The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey

A terrible secret lies buried at the heart of this house

Animals at Lockwood Manor

Mantle| 5 March 2020| 352 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 3*

I enjoyed The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey although I think is too long with some repetitions and so in places I felt it dragged a bit. It is historical fiction, part a love story and part a mystery, beginning in 1939 at the outbreak of World War Two. A taxidermy collection of mainly mammals is being evacuated from a natural history museum in London to Lockwood Manor in the countryside to save them from the threat of bombs. Owned by Major Lord Lockwood, the Lockwood estate is ancient, although most of the house had been built in the Jacobean style in the nineteenth century, with two round turrets and a pierce parapet with pinnacles. Most of its many rooms are empty as the only residents are the Major and his daughter, Lucy along with the servants, whose numbers are down as they enlist.

In charge of the collection is Hetty Cartwright, a young woman, who soon realises she had taken on more than she expected. And it’s not long before, one after another, some of the animals go missing or are mysteriously moved from their positions in the long gallery. The book begins well as the scene is set, and I could feel the tension and mystery surrounding the house and in particular surrounding Lucy and her mother, Heloise. Heloise died in a car crash not long before the book begins, but we see her in Lucy’s journal in which she writes down her nightmares, thoughts and memories.

The narration alternates between Lucy’s journal and the events as experienced by Hetty. The characters of Hetty and Lucy are well drawn as their relationship develops, and the house and the museum animals too are vividly described. I loved the details of the museum collection, and how the conditions at Lockwood affected their condition as insects invaded the stuffed creatures. 

After a good start the pace then slows down and not a lot really happens until the final dramatic ending. Some of the characters are caricatured – for example the Major who is portrayed as an overbearing lecherous man, a pantomime villain. There is a more than a touch of the supernatural in the book, and a lot in it that reminded me of Jane Eyre and The Woman in White, as Hetty fears she is descending into madness. It’s the type of story that would make an excellent film or TV drama and, this is not something I usually think, would probably be better than the book.

Many thanks to Mantle for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Challenge, Calendar of Crime, Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Stone Cold Heart by Caz Frear

Stone Cold Heart

2*

Stone Cold Heart is Caz Frear’s second novel and I’m sorry to say that 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. My copy is a NetGalley copy that I’ve had far too long – I did start reading it when I first downloaded it but soon realised that it would be better if I read her debut novel, Sweet Little Lies first. These are police procedurals 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 both books.

Naomi Lockhart, a young Australian woman was murdered and at first it looked as though her flatmate had killed her. The night before she was murdered Naomi had been at a party held by her employer, Kirstie Connor and her husband, Marcus. Also at the party were Joseph Madden and his meek wife, Rachel, Marcus’ sister. Joseph is an emotionally abusive narcissist, who manages the local coffee shop and when suspicion then falls on him and he is arrested he claims that Rachel is setting him up. And so begins a most convoluted and tangled tale about Joseph and the rest of his family, filled with secrets and lies, most of which are complete red herrings.  

Alongside the murder mystery, the book follows the story of DC Cat Kinsella’s family and the mystery surrounding Maryanne Doyle that was told in Sweet Little Lies – you really do need to read that book first to understand what is going on in her family life in this book. Cat is a conflicted character to say the least and although other readers have found her a warm and likeable character I found her one of the most irritating fictional detectives in crime fiction. She is full of guilt and angst about her family, in particular about her father and her brother. She is keeping the identity of her boyfriend a secret from everybody – if you’ve read Sweet Little Lies you’ll know why, otherwise you’ll be as mystified as her family and police colleagues are.

I found the secrets surrounding Cat’s family the most interesting part of the book, more so than the investigation into Naomi’s murder. The Murder Investigation Team all get on well together, but their continuing team meetings in which they endlessly consider all the possible theories about the murder and what happened, although interesting at first soon became tedious – far too much hypothesising. The book just dragged on and on. And then there is the ending – except it’s just the murder mystery that ends as it looks as though there is still more to come about Cat Kinsella. If you like long detective stories, full of twists and turns, lots of red herrings and dubious and unreliable characters who withhold evidence you may like it more than I did.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

My thanks to the publishers, Zaffre, for a review copy via NetGalley.

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in November.

Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear

 

Sweet Little Lies

3*

Sweet Little Lies is one of my TBRs. When it was first published nearly three years ago I kept seeing rave reviews of Caz Frear’s debut novel and wondered whether I would like it. It begins very slowly and I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to bother finishing it. It was only at about the halfway mark that it picked up pace. What I didn’t like about it is that it’s written in the first person present tense and apart from that I didn’t like the style of writing – very wordy, with much that adds very little to the plot. Once it finally got going this is mainly a police procedural set in the present day in London with flashbacks to Ireland in 1998. Whilst I found the plot a  touch over complicated and relying too much on coincidence I think the characters are well defined, and the dialogue is convincing.

When DC Cat Kinsella was a child of eight, visiting family in Ireland, teenager Maryanne Doyle went missing and Cat suspected her father had something to do with Maryanne’s disappearance because of something she had seen. But she kept it to herself and that had affected her relationship with her father ever since. So she is a complex and conflicted character who has changed her name, from McBride, distancing herself from her family and in particular from her father, whom she both loves and hates.  Her secret means that when the body of a woman, who turns out to be Maryanne Doyle, has been found strangled, not far from the pub that Cat’s father runs in Islington she is in a quandary – should she tell her boss that she had known Maryanne in the past?  But she is desperate to know the truth – and that is what kept me turning the pages to the end of the book.

Amazon UK link
Amazon US link

Reading challenges: Mount TBR challenge and Calendar of Crime – the main action takes place in December.

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox

The Sleepwalker Knox

The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox is the third Detective Aidan Waits novel. It has to be the most complicated book that I’ve read in a very long time. Two years ago I read the second book, The Smiling Man, even though I hadn’t read the first one, Sirens, and loved it, so I was keen to read the third one. It certainly didn’t disappoint me and although I think the books read well as stand-alones, it would probably be best to read them in order. To say that Waits has troubled background is an understatement. He is a disturbed and complex character, other police officers don’t trust him or want to work with him.  He plays very close to the edge and has little regard for his own safety. 

The Sleepwalker is dark, violent and absolutely brilliant. I just didn’t want it to end and at the same time I just had to know what happened next. There are so many strands that you have to keep in mind, so many characters to sort out where they fit into the story and it’s all so cleverly linked together. You think you have it sorted and then you realise there’s more to come. It’s perfectly paced throughout, culminating in an astounding and shocking conclusion that had me reeling.

Quite simply, I loved it.

My thanks to Transworld Publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

 

A Killing Kindness by Reginald Hill

A killing kindness

HarperCollins | 2013 | 372 pages | Paperback | my own copy | 5*

A Killing Kindness is Reginald Hill’s sixth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in November 1980 and was televised in 1997 with the actors Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan in the lead roles.

I wrote about the opening and quoted a short extract from page 56 in a My Friday post in January. I enjoyed it very much. For completeness I’m including the opening paragraph and the extract from page 56 in this post too:

The opening paragraph

… it was green, all green, all over me, choking, the water, then boiling at first, and roaring, and seething, till all settled down, cooling, clearing, and my sight up drifting with the last few bubbles, till through the glassy water I see the sky clearly, and the sun bright as a lemon, and birds with wings wide as a windmill’s sails slowly drifting round it, and over the bank’s rim small dark faces peering, timid as beasts at their watering, nostrils sniffing danger and shy eyes bright and wary, till a current turns me over, and I drift, and am still drifting …

What the hell’s going on here! Stop it! This is sick …

Page 56:

… all over me, choking, the water all boiling at first, and roaring, and seething …. Pascoe shook the medium’s taped words out of his mind and went on with his reading.

There was a degree of lividity down the left side which was unusual for a corpse taken from the water, but could be explained by the fact that the body seemed to have been wedged in the debris by the canal bank rather than rolling free in the current.

With each book getting better and better, I think this is the best of the early Dalziel and Pascoe novels. The main characters are now clearly established and moving on with their lives. Dalziel continues to be a boorish, angry man, not afraid to speak his mind and most definitely politically incorrect in all aspects. Pascoe and Ellie are expecting their first child, and D S Wield’s personal life is not going well.

The plot is nicely convoluted and tricky to solve, as it looks as though the police are faced with a serial killer. 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:

… ‘this man’s motivation does not seem to be based so much on hate as on compassion.’

‘Compassion? You mean he kills women because he’s sorry for them?’ asked Pascoe with interest.

‘In a way, yes. There’s good case-law here. The impulse to euthanasia is a strong one in all advanced civilisations.’ (p, 145)

Dalziel is angry when he finds out that Wield had involved a clairvoyant to help and Pascoe was talking to linguistic specialists and psychiatrists to help identify the killer. There are a lot of characters for the police to consider – Ellie’s feminist friends in the Women’s Rights Action Group, the members of the Aero Club, the fairground people and the local gypsies. By the time I got near the end of the book I had little idea of the identity of the murderer, but then with one sentence all was made clear. I just needed Pascoe, helped by Wield to work it out for me.

The 7th book in the series is Deadheads and I shall be reading that very soon, I hope.

These are the Dalziel and Pascoe books I’ve read so far:

1. A Clubbable Woman (1970) 
2. An Advancement of Learning (1971)
3. Ruling Passion (1973)
4. An April Shroud (1975)
5. A Pinch of Snuff (1978)
8. Exit Lines (1984)
11. Bones and Silence (1990) 
14. Pictures of Perfection (1993) – read, no post
17.On Beulah Height (1998) 
20. Death’s Jest Book(2002) 
21. The Death of Dalziel (2007)

The Winker by Andrew Martin

The Winker

Corsair| 6 June 2019| 272 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley|4 stars

I haven’t read anything by Andrew Martin before and as I began reading The Winker I found it decidedly odd and a bit creepy. I don’t like the cover at all and the title didn’t appeal to me either. But the description interested me:

London, 1976.

In Belgravia in the heat of summer, Lee Jones, a faded and embittered rock star, is checking out a group of women through the heavy cigarette smoke in a crowded pub. He makes eye contact with one, and winks. After allowing glances to linger for a while longer, he finally moves towards her.

In that moment, his programme of terror – years in the making – has begun.

Months later, the first of the many chilling headlines to come appears: ‘Police hunting winking killer.’

Meanwhile in France.

Charles Underhill, a wealthy Englishman living in Paris, has good reason to be interested in the activities of the so-called Winking Killer. With a past to hide and his future precarious, Charles is determined to discover the Winker’s identity.

In the overheating cities of London, Oxford, Paris and Nice, a game of cat and mouse develops, and catching someone’s eye becomes increasingly perilous. But if no one dares look, a killer can hide in plain sight . . .

From ‘a master of historical crime fiction’ (The Guardian), The Winker is a gripping thriller that won’t let you look away.

My thoughts:

I like the structure of this book. It is set in 1976 with flashbacks to 1951, in several locations, mainly London and Nice and sometimes in Paris and Oxford. Each time and place is clearly highlighted. The book is largely character-led. Lee Jones, a failed pop singer and psychopath is working on a ‘project’, nothing to do with music, aiming to achieve world-wide fame. He calls it a ‘programme’ and involves something he calls a ‘folder’ and his ‘trademark’. He is living in a fantasy world, accompanied by Abigail a journalist who intermittently interviews Lee. It was all a bit ambiguous at first and it took me a few pages to decide what I thought about Abigail and her role in the book. 

Then there is Charles Underhill, a man of about fifty,  living a self-imposed exile in France, because of an event in Oxford whilst he was a student there. He lives a very routine life in Paris with his mother Syl, except for his annual holiday in Nice. His routine is upset when he receives a postcard with a picture of the river at Oxford showing a boat full of university rowers, but no message on the back. When more unsigned postcards arrive he is worried that they are from Pat Price who was at the university with him in 1951.

In Nice Charles meets Howard Miller, a crime fiction writer. His first novel wasn’t a great success and he is looking for inspiration for his next novel, to prove to his father he wasn’t wasting his time. These three men are now set on a collision course as Charles offers to pay Howard for a couple of days work in Oxford to find out who had sent him the anonymous postcards. From that point onwards everything fell into place for me and I was hooked.

This is psychological crime fiction, you know right from the beginning who the ‘Winker’ is, but the precise method of the murders is not clear (at least not to me) until later in the book. And Charles’ secret is revealed quite early in the book. Neither Lee nor Charles are pleasant characters and this is decidedly a creepy tale, but it’s also a compelling one. Howard, on the other hand, is rather a naive character, who nevertheless gets to the bottom of the mystery. I loved the settings – they are so vivid and evocative of the 1970s; the places, the intense heat of the summer  of 1976, the people, their clothes, the hairstyles, sunglasses, cars, exotic cigarettes, and especially the music of the 70s, bring it all to life in technicolour. I think this is ripe for being made into a film.

Andrew Martin, a former Spectator Young Writer of the Year, grew up in Yorkshire. He has written for the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times, the Independent on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph, among others. His weekly column appears in the New Statesman and he is the author of numerous articles and books – of both fiction and non-fiction. For more information see his website.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

A thriller set in a world which has spun to a halt, bringing civilisation to the brink of collapse

The last day

Cornerstone| 6 February 2020| 432 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 5 stars

It’s not often I read dystopian fiction, a bit wary that I won’t like it, but I’m glad to say that I was fascinated by The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. I’m not sure about the plausibility of the concept but I was gripped by the story of a world coming to an end and the effects that had on the planet and the population.

A white dwarf star, the size of earth but two hundred thousand times as dense had barrelled through space, and travelling at two thousand kilometres a second its trajectory and gravity had dragged the earth backwards. The earth’s rotation had gradually slowed and eventually came to a full stop. Chaos followed, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and gales swept the earth’s surface, but gravity still functioned as the planet was still the same mass and exerted gravitational force. As the planet stopped on the dawning of the last day in 2029 the boundaries of day and night were locked in place, with a slender ring of borderlands that varied between total darkness and a fractional glimpse of light. Europe was in the constant light of the sun with an isolationist Britain on the warm side far enough in to raise crops but far enough out to still be habitable.

Set in 2059, thirty years after the earth had finally stopped spinning The Last Day presents a totalitarian world, and gives such a vivid picture of what life has become for the people who live on the burning sun side of the planet. There is, of course, no night, but there is a curfew during the ‘night’ hours.  I warmed to Ellen Hopper, a scientist working on a rig two hundred miles off the south-west coast of England in the North Atlantic, where it is always dawn, as she studies the ocean’s currents. She receives a letter from Dr Edward Thorne her old college tutor at Oxford who is dying. He has something important to tell her, information that would ruin the British government and that they would do anything to keep hidden. Prior to his appointment at Oxford he had  been a scientist and an adviser to the British Prime Minister, Richard Davenport, until he had been ignominiously sacked. 

What follows is Hopper’s search to discover the details of this secret, interspersed with flashbacks to her past and her family history, in particular about what happened to her parents, her relationship with her brother, who works in security, her fears that she shouldn’t trust him, and her ex-husband David. It is full of political intrigue and danger with a high body count and builds to a dramatic conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed it, was glued to the pages and by the end of the book I was convinced of the reality of this implausible world (at least I hope it is). 

Andrew Hunter Murray, is a writer and journalist from London. The Last Day is his first novel. when he’s not writing fiction he works for the TV show QI, as one of the ‘Elves’ finding out Quite Interesting facts about everything under the sun. He also co-hosts the podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, and write jokes and journalism for Private Eye, the UK’s leading satirical magazine. No Such Thing As A Fish has also led to a spin-off TV series, No Such Thing As The News, and three books co-written with his colleagues on the show – the Book Of The Year, The Book Of The Year 2018, and the Book Of The Year 2019.

He is already working on his next novel idea. I definitely want to read it when he’s finished it!

Many thanks to Cornerstone for a review copy via NetGalley.