Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.

 

Quercus Books|7 February 2019 |416 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

I first came across Jo Spain’s books last year when I read The Confession, a standalone novel and then The Darkest Place, her 4th Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery book, both very good books. So I was keen to read her latest book, a psychological thriller, Dirty Little Secrets, another standalone book. I really enjoyed this very readable page-turner, keen to discover all the secrets.

It’s set in Withered Vale, a small, gated community of just seven houses, outside the small village of Marwood in Wicklow in Ireland. On the surface it is a perfect place where the wealthy live their  privileged lives and keep themselves to themselves – until a cloud of bluebottles stream out of the chimney of number 4 and Olive Collins’ dead and disintegrating body is discovered inside. She had been dead for three months and none of the neighbours had bothered to find out why she hadn’t been seen all that time. But someone must have known what had happened to her – the question being who?

When DI Frank Brazil, near to his retirement, and his partner young Emma Child arrive it’s not clear whether Olive’s death was accidental death or suicide. But they quickly establish that the boiler had been pumping out carbon monoxide and the vents and the letter box had been taped up.  It was then obvious that her death was either suicide or murder. There is plenty of DNA in the house, as it turns out that all the neighbours had visited Olive. She had tried to interfere in each of their lives and each one of them had something to hide, from past crimes, past relationships, addictions, and blackmail. They’re all suspects as each one had a motive for killing Olive.

I liked the way Jo Spain has structured her book – each character is introduced and gradually more and more facts about their lives and personalities are revealed. And Olive’s dead voice is interspersed among these people, revealing her personality, thoughts and relationships with the others, and showing just went on behind all the closed doors. I was fascinated and went from one person to the next wondering who was guilty, changing my mind as the book progressed. The characters are convincing and so it was easy to work out who was who and how they all interacted. The ending surprised me as although I had suspected what had taken place I hadn’t foreseen the whole picture.

I was hooked from the beginning to the end. Withered Vale went from being a place where the neighbours lived their lives in isolation to a much more united community as together they faced the enormity of what had happened.

My thanks to the publishers, Quercus, for my review copy via NetGalley.

Note: this book is one of my TBRs, so qualifying for Bev’s Mount TBR challenge and as it will be published in February it also qualifies for Bev’s Calendar of Crime challenge in the category of a February publication.

More New-to-Me Books

A visit to Barter Books  at Alnwick this week has added 4 books to my TBRs.

 I usually steer clear of books about kidnapped or missing babies/children, so I’m not sure about the first two books shown below. But I’ve read books by both authors before and enjoyed them so I’m hoping they’ll be OK – or at least not too heart-wrenching:

The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid – a standalone psychological thriller beginning with a nightmare scenario: a parent who loses her child in a bustling international airport.

Blurb

Stephanie Harker is travelling through security at O’Hare airport with five-year-old Jimmy. But in a moment, everything changes. In disbelief, Stephanie watches as a uniformed agent leads her boy away – and she’s stuck the other side of the gates, hysterical with worry.

The authorities, unaware of Jimmy’s existence, just see a woman behaving erratically; Stephanie is wrestled to the ground and blasted with a taser gun. By the time she can tell them what has happened, Jimmy is long gone.

But as Stephanie tells her story to the FBI, it becomes clear that everything is not as it seems. There are many potential suspects for this abduction. With time rapidly running out, how can Stephanie get him back?

A breathtakingly rich and gripping psychological thriller, The Vanishing Point is Val McDermid’s most accomplished standalone novel to date, a work of haunting brilliance.

With Our Blessing by Jo Spain – a murder mystery and another book about mothers and babies in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, also known as Magdalene asylums.

Blurb

1975
A baby, minutes old, is forcibly taken from its devastated mother.

2010
The body of an elderly woman is found in a Dublin public park in the depths of winter.

Detective Inspector Tom Reynolds is on the case. He’s convinced the murder is linked to historical events that took place in the notorious Magdalene Laundries. Reynolds and his team follow the trail to an isolated convent in the Irish countryside. But once inside, it becomes disturbingly clear that the killer is amongst them . . . and is determined to exact further vengeance for the sins of the past.

The Visitor by Lee Child – a Jack Reacher – I’ve read one of the Jack Reacher books and did enjoy it but looking at the reviews of this book it seems a lot of readers weren’t keen on it whilst many others were. A marmite book, maybe. 

Blurb

Sergeant Amy Callan and Lieutenant Caroline Cook have a lot in common. High-flying army career women, both are victims of sexual harassment from their superiors; both are force to resign from the service.

And now they’re both dead.

Their unmarked bodies are discovered in their homes, naked, in baths filled with army-issue camouflage paint. Expert FBI psychological profilers start to hunt for a serial murderer, a smart guy with a score to settle, a loner, an army man, a ruthless vigilante known to them both.

Jack Reacher, a former US military cop, is a smart guy, a loner and a drifter, as tough as they come. He knew both victims. For Agent-in-Charge Nelson Blake and his team, he’s the perfect match. They’re sure only Reacher has the answers to their burning questions: how did these women die? And why?

A Foreign Field: a True Story of Love and Betrayal in the Great War by Ben Macintyre – nonfiction – because I’m interested in reading about World War One in both fiction and nonfiction. I enjoyed reading his book Operation Mincemeat so I’m hoping I’ll like this one too.  

Blurb

A wartime romance, survival saga and murder mystery set in rural France during the First World War, from the bestselling author of ‘Operation Mincemeat’ and ‘Agent Zig-Zag’.

Four young British soldiers find themselves trapped behind enemy lines at the height of the fighting on the Western Front in August 1914. Unable to get back to their units, they shelter in the tiny French village of Villeret, where they are fed, clothed and protected by the villagers, including the local matriarch Madame Dessenne, the baker and his wife.

The self-styled leader of the band of fugitives, Private Robert Digby, falls in love with the 20-year-old-daughter of one of his protectors, and in November 1915 she gives birth to a baby girl. The child is just six months old when someone betrays the men to the Germans. They are captured, tried as spies and summarily condemned to death.

Using the testimonies of the daughter, the villagers, detailed town hall records and, most movingly, the soldiers’ last letters, Ben Macintyre reconstructs an extraordinary story of love, duplicity and shame – ultimately seeking to discover through decades of village rumour the answer to the question, ‘Who betrayed Private Digby and his men?’ In this new updated edition the mystery is finally solved.

Which one would you recommend I read first?

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 Confession by Jo Spain

Publication date: 25 January 2018, Quercus Books

Review copy from the publishers, via NetGalley

My rating:  4 stars 

The Confession is the first book by Jo Spain that I’ve read, so I didn’t know what to expect. But the blurb interested me and I’m delighted to say that I enjoyed this book and as this is Jo Spain’s fifth book I’ll be able to read more of her work. She is the author of the Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery books, police procedurals based on the investigations of a Dublin-based detective team. The Confession is a standalone book.

Set in Ireland, it begins as Harry McNamara, a banker, recently cleared of multiple accounts of fraud, is brutally attacked in his own home in front of his wife, Julie. The attacker, JP Carney immediately goes to the police and confesses that he had killed Harry.  JP insists he doesn’t know the identity of the man he attacked and that he didn’t know what had come over him – it was as though he’d been possessed.

It’s narrated from three different perspectives – that of Julie, JP and DS Alice Moody, leading the investigation. So, was JP telling the truth, did he really know who Harry was and why did he attack him so viciously that he died after being in a coma for several days? What did he whisper in Harry’s ear as he left him at the end of the attack? And why did Julie just sit there watching?

These questions form the focus of the book, as Julie and JP go back over their lives, leading up to that fatal attack. At first it isn’t at all clear what had actually led up to JP’s attack on Harry, but it is clear that he hadn’t had an easy life, growing up with a mother suffering from mental health issues who left him with his shiftless father. Julie and Harry’s marriage was in difficulties, despite his wealth – he was unfaithful and she resorted to alcohol to compensate for his neglect. They’re all flawed characters and not very likeable. Alice Moody is, however, a likeable character, astute and suspicious of JP’s account right from the start.

There are several twists and turns before I began to see the light, after changing my mind about the truth of the matter, first leaning one way then another. But I hadn’t foreseen the final twist. The characters are well-drawn and the book is well paced. I didn’t find it thrilling or chilling after the opening chapter, but I was gripped by the story and I had to read it quickly to find out what really happened.

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