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?

Library Loans 27 February 2020

The mobile library van visit was this week and I borrowed these books:

Library bks Feb 2020

The Mystery of Princess Louise by Lucinda Hawksley, subtitled Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter. On the back cover it says that this is ‘packed with intrigues, scandals and secrets’. I know very little about Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s sixth child, so I’m keen to find out about her. From the opening page I’ve already found out she was a friend to artists, such as Dante Rossetti, James Whistler and John Millais and that she was a sculptor.

Caught Out in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho. I’ve read two of her books before. This is the seventh book in her Rose Trevelyan series of mysteries, in which she sees four year old Beth Jones being carried away from the beach at Marazion by someone she assumes is her father. But her mother insists he is a stranger.

A Body in the Bath House by Lindsey Davis the 13th book in her Marcus Didio Falco series of historical crime fiction mysteries. It’s set in Rome and Britain in AD 75. Falco is Britain and he hates it. A thousand miles from home he realises someone with murderous intentions is after him.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. A while ago I kept seeing reviews of this book and wondered about reading it, so when I saw it on the library van shelves I decided to see what it’s like for myself. It’s a murder mystery set in a remote hunting lodge in the Scottish wilderness where old friends gather for New Year. The description makes me wonder if it is like In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware about a group of friends who spend a weekend in a remote cottage and everything goes wrong. I’m not sure I’ll like it …

I think I’ll start with The Mystery of Princess Louise – a friend borrowed it before me and said it’s very good, but first I’ll have to finish The Sleepwalker by Joseph Knox, his latest instalment in the Detective Aidan Waits series.

My Friday Post: The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies

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.

The Ghost of Lily Painter is by Caitlin Davies and I want to read it because it looks good, a blend of fact and fiction based on true events. I also want to read it as I’ve recently read Happy Old Me by Hunter Davies and he mentions in it that his daughter, Caitlin, is an author (like his wife Margaret Forster), with ten books published. I love Margaret Forster’s books, so I thought I’d see what her daughter’s books are like.

The Ghost of Lily Painter

It is a bitter winter’s evening and the little girl is in her bedroom standing confidently before her mirror. The mirror is affixed to the wall at such a height that she has to tiptoe herself up to see her body entirely, but then, how dramatically she tilts her head. How regally she nods at her reflection as she pulls at the wispy black feathers of the wrap that hangs loosely around her shoulders.

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:

I didn’t know she still had this lizard. Ben gave it to her from the inside of his Christmas cracker last year. It’s a tiny cheap thing, green and yellow with a rubbery stickiness, but she’s kept it all this time and here she is talking to it like it’s precious. She won’t talk to me about her day, but she will tell a little green lizard.

Blurb

The first time Annie Sweet sees 43 Stanley Road, the house is so perfect she almost feels as though it has chosen her. But with her husband seeming more distant, and her daughter wrapped up in her friends and new school, Annie is increasingly left alone to mull over the past.

She soon becomes consumed by the house and everyone who has lived there before her, especially a young music hall singer called Lily Painter, whose sparkling performances were the talk of London. As Annie delves further into the past she unravels the case of two notorious baby farmers, who cruelly preyed on vulnerable unmarried mothers. And until she solves the mystery at the heart of the scandal, the ghost of Lily Painter will never be able to rest.

Basing her story on true events, Caitlin Davies skilfully blends fact and fiction to bring to life part of our sinister past. Spanning an entire century, from the journals of an Edwardian police inspector to a doomed wartime love affair, The Ghost of Lily Painter is a gripping and poignant novel.

~~~

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Library Loans 24 January 2020

I regularly borrow books from the library, although I haven’t written about them for a few months. These are the ones I have on loan at the moment:

Lib loans Jan 2020

The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble. This novel was on the mobile library van shelves and caught my eye because I’ve enjoyed the other books by her that I’ve read. Anna is a child of special, unknowable qualities. She is happy, always willing to smile at the world around her, but she also presents profound challenges. For her mother Jess, still in her early 20s, her arrival will prove life-transforming.

Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn, non-fiction about Henry VII. I reserved this after FictionFan recommended it, describing it as: ‘very detailed but well written and not too academic in tone‘. Hilary Mantel is quoted on the cover: ‘Compelling … Fascinating‘. With two such recommendations how could I resist reading it? So I was delighted to find the library has a copy.

The Last Ragged Breath by Julia Keller, the 4th book in her Bell Elkin’s mystery series set in West Virginia. I haven’t read any of her books before but I was reading about her latest book on Kay’s Reading Life and found this book on the shelves when I went to the library yesterday. Royce Dillard doesn’t remember much about the day his parents-and one hundred and twenty-three other souls-died in the 1972 Buffalo Creek disaster. But now Dillard, who lives off the grid with only a passel of dogs for company, is fighting for his life one more time: He’s on trial for murder.

Happy Old Me:How to Live a Long Life and Really Enjoy It by Hunter Davies. This is another book I reserved. Davies is the editor of The John Lennon Letters (which I’m currently reading) and the author of Wainwright: The Biography (which my husband is currently reading and I want to read it too). This is his third autobiographical book, described on the book sleeve as ‘part memoir, part self-help … a moving, uplifting and often amusing account of one year in Hunter Davies’ life, navigating bereavement and finding hope for the future.‘ I’m currently reading it and so far (up to chapter 4) I’m loving it.

I love libraries and have used them all my life (well from the age of 3). At the moment the library service is carrying out a survey about our use of the libraries, how often we borrow books etc, etc  – and especially about our use of the mobile library service, and I fear that cutbacks may follow, so I make sure I use the libraries whilst I still can.

A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh: Mini Review

A Lovely Way to Burn

John Murray|2004|358 pages|Hardback| Library book|4*

I’ve read a few of Louise Welsh’s books and enjoyed each one so when I saw this on the library shelves I borrowed it. I agree with Val McDermid’s description of it on the back cover: ‘a terrifying journey into the possible, this is dystopia for today. Feral, frightening and fascinating, A Lovely Way to Burn gripped and chilled me in equal measure.

Once I started reading I just didn’t want to stop. I was gripped as Stevie Flint, a presenter on a TV show, Shop TV, finds her boyfriend, surgeon Simon Sharkey, lying dead in his apartment. At first it appeared that he had died of natural causes and then that he had killed himself. But he had left a hidden note for her with instructions to deliver his laptop to Malcolm Rhea, a colleague at St Thomas’s Hospital. Under no circumstances was she to take it to the police or to entrust it anyone except Rhea. Stevie is determined to find out what happened to him. Her search takes her into the most dangerous situations.

It is a horrifying vision of what could happen when a new and unidentified virus, known as ‘the sweats’ sweeps the globe. London quickly descends into chaos – supermarkets are looted, roads are gridlocked as people try to flee the infection, then society just crumbles as people look out only for themselves, rioting and eventually succumbing to the mysterious illness and dying. 

After quite a leisurely start the pace picks up, and the tension rises rapidly before reaching a nightmare scenario as decay and disintegration set in. It’s a mix of murder mystery and a surreal and frightening story of a plague. This is the first in Louise Welsh’s Plague Trilogy, but it is complete in itself. I have the second book, Death is a Welcome Guest and it looks as though it has a new set of characters – I’m looking forward to reading it!

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards has been on my radar since it was published last year. And I’ve read plenty of reviews full of praise for it, so my  expectations were high as I began reading, especially as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his other books that I’ve read, particularly his Lake District murder mysteries. Gallows Court, set in 1930s London, is a change of direction for Martin Edwards, born out of his fascination with that period in history and his love of Golden Age detective fiction. It is the first in a series; the next book, due out in March next year, is to be Mortmain Hall, a sequel to Gallows Court. 

Gallows Court

Blurb (Amazon):

London, 1930.
A headless corpse; an apparent suicide in a locked room; a man burned alive during an illusionist’s show in front of thousands of people. Scotland Yard is baffled by the sequence of ghastly murders unfolding across the city and at the centre of it all is mysterious heiress Rachel Savernake. Daughter of a grand judge, Rachel is as glamorous as she is elusive.

Jacob Flint, a tenacious young journalist eager to cover the gruesome crimes, is drawn into Rachel’s glittering world of wealth and power. But as the body count continues to rise, Jacob is convinced Rachel is harbouring a dark secret and he soon becomes part of a dangerous game that could leave him dancing at the end of the hangman’s rope if he pursues the truth.

My thoughts:

I think this must be the twistiest book I’ve read – there are twists and turns galore, my head was spinning as I read the first 100 pages. I had to stop when I realised that apart from Rachel and Jacob I had little idea of who anybody was, what they were doing and how they interacted. There are so many characters and the story is told in short sections moving rapidly from scene to scene and from one viewpoint to another. I had to go right back to the beginning – start again and this time concentrate much more on who was who and what they were up to.

Jacob Flint is constant throughout, but Rachel Savernack is not. I was never sure about her, what to think of her, or who she really was because it’s obvious that there is more to her than first meets the eye. The pressure never lets up – there is always tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead. Towards the end the fog lifted and I began to suspect the truth. It is certainly a challenging book and if you enjoy an intricately plotted murder mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue then this is the book for you.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus (6 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1788546075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1788546072
  • Source: Library book
  • Martin Edwards website.
  • My rating: 4*

Reading challenge: The Virtual Mount TBR

The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Riviera Set

Little, Brown Book Group|November 2016|448 pages|Library book|3.5 rounded up to 4 on Goodreads*

When I read Cath’s review of The Riviera Set: 1920 – 1960: The Golden Years of Glamour and Excess on her blog Read Warbler I thought it sounded fascinating, so I reserved a copy at the library. I has taken me almost a month to read it, but I did enjoy it.

Mary S Lovell explains in her Introduction that this is ‘less of a biography, more the story of a house and those who peopled it between the years 1930 and 1960.‘ The book begins with Maxine Elliott, telling of her early life  – she was an American, born Jessica Dermot in Rockland, Maine in 1868. She was a most remarkable woman who became an actress, famed for her beauty and her pure speaking voice. She came over to England, had successfully entered the Edwardian social scene in 1899 and after divorcing her husband, actor Nat Goodwin in 1908 she established herself at Hartsbourne, a country house in Hertfordshire. During the First World War she bought a barge and fitted it out as a first-aid clinic and soup kitchen to help with the war relief effort, bringing food and medical supplies to thousands of displaced people in Belgium. Many of the people who socialised at Hartsbourne flocked to visit her there. 

And then in 1930 she commissioned the architect Barry Dierks to build  the Chateau de l’Horizon on the land she had bought on a narrow stretch of rocks with a small promontory between Cannes and Juan-les-Pins. This is the part of the book I enjoyed the most, first of all about Maxine herself, then the description of the construction of the Chateaux and the years that Maxine owned it and lived there. Maxine really came into her own there as a superb hostess.

chateau de l'horizon

Regular visitors included Winston Churchill, Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Somerset Maugham among many others – famous actors and actresses as well as members of the aristocracy and politicians. I was interested in Clementine Churchill’s reaction to the Riviera set – she disapproved of their behaviour and often didn’t accompany him on his visits.  She also disapproved of Winston’s gambling at the Casino. Then there were the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who lived nearby before the Second World War – the picture painted of them is not flattering – and there was much talk about how to address Wallis and whether the women should curtsy to her. By the time the War approached Maxine had lost her sparkle, suffering from ill health and she died in March 1940.

And after her death nothing was the same – and my interest in the book began to wane. The Chateau was bought by Aly Khan, the Aga Khan’s heir presumptive at the time. There is quite a lot about his time there, his womanising, his marriage to Rita Hayworth and the social scene of the post-war period up to 1960. Nevertheless it is a fascinating and entertaining book about a pampered, luxurious and decadent world.

Reading challenge: Virtual Mount TBR as it is a library book.