‘Hell Bay’ by Kate Rhodes

I’d previously read all of the Alice Quentin novels by Kate Rhodes, so when I saw a new character series set by the sea, I was in! I bought ‘Hell Bay’ when it was published in 2018 and put it on my shelf… sooo, the confession is, it sat there until this week. The constant TBR dilemma was the culprit and not the book – I love the cover and the blurb “Everyone on the island is under suspicion. Dark secrets are about to resurface. And the murderer could strike at any time”. This new book series is based in the Isles of Scilly, predominantly Bryher, where our principal character DI Ben Kitto was born and where he has returned to to recuperate after a traumatic event back in London. However, upon his arrival a local teenager is reported missing and soon Ben’s plan’s drastically change as he joins in the investigation.

I really enjoyed the detailed and evenly paced development of this book, particularly how the landscape is also pulled in as another ‘character’. I’ve never visited the Isles of Scilly, but would love to. Bryher is a small island of contrast, one side meets the tempestuous Atlantic ocean head on, but the other side is sheltered with calm sandy beaches. There is a luxurious Hell Bay hotel, small shops, like The Bryher Shop selling local produce, farm eggs, fresh sea food and island fudge and two local boatyards. All these real elements are richly bought to life by Rhodes with a wonderful cast of colourful characters, and we in turn have a dramatic, dark crime novel.

What follows is Ben returning to police work and using his experience as a Murder Team inspector to hunt down the killer on Bryher. As he begins to reacquaint himself with the local community, he finds there are many secrets hidden from him and his past friendships are under question. Could someone he knows be an aggressive killer? Is his own life in danger? This is a great study of a small, isolated close-knit community with many secrets to hide built around an engaging murder mystery.

I would definitely recommend this book, and I look forward to reading more of this series. Many thanks to Kate Rhodes for creating it and for Shadow, who I already love and can’t wait to catch up with again!

‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ by Elizabeth Haynes

“For Harriet and her son, not forgotten”

Whilst chatting with Elizabeth Haynes on Twitter, she said “you see why I didn’t want her to be forgotten?” and I absolutely did. Also, and most importantly all the other ‘Harriets’ living in a time when women were treated as inferior within a patriarchal and hypocritical society. This is a book that explores the plight of the unmarried female and is based on a true murder case; it is clear this book is a labour of love by the author to give this young woman a voice and a justice, albeit within a dramatic fictionalisation. I think, that’s a truly remarkable aim that is certainly fulfilled for the reader. I have thought a lot about this book since finishing it and how it’s a rich, gripping read that pulls you into the events after and finally leading up to the murder with an engaging and driven narrative.

Harriet Monckton was murdered on the 7th November 1843, only 23 years of age, unmarried and six months pregnant. The story is told through the different perspectives of Francis Williams; Reverend George Verrall; Thomas Churcher and Richard Field. All four voices each with a motive for murder. I really enjoyed the plot structure, moving between the perspectives of these central players. The very clever portrayal of three very different men who all affect Harriet’s life. Verrall’s narrative is particularly foul to read, as he justifies his lustful and abusive treatment of women as a religious act, and Field’s narrative, albeit a seemingly caring man, is not at all what he first seems. The fourth, Francis Williams is the female voice, develops a friendship with Harriet and her story is also significant as a study of the unmarried female with her own desires and challenges.

What follows is a dark and disturbing psychological study of this group of people as we follow the events after the murder and into the community that is at the heart of it all. Towards the end of the novel, Haynes has included Harriet’s fictional diary and this is the particularly poignant moment for the reader and the threads finally come together. I really ‘enjoyed’ this part of the book, even though it was really sad and frustrating to read.

In summary, this book is like going back in time, it’s engaging, driven and a great murder mystery. We also have a culprit at the end, albeit a fictional one; it could easily been seen as a real possibility. It’s a shame Harriet’s murderer was never found and made to pay for their crime, but at least Haynes has given us a plausible fictional one, and in that, there is some justice for Harriet’s story.

I thoroughly recommend this book – an addictive read!

‘They Call Me The Cat Lady’ by Amy Miller

Cats possess more sympathy and feeling than human beings
Florence Nightingale

Well, thank goodness I had a box of tissues in the house. This is a story of loss, and grief and healing. It’s about isolation and the importance of human contact. It’s not a comedy about a mad cat woman, although there’s certainly a chuckle or two along the way. So now that’s established, let’s focus…this is a story about Nancy Jones, a middle-aged lady who lives in a rundown house with her cats for company and they’re a fabulous bunch. She works at a local school and has also started being an animal sitter for when people go away; she also befriends a young boy who is being bullied at the school. One day she meets up with him and takes him with her to help feed a cat; it is here that Nancy makes a discovery that deeply upsets her. This begins the start of Nancy looking back into her past and we slowly find out why Nancy lives alone.
This is a deeply moving book exploring the effects of deep grief and loss, but is it also about healing. About remembering that despite outward appearances, we never know a person’s story and sometimes maybe we should. It’s about facing our demons, being brave and having the courage and faith in others to help you. This book is emotional but it also gave me hope.

Published April 26th 2019

‘Cruel Acts’ by Jane Casey

Maeve Kerrigan Series Book 8

I love the Maeve Kerrigan series of crime novels and the eighth in the series is no exception.
This was a one sitting read for me and it was great to be back with Kerrigan and her DI Josh Derwent. ‘Cruel Acts’ is an intelligently plotted book that draws you into the re-investigation of a previously convicted killer. As Kerrigan and Derwent look over the case for the retrial we follow the original investigation of the murdered women and soon the case broadens.
Like most books in a series, you really need to read from the beginning to understand the characters and their relationships. Of course, this investigation is new and will work as a stand-alone in that respect. But the drive of these books is the central story of Maeve Kerrigan and by close association, Josh Derwent. I for one, love their ‘relationship’ and in this book there are more complex developments between the two, which add some real depth and intensity to the story.

A fascinating, intelligently plotted and tension fuelled crime novel that I’ll be reading more than once! Jane Casey knows what she’s doing! All I can say is roll on book nine!!!!


Happy International Women’s Day!

My two featured women are Virginia Woolf and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Wollstonecraft, the mother of Mary Shelley writer of ‘Frankenstein’ was a philosopher, educator, journalist and women’s rights activist. She advocated strongly for women’s equality and her book ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ pushed for educational reforms. She abhorred notions of the time that women were ‘helpless adornments of the household’ and sought for the same educational opportunities as men. In the late 18th century this was highly revolutionary and caused great controversy. She went further in her book ‘Maria and the Wrongs of Women’ and asserted that women had strong sexual desires and it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.

Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ is an essay which grew from a talk Woolf gave to female students at Cambridge in 1928. It lays bare the structure of male privilege, female exclusion and the effects of poverty and sexual restraint on women’s creativity. It’s classed as one of the greatest feminist polemics of the century.

‘The Familiars’ by Stacey Halls

‘In a time of suspicion and accusation, to be a woman is the greatest risk of all…’

I really enjoyed this book. Set with the Pendle witch trials as the backdrop, this centres around Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a young mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, who after losing three babies is pregnant for the fourth time. I liked the character of Fleetwood and found her narrative to be engaging and believed in her life in Lancashire in 1612. Her world soon changes after discovering a letter, hidden by her husband Richard that another pregnancy could be disastrous for her. Her trust and belief in him is drastically changed.
It is her following encounter with Alice Grey, who agrees to become Fleetwood’s midwife, that pulls the witch trials further into the story and these two women become linked through the resulting tumult. Alice uses natural remedies when helping people and it is this use of herbs that casts the shadow of witchcraft over her.
I find the witch trials fascinating and this book is based on actual places, people and events. The author grew up in Lancashire and was inspired after a visit to the actual Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham. Although this is a work of fiction, I love that these characters were imagined from real people and after reading I was able to further research their lives and the awful plight of women during these trials.
It was also great to see the friendship that developed between Fleetwood and Alice despite their contrasting backgrounds, the belief they had in each other and the lengths they would go through to try and save each other during incredibly horrific experiences.
An intriguing story of a young girl trying to survive in a time of accusation, hypocrisy, persecution and betrayal.

‘Final Betrayal’ by Patricia Gibney

Detective Lottie Parker (Book 6)

I’ve read all the previous Lottie Parker books by Patricia Gibney and really enjoy this series, so for a richer reading experience start with ‘The Missing Ones’. It was great to be back with Lottie in Ragmullin on her latest case. It centres around a serial killer who is after young girls. As always there’s a lot of Lottie’s personal life in the story, I like this, and enjoy following the ups and downs of her complex and highly stressful life! I didn’t find I wanted to grab and shake Lottie so much in this book; she has been known to drive me crazy at times! It’s good to see her trying to let in the good influences, like Boyd and come to terms with the past loss in her life. It is frustrating to see this journey take such a long time, but grief is frustrating and seems never-ending. Lottie is now finding a way to move on for her sake and for those around her.
So back to the crime – there are threads in this story that will eventually collide: a man is released from prison after serving a 10 year sentence; two women go missing after a night out and are found murdered; a property developing team find something disturbing whilst building and for Lottie someone from the past is able to return and once again threaten both herself and her family.
I think my main ‘eye-roll’ (sorry Patricia) is that Lottie’s children are again in danger – boy are they an unlucky bunch! I like to see them in these books and their continuing story, but I think I am starting to be pulled out of the story when it’s one of the family that is in danger again? They’d need a permanent councillor living with them to cope – lol!
Anyway, besides from that, I always enjoy these books and am really looking forward to the next one. Many thanks to Patricia Gibney for all her work on creating these for us! I’m a happy reader!

‘The Porpoise’ by Mark Haddon

I can’t say that I enjoyed this book. It’s a dark tale and initially I was very engaged with the story-telling of the shocking birth of Angelica, and her father dealing with the aftermath of the loss of his wife and son. The father’s increasing obsession with his daughter into abuse provides disturbing reading. The reader is then thrown into another narrative at the turn of a page; this is the story of Pericles and we are suddenly in ancient Greece and another story takes over. I must admit I was really confused there for a while! The confusion also deepens when we enter a new addition of Shakespeare and his collaborator of his Pericles story – this third addition didn’t really work for me. Each tale links but you do have to work hard as a reader!

It’s certainly an unusual narrative, and a puzzle to read; it’d be an interesting piece to study with students, particular the parallels Haddon is creating through the multiple narratives.
For an enjoyable, escape from reality read – nope, not at all. If you are interested in mythology and after a complex, not pleasant tale weaving narrative threads that connect into one story, whilst giving the brain a thorough workout – then yes, go for it!
Published in May 2019