Saturday, 14 April 2018

Review: Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

I was first attracted to this book by the unusual cover, and then I realised Emma Healey is the author of Elizabeth is Missing, which I already own but haven't got around to reading yet (I think I should have that written on my tombstone).

How do you rescue someone who has already been found?

Whistle in the Dark is a mystery/family drama, and unusual in that the story starts at the moment fifteen-year-old Lana is found safe and well after being missing for four days in the Peak District. Lana and her mother Jen had been on a mother-daughter bonding holiday at an artists' retreat. Lana, depressed and self-harming, hides behind her sulky teenager persona, whereas Jen tries (and fails) not to be a helicopter parent. While overjoyed to have Lana back home, Jen becomes increasingly obsessed with finding out exactly what happened to her daughter during those four missing days - because Lana is saying nothing.

Any parent of teenagers will identify with Jen; desperate to do the best for her daughter and yet infuriated by Lana's unwillingness to open up and confide in her (typical teenager, basically). I loved the characters, especially Jen's husband (and Lana's father) Hugh, reassuringly pragmatic and easy-going, and happy just to have his daughter back. 

Whistle in the Dark is mainly about family relationships and the unravelling of Jen's sanity as she worries about her daughter. (I loved the imaginary cat!) The mystery about what happened to Lana almost takes second place, but it kept me guessing and I only managed to work out part of it before the end. There is a nail-biting ending, but anyone expecting a fast-paced, psychological/thriller type story with a lot of twists might be disappointed. I think it would appeal best to fans of authors such as Joanna Cannon. But I found it very well-written, with brilliant characters I could really identify with, and I absolutely loved it. One of my favourite reads this year.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, which will be published in the UK on the 3rd May 2018.

Thank you to Emma Healey, Viking, and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Review: The Text by Claire Douglas

This clever little short story is currently free to download, and perfect to read on a phone while in a waiting room or stuck in a queue.

Emily Latimer has booked a trip to Edinburgh with her friends but now her new boss wants her to work instead. Furious, she sends a text to her boyfriend telling him the news, adding that she hopes her boss dies - but accidentally includes her entire office group. The next day the police turn up on her doorstep. Her boss has died and she is high on their list of suspects - but what if the murderer is one of her friends?

The Text is listed as having 40 pages, but the story ends at about 65% and the rest is an extract from one of the author's novels, Last Seen Alive. But it is a little gem of a murder mystery, packed with twists. I felt as though it ended a bit abruptly, but I think that is because I was enjoying it so much - I just wanted it to carry on! Recommended!

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Review: The Body in the Boat (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #3) by A.J. MacKenzie

I downloaded this book because I was attracted by the cover and I love historical mysteries. I then realised it was actually #3 in a series, so I had to quickly read the other books first!

The Body in the Boat probably has one of the best openings I've read for a long time. One foggy night, the local constable and sometime smuggler Joshua Stemp catches his rival with a coffin in his boat. Is he up to no good? Undoubtedly. But the other man has a large dog and an equally large knife, and so Joshua is forced to make a tactical retreat. A few days later a local banker is found washed up in another boat, extremely dead, along with one bloodstained gold coin. Are the two events connected? It's up to the Reverend Marcus Hardcastle and his friend Amelia Chaytor to find out.

These books are usually centred around a historical event, and in this case it is the introduction of paper money, and the effect it had on the banks. All the lovably eccentric characters from the earlier books are here: wily smugglers, sneaky French spies, feisty widows, and a Wicked Lady-ish debutante turned smuggler. Although the plots are suitably twisty, it is definitely the characters that make this series for me, along with the flashes of dry humour. While this particular story started a bit slowly, the end was as nail-bitingly thrilling as its predecessors.

The only negative for me was that Rev Hardcastle spent a large chunk of the story questioning each suspect in turn, and I'd rather he had become directly involved with the action like the earlier books. And in this one Amelia doesn't have a lot to do. But I love this series and hope I won't have too long to wait for the next one! Recommended! 

Thank you to A.J. MacKenzie, Bonnier Zaffre, and NetGalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Related Posts:

Review: The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #1)
Review: The Body in the Ice by A.J. MacKenzie (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #2)

Friday, 30 March 2018

Review: The Body in the Ice (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #2) by A.J. MacKenzie

I love this series of murder mysteries set in the late 18th century. I've read all three now and I think this one is my favourite. It starts with Amelia Chaytor being invited to Christmas dinner with her friends, the elderly Miss Roper and Miss Godfrey. It's not going well but things perk up considerably when one of the servants rushes in to say he's found a dead body frozen into the pond. How is the recently deceased connected to the American family who are about to arrive in the village? And just what is the forgotten secret of their old manor house?

In the first book, the Rev Marcus Hardcastle had been sent to St Mary in the Marsh as a form of punishment. Now he's been 'promoted' to Justice of the Peace, although he hopes it is only temporary. His investigation is helped by local widow Amelia Chaytor, whose late husband seems to have been some kind of diplomat/spy, and many of the eccentric characters from the first book also return - Mrs Kemp, Marcus's grumpy housekeeper; the smuggler, Yorkshire Tom; the spinster old ladies, Miss Roper and Miss Godfrey, who are far more savvy than anyone ever gives them credit for and never miss a thing.

The Body in the Ice is a clever, twisty, murder mystery embellished with lots of authentic period detail. The American War of Independence is touched upon, along with slavery. The story raced along to a nail-biting conclusion. I loved the characters and the humour, I particularly loved the addition of Marcus's sister Calpurnia, who writes gothic romantic fiction, and her cowardly dog, Rodolpho.

Brilliant stuff! I loved it. And I can't wait for the next one!

Related posts:

Monday, 26 March 2018

Review: The Friend by Dorothy Koomson

I was attracted to The Friend due to the pretty cover (reflection of a girl walking along a beach) and because the blurb intrigued me. I've read Dorothy Koomson before (The Chocolate Run) but hadn't realised she wrote mysteries too. Anyway, I loved The Friend and completely devoured it, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books very soon!

The story is about Cece who has recently moved to Brighton with her husband and three children. Unfortunately, her husband fails to mention that a woman has been found with head injuries in the playground of the children's school. And it later transpires that Cece's new friends are high on a list of people the police are very interested in talking to. Each friend has a secret that would destroy her, but could one of them really be a potential murderer?

I love reading mysteries and usually try to guess the identity of the murderer and their motivation before the big reveal. However, The Friend is so well-written, and the characters so realistic, I became so engrossed in their story it hardly mattered who did what to whom. I particularly liked Cece, for the way she didn't stand any nonsense from her husband or her ex. I also liked Anaya, who had to suffer the mother-in-law from hell!

The strength of this book is definitely in the characters, all of whom have huge secrets in their past that could be motivation for murder. The victim was sympathetic at first but as I got to know her (through her actions towards her friends) my loyalties definitely changed. I think the only character I failed to relate to was Hazel, due to her appalling taste in men!

There are a lot of characters - four main ones, plus their partners and children, and a few exes, and I did get a little confused, particularly between Maxie and Hazel at first. I think the story would probably appeal more to readers who enjoy their commercial fiction with a bit of a mystery, rather than fans of pure crime fiction.

But I loved The Friend and thought it was utterly brilliant, and I have no hesitation in recommending it. I think it would particularly appeal to readers of Lisa Jewell (I Found You) and Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies).

Thank you to Dorothy Koomson, Cornerstone Digital, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Review: Hello Stranger (The Ravenels #4) by Lisa Kleypas

I'm a huge fan of Lisa Kleypas, especially her Hathaways series, but when I started this story I had mixed feelings about it. 

The heroine of Hello Stranger is Dr Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in Britain. I had been so looking forward to reading about her struggle in the entirely male-dominated world of Victorian medicine - but found it ironic that the main part of the plot should revolve around Ethan, a government spy, and his problems. It didn't help that I usually love both historical romance and romantic suspense, but I'm not so keen when they're mixed together.

I did like the banter between the characters, the sweet way they kept bumping into each other around London, and the part when Ethan offers to teach Garrett how to defend herself in a rather less ladylike way than she has been doing up until now.

However, the story really picked up when one of the main characters becomes seriously ill. Garrett goes against all advice, including that of her mentor, to try and save this person. The heartrending scene where Garrett has to switch off her emotions to perform surgery was very authentic and put me through the emotional wringer too.

So despite my initial negative feelings, I ended up really enjoying the book and it is probably my favourite of the series so far.

Related post:

Monday, 19 March 2018

Review: The Body on the Doorstep (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #1) by A.J. MacKenzie

I downloaded the third book in this series (The Body in the Boat) from NetGalley without realising it was part of a series. I thought it would be fairer to the author if I read this one first, and I'm so glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Body on the Doorstep is a historical murder mystery set in 1796. Marcus Hardcastle, the Rector of St Mary in the Marsh, is writing a letter to The Morning Post when he is interrupted by a thunderous knocking on his door. When he opens it, he finds the body of a young man slumped at his feet and a bullet whistling past his head. The victim only lives long enough to whisper his last words: a message for a man named Peter.

St Mary in the Marsh is close to the coast of Kent and the man's death is written off as an argument between smugglers, but the Rev Hardcastle isn't so sure. With the help of a local widow, Amelia Chaytor, he decides to investigate the man's death. But the more he uncovers, the more it becomes clear that someone really doesn't want him to find out the truth. And that smugglers are not the only villains in St Mary in the Marsh.

When I started reading I somehow got it into my head that the Rev Hardcastle was an elderly man but he's actually only 39. Once tipped to become Bishop of Canterbury, he was wild and arrogant as a youth and upset too many important people. His posting to St Mary in the Marsh is actually a form of banishment. His parishioners think of him as a harmless old duffer with a fondness for alcohol, and as his investigation becomes more dangerous he decides it's safer to let people continue thinking that way.

I don't want to say too much more because I don't want to give away the plot, but I loved the mix of murder mystery and adventure, and the cast of eccentric characters - the smugglers, the little old ladies who notice more than they should, a landscape painter by the name of Turner...

The Body on the Doorstep is fast-paced with some real edge-of-the-seat moments, and packed with historical detail. The plot is clever, with some neat twists towards the end, and I didn't guess the identity of the murderer. I absolutely adored it and have already downloaded the second book in the series, The Body in the Ice. Recommended!

Related Posts:

The Body in the Ice (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #2) by A.J. MacKenzie
The Body in the Boat (Hardcastle and Chaytor Mysteries #2) by A.J. MacKenzie