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!

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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.

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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

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Review: The Two Houses by Fran Cooper

I was attracted to this book because of the unusual cover and the premise sounded fascinating: an old house with the middle taken out because it's haunted!

Jay is an artist, specialising in ceramics, but has suffered a breakdown and feels a need for peace and quiet away from London. So she and her husband Simon buy a derelict house in the country - which is actually now two houses, as a previous owner took out the middle believing it to be haunted by the ghost of his wife. Despite the hostility of the villagers, Jay finds the idea of living in a haunted house both fascinating and inspiring, and is eager to investigate its history - but perhaps the past should be left alone?

I did enjoy The Two Houses but I downloaded it because I thought it was a ghost story and it wasn't really. Small items seem to disappear from one location only to turn up in another, but that is about it. There is an old mystery but the story is really about how the characters cope with living in such a bleak and hostile environment. Jay and Simon discover that living in the country isn't quite the idyll they were expecting. Tom, who runs the local pub, has never quite got over having to give up farming. The elderly Heather is old enough to remember the tragic events of the past and has no desire to see it all stirred up again. And then there is the newcomer Dev, who just wants to fit in.

Tom and Heather were my favourite characters but I didn't much like Jay, mainly because she seemed to be determined to solve the mystery of the Two Houses only to prove that she was right - and she didn't care who she hurt in the process. I did love the idea of a house so haunted it had to have a chunk taken out. The story is well-written and the setting is great, but bear in mind The Two Houses is more character study than gothic mystery or psychological thriller.

I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book, which will be published in the UK on the 22nd March 2018.

Thank you to Fran Cooper, Hodder & Stoughton, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Review: The Mechanical Devil (Wesley Peterson #22) by Kate Ellis

I'm a huge fan of Kate Ellis and I've now read all her Wesley Peterson books. Although this one began a little bit slowly it soon raced along and is now one of my favourites.

The story starts with a shooting at the site of a medieval manor house, the two victims apparently unknown to each other. What links them and the death of a student twenty years earlier? And does it have anything to do with the strange wooden figure recently discovered in a coffin-like lead box?

The main characters are Detective Inspector Wesley Peterson and his boss DCI Gerry Heffernan, along with archaeologist Neil Watson. The stories often have a historical mystery at their heart and the occasional touch of humour. My favourite characters are Gerry and Neil, and I do wish someone would turn these books into a TV series.

As with all Kate Ellis's books the murders come along in quick succession and it is hard to work out how they can all be connected. In fact, I often don't bother to try - I just sit back and enjoy the incredibly skilled plotting! This time, however, I did work out the culprit behind the attacks on a woman living on her own, so I felt quite pleased about that, and also identity of the main villain - but only about half a page before Wesley!

A definite 5 star rating from me and I'm sure fans of Elly Griffiths and traditional murder mysteries will love this one too.