Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge

If you go down to the woods today, you’d better not go alone …

Down to the Woods (Helen Grace #8)

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|20 September 2018|480 pages|Review copy

Synopsis – Amazon UK:

There is a sickness in the forest. First, it was the wild horses. Now it’s innocent men and women, hunted down and murdered by a faceless figure. Lost in the darkness, they try to flee, they try to hide. In desperation, they call out for help. But there is no-one to hear their cries here…

DI Helen Grace must face down a new nightmare. The arrow-ridden victims hang from the New Forest’s ancient oaks, like pieces of strange fruit. Why are helpless holidaymakers being targeted in peak camping season? And what do their murders signify? Is a psychopath stalking the forest? Is there an occult element to the killings? Could the murders even be an offering to the Forest itself? Helen must walk into the darkness to discover the truth behind her most challenging, most macabre case yet.

My thoughts:

Down to the Woods is the 8th DI Helen Grace thriller by M J Arlidge. I haven’t read any of the earlier books and it’s obvious that Helen has a particularly dramatic and traumatic backstory, but enough explanation is given for me to read this book as a stand-alone. It’s tense and dark with several twists and turns and red herrings, that seemed obviously so to me. It’s on the grisly side of gruesome with graphic descriptions of violence and death and details of information on the dark web, all of which I find off-putting.

I don’t intend to retell the plot as I think the synopsis gives as much detail as you need to know to begin the book. It’s fast-paced in parts, but in others it’s slowed down considerably by the amount of description of the location and characters. Having said that I did like the description of the New Forest, with its ancient woodland, beautiful glades and of course the New Forest ponies.

However, I think the characters aren’t very credible, with maybe the exception of DS Charlie Brooke who has her own problems at home. DS Joseph Hudson is a new character to the series and there are several questions to be answered about his background that seemed rather dubious to me. The reporter Emilia Garanita is the stereotypical journalist with all the unlikable journalistic traits rolled into her character and you’re meant to dislike her. I expected Helen to be the main character but for most of the book she on the sidelines until the final section when she ends up close to death. The chapters are very short with cliff-hanger endings, designed to keep you turning the pages. I did want to know the outcome, but I got rather tired of all the violence and chase scenes throughout the book and was relieved to finish it.

2.5 stars rounded up to 3 stars on Goodreads. Other people liked it more than me – there are many 5 and 4 star reviews on Goodreads.

Thank you to Penguin UK – Michael Joseph and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton

Mantle|20 September 2018|592 pages|Review copy|3*

Synopsis:

My real name, no one remembers.
The truth about that summer, no one else knows.

In the summer of 1862, a group of young artists led by the passionate and talented Edward Radcliffe descends upon Birchwood Manor in rural Berkshire. Their plan: to spend a secluded summer month in a haze of inspiration and creativity. But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins.

Over one hundred and fifty years later, Elodie Winslow, a young archivist in London, uncovers a leather satchel containing two seemingly unrelated items: a sepia photograph of an arresting-looking woman in Victorian clothing, and an artist’s sketchbook containing a drawing of a twin-gabled house on the bend of a river.

Why does Birchwood Manor feel so familiar to Elodie? And who is the beautiful woman in the photograph? Will she ever give up her secrets?

Told by multiple voices across time, The Clockmaker’s Daughter is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss. And flowing through its pages like a river, is the voice of a woman who stands outside time, whose name has been forgotten by history, but who has watched it all unfold: Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.

My thoughts:

I was looking forward to reading The Clockmaker’s Daughter as Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton and The Secret Keeper are two of my favourite books, but I’m in two minds about it. Whilst I loved parts of it I struggled to read other parts, bogged down by the many changes of time, places and characters, even though I like complicated plots and dual time-lines. It could easily have been made into several books.

I found it difficult to separate the various strands and to create a coherent whole – and it is so long and drawn out. And then there is the supernatural element, which intrigued and delighted me. So, all in all, my reaction is confused and mixed, so much so that at times I wanted to give it 5 stars and then plummeted right down to 2 stars – hence the 3 stars!

It’s richly descriptive and I loved the descriptions of the locations, and of Birchwood Manor, the house on the bend of the river and the story of how Elodie searches to find the history and connections between the satchel, the photograph of a beautiful Victorian woman and an artist’s sketchbook certainly caught my imagination. I also loved the story of Birdie, the clockmaker’s daughter, who is the catalyst for the disaster that befell Edward’s life.

There are multiple narrators very gradually building up a history of Birchwood Manor and the people who lived there over the years up to 2016. But it’s hard to keep track of them all as the narrative jumps backwards and forwards so disjointedly. The connections between what seem to be separate stories eventually become clear – but you have to keep all the separate strands in your head and remember who is related and how their paths meet and diverge.

As the synopsis says it is a story of murder, mystery and thievery, of art, love and loss – all of which appeals to me. And I’m sure plenty of other readers will love this book. It’s a book that I really needed to concentrate on, which is not a bad thing, but for most of its 592 pages it moves at a snail’s pace and I found it an effort. But once you have got to the end and can see the whole picture it really is a good story; very cleverly plotted, maybe too cleverly for me.

Thank you to Mantle and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Fall 2018 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This is the first time I’m taking part.

The rules are simple:

  • Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
  • Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to The Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
  • Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other bloggers’ lists.
  • Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

This week’s topic is Top Ten Books On My Fall 2018 TBR.  Autumn (Fall) begins on 23 September and I have so many books to choose from – new releases, review copies,  and library books. Here are just some of the books that I’m hoping to read before winter sets in. I’m not sure these are my top ten – only time will tell:

New Releases coming in October

In a House of Lies (Inspector Rebus, #22)Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)The Reckoning

  • In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin – the 22nd Rebus book. I’ve read all the previous books, so this is a must for me.
  • Tombland by C J Sansom – the 7th Shardlake book, historical fiction – also a must read, having read the previous 6 books.
  • The Reckoning by John Grisham – not too sure about this one. Years ago I read loads of his books and then stopped as I felt they became rather formulaic.

Review copies (some are new releases)

  • Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller – historical fiction set in 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars. A new-to-me author, but an award winning author.
  • Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge – the 8th DI Helen Grace thriller – another new-to-me author, with good reviews for his books.

  • Absolute Truth by Peter James – a standalone thriller. One of my favourite authors.
  • Timekeepers by Simon Garfield – non-fiction about our obsession with time,  promises to be fascinating.

Library books

In a Dark, Dark WoodHag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare)Destroying Angel (Damian Seeker #3)

  • In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware – a psychological thriller – I’m hoping I’ll enjoy it more than The Woman in Cabin 10.
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – The Tempest retold, one of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project novels.
  • Destroying Angel by S G MacLean – the third Damian Seeker book, historical crime fiction. I loved the previous two books.

Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth retold

5*

He’s the best cop they’ve got. 

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. 

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. 

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

I haven’t read any of Jo Nesbo’s books so I wasn’t sure what to expect from his version of Macbeth, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. And it’s been a long time since I read or saw a performance of Macbeth, one of my favourite plays, but it seems to me that Jo Nesbo’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth sticks well to Shakespeare’s version (which itself wasn’t original!) – it has the same themes and plot lines.

I loved the opening of Nesbo’s version describing the rain falling on an industrial town, the second largest after Capitol. The setting is rather vague – it is somewhere in the 1970s in a fictional Scotland in a lawless town full of drug addicts, where there is a titanic struggle for control between the police force, corrupt politicians, motorbike gangs and  drug dealers.

All the characters are here, including Duncan, the new police Chief Commissioner after Kenneth was killed, Malcolm his deputy, Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and his son, Fleance, Inspector Duff (Shakespeare’s Macduff, Thane of Fife), head of the Narcotics Unit, Caithness, the three witches, Lennox and so on. And watch out for Nesbo’s version of Great Birnam Wood – I don’t want to give any spoilers here!

It’s a tragedy, like Shakespeare’s, a tale of political ambition and the destructive power it wields, a tale of love and guilt, and of enormous greed of all kinds. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes, called by some the Invisible Hand; his ‘brew’ has made him one of the town’s richest men. Macbeth is corrupted by his renewed dependency on brew and fuelled by his passion for his wife, Lady, a tall, beautiful woman with flame-red hair who whispers seductively to Macbeth that he has to kill Duncan. And there’s a mole in their midst.

This is a dark, gritty and violent tale that had me completely enthralled and I loved it. It is the first book by Jo Nesbo that I’ve read – but it won’t be the last.

Thank you to Random UK/Vintage and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Paperback: 624 pages (also available on Kindle and in Hardcover)
  • Publisher: Vintage (20 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009959806X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099598060
  • Review Copy
Note: Macbeth was first published  March 15th 2018 by Hogarth as part of  the Hogarth Shakespeare project that sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launched in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries.

 

Appleby’s End by Michael Innes

3*

Appleby’s End was first published in 1945.

Description

Six Degrees of Separation from Where Am I Now? to The Book of Illusions

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.

This month the chain begins with with Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson, subtitled True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame. Mara Wilson is a former child actress best known for her starring roles in Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire. I haven’t read this book which tells the story of one young woman’s journey from accidental fame to relative (but happy) obscurity. 

Where Am I Now?

As the title of Mara Wilson’s book is a question my first link is to another book with a question in the title. When Will there Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson. A tale of disasters beginning when six year old Joanna witnessed the murder of her mother, older sister and baby brother. It’s the third in her Jackson Brodie series. I raced through this very quickly as I was so keen to find out what happened. I know I missed the clues and I’d love to re-read it sometime!

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie, #3)One Good Turn (Jackson Brodie #2)Three Act Tragedy (Hercule Poirot, #11)

The second link is to another book by Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn. This is the second  Jackson Brodie book, a cleverly constructed and complicated murder mystery. It’s a puzzle and like the Russian dolls within dolls (which also feature in this book), there is a thread connecting it all together. I didn’t think it was quite as good as When Will There Be Good News?, but still enjoyed it.

Another book with a number in the title is Agatha Christie’s  Three Act Tragedy, also a book containing lots of puzzles to be solved. Poirot plays a secondary role, preferring to think rather than act and it is Mr Satterthwaite and Sir Charles who investigate the deaths of two of the guests at Sir Charles Cartwright’s party. This is one of Christie’s earlier books (1935) and I really enjoyed it.

Mr Satterthwaite, along with Mr Harley Quin, also features in Agatha Christie’s short story collection The Mysterious Mr Quin, first published in 1930 . This is my favourite of her collections, containing some of her very best short stories.

The Mysterious Mr. Quin (Harley Quin, #1)The Breaking Point: Short StoriesThe Book Of Illusions

My fifth link is to another collection of short stories: The Breaking Point by Daphne du Maurier. These stories are dark, difficult, perturbing – and sometimes shocking, telling of double lives, split personalities, paranoia and conflict, each one with a ‘breaking point’. One of the stories is The Menace about a silent movie star, a heart-throb until the advent of the ‘feelies’ when it is discovered that his magnetism is almost non-existent.

One of the characters in The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster is a silent movie star – Hector Mann. There are many layers to this novel; it’s a detective story with gothic overtones, a love story and a novel about the passing of the 20th century, ending as the last weeks of the century approach. It’s a circular story as well, ending with the hope that it ‘will start all over again.’

And this completes my chain beginning and ending with books about movie stars, passing through murder mysteries and short story collections, and moving from the US to the UK and back to the US, linked by the titles, authors and characters.

Next month (October 6, 2018), we’ll begin with a book I haven’t read (or heard of before) – a story of teenage rebellion, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr was my Classics Club Spin book for August. It was first published in 1946. Carr (1906 – 1977) was an American writer who also wrote under the pseudonym of Carter Dickson and Carr Dickson. In 1936 he was elected to the Detection Club in London. He Who Whispers is one of his ‘locked room’  mysteries/impossible crimes, featuring Dr Gideon Fell, an amateur sleuth.

He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr

I really didn’t know what to expect so I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s well written, set in 1945 just after the end of the Second World War when Miles Hammond is finding it hard to getting used to peacetime. London is still showing the scars of the war and he feels that his life is unreal. He has been discharged from the Army after being in hospital suffering from diesel-oil poisoning.

Then, gasping out to the end like a gauleiter swallowing poison, the war is over. You come out of hospital – a little shakily, your discharge papers in your pocket – into a London still pinched by shortages; a London of long queues, erratic buses, dry pubs; a London where they turn on the street-lights and immediately turn them off again to save fuel; but a place free at last from the intolerable weight of threats.

People didn’t celebrate that victory hysterically, as for some reason or other the newspapers liked to make out. What the newsreels showed was only a bubble on the huge surface of the town. Like himself, Miles Hammond thought, most people were a little apathetic because they could not yet think of it as real. (page 6)

His friend, Dr Gideon Fell, has invited him to dinner as a guest at the Murder Club, their first meeting in five years, where the speaker is Professor Rigaud. But when he arrives he finds none of the members of the Club have turned up. The only other people there are the Professor, and a beautiful blonde called Barbara Morell. Rigaud, however, tells them the story he had prepared for the Club – a tale of an impossible murder on the top of a ruined tower, that had once been part of a French chateau burnt down by the Hugeunots in the 16th century, and a mysterious woman, Miss Fay Seton.

The body of Howard Brooke was found lying on the parapet of the tower by two children between 10 minutes to 4 and 5 minutes past 4. He had been stabbed through his body with a sword-stick and yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him. Rigaud points out the difficulties of scaling the wall of the tower, leading Miles to suspect he is alluding to ‘some sort of supernatural being that could float in the air‘ – in other words, a vampire.

Now, six years later Miles, Rigaud and Barbara together with Dr Fell set about trying to solve the mystery. I was fascinated by Dr Fell, supposedly based upon G. K. Chesterton (author of the Father Brown stories), in his appearance and personality. He’s immensely tall and fat, with a big mop of grey-streaked hair, and wearing a long, dark cape. He strides along ‘with a rolling motion like an emperor, and the sound of his throat-clearing preceded him like a war-cry‘.

I thought the characterisation was excellent and there is a great sense of location. The book is full of tension and there is a real sense of approaching danger and disaster as the characters struggle to uncover the truth. It is only due to Dr Fell’s ingenuity that their fears are calmed and he produces a rational explanation and reveals the truth. I too was puzzled and the book had kept me guessing right to the end. Even then when I knew what had happened I was so involved with the characters that  I was left wondering –  what happened next? 

Now, I’m keen to read more of John Dickson Carr’s books. There are a lot of them – see the list at Fantastic Fiction.

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books in association with H.Hamilton (1953)
  • Source: I bought my copy
  • Rating: 4*