Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

Ask Again Yes

Penguin Michael Joseph|3 October 2019|384 pages|e-book |Review copy|2*

Murder by Matchlight (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

A Golden Age Mystery

Murder by Matchlight

Poisoned Pen Press|5 March 2019|288 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

The Lying Room by Nicci French

Lying Room

 

Simon and Schuster UK|3 October 2019|432 pages|e-book |Review copy|3.5*

Six Degrees of Separation: from Three Women to …

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Three Women

 

This month the chain begins with Three Women by Lisa Taddeo – a book I haven’t read, or even heard of before. It’s described on Goodreads as Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting. I have no desire to read it.

My first link is to one of the books I’m currently reading – a biography of D H Lawrence, a man who believed himself to be an outsider in angry revolt against his class, culture and country, and who was engaged in a furious commitment to his writing and a passionate struggle to live according to his beliefs. He also struggled all his life with his relationships with women, particularly about those with his mother and his wife, Frieda.

Leading on from Lawrence’s biography my second link is to his book, Women in Love,  a book I first read as a teenager. It’s about the relationships of two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun. Ursula falls in love with Birkin (a self portrait of Lawrence) and Gudrun has an affair with Gerald, the son of the local colliery owner. Later on I watched the film version with Glenda Jackson as Gudrun, Oliver Reed as Gerald, Alan Bates as Birkin and Jennie Linden as Ursula. Lawrence considered this book to be his best and the one that clearly showed his ideas of society at the time (1922).

Moving on from a book about sisters, my third link is to a book about brothers. It’s The Lost Man by Jane Harper, set in an isolated part of Australia hundreds of miles from anywhere and revolving around the death of Cameron Bright. There are three Bright brothers – Nathan the oldest, then Cameron and the youngest brother, Bub. They have a vast cattle ranch in the Queensland outback. The book begins with the discovery of Cameron’s body lying at the the base of the headstone of the stockman’s grave – a headstone standing alone, a metre high, facing west, towards the desert, in a land of mirages.

My fourth link is to another book set in Australia – Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, a love story set in 19th century Australia, where the convicts, transported or ‘sent out‘ are  now called ‘old colonists‘. A story about prejudice – some people, those who had ‘come free‘,  thought being ‘sent out‘ meant you were tainted for all time, but for others having money and land overcame their distaste. And then there is the prejudice about the ‘blacks’. When Sarah, the daughter of William Thornhill, an ‘old colonist’ and now a landowner on the Hawkesbury River, falls in love with Jack Langland, whose mother was a native woman, racial prejudice and hatred rear their ugly heads.

Prejudice and racial tension is also uppermost in The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies, set in Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka) in 1913. It was a time of unrest, with political and racial tension between the Sinhalese and Tamil workers and the British plantation owners. After a whirlwind romance, Gwendolyn Hooper marries a tea planter, Laurence, an older man, and a widower. But this is not the idyllic life she expected – there are secrets, locked doors and a caste system and culture that is alien to her. There is a mystery, too, surrounding the death of Caroline, Laurence’s first wife.

And so to the last link, which is to another book about the death of a wife. It’s The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister – Gabe English has been released from prison on parole, having served seventeen years for the murder of his wife, Alexandra. But nobody really knew exactly what had happened the night Alexandra was killed – she simply went missing and then her body was found – she’d been strangled. Gabe’s daughter Izzy thought that her father could never have harmed anybody, let alone her mother. Now, he swears that he is innocent and wants to tell his side of it. He asks her to consider the evidence for herself. But is he really guilty – can she trust her father?

My chain is link by books about women, sisters and brothers, prejudice and racial tension, books set in Australia and about the deaths of wives. It passes from America to Great Britain,  and Sri Lanka, via books of crime fiction, historical fiction and non-fiction.

Next month (November 2, 2019), we’ll begin with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – a book I have read and loved.

My Friday Post: Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi

Book Beginnings Button

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.

Last week I bought Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi and I can’t resist starting it even though there are plenty of books in my TBR piles that I ‘should’ be reading. 
 
Black water lilies

Three women lived in a village.

The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third was an egoist.

Their village bore the pretty name of a garden, Giverny.

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

30879-friday2b56These 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.

Pages 56 -7:

He used to be an art teacher in the United States, he tells her. He never stops saying that she talks all the time, and even though she’s very gifted, she needs to be able to concentrate more. Like Monet did.

I’ve read one other book by Michel Bussi, Time is a Killer, which I really enjoyed and so I thought I’d like this one. It’s the story of a mystery, of thirteen days that begin with one murder and end with another. Jérôme Morval, a man whose passion for art was matched only by his passion for women, has been found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens at Giverny, where Monet did his famous paintings.

Have read this book? What did you think about it? And if you haven’t, would you keep on reading?

The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Vanished Bride

Hodder & Stoughton|12 September 2019|352 pages|e-book|Review copy|5*

From the Sunday Times-bestselling author of The Memory Book, Rowan Coleman, comes a special new series featuring the Brontë sisters, written under the name Bella Ellis

Yorkshire, 1845

A young woman has gone missing from her home, Chester Grange, leaving no trace, save a large pool of blood in her bedroom and a slew of dark rumours about her marriage. A few miles away across the moors, the daughters of a humble parson, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë are horrified, yet intrigued.

Desperate to find out more, the sisters visit Chester Grange, where they notice several unsettling details about the crime scene: not least the absence of an investigation. Together, the young women realise that their resourcefulness, energy and boundless imaginations could help solve the mystery – and that if they don’t attempt to find out what happened to Elizabeth Chester, no one else will.

The path to the truth is not an easy one, especially in a society which believes a woman’s place to be in the home, not wandering the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…

My thoughts:

When I first came across this book I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to read it, as I’m never very keen on books about famous authors solving crimes. However, the Brontë sisters books have been amongst my favourites for years and I was curious find out what this book was all about. So, I was delighted to find that I thoroughly enjoyed The Vanished Brideand that it is not all a flight of fancy, although of course the story of how they became ‘detectors’, or amateur sleuths, is pure imagination.

‘Bella Ellis’ is the Brontë inspired pen name for the author Rowan Coleman, who has been a Brontë devotee for most of her life. I haven’t read any of her other books but I’ll be looking out for them now. The Vanished Bride is historical fiction that brings the period (1845) and the setting vividly to life, Charlotte, Emily and Anne and their brother, Branwell becoming real people before my eyes in their home in the Parsonage at Howarth.

I think it helps that is not all pure fiction – in the Author’s Note she explains that it is based on biological facts or inspired by them. The book begins with a short passage in 1851 when Charlotte is alone in the Parsonage her sisters, brother and father had all died and she looks back to the year 1845 when they were all together. That is fact – and in the following September they began to consider writing for their living.

The mystery whilst it is well plotted is not to difficult to solve and I had predicted the basics of it quite early on in the book, although  I didn’t guess the full detail until much later on. But the real joy of the book is in the historical detail and the depiction of the characters and the insights given to their personalities through their conversation. The story is told through each of the sisters eyes, each one clearly distinctive, whilst Emily is the standout character. All three are clearly individuals, women caught in a society dominated by men and each wanting to lead independent lives. 

The book ends as a letter arrives for the sisters presenting a new case for them to investigate. Their curiosity is immediately ‘taking flight’ – and so is mine!

My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an e-book review copy via NetGalley

Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill

Ruling passion

HarperCollins|1993|388 pages|Paperback\ my own copy| 3.5* (rounded up to 4*)

Ruling Passion is Reginald Hill’s third Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in 1973, in which Pascoe finds his social life and work uncomfortably brought together by a terrible triple murder. Meanwhile, Dalziel is pressuring him about a string of unsolved burglaries, and as events unfold the two cases keep getting jumbled in his mind.

Peter Pascoe is the main character with Dalziel, his boss playing a minor role. Moving on from the second book where Pascoe had renewed his relationship with Ellie Soper, they are now a couple and friends from their university days, Colin and Rose Hopkins have invited them to stay for a weekend in the country at their cottage in the village of Thornton Lacey. They hadn’t seen them for more than five years and the other guests were also old friends, Timothy Mansfield and Charles Rushworth. (References here to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park)

However, Peter and Ellie didn’t arrive until the Saturday morning when they found a terrible scene – Timothy and Charles lying on the dining room floor in a pool of blood, dead from wounds caused by a shotgun fired at close range, and Rose was in the back garden lying dead at the base of a sundial in the centre of the lawn, her face pressed into the grass. Colin was nowhere to be seen – and the police, headed by Superintendent Backhouse, immediately assume he is the murderer. Peter for once is faced with being a witness rather than a detective and he doesn’t find it easy. He and Ellie are both convinced that Colin didn’t commit the murders – it’s a matter of finding him and proving Backhouse wrong.

As in the previous book, An Advancement of Learning, the plot is by no means straight forward and I found it rather confusing for a while, trying to remember who was who and where they fitted into the mystery. It’s not helped by the fact that the action moves between Thornton Lacey, Yorkshire and Scotland. It wasn’t only Peter who muddled the murder mystery with his unsolved burglaries – I did too. But it all became much clearer towards the end of the book as the connections between the storylines were made.

It’s the main characters though that interested me most and the development of their characters – Peter and Ellie in particular. Their relationship has moved on and during the course of the book they realise how deep their feelings for each other are – leading them into considering getting married. Peter recognises that he can be a very solitary man:

Solitariness was not far from loneliness and this he feared. He believed he could recognize similar characteristics in Ellie, but how good a basis for marriage this common area would be he could not speculate. Equally far from contemplation, however, was a life without Ellie. Which is as good a definition of love as I’m likely to get in a police station, he told himself. Motives for marriage are at least as varied and unexpected as motives for murder. That sounded like the kind of cold comfort Dalziel would doubtless offer! (page 325)

Whereas Peter and Ellie have now become more developed characters Dalziel still remains more of a caricature, rude, coarse and insensitive. But as Ellie gets to know him more so he becomes more human – and more likeable, with more understanding than she had previously thought. By the end of the book Peter, having passed his exams, is promoted to Inspector.

Reginald Hill wrote 24 Dalziel and Pascoe novels. I’ve now read the first and the last and some in between. Currently I’m reading my way through the rest of them – so book 4 is next on my list – An April Shroud.