The Darkest Place by Jo Spain

The Darkest Place (An Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery, #4)

4*

Quercus Books|20 September 2018|352 pages|Review copy

The Darkest Place is Jo Spain’s 4th Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery book and although I haven’t read the first three I was keen to read this book when I saw it offered on NetGalley as I’d enjoyed her standalone book The Confession. As I expected there are references to the cases Tom Reynolds and his team investigated in the earlier books and it’s probably best to read those first, but actually this didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book.

I was soon gripped by the mystery right from the opening lines of the book:

Forty years was too long to wait for somebody to come back from the dead.

But still, she liked to get  everything ready. Just in case.

The ‘somebody’ is Conrad Howe, who was one of the senior doctors at St Christina’s asylum on Oilean na Coillte,  known to locals as the island of lost souls, an island (fictional) off the south-west corner of Ireland. His wife, Miriam had never given up hope that he was alive and would return home.

The psychiatric hospital was closed down years ago, but now there are plans to build a retreat on the island, an exclusive hotel, and during the demolition work a mass grave for the patients had been uncovered. Conrad’s body was found, hidden beneath some of the body bags and it was obvious that he had been murdered.

The narrative alternates between the police investigation and extracts from the diary Miriam had found hidden in the attic, describing what was happening at the hospital and the horrific treatment some of the patients were subjected to by one of the doctors. A few of the hospital staff, including the former head of St Christina’s, Dr Lawrence Boylan and an ex-nurse, Carla Crowley, and it is soon clear that something evil is still going on at the asylum.

This really is a chilling book and in parts I found it disturbing and difficult to read. Jo Spain makes it clear in her Acknowledgements that although this is crime fiction it is based on fact – such terrible things really did happen in mental institutions, housing vulnerable people. They were patients with dementia, deformities, depression, epilepsy and homosexuals – people whose families could not deal with them and they were treated mainly as though they were suffering from a physical illness or disorder, that could be fixed. Those that couldn’t be fixed were kept locked up.

For most of the book I kept wondering what had actually happened to Conrad Howe and suspecting various people of killing him, mainly thinking it was one particular person until halfway into the book, then thinking it couldn’t be that one. I was right about that, but it was only just before the truth was revealed that I had the slightest suspicion of what had really happened, which makes it a very satisfying book indeed. I’m now on the lookout for more books by Jo Spain.

Thanks to Quercus Books and NetGalley for provided a review copy of this book.

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time by Simon Garfield

Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

3*

Synopsis:

Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. The Beatles learn to be brilliant in an hour and a half. An Englishman arrives back from Calcutta but refuses to adjust his watch. Beethoven has his symphonic wishes ignored. A US Senator begins a speech that will last for 25 hours. The horrors of war are frozen at the click of a camera. A woman designs a ten-hour clock and reinvents the calendar. Roger Bannister lives out the same four minutes over a lifetime. And a prince attempts to stop time in its tracks.

Timekeepers is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to measure it, control it, sell it, film it, perform it, immortalise it and make it meaningful. It has two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

My thoughts:

Timekeepers fulfils Simon Garfield’s intentions – to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts. It covers a wide variety of topics, all in one way or another about time – how it’s been recorded, the development of the calendar, the standardisation of time to aid with railway timetables, and aspects of time management, for example.

The chapters vary in length and some are more interesting than others. The one that interested me most was Movie Time, with an account of how the silent film, Safety Last! was made in 1923.

File:Safetylast-1.jpg
Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock in Safety Last! (1923)

Harold Lloyd climbs the outside of a department store, obstacles falling on him as he does so, until he reaches the giant clock at the top, grabs hold of it, and dangles above the street below. Garfield recalls that for the first audiences time just froze, some went into hysterics and others fainted. Garfield’s focus is on the concept of time that the movies portrayed and goes on to explain how films were originally produced and shown when the timing depended on the cranking skills of the cameraman during filming and the projectionist during showing.

I was also interested in the chapter on performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a long and complex piece of music involving a large orchestra, solo singers and a chorus, where Garfield’s focus is on the tempo of the music and the differences made by different composers’ interpretations; and also in the chapter on Nic Ut’s photograph of children fleeing after a napalm bomb had been dropped on a village in Trảng Bàng, Vietnam. Garfield’s focus here is on the fraction of a second when the photograph was captured that brought the story home to its viewers.

Several other chapters also interested me but I wasn’t taken with those on the technicalities of time measurement, time management,or the production of clocks and watches, that Garfield describes in great detail. The book jumps about from topic to topic with, as far as I can make out, no chronological order. But it is full of facts, and going off the Further Reading and Acknowledgement section it is well researched. A book to dip into rather than read straight through.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 4503 KB
  • Print Length: 369 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (29 Sept. 2016)
  • Source: Canongate Books via NetGalley
  • My Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to Canongate Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

4*

Hodder and Stoughton|23 August 2018|432 pages|Review copy

The opening chapters of Now Well Shall Be Entirely Free drew me in immediately as I read about Captain John Lacroix’s return to England from Spain in 1809, close to death after the battle of Corunna, during the Peninsular War. Miller’s descriptive writing, lyrical and poetic, vividly sets the scene as Lacroix is nursed back to health by Nell, his servant. But it is clear that he is on the edge of a breakdown, mentally and emotionally, saying little about the battle and indeed, unable to face the memories of the horrors he experienced. When another officer arrives ordering him to report back to duty, he decides instead to leave for the Highlands to recuperate.

This is followed by an account of the investigation of the atrocities carried out  in the village of Los Morales during the army’s retreat to Corunna.  The village was burned down, men were lynched and women raped. Two men, a vicious Englishman, Corporal Calley is ordered to track down and kill the officer responsible and a Spaniard, Lieutenant Medina, a liaison officer with the British army, is assigned to accompany him and report back that the execution has been carried out. It is soon obvious that the officer is Captain John Lacroix and so the hunt is on, as Calley and Medina follow his trail from Somerset to Bristol and Glasgow and then on to the Hebrides, leaving a trail of violence and death behind them.

The pace is brisk, until Lacroix reaches the isles, where he meets the Frend family, a brother and sisters, living as part of an isolated community. Jane is pregnant and Emily is slowly losing her sight. At this point in the novel the pace dropped partly because of the vagueness in describing the location of the island (somewhere in the Outer Hebrides beyond Mingulay) and Lacroix’s own mental and physical slowing down on the island – after being attacked and robbed in Glasgow, he began taking opium to relieve his pain. My attention began to wander until he and Emily returned to Glasgow for an operation to improve her eyesight. The pace picked up and I was fascinated by the medical details, with intriguing insights into new discoveries in medical treatment.

But then the ending came all too quickly and left me feeling uncertain about what actually happened – the ambiguity surrounding their ‘freedom’. Freedom is a theme throughout the novel – its definition and how it differs for men and women. The relentless brutality of war, of course is another theme, demonstrated through the inhumanity of Calley’s actions and its effects on Lacroix as he finally reveals what had happened in Spain.

I enjoyed the historical details, the medical techniques as well as the effects of industrialisation, and in particular the conditions in the cotton mills, where Calley laboured as a child. He had worked as a ‘piecer’ mending the cotton threads and cleaning the machines, in danger of losing a limb, deafened by the noise in the hot machine room where the air was thick with little bits of cotton filling up your nose and lungs.

But most of all I enjoyed the writing. Miller’s ability to write in such a lyrical style, to convey emotions and create such complex characters that are so believable that you can empathise, to a limited extent, even with a thug like Calley, make this book remarkable.

Thanks go to Hodder and Stoughton and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

Books Read in September 2018

How my reading habits have changed! It was only a few years ago that I read mostly paper books, but these days I read mostly e-books – six out of the nine books I read in September are e-books. Another major change is the amount of review copies I read. This month I read five review copies that came to me via NetGalley. I also read one library book and the other three books are all my own books – but only one of those is an actual physical book! And only one of the nine books is non-fiction.

They range from 5 star to 2 star books and are a mix of crime and historical fiction plus one biography. My ratings are based solely on my reactions to the books.

I’ve written about five of these books – click on the links to read my reviews:

  1. The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry 5* – historical fiction set in Edinburgh in 1847 as Dr James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform.
  2. The Dancer at the Gai-Moulin by Georges Simenon 3.5* – one of the early Maigret books, set in Belgium not France.
  3. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Karen Morton 3* – historical fiction set over multiple time-lines and with multiple narrators. I loved parts of it and it’s richly descriptive, but found it hard to keep track of all the characters and separate strands of the story.
  4. Appleby’s End by Michael Innes 3* – an Inspector Appleby book. It’s surreal, a macabre fantasy with a  complex and completely unrealistic plot and strange characters.
  5. Down to the Woods by M J Arlidge 2.5* – crime fiction, a DI Helen Grace murder mystery, tense and dark with several twists and turns. Not my favourite book of the month!

Here are some brief notes about the remaining four books:

Dead Woman WalkingDead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton 5* – Sharon Bolton is a brilliant storyteller and this is a brilliant book – complex, very cleverly plotted, full of suspense and completely gripping with great characters and set in Northumberland. It begins with a balloon flight that ends in disaster and only Jessica survives as the balloon crashes to the ground, but she is pursued by a man who is determined to kill her.  I loved this book.

Wedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

Wedlock:  How Georgian Britain’s Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore 4* – a biography of Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was one of Britain’s richest young heiresses. Her first husband was the Count of Strathmore – the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was a direct descendant of their marriage. Her second marriage to Andrew Robinson Stoney was an absolute disaster. He was brutally cruel and treated her with such violence, humiliation, deception and kidnap, that she lived in fear for her life. This is non-fiction and is full of detail, but even so it reads like a novel.

East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck 4* –  the story of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly re-enact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. I enjoyed this beautifully written book, which begins slowly, but not as much as The Grapes of Wrath, which I thought was amazing. It’s long – too long really – and to my mind it reads like a morality tale of good versus evil. There are many parallels to the Bible stories, with surely one of the most evil characters ever in Cathy. I liked the way Steinbeck set out the moral dilemmas and gave the characters choice using the Hebrew word ‘timshel‘, meaning ‘thou mayest’.

The Gaslight Stalker (Esther & Jack Enright Mystery #1)The Gaslight Stalker by David Field 2* – historical crime fiction set in London in 1888. This was a disappointing book, that provides a new solution to the Jack the Ripper murders. There are two elements to the plot and I don’t think they mixed well. I liked the historical facts based on the evidence in the Jack the Ripper case and thought they were well written, if a little repetitive. But the romance between Esther, a young seamstress and Jacob Enright, a young police officer, felt out of place and is too simplistically narrated.

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.