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.

The Hiding Place by Simon Lelic

Penguin UK| 22 May 2022| 340 pages| e-book| Review copy/5*

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis:

Four friends. One murder. A game they can’t escape . . .

It was only a game.’ Until a boy went missing. ‘No one was meant to get hurt.’ But a body has been found. ‘Just some innocent fun.’ Except one of them is a killer. Ready or not, here I come.

It’s time to play hide and seek again.

My thoughts:

I’ve read two of Simon Lelic’s books previously and enjoyed both of them, but I think The Hiding Place is the best. It’s the second book featuring D I Robin Fleet and D S Nicola Collins, first seen in The Search Party.

It’s set across two timelines – 1997 when Ben Draper, a 14 year-old teenager with a troubled background, and a history of absconding from school, started at Beaconsfield, a prestigious boarding school. He is bullied, disliked and feels shunned and despised, but he does make three friends, Callum, Lance and Melissa. Longing to be accepted, he thinks they are his friends, but then he is drawn unwillingly into their plot to damage the school. After playing a game of Hide and Seek with them, that ended in terror, he went missing and his body was never found. Until, that is, in the present day, when his skeleton was found in an abandoned crypt in the school grounds – Fleet and Collins are assigned to investigate the case.

I was soon thoroughly gripped by this book as it moves between the two time periods. The detectives interview the headmaster, who seems to be more concerned about the school’s reputation than about finding out what had happened to Ben. The investigation is made more difficult as Callum is now a well-known TV celebrity and aspiring politician, which means the case is potentially a political scandal and that Fleet’s hands are tied. The detectives efforts to trace the other two pupils, Lance and Melissa are also hampered.

What emerges is a fantastic story, with many complications, red herrings and plot twists. Lelic is a terrific storyteller and writes a really compelling story that moves along at a fast pace. It is full of tension and suspense that kept me enthralled.The characterisation and the school setting, surrounded by thick woodland full of ancient trees and a graveyard, are excellent. I really like Fleet, and the way he stands up to his boss, Superintendent Burton, a yes man whose main concern is to keep the politicians happy. It examines the problems caused by loneliness and feelings of being a misfit in an unfeeling elitist education system where bullying and manipulation is largely unchecked. I was never sure how it would end, or who was responsible for Ben’s death until the final dramatic conclusion. I think it is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Many thanks to Penguin UK for a review copy via NetGalley.

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.

Traitor in the Ice by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 31 March 2022| 461 pages| e-book| Review copy| 2*

I don’t have very much to say about Traitor in the Ice, the second Daniel Pursglove book, by K J Maitland. It is set during the Great Frost of 1607-8 in England, when the Thames and many other rivers were frozen solid, but the countryside was the hardest hit. I preferred the first Daniel Pursglove book, The Drowned City.

It is a dark historical novel, describing life in England under the new king, James I of England and VI of Scotland. Daniel is continuing his search for the mysterious Spero Pettingar, suspected of plotting another conspiracy to kill James and reinstate a Catholic monarch and is sent by the Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, to Battle Abbey, near Hastings, in Sussex, a Catholic household, suspected of sheltering Catholic priests.

Daniel is an interesting character, needing all his determination and courage to discover what has been going on at Battle Abbey. It’s made even more difficult as it seems that everyone has something to hide, not just their politics and religious dissent, but also murder. A little bit more of his background is revealed in this second book, but he still remains a mysterious figure. And Spero Pettingar is an even more mysterious character, who is he – is he hiding at Battle Abbey? And will Daniel uncover all the secrets concealed within the Abbey?

But I enjoyed K J Maitland’s Author’s Note and information she gives in ‘Behind the Scenes of this Novel’ more than the novel. The details of her historical research are fascinating, with information about the real people behind her characters, such as Lady Magdalen, Viscountess Montague who did live at Battle Abbey. And the Glossary at the end of the book is also most helpful explaining a lot of the terms in the book I hadn’t come across before.

However, the book failed to hold my interest throughout as the wealth of detail she has put into the novel slows the action down and took away much of the suspense and tension – I felt like I was drowning in description. And at times I wasn’t really sure what was happening, especially at the end of the book – the Epilogue is mystifying.

My thanks to Headline Review for a review copy via NetGalley

The Drowned City by K J Maitland

Headline Review| 1 April 2021| 495 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*

1606. England stands divided in the wake of the failed Gunpowder Plot. As a devastating tidal wave sweeps the Bristol Channel, rumours of new treachery reach the King.

In Newgate prison, Daniel Pursglove receives an unexpected – and dangerous – offer. Charles FitzAlan, close confidant of King James, will grant his freedom – if Daniel can infiltrate the underground Catholic network in Bristol and unmask the one conspirator still at large.

Where better to hide a traitor than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel goes to Bristol to investigate, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

My thoughts:

I didn’t realise when I began reading The Drowned City that K J Maitland is Karen Maitland, an author whose books I’ve enjoyed in the past. It is the first book of a new series featuring Daniel Pursglove, set in Jacobean England under the reign of James I of England and VI of Scotland. It is an historical thriller set in 1606, a year after the Gunpowder Plot failed.

It begins dramatically as a huge wave surges up the Bristol Channel, flooding the surrounding countryside in south-west England and parts of South Wales causing devastation and loss of life. The drama continues with Daniel Pursglove’s arrival in Bristol sent on the orders of King James to find Spero Pettingar, one of the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. King James is fearful of his life as there are rumours of more Catholic uprisings and plots to assassinate him, especially if the flood is taken as a sign of God’s anger, revenge for the executions of the conspirators.

Daniel is an interesting character, but there is a mystery about him. He was in Newgate prison at the start of the book, but no details are given about what crime he had committed, and little is given about his family background. He is offered his freedom if he finds Spero, or torture and death if he doesn’t. King James is an expert on witchcraft and also fears the flood was caused by enchantments, by witches and sorcerers paid by Jesuits to wreck the King’s ports and open the country to an invading army.

Daniel’s real name is not Pursglove. He’s skilled at opening locks, described as a ‘crossbiter’ meaning a trickster, and hints are given about his origins – we know he had been educated as a nobleman and brought up to act the lord, but without money, title of position, raised in Lord Fairfax’s Catholic household. He is also a most determined and courageous investigator and he needs all his skills during his visit to Bristol, as his life is in danger more than once.

I like description in a novel but it is excessive in the this book, so much so, that it slowed down the narrative almost to a standstill in places and I had to really concentrate to keep track of who was who and even what was actually going on. The detailed description makes it a long book.

There is an extensive Glossary at the end of the book that explains many of the terms that puzzled me and was unable to find in a dictionary – I wish I’d discovered it when I began the book, rather than in the middle. Maitland’s historical research is impressive but at times I felt I was reading a history book rather than a novel. However, overall I enjoyed reading it and I’m looking forward to reading the second book in the series, The Traitor in the Ice.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton

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.

This week I’m featuring one of the books I’m currently reading – Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton, a Golden Age murder mystery. Miles Burton is one of the pen names of Cecil John Street, who also wrote under the names John Rhode and Cecil Waye. He was a prolific author who produced four detective novels a year for thirty-seven years!

The Book Begins:

The 5.0 pm train from Cannon Street runs fast as far as Stourford, where it is due at 6.07. On Thursday, November 14th, it was, as usual, fairly full, but not uncomfortably so.

A fairly dull opening paragraph to a very complicated murder mystery that is keeping me turning the pages as fast as I can and at the same time trying to take in all the detail.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

The alternative to suicide can only be murder. I should naturally like to know who may be said to benefit by Sir Wilfred’s death?

Summary:

On a dark November evening, Sir Wilfred Saxonby is travelling alone in the 5 o’clock train from Cannon Street, in a locked compartment. The train slows and stops inside a tunnel; and by the time it emerges again minutes later, Sir Wilfred has been shot dead, his heart pierced by a single bullet.

Suicide seems to be the answer, even though no motive can be found. Inspector Arnold of Scotland Yard thinks again when learns that a mysterious red light in the tunnel caused the train to slow down.

Finding himself stumped by the puzzle, Arnold consults his friend Desmond Merrion, a wealthy amateur expert in criminology. Merrion quickly comes up with an ‘essential brainwave’ and helps to establish how Sir Wilfred met his end, but although it seems that the dead man fell victim to a complex conspiracy, the investigators are puzzled about the conspirators’ motives as well as their identities. Can there be a connection with Sir Wilfred’s seemingly troubled family life, his highly successful business, or his high-handed and unforgiving personality? And what is the significance of the wallet found on the corpse, and the bank notes that it contained? 

~~~

What have you been reading lately?

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Tangerine by Christine Mangan

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.

This week I’m featuring Tangerine by Christine Mangan. A few years ago I bought this book attracted by its cover, something I rarely do, but it was so eye-catching on the bookshop’s display table. Since then I’ve seen very mixed reviews, some severely criticising it and some heaping praise on it. I’m wondering what I’ll make of it – the blurb makes it sound a book I’d like. If you’ve read it please let me know what you thought.

The Book Begins:

Tuesdays were market days.

Not just for me, but for the entire city, the Rif women parading down from the mountains heralding the start, their baskets and carts overflowing with fruit and vegetables, their donkeys flanking them on either side.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These 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 noted again the strangeness in her sudden cheerfulness – such a change from the stoic calmness she had exhibited earlier that morning. It was almost frantic, as if at any moment it could all go horribly wrong.

Summary:

The perfect read for fans of Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith, set in 1950s Morocco, Tangerine is a gripping psychological literary thriller.

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends – once inseparable roommates – haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right.

Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy, always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice – she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Tangerine is an extraordinary debut, so tightly wound, so evocative of 1950s Tangier, and so cleverly plotted that it will leave you absolutely breathless.

~~~

What have you been reading lately?

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

3*

The Chalet, by Catherine Cooper, is a fast-paced murder mystery, set mainly in La Madière, a fictional ski resort in the French Alps. It is her first published full-length novel, though she has also written several (unpublished) thrillers for teens and a (what used to be called) chick lit novel set in TV production.

Synopsis

French Alps, 1998 -Two young men ski into a blizzard… but only one returns.

20 years later – Four people connected to the missing man find themselves in that same resort. Each has a secret. Two may have blood on their hands. One is a killer-in-waiting. Someone knows what really happened that day.

And somebody will pay.

The Chalet is Catherine Cooper’s first published full-length novel, though she has also written several (unpublished) thrillers for teens and a (what used to be called) chick lit novel set in TV production.

I read The Chalet quickly. It’s well written, easy reading, with a beautiful setting in the French Alps. It began well and I was quickly drawn into the drama of the story. The narrative moves between 1998, and 2020 and is told from several of the characters’ perspectives. None of the characters are particularly likeable and they all seem to have something to hide.

It’s a story of revenge, stemming from the events in 1998 when two brothers go skiing with their girlfriends and only one of the brothers returns. The weather conditions were bad and on a difficult off-piste route they lost contact with their guides and only one of them was found, but he couldn’t remember anything about what had happened. The body of the other brother was only found 20 years later after an avalanche hit the resort.

In 2020 a group of people, four couples mixing business with pleasure are staying at the same resort in a luxury chalet. The atmosphere is a difficult one as the couples’ relationships begin to breakdown, particularly when the weather worsens and a storm sets in, leaving them somewhat isolated. Various past events became clearer as secrets are revealed. Although there are plenty of twists and turns, it really wasn’t hard to work out what had happened and who was seeking revenge. An entertaining read, but maybe a bit too predictable by the latter half of the book. The last paragraph promises there is more to come in this story – I’ll be interested to see what happens next, if there is a sequel.

  • ASIN: ‎ B086JJ2TK1
  • Publisher: ‎ HarperCollins (31 Oct. 2020)
  • X-Ray: ‎ Enabled
  • Print length: ‎391 pages
  • My Rating: 3*

My thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins, the publishers for a review copy.

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Random House UK, Cornerstone Digital| 19 August 2021| 368 pages| Review copy| 4*

Synopsis:

There has never been a murder on Alderney.

It’s a tiny island, just three miles long and a mile and a half wide. The perfect location for a brand new literary festival. Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne has been invited to talk about his new book. The writer, Anthony Horowitz, travels with him.

Very soon they discover that not all is as it should be. Alderney is in turmoil over a planned power line that will cut through it, desecrating a war cemetery and turning neighbour against neighbour.

The visiting authors – including a blind medium, a French performance poet and a celebrity chef – seem to be harbouring any number of unpleasant secrets. When the festival’s wealthy sponsor is found brutally killed, Alderney goes into lockdown and Hawthorne knows that he doesn’t have to look too far for suspects.

There’s no escape. The killer is still on the island. And there’s about to be a second death…

A Line to Kill is the third in Anthony Horowitz’s Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery series. I have read the earlier books, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death and I think it really it best if you read these books in order to fully understand the main characters and their relationship. Daniel Hawthorne, an ex-policeman, is now a private investigator, who the police call in to help with their more complicated cases. Anthony Horowitz himself plays a major role as one of the main characters, recruited by Hawthorne to write a book about him and the cases he investigates and he’d agreed to a three-book contract with Hawthorne.

This third book is about the third case they investigate. I loved the setting on the island of Alderney where the literary festival is being held. I enjoyed the interplay between Hawthorne and the fictional Horowitz, a somewhat difficult relationship as Hawthorne is particularly secretive about his personal life and about the reason he left the police force. In a way he is a Sherlock Holmes type of character keeping Horowitz very much in the dark about what he thinks about the identity of the murder. He is not an easy person to like, single minded with a somewhat superior air about him, but he does get results.

Like the two earlier books this is a complicated murder mystery, with a type of ‘locked room’ puzzle to be solved. As you would expect it is full of red herrings and multiple twists and turns. I was soon totally immersed in this fascinating novel. The characters are fully formed, all with secrets they want to keep hidden and clues are all there, but so well hidden that I was once again totally bemused by it all.

The fictional Horowitz is by now, thoroughly intrigued by Hawthorne himself – just what is he keeping hidden about himself, why did he really leave the police force? Will the writer Horowitz reveal the secret is his next book – if there is to be one? I do hope so.

Thank you to Anthony Horowitz, Random House and NetGalley for an ARC of A Line to Kill.

Short Stories on Sunday

Today I’ve read one of the short stories from Agatha Christie’s collection Miss Marple and Mystery .

IMG_20180513_095855842.jpg

This collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date.

Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

The Lonely God has also been published as an e-book. It was first published in the Royal Magazine in July 1926.

This is an unusual story from Agatha Christie. It’s a love story about two lonely people who meet in the British Museum. Frank is forty, recently returned to England after spending 30 years in Burma. He has no friends and feels he is out of touch with the times, having spent so long abroad. He wanders around aimlessly and strolls into the British Museum one day to look at the Asian curiosities. There he spots a little grey stone idol, a pathetic little figure sitting hopelessly in isolation, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands; ‘a lonely god in a strange country.’

One day he finds a young woman in front of the ‘lonely god‘. Although dressed shabbily she is obviously a poverty stricken lady, fallen on hard times. They are both fascinated by the little stone god and gradually begin a conversation. And then they have tea together in an ABC shop near the Museum. Frank is in love. But when he goes to the see the lonely god again she doesn’t come – and he has no idea where she lives, or even know her name, because she wouldn’t tell him, wanting them to be just ‘two lonely people, who’ve come together and. made friends. It makes it so much more wonderful – and different.’ Frank is heartbroken. Will he ever find her again?

I really enjoyed this little story. As I said not crime fiction, but just a touching little romance that appealed to me. Agatha Christie, however described it in her Autobiography as ‘ regrettably sentimental‘. She had written it after reading The City of Beautiful Nonsense. (Autobiography page 198 in my paperback copy). I had to look up that book. It’s by Ernest Temple Thurston, published in 1909 and described as a ‘sentimental novel’. It is a tale of two cities: mainly about the life of the shabby genteel in Edwardian London, but also in Venice.