quickly!

His and Hers by Alice Feeney

HQ| 28 May 2020| 384 pages| Review copy| 4*

I read Alice Feeney’s debut novel, Sometimes I Lie three years ago and loved it. His and Hers is her third book and just like her first book I was utterly gripped by it and compelled to read it, puzzled and amazed by the cleverness of the plot. It’s a standalone psychological thriller.

Blurb:

Jack: Three words to describe my wife: Beautiful. Ambitious. Unforgiving.
Anna: I only need one word to describe my husband: Liar.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Anna’s ex-husband, DCI Jack Harper, is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone is lying, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

The narrative moves between two characters ‘Him’, Jack Harper and ‘Her’, Anna Andrews and there is also a third narrator, the unnamed killer. Anna lives in London, working for the BBC. She grew up in Blackdown, and is an alcoholic, who is still recovering from a recent tragedy that pushed her to drink. Jack is a Detective Chief Inspector, who has recently moved to Blackdown from London to be in charge of the Major Crime Team based in Surrey. He knows Blackdown well as he also grew up there and Anna is his ex wife.

There is so much ambiguity and misdirection that there were times when I thought the killer could just as easily be Jack, or Anna, or one of the other characters – and wondered just which one was the narrator. More murders follow after that first one. But these are not random killings – and it’s soon apparent that the victims are all connected. They had all been at to the same school and had been guests at Anna’s sixteenth birthday party.

I read it quickly, suspending my disbelief and disliking most of the main characters – they really are downright nasty – cheating, lying, manipulating and abusing others, bullying and blackmailing them. – and worse. It kept me guessing throughout, changing my mind about the culprit, or culprits, as I read on. It’s not a comfortable read, dark and twisted with some gruesomely graphic scenes, which is why I’m giving this book 4 stars instead of 5. It’s one of those books I didn’t really like, but I did enjoy working out the puzzle of who could be trusted, who to be wary of and most of all who was doing the murders.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers HQ for an ARC.

Alice Feeney’s second book, I Know Who You Are, is one of the books lost in the depths of my Kindle library – I must dig it out.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

18

which for me is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 September, 2020.

My last Spin result was The Return of the Native, which I loved. So I am delighted this time to get another of Hardy’s books to read.

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in the fictional county of Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.  (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

WWW Wednesday: 5 August 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

 What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading:

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw and it’s looking good so far. Police Sergeant William South is investigating the murder of his friend and neighbour Bob Rayner. It’s set in Dungeness on the Kent coast, a bleak landscape of gravel pits towered over by lighthouses and a nuclear power station and the story moves between the present day and South’s childhood. I have a strong feeling that I’ll be reading more of William Shaw’s books in the future.

Recently Finished: 

I finished reading The Power-House by John Buchan yesterday. I really enjoyed it. I’ll post my review shortly.

When his friend Charles Pitt-Heron vanishes mysteriously, Sir Edward Leithen is at first only mildly concerned. But a series of strange events that follow Pitt-Heron’s disappearance convinces Leithen that he is dealing with a sinister secret society. Their codename is ‘The Power-House’. The authorities are unable to act without evidence. As he gets deeper involved with the underworld, Leithen finds himself facing the enemy alone and in terrible danger. 

Reading Next:

I’m not sure at the moment. It ‘should’ be His and Hers by Alice Feeney, because it’s the book I’ve had the longest on my NetGalley shelf and it’s making me feel guilty that I haven’t read it yet.

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Anna’s ex-husband, DCI Jack Harper, is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone is lying, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

But it could be another book when the time comes!

Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

A labyrinth of clues. A mystery novel hiding a deadly secret. A killer with a fiendish plot: a brilliantly intricate and original thriller from the bestselling author of Magpie Murders

Random House Cornerstone| 20 August 2020| 400 pages| Review copy| 5*

Moonflower Murders is a follow up novel to Magpie Murders. It has the same format – that of a book within the book. Although I don’t think you have to read Magpie Murders first as this stands well on its own merits, I think it would help to know the background and some of the characters if you do.

Susan Ryeland, the main character, has retired as a publisher and is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend, Andreas. Their hotel is in debt, they’re in danger of going bankrupt and she is missing her literary life in London. So, when Lawrence and Pauline Trehearn, the owners of an hotel, Branlow Hall in Suffolk visit her and ask if she would investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily from their hotel for a fee, she decides to go – and at the same time visit London.

Before she had disappeared Cecily had read Alan Conway’s murder mystery, Atticus Pund Takes the Case, based on a murder that happened at Brownlow Hall eight years earlier. At that time, the evidence against Stefan, the general maintenance man was overwhelming and he was convicted. Cecily was convinced that there was something in the novel that proved Stefan wasn’t responsible for the crime. Unfortunately she hadn’t told anyone what had convinced her. The Trehearnes had read the book, but they couldn’t see any connection, although there are similarities – the characters are clearly based on the people at Brownlow Hall, with the same or similar names.

Susan had published Conway’s books, but thought that if he had indeed discovered that an innocent man was in prison he would have gone straight to the police and not turned it into a novel. But investigating Cecily’s disappearance, she re-reads his book and examines the evidence relating to the murder of eight years ago.

Moonflower Murders combines elements of vintage-style golden age crime novels with word-play, cryptic clues and anagrams. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out. it – Anthony Horowitz’s style of writing suits me – so easy to read, I whizzed through it, no doubt missing all the intricacies and clues along the way. But it is such an enjoyable way to read – no need to puzzle about the structure, or who is who as the characters all come across as individual people. Of course it’s not a straightforward mystery and along the way I was easily distracted by the red herrings. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to work it all out.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publishers Cornerstone for an ARC.