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

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring 2020 TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

This week’s topic is Books On My Spring 2020 TBR. Some of these books have been on my shelves unread for a long time, some are new additions and others are e-books from NetGalley. These are just the tip of the iceberg and when the time comes to start a new book it might be one of these – or any of the other TBRs on shelves.

First the physical books

Spring 20 tbr

Deadheads by Reginald Hill, the 7th Dalziel and Pascoe novel. Patrick Alderman’s Great Aunt Florence collapsed into her rose bed leaving him Rosemont House with its splendid gardens. But was it murder?

Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoardo Albert, book 1 of 3 in the Northumbrian Thrones series. Historical fiction set in the 7th century-  Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper.

Sirens by Joseph Knox, the first Detective Aidan Waits thriller, set in Manchester. I’ve read books two and three, so it’s about time I read the first. It’s described on the back cover as a powerhouse of noir by Val McDermid.

The next two books are historical nonfiction:

As I’m currently reading Hilary Mantel’s third book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, it reminded me that I haven’t read historian, Tracy Borman’s biography of him – Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant.

Peterloo: the English Uprising by Robert Poole, about the ‘Peterloo massacre’ in St Peter’s field, Manchester on 16th August 1819 when armed cavalry attacked a peaceful rally of some 50,000 pro-democracy reformers. This is described on the back cover as a landmark event in the development of democracy in Britain – the bloodiest political event of the nineteenth century on English soil.

Next e-books

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor, book 4 in his James Marwood & Cat Lovett series, historical crime fiction set in Restoration England. I loved the first three books, so I have high hopes that I’ll love this one too. It will be published on 2 April.

The Lost Lights of St Kilda by Elisabeth Gifford, historical fiction, a love story that crosses oceans and decades. It’s set on a Scottish island in 1927 and in worn-torn France in 1940.

Fresh Water for Flowers by Valérie Perrin and translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle, to be published in June. A funny, moving, intimately told story of Violette, the caretaker of a cemetery who believes obstinately in happiness.

The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of classic mystery stories using scientific methods of detection.

The Deep by Alma Katsu, historical fiction set on the Titanic and its sister ship The Britannic. It’s a sinister tale of the occult. Anna Hebbley was a passenger on the Titanic who survived the 1912 disaster and four years later was a nurse on the Britannic, refitted as a hospital ship.

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.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Wolfe Island to Blue Lightning

It’s time again for 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.

Wolfe Island

This month the chain begins with Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island. It is a book I have not read but one I think I’d like. It’s about Kitty Hawke, the last inhabitant of a dying island sinking into the wind-lashed Chesapeake Bay. She has resigned herself to annihilation… until one night her granddaughter blows ashore in the midst of a storm, desperate, begging for sanctuary.

I’m beginning my chain with a book by another LucyThe Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley. It’s the story of Tom and Alice beginning in 1928 in Hertfordshire and moving backwards and forwards in time and place to 1986, from Paris, to London, Corsica and New York. It all revolves around Kate, whose mother, June, had recently died in a plane crash.

The Flight by M R Hall is also about a plane crash. When Flight 189 plunges into the Severn Estuary, Coroner Jenny Cooper finds herself handling the case of a lone sailor whose boat appears to have been sunk by the stricken plane, and drawn into the mysterious fate of a ten year-old girl, Amy Patterson, a passenger on 189, whose largely unmarked body is washed up alongside his.

There is also a coroner in A Rustle of Silk by Alyis Clare – set in 1603 when former ship’s surgeon Gabriel Taverner has settled in Devon near his family and he is trying to set up a new practice as a physician. But it is not easy to gain the locals’ trust and someone is leaving gruesome little gifts on his doorstep. The local coroner, Theophilus Davey asks him to examine a partially decomposed body found beside the river.

Another book with the word ‘silk’ in the title is The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz, a Sherlock Holmes continuation novel. It’s narrated by Watson as he looks back on two of the most puzzling and sinister cases he and Holmes had to solve November 1890 – that of The Man in the Flat Cap and The House of Silk. The first involves an art dealer, Mr Carstairs who is being threatened by a member of the American Flat Cap Gang, whereas the second concerns the murder of Ross, a new member of the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is my next link – the second book about the original Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson investigate the mystery Mary Morstan presents to them – it involves the murder of Bartholomew Sholto, the Agra treasure stolen during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and a secret pact between the four thieves – the ‘Four’ of the title, resulting in a chase down the River Thames in a super-fast steam launch.  I listened to an audiobook of the novel, narrated by Derek Jacobi.

My last link is another audiobookBlue Lightning by Ann Cleeves, the fourth in her Shetland books, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez. It completes the chain too by linking back to Wolfe Island because it is set on another island, Fair Isle where Perez returns to his family home with his fiancée Fran. A woman’s body is discovered at the Fair Isle’s bird observatory, with feathers threaded through her hair, but as a storm sets in, Far Isle is cut off leaving Perez with no support from the mainland. 

My chain is a circle beginning and ending with books set on islands. They move from Chesapeake Bay in the Mid-Atlantic region through mainland Britain to Shetland in the Northern Atlantic covering a variety of genres and time periods, including contemporary fiction, historical and crime fiction.

Next month (4 April 2020), we’ll begin with Anna Funder’s ‘classic on tyranny and resistance’ – Stasiland the winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2004.

My Friday Post: A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis

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.

A body in the bath house

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis is one of my current library loans. It’s historical crime fiction, a Marcus Didius Falco novel, an ‘informer with a nose for trouble’.

 

But for Rhea Favonia, we might have lived there.

‘There’s a smell! There’s a horrible smell. I’m not going in there!’

I didn’t need to be an informer to know we were stuck. When a four-year-old girl reckons she has detected something nasty, you just give in and look for it.

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:

‘Imagine Britain as a rough triangle.’ Helena had a letter in her hand, so well studied she hardly referred to it. ‘We are going to the middle of the long south coast. Elsewhere there are high chalk cliffs, but this area has a gentle coastline with safe anchorages in inlets. There are some streams and marshland but also wooded places for hunting and enough good farming land to attract settlers. The tribes have come down from their hillforts peacefully here. Noviomagus Regnensis – the New Market of the Kingdom Tribes – is a small town on the modern model.’

Noviomagus Regnensis was the Roman town which is today called Chichester, in the modern English county of West Sussex.

Blurb

AD 75. As a passion for home improvement sweeps through the Roman Empire, Falco struggles to deal with a pair of terrible bath-house contractors who have been causing him misery for months. Far away in Britain, King Togidubnus of the Atrebates tribe is planning his own makeover. His huge new residence (known to us as Fishbourne Palace) will be spectacular – but the sensational refurbishment is beset by ‘accidents’. The frugal Emperor Vespasian is paying for all this; he wants someone to investigate.

Falco has a new baby, a new house, and he hates Britain. But his feud with Anacrites the Chief Spy has now reached a dangerous level, so with his own pressing reasons to leave Rome in a hurry, he accepts the task. A thousand miles from home, he starts restoring order to the chaotic building site and realises that someone with murderous intentions is now after him…

~~~

Fishbourne Roman Palace is in the village of Fishbourne, Chichester in West Sussex. The palace is the largest residential Roman building discovered in Britain, dated 75 AD, around thirty years after the Roman conquest of Britain.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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.