The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor

Harper Collins| 2 March 2023 | 454 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

London 1671
The damage caused by the Great Fire still overshadows the capital. When a man’s brutally disfigured body is discovered in the ruins of an ancient almshouse, architect Cat Hakesby is ordered to stop restoration work. It is obvious he has been murdered, and Whitehall secretary James Marwood is ordered to investigate.

It’s possible the victim could be one of two local men who have vanished – the first, a feckless French tutor connected to the almshouse’s owner;
the second, a possibly treacherous employee of the Council of Foreign Plantations.

The pressure on Marwood mounts as Charles II’s most influential courtiers, Lord Arlington and the Duke of Buckingham, show an interest in his activities – and Marwood soon begins to suspect the murder trail may lead right to the heart of government.

Meanwhile, a young, impoverished Frenchwoman has caught the eye of the king, a quiet affair that will have monumental consequences…

My thoughts

The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor is historical crime fiction, the 6th book in his James Marwood and Cat Lovett Restoration series. I’ve read all of the previous books, set in 17th century England, during the reign of Charles II, and thoroughly enjoyed each one So I was delighted to find that this one is just as good, maybe even better. Although it does work as a stand-alone book I do think it’s best to read them in sequence to get the full background of the Restoration period and the relationship between James Marwood and Cat Hakesbury (formerly Lovett).

At the beginning of the book there is a list of the main characters, which I find very useful. It includes where they live and their professions and relationships with each other, including the real historical characters. There is also a Historical Note at the end of the book in which Taylor explains that the origins of the novel had germinated over a number of years following the Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein cases, whilst the catalyst came when he read Dr Linda Porter’s Mistresses: Sex and Scandal at the Court of Charles II. In one chapter Dr Porter focuses on the career of Louise de Keroualle, who became Charles II’s chief mistress during the second half of his reign. In The Shadows of London the story of Louise’s seduction with its political implications, based on fact, is interwoven with the mystery of the murder of the man found dead, brutally killed, in the grounds of a ruined almshouse that Cat’s workman were restoring.

The murder mystery is complicated first of all because the victim had no face, and nothing by which he could be identified. Both the characters and the settings are well described and the mixture of fact and fiction works well. It is fast paced, full of action and intrigue. The narrative is told from both Cat’s and James’s viewpoints switching from one to the other throughout the book. Their relationship continues to develop as they work together to find the culprit and it reaches a turning point in this book. I hope that there will be a 7th book as I really want to know what happens next …

One of the things that I really enjoyed in this book is the picture it paints of John Evelyn, the writer and diarist, bibliophile and horticulturalist. He was a contemporary of Samuel Pepys. His diary covers the years from 1640 to 1706 when he died. And now I want to find out more about him.

Andrew Taylor is a bestselling crime and historical novelist, and the winner of the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers Association, the Gold Crown of the Historical Writers Association and many other awards. He’s written nearly fifty books,  listed here, three of which have been televised. I’d leave to see the Marwood and Lovett series adapted for television!

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my review copy.

The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter


The gripping No. 1 Sunday Times crime thriller She runs

A woman runs alone in the woods. She convinces herself she’s safe. He watches

But a predator is watching from the shadows. Waiting for the perfect moment to attack.He waits

They thought they caught him. But another victim has just been found.

The hunt has only just begun. And the killer is ready to strike again…

I hadn’t read any of Karin Slaughter’s books, but I thought I’d try this one when I saw it on NetGalley, as I know they are very popular. But for a number of reasons I did not enjoy The Silent Wife at all! First of all I hadn’t realised this was part of a series until I started reading it, but once I did I hoped it would read well as a standalone – but it doesn’t. Then it’s a serial killer story and I’m never keen on that.

But the main reason is that it is very graphic, very dark, extremely disturbing with rapes and murders described in great detail, and just far too gruesome for me. I was really struggling to make myself read it – so I gave up and didn’t finish it!

Thanks to NetGalley for my review copy, anyway.

How to Save a Life by S D Robertson


You can’t have a rainbow, without a little rain…

When a stranger saves Luke’s life, he knows he’s been given a second chance. He’s going to make it count – and, determined to live each day to its fullest, he starts by saying yes to everything life has to offer.

Slowly but surely, Luke learns that a little bit of blue-sky thinking can go a long way, and things start to look up.

But when Luke’s new resolve is tested, will he return to his old ways? Or can one fateful moment truly save a life.

A life-affirming story about a man who is given a second chance, perfect for fans of Mike Gayle and Imogen Clark.

How to Save a Life is one of the oldest books on my NetGalley shelf. It has sat there far too long, since 2020. It’s the second book I’ve read by S D Robertson (the first was If Ever I Fall), which is why I requested it. It’s an emotional story, character driven, narrated solely by Luke, a barber, with a pessimistic outlook on life. His parents died in a tragic accident, then just a fortnight before Christmas his wife told him she’d been having an affair and left him. He is wallowing in misery, living alone with his cat, Alfred. Until he meets Iris. They were both sheltering from a sudden storm under scaffolding when a violent gust brought the building and scaffolding down on them – Luke survived, but Iris didn’t. She had saved his life, pushing him out of the way as the scaffolding collapsed.

Iris’s death has a powerful effect on Luke, especially when he learns what a wonderful person she was – a doctor who was passionate about volunteering her services for a charity scheme in Africa. He felt guilty that he had survived and vowed to change his outlook and his life, trying to be more like Iris.

This book is not my usual choice of genre, but I think it is an interesting book that did give me food for thought. I liked the setting in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and I could easily visualise Luke’s barber’s shop and its surroundings. However, it is repetitive as Luke analyses his feelings and actions over and over again, and it’s slow paced because of that. He has several setbacks as things don’t all turn out how he had hoped, but it is a heart-warming story, if a little predictable.

My thanks to Avon, the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

  • ASIN: ‎ B07Z4BBBF9
  • Publisher ‏: ‎ Avon (11 Jun. 2020)
  • Print length: 397 pages
  • Review copy
  • My rating : 3*

Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Faber and Faber Ltd| 2 March 2023 | 228 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*


Have you ever been the custodian of a story no one else believed?’
‘Oh yes,’ he said.
‘You have?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Then I can tell you.’

Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, catching only glimpses of his eccentric landlord and a nervous young mother who has moved in next door. Occasionally, fond memories return, of his family, his beloved wife June and their two children.

But when two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never quite came to terms with, he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past.

A beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite as it seems, Old God’s Time is about what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us.

My thoughts:

I’ve enjoyed all Sebastian Barry’s books and Old God’s Time is no exception. It’s set in Dalkey, a small coastal town south of Dublin, where Tom, a recently retired policeman is living in a tiny flat annexed to a Victorian castle. One afternoon he was sitting in a sun-faded wicker chair, enjoying a cigarillo, listening to the sound of the sea below. He was quite content to just gaze out, watching the cormorants on the rocks to the left of Dalkey Island, when two of his former colleagues disturbed his peaceful afternoon, asking for his help on a cold case he had worked on. He doesn’t want to, knowing it will open up painful memories he would rather forget.

So this appears to be a detective story, but the main focus is Tom, himself as the narrative reveals in streams of consciousness. It soon becomes clear that his memories are unreliable and for a while I was confused, not knowing what was going on, whether Tom was remembering, or imagining what had happened in his life. It is beautifully written, showing the beauties of the landscape. It takes us right inside Tom’s mind, highlighting the horrors that Tom had experienced both in his childhood and family life as well as in his professional life. The past had not been kind to him. But now it was as though enough time had gone by and it was as if it had never happened; it had receded away into ‘old God’s time’, and Tom didn’t want to reach back into those memories. They were locked away, preserved in the long-ago.

It is a tragic story, not shying away from describing the horrific details of child abuse, nor the despair and sadness as the details of Tom’s family life are gradually revealed. It is a harrowing book, made even more so as I had to read it slowly making sure I fully understood what I was reading, even going back to re-read some passages. It is bleak, but Tom’s story is also one of love and immeasurable happiness, of strength and goodness, alongside grief and pain.

Lion by Conn Iggulden – the First in The Golden Age series

Penguin| 26 May 2022| 416 pages| Review Copy| 4*

Ancient Greece, 5th century BC

The age of myths and legends has given way to the world of men. In the front rank stands Pericles, Lion of Athens.
Behind Pericles lies the greatest city of the ancient world. Before him, on land and at sea, stands the merciless Persian army. Both sides are spoiling for war.

Though still a young man, Pericles knows one thing: to fight a war you must first win the peace

It’s time for a hero to rise.

For his enemies to tremble.

And for Athens, a city of wisdom and warriors, to shine with glory . . .

I was so pleased when I started reading Lion as I realised straight away I was going to enjoy it. It’s been a long time since I read anything set in Ancient Greece, so a lot was new to me, including the characters as well as the historical setting. This is the first book in Conn Iggulden’s Golden Age series set in the 5th century BCE. I thoroughly enjoyed it which surprised me as generally speaking I’m not keen on reading battle scenes and the book starts and ends with battles. But I had no problem with following the action of the battles between the Greeks and the Persians, and was able to visualise what was going on without any difficulty. The characters’ names took me a little while to get clear in my mind but I soon got used to them.

The two main characters are both young men, Cimon the older of the two has more authority than Pericles, the younger man. Lion is the story of their early careers. Iggulden covers the capture of Eion under Cimon’s leadership of the Delian League, an alliance of Greek states, and of Scyros where Cimon found the bones of Theseus and returned them to Athens. He then captured Cyprus and destroyed a Persian fleet on the Eurymedon River. Below the age of thirty little is known of Pericles’ life, but the likelihood is that he was with Cimon for these events.

The middle section of Lion forms an interlude between the battles and is about Pericles’ marriage to Thetis, and his involvement in the theatre in Athens and the Festival of Dionysus. Pericles was the ‘choregos’ (producer) of Aeschylus’ plays made up of three tragedies and a ‘satyr’ play. I found this part of the book just as fascinating as the battle scenes.

Iggulden adds a useful historical note and recommends reading Pericles: a Biography in Context by Thomas R Martin for more information.

The next book in the Golden Age series is Empire, which will be released on May 25, 2023.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jonasson, translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

Penguin| 3 June 2021| 328 pages| Review Copy| 3*


After the loss of her father, Una sees a chance to escape Reykjavík to tutor two girls in the tiny village of Skálar – population just ten – on Iceland’s storm-battered north coast.

But city life hasn’t prepared her for the unforgiving weather nor inhospitable village life. Worse, the creaky old house where she lives is playing on her already fragile mind when she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing.

Then, at midwinter, a young girl is found dead.

And one of the villagers must have blood on their hands . . .

The Girl Who Died is Icelandic noir, a mix of horror and psychological thriller, with a strong sense of place. Skálar is a close-knit community that doesn’t welcome newcomers, keeping its secrets well hidden. The only person who welcomes Una, to the village is Salka, the mother of Edda, one of the two girls Una is to teach. But even her welcome is short lived.

When Una arrived she had the feeling that it was like being a folk tale, an ominous supernatural tale set in a vague shifting world where nothing was solid or real, almost like a ghost town. The feeling grows stronger when she sees a little girl with long, pale hair in the window of Salka’s house – but Salka tells her that Edda was in bed. Later she discovers that the ghost of a young girl who had died fifty years earlier was said to haunt the house.

The supernatural elements of the story and the dark brooding atmosphere add to the mystery, but it is not quite as creepy or chilling as I’d thought it would be, mainly because of the slow plodding pace. Also I’m in two minds about Una as I really didn’t find her a very interesting character. And I began to care less and less about what was happening to her. Overall I found it a bit disappointing, and I found the ending puzzling.

However, the Author’s Note is interesting. Jonasson explains that Skálar is a real place. But it was abandoned in the mid 1950s, so the setting is real, but the buildings and the characters are fictitious. However, he has tried to give an accurate representation of the history of Skálar that describes in the book. He has also used the folk tales in Sigfús Sigfússon’s collections of Icelandic tales and legends.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

The Darkness Manifesto by Johan Eklöf, translated by Elizabeth DeNoma

Virgin| 3 Novmber 2022| 205 pages| Review Copy| 3.5*

How much light is too much light? The Darkness Manifesto urges us to cherish natural darkness for the sake of the environment, our own wellbeing, and all life on earth.

The world’s flora and fauna have evolved to operate in the natural cycle of day and night. But constant illumination has made light pollution a major issue. From space, our planet glows brightly, 24/7. By extending our day, we have forced out the inhabitants of the night and disrupted the circadian rhythms necessary to sustain all living things. Our cities’ streetlamps and neon signs are altering entire ecosystems.

Johan Eklöf encourages us to appreciate natural darkness and its unique benefits. He also writes passionately about the domino effect of damage we inflict by keeping the lights on: insects failing to reproduce; birds blinded and bewildered; bats starving as they wait in vain for insects that only come out in the dark. And humans can find that our hormones, weight and mental well-being are all impacted.

Johan Eklöf, PhD, is a Swedish bat scientist and writer, most known for his work on microbat vision and more recently, light pollution. He lives in the west of Sweden, where he works as a conservationist and copywriter. The Darkness Manifesto is his first book to be translated into English.


Until I read The Darkness Manifesto: How Light Pollution Threatens the Ancient Rhythms of Life all I knew about light pollution was its effect on the night sky, how artificial light impairs our view of the sky, the stars and the planets. But I hadn’t realised just how much it adversely affects our environment, wildlife and our own health. This book is full of fascinating facts about the impact that darkness and the night have on all living creatures, including ourselves.

Artificial lighting today makes up a tenth of our total energy usage but most of it is of little benefit to us, spilling out into the sky. Animals cannot distinguish between artificial light and natural daylight which means their circadian rhythms are disrupted, sending body clocks awry, disrupting our sleep.

There is, of course, the need for safety and security, and Eklöf cites several examples of places around the world that have projects that promote darkness, and have established light pollution laws, such as France where there are regulations to limit how much light, and what kind of light, can be emitted into the atmosphere. The light needs to be adapted to suit the needs of both animals and humans.

Eklöf ends his book with his Darkness Manifesto, urging us to become aware of the darkness, to protect and preserve it individually by turning off lights when not in a room, and letting your garden rest in darkness at night; to discover nocturnal life; to observe the different phases of twilight and how the sun gives way to the moon and stars; and to learn more about the darkness and its importance for the survival of animals and plants. He also asks us to inform local authorities about the dangers of light pollution. To my mind the current energy crisis is another reason to reduce our use of lighting and electricity.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Mrs March by Virginia Feito

4th Estate| May 2022| 305 pages| Review Copy| 3*

I was invited to read Mrs March by the publishers 4th Estate publishers via NetGalley on the publication of the paperback edition in May 2022. It was first published in August 2021.

Publishers’ summary:

George March’s latest novel is a smash hit. None could be prouder than Mrs. March, his dutiful wife, who revels in his accolades and relishes the lifestyle and status his success brings.

A creature of routine and decorum, Mrs. March lives an exquisitely controlled existence on the Upper East Side. Every morning begins the same way, with a visit to her favourite patisserie to buy a loaf of
olive bread, but her latest trip proves to be her last when she suffers an indignity from which she may never recover: an assumption by the shopkeeper that the protagonist in George March’s new book –
a pathetic sex worker, more a figure of derision than desire – is based on Mrs. March.

One casual remark robs Mrs. March not only of her beloved olive bread but of the belief that she knew everything about her husband – and herself – sending her on an increasingly paranoid journey, one
that starts within the pages of a book but may very well uncover both a killer and the long-buried secrets of Mrs. March’s past.

A razor-sharp exploration of the fragility of identity and the smothering weight of expectations, Mrs. March heralds the arrival of a wicked and wonderful new voice.

My thoughts:

I liked the synopsis which is why I read Mrs March. I thought it sounded like a book I would enjoy. But I am in two minds about this book, because although I can see why it has received such a lot of praise and 5 star reviews I really did not enjoy reading it. It is a remarkable character study, taking the reader right inside Mrs March’s head as she descends into paranoia and madness. The whole book is seen solely from her perspective, which makes it the most uncomfortable experience – but that is down to the brilliance of Feito’s writing.

It begins well and I was immediately reminded of Mrs Dalloway and also of the unnamed wife in Rebecca and I wondered if her real name would be revealed. Throughout the book she is called ‘Mrs March’ even when referring to her as a child. It’s as if she is only a person identified by her marital status. Her life seems to have no meaning other than being married to Mr March. There really is very little evidence for Mrs March’s belief that her husband has based the character of a prostitute in his book on her. But her conviction that this is how he sees her is devastating to her. It’s as though her whole existence is threatened.

It’s been a while since I finished reading it as I’ve been wondering what to write about it. There is so much in it to take in and whilst my reading is mostly for enjoyment I don’t think I can dismiss a book simply because I didn’t ‘enjoy’ it. But neither can I ignore that fact. How can you ‘like’ the portrayal of the breakdown of a personality, or a person? It’s beautifully written, but so tragic. I couldn’t like any of the characters, but they got under my skin as I read and I wanted it to end differently – of course, it couldn’t.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston

Osprey Publishing| May 2021| 241 pages| e-book Review Copy| 3.5*

I had heard of the Battle of Brunanburh before I read Never Greater Slaughter by Michael Livingston, but my knowledge was limited to the fact that this had taken place in 937 between Æthelstan, King of England, King Alfred’s grandson, and an alliance led by Anlaf, a Viking chieftain, other chieftains and Constantine King of the Scots, in which Æthelstan was victorious. So I was very keen to find out more.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Late in AD 937, four armies met in a place called Brunanburh. On one side stood the shield-wall of the expanding kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons. On the other side stood a remarkable alliance of rival kings – at least two from across the sea – who’d come together to destroy them once and for all. The stakes were no less than the survival of the dream that would become England. The armies were massive. The violence, when it began, was enough to shock a violent age. Brunanburh may not today have the fame of Hastings, Crécy or Agincourt, but those later battles, fought for England, would not exist were it not for the blood spilled this day. Generations later it was still called, quite simply, the ‘great battle’. But for centuries, its location has been lost.

The title is taken from the poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describing the battle thus:

Never greater slaughter Was there on this island, never as many Folk felled before this By the Swords edges.

The location of the battle has been lost. Historians, archaeologists, linguists and other researchers have studied the little evidence that remains about the battle and put forward ideas about that location. In this book Livingston concludes that the only ‘certain pieces of information about the field at Brunanburgh – the place-names by which it was known in the immediate years afterwards – unquestionably point us to blood being shed in the mid-Wirral.’ (location 76%)

It seems to me that this is a very thorough and detailed book describing the battle and the various theories about its location. But not only that Livingston sets out his definition of history and its limitations. For example he says that whilst some facts will be known, a great many through the passage of time are lost, and some are facts that people have chosen to record to suit their own needs – their own bias in other words – or are simply not true.

Then Livingston describes what is known about the period leading up to the battle, describes the battle itself, and, having stated his objections to other possible locations, explains the reasons he concludes the location is in the Wirral, which seems convincing to me.

I found this a well researched and fascinating book that gave me a much better understanding of the period.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy via NetGalley.

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Random House UK| 27 September 2022| 440 pages| e-book Review Copy| 2.5*

Synopsis from Amazon

1926, and in a country still recovering from the Great War, London has become the focus for a delirious new nightlife. In the clubs of Soho, peers of the realm rub shoulders with starlets, foreign dignitaries with gangsters, and girls sell dances for a shilling a time.

At the heart of this glittering world is notorious Nellie Coker, ruthless but also ambitious to advance her six children, including the enigmatic eldest, Niven whose character has been forged in the crucible of the Somme. But success breeds enemies, and Nellie’s empire faces threats from without and within. For beneath the dazzle of Soho’s gaiety, there is a dark underbelly, a world in which it is all too easy to become lost.

With her unique Dickensian flair, Kate Atkinson brings together a glittering cast of characters in a truly mesmeric novel that captures the uncertainty and mutability of life; of a world in which nothing is quite as it seems.

My thoughts:

Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite authors, so I was expecting to enjoy Shrines of Gaiety. But it took me a while to settle into this book and for quite a while I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to carry on reading. But I persevered and finished it, because I wanted to find out what happened.

The novel begins just before the General Strike in May 1926. What I liked about it is that it does give a good idea of life in the 1920s, the atmosphere and attitudes after the First World War. There’s the nightlife, the new nightclubs, gangsters, corrupt police, and missing girls, drugs, drinking, crime and murder. The ‘dark belly’ of Soho’s underworld was very dark indeed and the gaiety superficial.

However, my problem with it was I found it confusing, with several plot lines and lots of characters, in lots of different locations, and at different times, and the narration jumps around between all of them. I had to keep backtracking to work out who was who and how they interacted. It was hard work! And some of it was boring, with quite a lot of padding, making the book as a whole far too long. It’s a sprawling story that could probably have been better spread between two or even three books.

In her Author’s Note Atkinson explains that inspiration for her novel came from the life and times of Kate Meyrick, who for many years was the queen of Soho’s clubland. Many of the details for the novel are taken from her autobiography, Secrets of the 43 Club and Atkinson also cites Barbara Cartland’s autobiography, We Danced All Night and several other works as sources for the novel. But although based on fact and including real people this is very much a work of fiction and she lists several details that she has invented.

Shrines of Gaiety has all the ingredients I love in a novel, but for me it didn’t hold my interest. Sometimes timing is everything and this may be just a case of the wrong book at the wrong time for me.

My thanks to Random House for an ARC via NetGalley.