My Friday Post: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

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.

I’m currently reading Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers, the second Lord Peter Wimsey book and one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Clouds of witness

 

Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice.

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.

Page 56:

From amid the mud and the fallen leaves he retrieved a tiny glittering object – a flash of white and green between his finger-tips.

It was a little charm such as women hang upon a bracelet – a diminutive diamond cat with eyes of bright emerald.

Blurb:

The Duke of Denver, accused of murder, stands trial for his life in the House of Lords.
Naturally, his brother Lord Peter Wimsey is investigating the crime – this is a family affair. The murder took place at the duke’s shooting lodge and Lord Peter’s sister was engaged to marry the dead man.
But why does the duke refuse to co-operate with the investigation? Can he really be guilty, or is he covering up for someone?

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Library Loans

Here are some of my current library books

Lib bks July 2019

  • Dolly by Susan Hill, sub-titled ‘A Ghost Story’, a novella set in the Fens where two young cousins, Leonora and Edward spend a summer at Iyot Lock, a large decaying house, with their ageing aunt.  I’ll be writing more about this book soon.
  • Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear, a Maisie Dobbs novel. This is no. 12 in the series (I’m not reading them in order). This one is set in 1938 when Molly travels into the heart of Nazi Germany.
  • The Trip to Jerusalem: an Elizabethan Mystery by Edward Marston, the 3rd book in the Nicholas Bracewell series about a troupe of players travelling England – not  to Jerusalem but to an ancient inn called The Trip to Jerusalem – whilst the Black Plague rages.
  • The Last Dance and other stories by Victoria Hislop. Ten stories set in Greece, described on the book cover as ‘bittersweet tales of love and loyalty, of separation and reconciliation’. I’ve recently enjoyed reading her latest book, Those Who Are Loved, also set in Greece, so my eye was drawn to this book.

The library van used to visit here once a fortnight, but now it only comes once a month. I hope it continues coming, but I fear that its days are numbered, so I make sure I use it whilst I still can.

Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way

Who killed Ruby

Harper Collins|30 May 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|3.5*

Ruby was murdered 32 years ago but her death still affects her family – Stella her mother, Vivienne her younger sister, and Cleo, Vivienne’s 13 year old daughter. Who Killed Ruby?  begins in a house in Peckham, London where the three of them are in shock, as a man lies dead on the kitchen floor. Whilst they wait for the police to arrive, Vivienne asks what they should tell them and Stella replies that they will tell them it is the man who murdered Ruby. This rather begs the question – is it?

The novel then rewinds two months describing the events that led up to that first scene and also reveals the events that led up to Ruby’s murder. It’s a complex tale told mainly from Vivienne’s point of view. She was just a child of eight when the murder happened and it was largely her testimony that convicted Jack Delaney, Ruby’s boyfriend. She had been alone in the house when she found her sister’s pregnant body splayed out on her bedroom floor. Jack has always protested his innocence and now he has been released from prison. But Vivienne is vague about the details of the murder, having blocked out her memories of what had happened and what she had seen. Plagued by nightmares ever since Ruby was killed, she is now terrified that Jack will come looking for her, wanting revenge.

The second viewpoint is Cleo’s. She is excited about the messages she’s exchanging online with Daniel, who she met on a gaming site. He tells her he is 14 and lives in Leeds. She lies to Vivienne about it and says that she is texting her friend Layla. Gradually Vivienne begins to remember what happened the day that Ruby died, but when Cleo disappears she becomes frantic, certain that Jack has taken her.

It is a tense and emotional mystery that kept me guessing to the very end. My suspicions about Cleo turned out to be partly correct, but as for who killed Ruby I was thrown off track by all the different characters who could be the culprit and I just couldn’t decide who I thought it could be. When the identity of the killer was revealed I was so surprised as it was someone I’d not even considered. I wasn’t convinced by some of the characters and thought they were too obviously there to confuse the reader. But overall I did enjoy the book. And I liked the emphasis on family relationships – particularly on the mother/daughter relationships.

Many thanks to the publishers, Harper Collins, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Bear Pit by S G MacLean

Bear Pit

Quercus/ 11 July 2019/Paperback/ 416 pages/ Review copy/ 5*

S G MacLean is one of my favourite authors of historical fiction, so I was delighted to read her latest book, The Bear Pit.  It is the fourth book in her Damien Seeker series, set during the Interregnum under Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. I’ve read the previous three books. Reading them takes me back to England in the 17th century, a time and a place full of danger and unrest, teeming with spies, exiles and assassins. Whilst I  was happy to read them as standalones, I think it would help to follow the progression of events if they are read in order.

This one begins in September 1656 as three men are waiting for Oliver Cromwell to emerge from Westminster Abbey on his way to the State Opening of Parliament in Parliament House. Their plan to assassinate Cromwell had been in preparation in Cologne and Bruges for a year and a half, but that day it was thwarted. However, they will not give up.

Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, works for John Thurloe, Cromwell’s Chief Secretary and spy master, in charge of the security of the regime, running a virtual secret service. Thurloe is floundering under all the reports from the Continent about plots against Cromwell’s life and to reinstate Charles Stuart as King. He tells Seeker until they have corroboration of the rumours they don’t have the time or capability to look into the matter. Not wanting to go against Thurloe’s orders, Seeker decides to take part in a raid on an illegal gaming house which ends with the discovery of the body of an elderly man chained to the wall by his neck and half eaten, obviously ravaged by a bear. But bear baiting had been banned and all the bears had been shot recently – or so it was claimed. Where had the bear come from and why was the man killed? And what connection, if any, does the murder have to the plots to kill Cromwell?

Like all good historical fiction The Bear Pit blends historical fact and fiction. There was indeed a plot to assassinate Cromwell in the autumn and winter of 1656 as described in the novel, whereas the mystery of the man killed by a bear and the subsequent search for the bear’s whereabouts are fictional. 

Some of the things I enjoy in this book are the return of characters from the earlier books -Sir Thomas Faithly, Lawrence Ingoldby, Manon, Marie Ellingworth, to mention just a few, and the glimpses we see of other historical figures – such as John Evelyn, a young Samuel Pepys, the poet Andrew Marvell as well as John Milton and one of my favourite historical figures when I was at school – Prince Rupert of the Rhine. I was fascinated by the details of The Cabinet of Curiosities, assembled by John Tradescant and his son, in Tradescant’s Garden in South Lambeth. In her Author’s Note S G MacLean states that these were indeed, very much in existence and were open for business as well as being a public attraction. The remains of the collection are held in Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. 

S G MacLean is a wonderful storyteller and her books are full of authentic detail skilfully interwoven in the stories without holding up the action. The Bear Pit is a fast-paced book, full of action and danger and wonderful characters, especially in the figure of Damien Seeker. He is the hero of the book – strong, dedicated to his work, indefatigable in his search of the truth and loyal to his friends and colleagues. The atmospheric setting complements the plot – the streets of London in winter, the cold, fog and damp and in particular Bankside in Southwark and the eerie atmospheric wastes of Lambeth Marsh. I was completely absorbed in the book. I found it compelling reading both the murder mystery and the assassination plot gripped me and I raced through it, eager to find out what happened. I was absolutely incredulous at the ending though, but it does give me hope that there may be fifth Damian Seeker novel.

Many thanks to the publishers, Quercus, for my review copy via NetGalley.

First Chapter First Paragraph: Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

This week I’m featuring Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way, a book I hope to read very soon.

Who killed Ruby

They stand there, the three of them, looking at the dead man, his blood creeping slowly across the floor. Despite the savagery of his death the room is very still, almost peaceful after the violence that led to this.

Soon the police will come. They will charge into this nice expensive kitchen in this rather lovely London townhouse with their boots, their batons, their loud authority, and will want to know what happened, whom to hold responsible.

It’s Vivienne who speaks first. ‘What will we do?’ she asks, her teeth chattering with shock. ‘What will we tell them?’

The seconds slip by slowly until her mother at last replies. ‘We will tell them that this is the man who murdered Ruby,’ she says.

Blurb 

If you passed it on the street, you’d see an ordinary London townhouse.

You might wonder about the people who live there, assume they’re just like you.

But inside a family is trapped in a nightmare. In the kitchen, a man lies dead on the blood-soaked floor. Soon the police will come, and they’ll want answers.

Perhaps they’ll believe the family’s version of events – that this man is a murderer who deserved to die.

But would that be the truth?

~~~

I haven’t read any of Camilla way’s books, but I’m hoping this one will be good.

If you’ve read it I’d love to know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, does it tempt you too?

Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill

Beneath the surface

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|11 July 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|4*

I loved Fiona Neill’s novel The Betrayals, so I had high expectations for Beneath the Surface, another family drama. It’s set in the Fens, where Patrick and Grace Vermuyden and their two daughters, teenager Lilly and ten year old Mia, are living in badly built, damp and draughty house. Grace says it’s because the marshland beneath is reclaiming the land. It’s not just the land and the house that cause the problems the family face. They’re a dysfunctional family, all of them keeping their secrets well hidden from each other – as the subtitle indicates: Everyone Lies.

Patrick’s in debt, Grace keeps the tragedy of her childhood to herself, wanting her daughters to have the happy childhood denied to her, Lilly seems to have everything going for her, a clever girl who looks set to do well and go to university, until she suffers a seizure and collapses at school. Whilst Lilly spends time in hospital as they try to discover what is the cause of her illness Grace discovers to her great dismay that Lilly has been living a secret life.

As for Mia, she is a problem child and always in trouble at school. Her only friend is Tas, who lives in a caravan on the Travellers’ site.  She’s an eccentric child with a vivid imagination, who keeps an eel she calls Elvis, in a bucket in her bedroom and she has a knack of saying the most inappropriate remarks at the wrong time. At times I really didn’t like her much – especially for keeping the eel in captivity and also because of the barefaced lies she sometimes tells. And it is Mia’s actions, for ever wildly thinking up reasons for what is going on around her that add to their problems.  Even as she tries to put things right everything just seems to get worse.

Beneath the Surface is an emotionally charged novel about the burden of keeping secrets and the effects that misunderstandings and lies can have. In parts I found the story weighed down with words, but I was gripped by it and anxious for all the characters as it seemed they were in an ever decreasing spiral of disastrous events. After quite a slow start it gradually builds to a dramatic climax that took me totally by surprise. 

Many thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark

House by the loch

Two Roads|19 June 2019|384 pages|Review e-book copy|4*

I loved Kirsty Wark’s debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, so I was keen to read her second book, The House by the Loch. I enjoyed it very much. It’s a beautifully written family saga covering three generations. It has a strong sense of place and goes deep within the characters’ inner lives, hopes and fears. And as mysteries and secrets, losses and tragedy are gradually revealed I became totally absorbed by the story. At times immensely sad it is also uplifting. It’s set in Galloway in Scotland, south of Ayr near the Galloway Hills, mainly around Loch Doon.

The House by the Loch begins when ten-year-old Walter MacMillan witnessed a Spitfire crashing into Loch Doon in October 1941, based on a real incident. It was something he never forgot and he built a cairn as a memorial to the pilot. The narrative switches between the 1950s and the present day, telling of Walter’s marriage to Jean, a vibrant young woman when he first met her, his relationship with his children, Patrick and Fiona, and his grandchildren, Carson, Iona and Pete. They all have their problems and difficulties within their relationships, but matters come to a head one weekend when there is another tragedy in the loch.

This is a book that you need to take your time reading, a book to savour and reflect upon at leisure. It has a slow meditative pace as the beautiful scenery of the Galloway landscape unfolds in front of your eyes. But it is the characters themselves that kept me turning the pages, centred on Walter and his granddaughters Carson and Iona. Walter is an immensely patient man, but he was unprepared for the effect living in isolation in the house by the Loch had on Jean, who came to see it as a prison, and on their marriage and children.

Even the minor characters came across to me as real people – Edith, for example, Jean’s mother, an elegant beautiful woman who couldn’t leave her house and garden, feeling she might collapse, and her father brash businessman Billy. Then there are Marie, who helped Jean when she couldn’t look after Carson and Iona, Fiona, who struggled with her marriage, Elinor, Patrick’s wife and her sister, Meg and also Walter’s cousins who only come into the story in the latter part of the book.

Kirsty Wark’s love of Scotland comes over very strongly in this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of family sagas I’d read years ago – books that swept me along as the secrets of earlier generations impact on their descendants. It’s about family relationships, happiness, love, loss and heartbreak.

About Kirsty Wark

She is a journalist, broadcaster and writer who has presented a wide range of BBC programmes over the past thirty years, from the ground-breaking Late Show to the nightly current affairs show Newsnight and the weekly Arts and Cultural review and comment show, The Review Show. Her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, was published in March 2014 by Two Roads and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award, as well as nominated for the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Her second novel, The House by the Loch, has been inspired by her childhood memories and family, particularly her father. Born in Dumfries and educated in Ayr, Scotland, Kirsty now lives in Glasgow.

Many thanks to the publishers, Two Roads, for my review copy via NetGalley.