A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

Canongate Books| 19th August 2021| 405 pages| Review Copy| 5*

This is the third book in Ambrose Parry’s historical series starring Will Raven & Sarah Fisher, set in 19th century Edinburgh. I loved the other books, The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying and A Corruption of Blood is equally as good, if not better.

Description

Edinburgh. This city will bleed you dry.

Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.

Back at 52 Queen Street, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.

Raven’s efforts to prove his erstwhile adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations will take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

Ambrose Parry is the pseudonym of crime fiction author, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist. Will is a doctor working with Doctor James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, who discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform (a real historical character), and Sarah, is the Simpsons’ housemaid, but she now assists Professor Simpson and is studying medicine. The two of them have a complicated and somewhat spiky relationship, which continues in this novel.

The combination of a crime fiction writer and an anaesthetist works excellently in Ambrose Parry’s novels. The research into the history of medicine is extensive, making this book a combination of historical fact and fiction, a tale of murder and medical matters, with the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into an intricate murder mystery. 

The mystery begins when the body of a baby wrapped in a parcel, is found floating in the Forth. The child had been strangled with a length of white tape. Sarah meanwhile is involved in finding a missing child. When Sir Ainsley Douglas, a prominent and wealthy member of Edinburgh society is found dead from arsenic poisoning, Will reluctantly gets involved in the murder investigation. How the mysteries interlink gradually becomes clear and although I soon realised how Sir Ainsley had been murdered, I was puzzled about who did it and was completely taken by surprise when the culprit was revealed.

Like all good historical fiction, this book weaves together fact and fiction. The Historical Note at the end of the book sorts out what was real and what was invented. The subjects covered include details about infectious diseases, the difficulties women experienced in obtaining a medical degree, and crimes children suffered in the 19th century. I think A Corruption of Blood is an exceptionally excellent murder mystery and an informative historical novel, with great period detail and convincing characters. I look forward to reading more books by Ambrose Parry.

Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan

Penguin| 19 August 2021| 339 pages| Review copy| 4*

Synopsis:

Most of us give little thought to the back of the book – it’s just where you go to look things up. But here, hiding in plain sight, is an unlikely realm of ambition and obsession, sparring and politicking, pleasure and play. Here we might find Butchers, to be avoided, or Cows that sh-te Fire, or even catch Calvin in his chamberwithaNonne. This is the secret world of the index: an unsung but extraordinary everyday tool, with an illustrious but little-known past. Here, for the first time, its story is told.

Charting its curious path from the monasteries and universities of thirteenth-century Europe to Silicon Valley in the twenty-first, Dennis Duncan reveals how the index has saved heretics from the stake, kept politicians from high office and made us all into the readers we are today. We follow it through German print shops and Enlightenment coffee houses, novelists’ living rooms and university laboratories, encountering emperors and popes, philosophers and prime ministers, poets, librarians and – of course – indexers along the way. Revealing its vast role in our evolving literary and intellectual culture, Duncan shows that, for all our anxieties about the Age of Search, we are all index-rakers at heart, and we have been for eight hundred years.

My thoughts:

This book is not just about the history of the index, but also about the history of reading and the evolution of the book from the scrolls, manuscripts and the codex before the the invention of printing – how they were produced and used. I was interested in reading it as I’m an ex-librarian and cataloguer, later an assistant in a county record office where a large part of my job involved indexing. If you think like me that an index is an indispensable part of a non fiction book then you’ll enjoy this book, which is both informative and entertaining. And I often wish fiction books were indexed too – one of the advantages of an e-book is that you can search the text, even better if it has the X-Ray feature.

It explains the difference between the index and the table of contents, goes into the evolution of page numbers and the problems of alphabetisation. This is not a dry, factual account it is written with humour and insights into the past, using examples from historical texts, and from indexes complied as satirical attacks on their authors. I never knew indexes had been used as weapons! Nor did I know that some works of fiction had been indexed in the past – full details in Chapter 6 ‘Indexing Fictions: Naming was Always a Difficult Art’, quoting from Lewis Carroll’s works. Carroll was fascinated with indexes, leaning particularly towards the whimsical, using his logician’s wit.

Neither is it stuck in the far distant past, Duncan brings it up to date in the digital age and the ubiquity of the search engine with the rise of anxiety that this is changing our brains, shortening our attention spans and eroding our capacity for memory. But this, Duncan explains is nothing new as the history of the index shows that there have always been fears that nobody will read properly any more when they could just use an index to replace the ways of close reading. The ways we read have changed over the generations.

The Index, a History of the is simply fascinating.

About the Author

Dennis Duncan is a writer, translator and lecturer in English at University College London. He has published numerous academic books, including Book Parts and The Oulipo and Modern Thought, as well as translations of Michel Foucault, Boris Vian, and Alfred Jarry. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books, and recent articles have considered Mallarmé and jugs, James Joyce and pornography, and the history of Times New Roman. 

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.

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

Lake Union| February 2020| 323 pages| 3*

A single twist of fate puts a servant girl to work in Queen Victoria’s royal kitchen, setting off a suspenseful, historical mystery by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and The Victory Garden.

Arriving as Helen Barton from Yorkshire, she pursues her passion for creating culinary delights, served to the delighted Queen Victoria herself. Best of all, she’s been chosen to accompany the queen to Nice. What fortune! Until the threat of blackmail shadows Bella to the Riviera, and a member of the queen’s retinue falls ill and dies.

Having prepared the royal guest’s last meal, Bella is suspected of the poisonous crime. An investigation is sure to follow. Her charade will be over. And her new life will come crashing down—if it doesn’t send her to the gallows.

Set towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1896/7 I thought this sounded interesting when I read the synopsis on NetGalley, and it is. It’s a pleasant easy read, but rather far-fetched.

The novel is based on facts to a certain extent. Rhys Bowen’s Historical Note explains that many aspects of the story are true, including the details about Abdul Karim, the Queen’s Indian Munshi. The Hotel Regina Excelsior above Nice was built for Queen Victoria – she had a separate wing with its own entrance – and she took a team of her cooks with her when she visited each winter.

I thought the beginning of the book was slow and predictable, and there are a few convenient coincidences. Isabella (Bella) Waverley’s father was a member of an aristocratic family, the second son of a second son, who fell on hard times and eventually died an alcoholic. Bella had gone into service and found she had a talent for baking. So when she had the opportunity to take Helen Barton’s position as an under cook at Buckingham Palace, she presented herself as Helen at the Palace. Keeping her real identity a secret was a problem that continued through the book, providing an element of suspense. Then when one of the Queen’s German relatives died, Bella is suspected of poisoning him, and I enjoyed the intrigue and the puzzle of who killed the Count.

Overall I did find the book entertaining. I enjoyed reading about the meals the Queen Victoria’s household were served and the settings both in Buckingham Palace and in the French Riviera are beautifully described. Compared to the slow start the ending is packed with action and romance as well as mystery.

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

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Harper Collins| 18 March 2021| 645 pages| 3*

1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.

Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.

1947, London.

Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged, their friendship torn apart by secrets and betrayal. Yet now they must race against the clock to crack one final code together, before it’s too late, for them and for their country.

My Thoughts:

I have very mixed thoughts about The Rose Code. On the one hand it’s just the sort of book I love – historical fiction with a thrilling story and interesting characters that kept me wanting to read on and yet also made me want it to last as long as possible. On the other hand, it’s unevenly paced, with a slow start and a rushed ending that was somewhat of an anti-climax. My favourite character was Beth and I enjoyed reading how her character developed from a shy down trodden young woman into a brilliant cryptanalyst.

But when I first began reading it earlier this year I stopped after the opening pages and only picked it up again a couple of weeks or so ago. I initially stopped as the storyline involving Prince Philip made me very uncomfortable – Prince Philip was still alive when this book was written and when I first started to read it. He died in April this year.

The book begins in 1947 as Osla Kendall, a journalist working for the Tatler, is wondering what to wear for the Royal Wedding. She is in a ‘foul mood‘ as she wonders what to wear to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.

Historical fiction mixes fact and fiction with both real and imaginary characters and I don’t have a problem with that. The character of Osla Kendall is based on a real person – in her Author’s Note Kate Quinn writes that she is ‘lightly fictionalized from the real-life Osla Benning, a beautiful, effervescent, Canadian-born heiress and Hut 4 translator who was Prince Philip’s long-term wartime girlfriend.‘ But by the time of the Royal Wedding Osla Benning was already married, not pining after Prince Philip. In writing their story Kate Quinn was not writing from facts but from her imagination as she put words in her characters’ mouths and described their emotions thoughts and feelings, which, of course, she could not have known.

However, I got over my dislike and read on – after all, this is fiction, not an accurate historical account. I like to know which is fact and which is fiction when I read historical fiction. So, after reading the review copy I received via NetGalley, I decided I needed to buy the published book and read the Author’s Note. And I’m glad did because I was relieved to find that Kate Quinn goes into a lot of detail to identify which characters are real and which fictional and how she has fictionalised them. She also reveals that she has also deviated from the historical records ‘to serve the story.’ I think this explains why I was uncomfortable with the book and why I don’t often read historical romances.

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

Six Queens: Katheryn Howard the Tainted Queen by Alison Weir

Headline Review| 20 August 2020| 479 pages| Review copy| 2*

I wanted to read this book because I knew very little about Henry VIII’s 5th wife, except that she was beheaded on the grounds that she had committed adultery and treason.

Description

A NAIVE YOUNG WOMAN AT THE MERCY OF HER AMBITIOUS FAMILY.

At just nineteen, Katheryn Howard is quick to trust and fall in love.

She comes to court. She sings, she dances. She captures the heart of the King.

But Henry knows nothing of Katheryn’s past – one that comes back increasingly to haunt her. For those who share her secrets are waiting in the shadows, whispering words of love… and blackmail.

Having read it, I don’t think I know much more, except that Katheryn Howard comes across as a very shallow character, obsessed with sex, with luxury in all its forms, naive and easily manipulated. Alison Weir excels in her descriptive writing, bringing the Tudor court to life in all of its settings, locations, clothes and jewellery.

It has glowing reviews on Amazon full of praise and it is based on extensive research. Clearly other people love this book, but I didn’t. For me it came across as a romance novel, primarily focused on Katheryn’s imagined thoughts, emotions, and sexual encounters. It is simply written, but with too many cliches and modernised text.

Alison Weir’s Author’s Note is much more interesting than her novel, in which she acknowledges her sources, including Dr. Nicola Tallis’ unpublished DPhil thesis, All the Queen’s Jewels, 1445 – 1548, and a number of biographies of Katheryn Howard. She refers to original sources she used as the basis of the book – contemporary writers and wills, portraits showing her rich clothes and jewellery – jewels that have been tentatively identified in Katheryn Howard’s inventory.

She used these sources for the narrative of the book, weaving them into the dialogue and modernising the speech ‘where Tudor English looks out of place in a modern text.’ She states that ‘apart from fictionalising the historical record’ she has invented very little.’ There is also a Dramatis Personae, usefully indicating which characters are fictional and a Timeline, which is also very useful.

I think the Author’s Note is the best part of the book. There is rather too much of ‘fictionalising the historical record’ for me in the novel. I don’t like writing about a book I didn’t enjoy when I know so much work has gone into it and clearly other people have loved it. But this is just my opinion, for what it is worth.

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

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

Two Roads| 9th February 2021| 369 pages| Review copy| 3*

Before I read the summary of the book the title led me to think this was about the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, located in Paris. It’s not, it’s about the American Library in Paris.

PARIS, 1939
Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris – with its thriving community of students, writers and book lovers – is a dream come true. When war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes.
In Occupied Paris, choices as black and white as the words on a page become a murky shade of grey – choices that will put many on the wrong side of history, and the consequences of which will echo for decades to come.

MONTANA, 1983
Lily is a lonely teenager desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language, the same longings. But as Lily uncovers more about Odile’s mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, closely guarded and long hidden.

As an ex-librarian I had high hopes that I would love The Paris Library. It’s historical fiction, based on the true Second World War story of the librarians at the American Library in Paris. It was established in 1920 by the American Library Association with books and periodicals donated by American libraries to US soldiers serving their allies in World War I. Since then it has developed into the largest English language lending library in Europe.

I liked the details about the Library, and about the work the library staff did during the War, including delivering books by hand to their Jewish subscribers in Paris after they were not allowed to enter the Library.

Charles’ helpful Author’s Note gives a fascinating insight into the background to the novel and explains that she had spent several years researching it. She had worked in the American Library in 2010 and her colleagues had told her the story of the Library during the Second World War and had given her access to documents, correspondence and contacts. She met with some of the staff who had worked there and was able to bring their stories up to date. Odile and Lily are both fictional characters.

Although I enjoyed the factual elements of the novel and the wartime storyline, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. I was disappointed with the fictional stories, in particular Lily’s story in Montana in the 1980s. I really didn’t see the point of introducing her character simply to show what happened to Odile after the end of the War. Her story took the novel into the genres of YA and romantic fiction, neither of which hold much appeal for me. Overall I thought it was slow going and towards the end of the book my interest flagged making it a struggle to finish it.

With thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers, Two Roads for my review copy.

Coming Up For Air by Sarah Leipciger

A remarkable true story richly re-imagined

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toy-maker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada where a journalist, battling a terrible disease, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Taking inspiration from a remarkable true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about the transcendent power of storytelling and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Coming Up For Air is Sarah Leipciger’s second novel. It is a beautiful novel, a story of three people living in different countries and in different times. How their stories connect is gradually revealed as the novel progresses. As the author explains at the end of the novel is is a mix of fact and fiction and has its basis in truth. There is grief and loss and despair in each story, but above all, it is about love, and the desire to live.

Each story was compelling and, for once in a book that alternates between the characters, I thought the changes were just at the right moment in each one.

It begins with the unknown young woman in Paris, L’Inconnue, telling the story of her life that led to her suicide. Her death in the Seine is vividly described. As she fell in the cold water, initially she discovered the desire to live, as her body thrashed about not wanting to drown, her lungs fighting for air, for oxygen. It’s poignant and moving, set at the end of the 19th century bringing the city to life, where she lives as a lady’s companion to an old friend of her grandmother’s.

The second story is that of Norwegian, Pieter Akkrehamn, beginning in 1921, when he used to spend his summers with his grandparents on Karmoy Island. He went swimming in the North Sea, diving down several metres, holding his breath for over a minute in the freezing cold water, as the cold reached his chest, squeezing his lungs. His story is revealed, as he grieves for his little son. He is a toymaker, bored with making wooden toys, who turned to soft plastics and began making dolls with soft faces and bendable knees. What he eventually developed was truly remarkable.

The vital importance of being able to breathe comes to the fore in the third story – that of Anouk, a journalist in Canada. Anouk has cystic fibrosis and is on the list for a lung transplant. Her story is one of how she and her parents dealt with her illness, enabling her to combine her love for water and swimming with managing her cystic fibrosis, all the time struggling to breathe.

I think Sarah Leipciger is a great storyteller. It is an inspiring book, beautifully written, which emphasises the importance of the air we breathe and the desire to live. I loved it so much that I hope to read her first novel, The Mountain Can Wait.

With my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House for my review copy.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Random House UK Transworld Digital (19 Mar. 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 320 pages

The Killing Kind by Jane Casey

Harper Collins| 27 May 2021|474 pages|Review copy| 5*

I love Jane Casey’s Maeve Kerrigan series, police procedurals, fast-paced novels, with intriguing and complex plots and developing the relationships between the main characters. So, when I saw that she has written a standalone novel, The Killing Kind I was keen to read it. It is a psychological thriller – and it is so, so very good. I was totally engrossed in it right from its opening page all the way through to the end. It’s a mix of courtroom scenes, police interviews and terrifying action-packed scenes.

The main character is Ingrid Lewis, a barrister, who successfully defended John Webster, who was on trial for stalking. But he then went on to stalk her, ruining her peace of mind and her life. He not only harassed her, but sent her multiple emails and texts, and uploaded YouTube videos destroying her reputation. Her relationship with her fiance, Mark Orpen, was ruined and her home was burnt down – all of which she was sure was down to him.

She took out a restraining order against him and thought she was free of him. But when the order expired she became convinced he was back in her life when one of colleagues, Belinda Grey, was killed in a road accident. Belinda had borrowed Ingrid’s red umbrella and Ingrid is sure she was the intended victim, when she sees the umbrella at the scene. Later a friend staying in her flat is brutally stabbed to death – again she is convinced Webster is behind her murder. But Webster insists he is innocent and that he is the only one who can protect her.

Ingrid doesn’t know who to believe and who she can trust – her life becomes a nightmare. Webster is clever, cold and an expert manipulator and Ingrid becomes putty in his hands. In despair she turns to DC Adam Nash for help and protection. It moves from past to present and in between the chapters there are sections in which three unnamed people exchange emails about Ingrid’s situation and I was intrigued trying to work out their identities- I was nearly right. I loved it.

With my thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collins for my review copy.

Circus of Wonders by Elizabeth Macneal

Picador| 13 May 2021| 384 pages|Review copy| 4*

Description

1866. In a coastal village in southern England, Nell picks violets for a living. Set apart by her community because of the birthmarks that speckle her skin, Nell’s world is her beloved brother and devotion to the sea.

But when Jasper Jupiter’s Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, Nell is kidnapped. Her father has sold her, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own leopard girl. It is the greatest betrayal of Nell’s life, but as her fame grows, and she finds friendship with the other performers and Jasper’s gentle brother Toby, she begins to wonder if joining the show is the best thing that has ever happened to her.

In London, newspapers describe Nell as the eighth wonder of the world. Figurines are cast in her image, and crowds rush to watch her soar through the air. But who gets to tell Nell’s story? What happens when her fame threatens to eclipse that of the showman who bought her? And as she falls in love with Toby, can he detach himself from his past and the terrible secret that binds him to his brother.

Moving from the pleasure gardens of Victorian London to the battle-scarred plains of the Crimea, Circus of Wonders is an astonishing story about power and ownership, fame and the threat of invisibility.

I loved Elizabeth Macneal’s first book, The Doll Factory, so I was keen to read her second, Circus of Wonders, set in 1866. I liked the circus setting and the variety of characters. The main character is Nell, the ‘leopard girl’, who is both shunned and ridiculed by the people in her village because of the birthmarks on her face and all over her body. When the travelling circus visits the village her father sells her to Jasper Jupiter’s ‘Circus of Wonders‘ as it includes a ‘freak show’, highlighting the very different attitudes of the times from those of the present day. This makes for uncomfortable reading at times, as Stella, the bearded lady, Brunette, the Welsh Giantess, and Peggy the dwarf who drives a miniature carriage are treated as objects of curiosities, acts to be bought and sold, just as Nell was sold.

It’s narrated from the perspectives of the three main characters, Nell, who became a star as ‘Nellie Moon’ flying high above the circus ring suspended beneath a balloon, Jasper, the ambitious circus owner and Toby his younger, gentler brother. Jasper is the driving force as he is forever looking for new acts to draw the crowds. His ambition is to gain a pitch in London, hoping the Queen might hear of him and want to see his show. He knows that the queen is the ‘freak-fancier par excellence, who has summoned Aztecs, pinheaded people and dwarves to her Palace’.

The brothers had both taken part in the Crimean War, Jasper as a soldier and Toby as a photographer. Toby is haunted by memories of the war and in particular of what happened to Dash, Jasper’s friend, during the siege of Sevastopol. The horror of the war has never left him. Although the circus is the main focus of the novel, it is the mystery of what happened in the Crimea and the relationships between Jasper, Toby and Dash that interested me the most and made me want to read on.

This is a novel that transported me back to the Victorian period, full of the atmosphere of both the circus and of war. It reveals the insecurities, fears and isolation that the characters suffer. It emphasises the exploitation of ‘freaks of nature’, who draw the crowds and the power of illusions. I like the mix of fact and fiction and the way that Macneal interweaves the details of the Crimean War with the circus narrative. However, I don’t think it’s quite as good as The Doll Factory, which totally captivated me with its dark tale of obsession, pulsing with drama, intrigue and suspense.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Pan McMillan, Picador for my review copy.