Throwback Thursday: The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter

Today I’m looking back at my post on The Remorseful Day by Colin Dexter, the last Inspector Morse book. I first reviewed it on August 2, 2015.

My review begins:

Chief Inspector Morse is one of my favourite fictional detectives (maybe even the favourite). I first ‘met’ him years ago in the ITV series Inspector Morse and so, just as Joan Hickson is forever in my mind as Miss Marple and David Suchet is Poirot, John Thaw is Morse. The series was first broadcast in 1987, but I don’t intend to write about the books versus the TV adaptations – I’ve enjoyed both. This post is just about the last book in the series – The Remorseful Day.

Click here to read my full review

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The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for September 29, 2022.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison

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. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

Yesterday I finished reading Shrines of Gaiety, Kate Atkinson’s new book which will be published in September. I’ll write about it in a later post. Although I’m still reading The Return of the King and The Island, I wondered what I’d like to read next. I was thinking of reading  Lion by Conn Iggulden, the first in a new series ‘The Golden Age’, set in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC. But, today I wasn’t in the mood for ancient historical fiction and fancied something more rural and more modern – and spotted All Among the Barley in a pile of books waiting to be read. It’s set on a farm in Suffolk just before the Second World War.

Prologue

Last night I lay awake again, remembering the day the Hunt ran me down in Hulver Wood when I was just a girl.

And then Chapter 1:

My name is Edith June Mather and I was born after the end of the Great War. My father, George Mather, had sixty acres of arable land known as Wych Farm; it is somewhere not far from here, I believe. Before him my grandfather Albert farmed the same fields, and his father before him, who ploughed with a team of oxen and sowed by hand.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

Unlike Doble, whose family had been tied to ours for generations, John was what we in the village called a ‘furriner’, having been born sixty miles or more north of us, where our clay gave way to flat, rich peat.

Synopsis from Amazon:

WINNER OF THE EU PRIZE FOR LITERATURE

‘BOOK OF THE YEAR’ NEW STATESMAN, OBSERVER, IRISH TIMES, BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE

The fields were eternal, our life the only way of things, and I would do whatever was required of me to protect it.


The autumn of 1933 is the most beautiful Edie Mather can remember, though the Great War still casts a shadow over the cornfields of her beloved home, Wych Farm.

When charismatic, outspoken Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to write about fading rural traditions, she takes an interest in fourteen-year-old Edie, showing her a kindness she has never known before. But the older woman isn’t quite what she seems.

As harvest time approaches and pressures mount on the whole community, Edie must find a way to trust her instincts and save herself from disaster.

I chose this book because earlier this year I enjoyed Melissa Harrison’s novella, Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, which is about four rain showers, in four seasons, across Wicken Fen, Shropshire, the Darent Valley and Dartmoor. I like the way she writes about the natural world and All Among the Barley looks as though it will bring to life a world governed by the old rural traditions, in an evocation of place and a lost way of life.

What do you think? Have you read this book ?

Nucleus by Rory Clements

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Zaffre| January 2018| 453 pages| Hardback| My own copy| 5 stars

Nucleus by Rory Clements is the second book in his Tom Wilde series (the full list is at the end of this post). I have been reading them out of order, as I came across them. I think I’d have understood the relationship of the characters better if I had read the series in order from the start, but that has not stopped me from enjoying them.

Blurb

WINNER OF THE CWA HISTORICAL DAGGER 2018.
The eve of war: a secret so deadly, nothing and no one is safe

June 1939. England is partying like there’s no tomorrow . . . but the good times won’t last. The Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, in Germany Jewish persecution is widespread and, closer to home, the IRA has embarked on a bombing campaign.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, in Germany Otto Hahn has produced man-made fission and an atomic device is now possible. German High Command knows Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is also close, and when one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is drawn into the investigation. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin, and from the US to Ireland, can he discover the truth before it’s too late?

I’ve found this quite a difficult book to summarise as there are various elements to the plot. I think the publishers’ blurb merely skims the surface, but to go into detail would give away too much. With several plot lines, this is a mix of historical fact and fiction, set in 1939 when England and Germany are on the brink of war. It is a fast-paced and gripping book, involving murder, IRA bombers, and espionage, with many twists and turns

In Nazi Germany Jews are in fear of their lives, trying to leave the country. Some have made it to England and America. In both countries the race is on to develop an atomic bomb.

There’s a large cast of characters – the main one being Tom Wilde, an American professor of history at Cambridge University, who has returned from America after a meeting with President Roosevelt. There he was asked to liaise with two Americans in England, Colonel Dexter Flood and also to keep an eye on Milt Hardman, an American millionaire who is staying at Old Hall in Cambridgeshire with his family.

And so Wilde is drawn into Hardman’s world, meeting a Hollywood actress, drinking champagne, playing tennis, and partying. And then he soon finds himself having to deal with an increasingly complex situation when one of the Cavendish scientists, an introverted genius who was due to move to America to work with Oppenheimer, is found drowned in the River Cam, and then another one goes missing.

Meanwhile Albert, Eva Haas’ young son is also missing, apparently having been abducted from a Kindertransport train. Eva is a German Jewish physicist, who along with Arnold Lindberg, an elderly scientist rescued from Dachau, has arrived in Cambridge. Lydia, who is Tom’s neighbour and lover is a friend of Eva’s. She was to meet Albert in England and goes to Berlin to try to find out what has happened to him. There she is helped by Bertha Bracey and Frank Foley (real-life heroes). Bertha was working to rescue German Jewish children, organising Kindertransports, finding homes and schools for the children in Britain, and Frank, who was MI6’s top spy in Berlin. He broke all the rules to make sure as many Jewish people had visas to leave the country, saving many thousands of people.

I was totally immersed in the plot. It’s full of danger and action, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned much – not only about atomic fission, but also about the situation in Germany leading up to the Second World War – I hadn’t heard of the work of Bertha Bracey and Frank Foley before.

I’ve read three of Rory Clements’ books in his Tom Wilde series, with links to my posts:

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Island by Victoria Hislop

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. You can also share from a book you want to highlight just because it caught your fancy.

I’m currently reading The Island by Victoria Hislop, a book I’ve had on my bookshelves for years. The Wanderlust Bingo challenge has given me a massive nudge to read it now as it is the perfect book for the Island category! It is historical fiction inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, an island off the coast of Crete, a stone’s throw from Plaka. I’ve now read 25% of this book and am enjoying it so far.

Plaka, 1953

A cold wind whipped through the streets of Plaka and the chill of the autumnal air encircled the woman, paralysing her body and mind with a numbness that almost blocked her senses but could do nothing to alleviate her grief.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 57 (page 56 is blank):

1939

Early May brings Crete its most perfect and heaven-sent days. On one such day, when the trees were heavy with blossom and the very last of the mountain snows had melted into crystal streams, Elena left the mainland for Spinalonga. In cruel contrast to this blackest of events, the sky was brilliant, a cloudless blue

Synopsis from Amazon:



On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion.

She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip…

I’ve read three other books by Victoria Hislop and enjoyed them so I’m expecting this one to be good too.

What do you think? Have you read this book ?

The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk

Random House UK, Transworld| 9 June 2022| e-book, print length 355 pages| Review copy| 4*

Synopsis from Amazon

In 1754, renowned maker of clocks and automata Abel Cloudesley must raise his new-born son Zachary when his wife dies in childbirth.

Growing up amongst the cogs and springs of his father’s workshop, Zachary is intensely curious, ferociously intelligent, unwittingly funny and always honest—perhaps too honest. But when a fateful accident leaves six-year-old Zachary nearly blinded, Abel is convinced that the safest place for his son is in the care of his eccentric Aunt Frances and her menagerie of weird and wonderful animals.

So when a precarious job in Constantinople is offered to him, Abel has no reason to say no. A job presented to him by a politician with dubious intentions, Abel leaves his son, his workshop and London behind. The decision will change the course of his life forever.

Since his accident, Zachary is plagued by visions that reveal the hearts and minds of those around him. A gift at times and a curse at others, it is nonetheless these visions that will help him complete a journey that he was always destined to make—to travel across Europe to Constantinople and find out what happened to his father all those years ago.

With a Dickensian cast of characters that are brilliantly bonkers one moment and poignant the next, Sean Lusk’s debut will take listeners on an immersive journey into the wonders of the world of Zachary Cloudesley.

I’ve enjoyed novels about clockwork and automata inventions before, so I was hoping Sean Lusk’s debut novel, The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley would be just as enjoyable – and it is. It’s a mixture of historical fact and fantasy set in the 18th century, in London and in Constantinople.

It follows the events in Zachary’s life from his birth in London, brought up two strong-minded women, surrounded by the clocks and clockwork automata in his father’s workshop, to his teenage years, when he travelled to Constantinople in search of his father, Abel. Zachary, an intelligent and gifted child, who had visions of future events, had an unusual most unusual life – as indeed, did Abel.

For me this book was as much about Abel as about Zachary and I loved the rich descriptions and all the detail that Lusk packed into his book. It did slow the action down at times, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all. The characters are fabulous, the settings are beautifully described and the historical background is fascinating.

Lusk begins his book with an extensive note about Ottoman heirachy in the mid eighteenth century and ends it with a section of Historical and Other Notes explaining that his inspiration to write his novel came when he discovered an eighteenth century Ottoman clock made in England, in a shop in Istanbul. He finally produced his book after several years of research into clockmaking, Anglo-Ottoman relations and other 18th century matters, and having spent numerous hours in the British Library. He also includes a list of books for further reading. It is a remarkable book on a grand scale that entertained me enormously. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Sean Lusk.

About Sean Lusk

Sean Lusk is an award-winning short story writer, winner of the Manchester Fiction Prize, the Fish Short Story Prize and runner-up in the Bridport and Tom-Gallon Trust prizes. He has lived in Greece, Pakistan and Egypt, working variously as a gardener, speechwriter and diplomatic official. He now lives near Forres on the Moray Firth. The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is his debut novel.

My thanks to Random House, UK for a review copy via NetGalley.

The Key in the Lock by Beth Underdown

Penguin UK| 13 January 2022| 283 pages| e-book| Review copy/4*

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

I still dream, every night, of Polneath on fire. Smoke unravelling from an upper window, and the terrace bathed in a hectic orange light…. Now I see that the decision I made at Polneath was the only decision of my life. Everything marred in that one dark minute.

By day, Ivy Boscawen mourns the loss of her son Tim in the Great War. But by night she mourns another boy – one whose death decades ago haunts her still.

For Ivy is sure that there is more to what happened all those years ago: the fire at the Great House, and the terrible events that came after. A truth she must uncover, if she is ever to be free.


From the award-winning author of The Witchfinder’s Sister comes a captivating story of burning secrets and buried shame, and of the loyalty and love that rises from the ashes.

My thoughts:

The Key in the Lock is Beth Underdown’s second book. I read her first book The Witchfinder’s Sister (my review) and enjoyed it immensely, so I had high expectations that I’d enjoy this book too – and it fully met my expectations. It is historical fiction set between two periods 1888 and 1918 in Cornwall.

It captures both time periods, reflecting the society both before and after the First World War showing the changes that the war had made. I loved the slow pace of this book as the secrets surrounding the death of William, the seven year old son of Edward Tremain in 1888 in a fire at Polneath, and that of Ivy’s son, Tim, on the battlefields of France are gradually revealed.

Both stories are shrouded in mystery as the circumstances of how William and Tim died are by no means clear. Ivy is devastated by Tim’s death and is determined to discover what actually happened to him, the letter informing them of his death was not phrased in the normal form of words. She wondered why.

It brought back painful memories of little William’s death. The fire at Polneath had started at night when everyone had gone to bed. William had been in the maid’s room, not his own bedroom when he had died. The postmortem revealed that he had died from asphyxiation by inhaling the smoke. Found under the bed, with paint from the door under William’s fingernails and bruised hands, it appeared that he must have been locked in and yet when he was found the door was standing open. The conclusion was that at some point the door had been locked – and later unlocked by a person or persons unknown.

The events surrounding each death are gradually revealed and there are plenty of secrets that come to light. It is described as a ‘gothic’ novel, but apart from the setting in an old isolated house, that had once been an ancient manor house, I didn’t find it gothic at all. It is a complicated story and at times I had to go back to make sure I’d got the facts right. I really liked Ivy and I liked the way her character is shown to develop with the passage of time. I loved the details about the attitudes to the First World War and the change from the earlier period. This is a novel full of grief and the circumstances surrounding both deaths provide an element of mystery. I loved the way the two time periods were interlocked as the novel progressed. I was fully engaged in it and I’ll be looking out for Beth Underdown’s next book.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Synopsis from Amazon:

For years, rumors of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of how Kya, the youngest child of five, grew up, living in a rundown shack in the marshlands in North Carolina. At the age of seven, her mother left home, then her older brothers and sisters also left, leaving her alone with her father, a violent drunkard. He then also abandoned her. It is also a murder mystery and these two strands interweave throughout the book. I wrote about the opening of this book in this Book Beginnings and The Friday 56 post.

Left alone, Kya survived with help from Jumpin’, the general store owner, who lived in Colored Town and his wife, Mabel, and also from Tate, an older boy who taught her to read and write – she only went to school for one day and after that she managed to hide from the school truant officer. Thinking about it after reading the book I did find the story of Kya’s early years rather unbelievable – the fact that such a young child managed to survive independently and that no one paid more attention to the disappearance of her mother and father bothered me. But, as I was reading it seemed plausible and it certainly did not lessen my enjoyment of the book.

I loved the setting, in an area completely unknown to me, beautifully described by Delia Owens. The details of the marshlands, in the coastal region of North Carolina, its wildlife, flora and fauna brought the setting to life for me. I liked the way that Kya gradually began to trust a few people, letting them into her life – she couldn’t have survived physically or emotionally otherwise. Her interest in her surroundings, encouraged by Tate, led to amazing things for her. So much so that she became an expert on the natural world around her.

But, when Chase Andrews, a handsome sporting hero adored by the other teenage girls, pursues her, she believes him when he promises to marry her, only to discover from the local newspaper that he was engaged to marry someone else. Later when Chase is found dead she is suspected of his murder. The latter part of the book became a courtroom drama that didn’t quite live up to the earlier part of the book for me. And before the end It became increasingly clear to me just who had killed Chase.

This is a story of loneliness and of the effects of rejection – a story of survival and the power of love combined with a murder mystery, and full of fascinating characters that had me racing through its pages. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

And for those like me who didn’t know the meaning of the saying, ‘where the crawdads sing’ this is how Tate explained it to Kya when she asked him:

‘What d’ya mean, where the crawdads sing? Ma used to say that.’ Kya remembered Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: ‘Go as far as you can – way out yonder where the crawdads sing.’

‘Just means far in the bush where critters are wild, still behaving like critters.’ (page 111)

  • Publisher: ‎ Corsair, 2019
  • Language: ‎ English
  • Paperback: ‎ 370 pages
  • Source: a library book
  • My rating: 4*

New Additions to BooksPlease June 2022

Yesterday we went Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop. This is a secondhand bookshop where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves. It’s back to ‘normal’ now, so there was no queue to get in, although they are still limiting the number of books you can take in.

These are the books I brought home – from top to bottom they are:

Hemingway’s Chair by Michael Palin, a comic novel about Martin, an assistant postmaster who is obsessed with Ernest Hemingway. But when Nick arrives and is appointed postmaster instead of Martin, Martin’s life is turned upside down and he plans the ultimate Hemingwayesque act of revenge.

The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives edited by Mike Ashley, published in 1995 this anthology includes stories from the earliest locked-room mystery (35,000 BC), through ancient Rome and China to medieval England, the Wild West, the Indian Raj and Victoriam London. It’s arranged chronologically and includes stories by R L Stevenson, Ellis Peters, Peter Tremayne, Steven Saylor and others new to me.

Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud. I remember seeing this on book blogs a while ago and thought it looked interesting. Set in 1914 on the Suffolk coast just as war with Germany is declared, this is a story of an unlikely friendship between a mysterious artist the locals call Mr Mac (Charles Rennie Macintosh)n and Thomas the crippled son of the village publican.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt, another book I’ve spotted on some book blogs. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. It’s described on the inside cover as ‘an unforgettable comic tour de force. Filled with a remarkable list of characters – losers, cheaters, and ne’er-do-wells’ … ‘it captures the humour, melancholy and grit of the Old West and two brothers bound by blood, violence and love.

All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison – I enjoyed her book, Rain: Rour Walks in English Weather, so I’m keen to read this one, the winner of the EU Prize for Literature and the ‘Book of the Year’ New Statesman, Observer, Irish Times, BBC History Magazine. Set on a farm in Suffolk just before the Second World War, it introduces a girl on the cusp of adulthood. Glamorous outsider Constance FitzAllen arrives from London, determined to make a record of fading rural traditions and beliefs, and to persuade Edie’s family to return to the old ways rather than embrace modernity. She brings with her new political and social ideas – some far more dangerous than others. (Goodreads)

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?

Throwback Thursday: Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop

Today I’m looking back at my post on Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop. I first reviewed it on June 15, 2019.

My review begins:

Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is one of the most moving novels I’ve read for a long time. But it begins slowly and it was only at about the halfway stage that it really took off for me. And now I’ve come to write about it I’m finding it difficult to put into words just how exceptional I think it is. Whatever I write will not do it justice – it really is ‘an epic tale of an ordinary woman compelled to live an extraordinary life‘.

It is historical fiction ‘set against the backdrop of the German occupation of Greece, the subsequent civil war and a military dictatorship, all of which left deep scars.’

Click here to read my full review

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The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for August 4, 2022.

The Chapel in the Woods by Dolores Gordon-Smith

Severn House| 1 March 2022| 256 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

The Chapel in the Woods is the 11th Jack Haldean Murder Mystery, set in the 1920s.

Major Jack Haldean, a former World War I pilot, is a detective story writer. He and his wife Betty are visiting his cousin Isabelle and her husband Arthur in the hamlet of Croxton Abbas in Sussex. The neighbouring estate, Birchen Bower, had recently been bought by Canadian Tom Jago and his wife Rosalind. A fortnight earlier he had sent Derek Martin and his wife, Jean, in advance to open up the house and unpack their belongings, but when the Jagos arrive they discover the house open and that most of their things including Rosalind’s diamonds had been stolen. And the Martins have disappeared. But Jago can’t believe that Martin is the thief, maintaining he is perfectly honest. Jack has formerly helped his friend Detective Superintendent Ashley of the Sussex Police with a number of cases and as he is staying locally he gets involved in the police investigations.

Jago is renovating the 17th century house, built around 1620, by William Cayden, set in woodland. The chapel in the woods contains the tomb of Anna, Cayden’s wife who was a native of Peru. Her tomb, a box tomb, is decorated with an elaborately carved leaping jaguar – hence the legend of the Jaguar Princess who haunts the chapel and grounds taking the form of a jaguar.

It gets more and more complicated. In the Victorian period Josiah Cayden, an explorer and big game hunter had imported wild animals from South America, wanting to recreate a piece of the Amazon in the grounds. And now the locals are convinced that there is something in the woods that shouldn’t be there. There have been stories about dead and mutilated animals being found around Birchen Bower woods, and every so often dogs and ponies go missing. So, when Jago hosts the village fete, the local residents throng to the estate, some keen to follow the path into the woods to visit the chapel, only to find a dead body, apparently mauled by a jaguar.

And then there is another body … Is there really a jaguar roaming the woods, or is something supernatural going on? And who stole the diamonds, was it Derek Martin or someone else? Where is Derek Martin? What is the truth about the legend of the Jaguar Princess?

It is entertaining, with a mysterious, even supernatural atmosphere in parts, but it all seems to me too unlikely and fanciful and too convoluted. I liked the setting, the scenes in the woodlands and the historical aspects. But, there is too much repetition of the events and too much discussion about the various possibilities. I lost interest and just wanted to know how the mystery was resolved. It all gets sorted out and ends as Jack explains how he uncovered what had really happened.

My thanks to Severn House for a review copy via NetGalley.