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.

The Ghost by Robert Harris

The Ghost

4*

I have enjoyed all of Robert Harris’s books that I’ve read and The Ghost is no exceptionThe ‘ghost’ in this novel is a professional  ghostwriter employed to finish writing the memoirs of recently retired prime minister of Great Britain, Adam Peter Benet Lang. McAra, Lang’s long-term assistant, had nearly completed Lang’s memoir when he was found dead, drowned. He had gone overboard during the ferry crossing to Martha’s Vineyard, where Lang and his wife, Ruth are staying.

The setting of Martha’s Vineyard in winter reflects Lang’s mood, it is out-of-season, closed down, practically empty – as isolated as Lang himself, disconnected from the world of power he once dominated and stuck on this bleak island with his volatile wife and his aide, the beautiful Amelia Bly, who Ruth suspects is having an affair with Lang. The ghostwriter soon discovers that Lang has secrets in his past that are returning to haunt him – secrets with the power to kill. And he suspects that McAra’s death was neither an accident nor a suicide.

This is fiction, but Adam and Ruth, do have similarities to Tony and Cherie Blair. Lang is charming, personable, full of restless energy, with an engaging smile and thick wavy hair. The narrator, an unnamed writer, who Adam calls ‘man’, is a likeable character more used to ghostwriting the memoirs of footballers than politicians, who has just one month to complete Lang’s memoirs. But soon after he arrives this is reduced to two weeks when news breaks that Lang is accused of war crimes. The International Criminal Court in The Hague are investigating the allegations of Richard Rycart, the former British Foreign Secretary, that Lang had ordered the illegal handover of suspects for torture by the CIA.

I liked the details about ghostwriting from the quotes heading each chapter taken from Andrew Crofts handbook, Ghostwriting. But what I liked most about The Ghost is that it is fast- paced, full of tension and written in a straightforward linear narrative – no flashbacks or fly forwards, or multiple narrators. As in his other books  I’ve read it’s written in such a way that I feel as though I’m there with the characters taking part in the action. And his characters are distinct people, easily distinguishable from each other. In so many books I’ve read recently I’ve come across a character and have been unable to place them and have had to backtrack to find out who they are and how they fit into the plot, or the characters have similar sounding names or all begin with the same letter. Not so with The Ghost the characters have depth, the structure is clear, and there is a twist at the end that revealed the menace implied through the whole novel. Harris is a great storyteller.

My copy:

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; Reprint edition (3 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-009952749
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My rating: 4*

 

WWW Wednesday: 24 October 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading: three books, one historical fiction in hardback, one crime fiction on my Kindle and one non-fiction that I’ve borrowed from the library.

Tombland by C J Sansom, the 7th book in his Shardlake series, set in 1549 two years after the death of Henry VIII.

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

I’m just settling into this book – Edward VI, is eleven years old and his uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules England as Protector. Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter, is once more called on to investigate a murder, that of Elizabeth’s distant relative, Edith Boleyn. 1549 is the year of Kett’s Rebellion, which began when a group of rebels destroyed fences that wealthy landowners had erected to enclose their land.

I’m also reading The Darkest Place by Jo Spain, the Kindle edition was published on 20 September 2018. It’s the fourth Inspector Tom Holland mystery. I’ve read nearly 70% and am really enjoying it.

The Darkest Place (Inspector Tom Reynolds, #4)

Synopsis:

Christmas day, and DCI Tom Reynolds receives an alarming call. A mass grave has been discovered on Oileán na Caillte, the island which housed the controversial psychiatric institution St. Christina’s. The hospital has been closed for decades and onsite graves were tragically common. Reynolds thinks his adversarial boss is handing him a cold case to sideline him.

But then it transpires another body has been discovered amongst the dead – one of the doctors who went missing from the hospital in mysterious circumstances forty years ago. He appears to have been brutally murdered.

As events take a sudden turn, nothing can prepare Reynolds and his team for what they are about to discover once they arrive on the island . . .

And I’ve also started to read Jacob’s Room is Full of Books, by Susan Hill in which she writes about the books she has read, reread or returned to the shelf during one year.

Jacob's Room is Full of Books: A Year of Reading

It’s a mix of reflections on the books, on writing and of observations about a variety of topics, month by month.

I’ve recently finished:  
The Ghost

The Ghost by Robert Harris. I quoted the opening paragraph and synopsis in this post. It’s a political thriller with an anonymous narrator who is the ‘ghost’ or rather a ghostwriter employed to write the autobiography of Adam Peter Benet Lang, recently retired prime minister of Great Britain. I’m writing my review and will post it in the next few days.

My next book could be:

I am torn, as usual, wanting to read several books at once. I so want to start Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton – I wrote a bit about this book in this post.  It’s crime fiction about a convicted murderer, Hamish Wolfe who tries to convince, defence barrister Maggie Rose that he is innocent.

Daisy in Chains

But there are many more books also crying out to be read, so when the time comes to start another book, it could be something completely different.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

A-Z of TBRs: E-Books: D, E and F

Earlier this year I looked through my TBRs – the ‘real’ books – and as it prompted me to read more of them, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at some of the TBRs on my Kindle. I have a bad habit of downloading books and then forgetting all about them – it’s as though they’ve gone into a black hole.

This is the second instalment of my A – Z of my e-book TBRs – with a little ‘taster’ from each. These are all fiction.

Daisy in Chains

D is for Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton (on my Kindle since November 2014.)  I can’t quite believe I haven’t read this book as Sharon Bolton is one of my favourite authors, but there it is – I can see I started it as I’m on page 22. It’s about a convicted murderer, Hamish Wolfe who tries to convince, defence barrister Maggie Rose that he is innocent.

The Times Online, Monday, 8 September 2014

CONTROVERSY IN COURT AS WOLFE TRIAL OPENS

Accused surgeon, Hamish Wolfe, refused to enter a plea on the first day of his trial at the Old Bailey today. In accordance with English law, he will now be tried as if he had pleaded not guilty.

Dressed in a dark grey suit, white shirt and blue tie, Wolfe appeared to be paying close attention to proceedings, but when asked to speak he remained silent, in spite of the judge, Mr Justice Peters, on three occasions, advising him that it was not in his interests to do so. (page 13)

There are letters, emails, and court transcripts as well as newspaper reports and the story is told from multiple viewpoints, told mainly as far as I can see from the little I’ve read, in the present tense, as in the following extract where Sandra, Hamish’s mother is talking to Maggie as she drives her home from the beach:

I came here today to talk to you,’ she says. I didn’t want to come to your house, I didn’t want to intrude, so I thought I’d wait for you at the beach. And then Daisy ran off just before you arrived. It all nearly went so horribly wrong.’

… ‘I drove over this morning,’ Sandra says before she’s even changed gear. ‘And yesterday morning too. I watched your car pull out of your drive. I guessed you were coming here. And that you come at high tide. (page 9)

Exposure

E is for Exposure by Helen Dunmore, on my Kindle since July 2017. It’s set in London in 1960 when the Cold War is at its height, and a spy may be a friend or neighbour, colleague or lover. At the end of a suburban garden, in the pouring rain, a woman buries a briefcase deep in the earth. She believes that she is protecting her family. What she will learn is that no one is immune from betrayal or the devastating consequences of exposure.

Another book written in the present tense, which again might be the reason I stopped reading this book at page 56:

It starts with a whistle of a train, shearing through the cold, thick dust of a November afternoon. Lily Callington hears it as she digs over her vegetable patch at the bottom of her garden in Muswell Hill. For a second she’s startled, because the whistle sounds so close, as if a rain is rushing towards her along the disused railway line at the bottom of the garden. She straightens and listens intently, frowning. the whistle goes through her, touching nerves so deep that Lily doesn’t even know where they are. The children! They aren’t here. She can’t see them, touch them, keep them safe.

Stop it you fool. They are not babies any more. Paul is ten, Sally almost nine. Even Bridget is five. They’re at school. What could be safer than a primary school in Muswell Hill?

(pages 4-5)

Flight Behaviour

F is for Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, on my Kindle since February 2014. On the Appalachian Mountains above her home, a young mother discovers a beautiful and terrible marvel of nature: the monarch butterflies have not migrated south for the winter this year. Is this a miraculous message from God, or a spectacular sign of climate change? Entomology expert, Ovid Byron, certainly believes it is the latter. He ropes in Dellarobia to help him decode the mystery of the monarch butterflies.

Dellarobia is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.

The flame now appeared to lift from the individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a camp fire when it’s poked. The sparks spiralled upwards in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against gray sky. In broad daylight with no comprehension she watched. From the tops of the funnels the sparks lifted high and sailed out undirected above the dark forest.

A forest fire, if that’s what it was, would roar. This consternation swept the mountain in perfect silence. The air remained cold and clear. No smoke, no crackling howl. she stopped breathing for a second and closed her eyes to listen, but heard nothing. Only a faint patter like rain on leaves. (page 19)

If you’ve read any of these please let me know what you think?

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.

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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.

WWW Wednesday: 17 October 2018

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading:

The GhostTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

The Ghost by Robert Harris. I quoted the opening paragraph and synopsis in yesterday’s post. It’s a political thriller with an anonymous narrator who is the ‘ghost’ or rather a ghostwriter employed to write the autobiography of Adam Peter Benet Lang, recently retired prime minister of Great Britain. And he has a month to do it, or rather complete the manuscript started by his predecessor McAra, Lang’s assistant who was found dead, drowned, after falling overboard on the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard.

The film, The Ghost (in the UK)/ The Ghost Writer (in the US) is an adaptation of this book, with Ewan McGregor playing the part of the unnamed ghostwriter.

I’m also reading Timekeepers by Simon Garfield, a book of short essays on different aspects of time. It’s full of facts, but still easy reading written in an entertaining style. But so far I’m finding it ‘interesting’ rather than ‘fascinating’.

I’ve recently finished:  

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by andrew Miller. See this post for my review – historical fiction set in 1809 Captain John Lacroix, home from Britain’s disastrous campaign against Napoleon’s forces in Spain.

My next book could be:

Tombland (Matthew Shardlake, #7)

Although I have several books in mind to read next, it will most probably be Tombland by C J Sansom, which is to be published tomorrow. It’s the 7th book in his Shardlake series.

Synopsis:

Spring, 1549.

Two years after the death of Henry VIII, England is sliding into chaos…

The nominal king, Edward VI, is eleven years old. His uncle Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford, rules as Protector, presiding over a collapsing economy, a draining, prolonged war with Scotland and growing discontent amongst the populace as the old religion is systematically wiped out by radical Protestants.

Matthew Shardlake, meanwhile, is a lawyer in the employ of Lady Elizabeth, the old King’s younger daughter. The gruesome murder of Elizabeth’s distant relative Edith Boleyn soon takes him and his assistant Nicholas Overton to Norwich where he is reunited with Overton’s predecessor Jack Barak. As another murder drags the trio into ever-more dangerous waters, Shardlake finds his loyalties tested as Barak throws in his lot with the exploding peasant rebellion and Overton finds himself prisoner in Norwich castle.

Simultaneously, Shardlake discovers that the murder of Boleyn may have connections reaching into both the heart of the rebel camp and of the Norfolk gentry…

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

First Chapter First Paragraph: The Ghost by Robert Harris

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

I’m currently reading The Ghost by Robert Harris, about a ghostwriter, not a tale of the supernatural.

The Ghost

 

The moment I heard how McAra died I should have walked away. I can see that now. I should have said, ‘Rick, I’m sorry, this isn’t for me, I don’t like the sound of it,’ finished my drink and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick – I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent – that once he’s started talking there was never any question I wouldn’t listen, and by the time he had finished, I was hooked.

Blurb:

Britain’s former prime minister is holed up in a remote, ocean-front house in America, struggling to finish his memoirs, when his long-term assistant drowns. A professional ghostwriter is sent out to rescue the project – a man more used to working with fading rock stars and minor celebrities than ex-world leaders. The ghost soon discovers that his distinguished new client has secrets in his past that are returning to haunt him – secrets with the power to kill.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?