Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Lost Girls by Heather Young

In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys her mother, who spends the rest of her life at the lake house, hoping in vain that her favourite daughter will walk out of the woods. Emily’s two older sisters stay, too, each keeping her own private, decades-long vigil for the lost child.

Sixty years later Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before she dies, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person to whom it might matter: her grandniece, Justine.

For Justine, the lake house offers a chance to escape her manipulative boyfriend and give her daughters the stable home she never had. But it’s not the sanctuary she hoped for. The long Minnesota winter has begun. The house is cold and dilapidated, the frozen lake is silent and forbidding, and her only neighbour is a strange old man who seems to know more than he’s telling about the summer of 1935.

Soon Justine’s troubled oldest daughter becomes obsessed with Emily’s disappearance, her mother arrives with designs on her inheritance, and the man she left behind launches a dangerous plan to get her back. In a house steeped in the sorrows of the women who came before her, Justine must overcome their tragic legacy if she hopes to save herself and her children.

As soon as I heard about The Lost Girls, I jumped at the chance to request it from NetGalley. Dual timeline? Historical mystery? Woman discovering herself whilst finding out long-buried family secrets? It all sounded like Unread Books catnip!

In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s remote lake house. Her distraught mother refuses to leave, staying at the family’s summer home in the hope that, one day, her lost daughter will return. Emily’s two older sisters, eleven-year-old Lucy and thirteen-year-old Lilith, also stay behind. Years later, Lilith’s granddaughter Justine receives word that her great-aunt Lucy has died – and left her the Lake House and all of its contents.

Stuck in a stifling relationship and with two small daughters to provide for, Justine jumps at the chance for a fresh start. But the Lake House is far from welcoming. The long Minnesota winter is just beginning and the house is more dilapidated than Justine remembers. Her only neighbours – a pair of quiet and reclusive elderly men – are cautiously friendly, but seem to know more about Justine’s family than they are letting on. With the arrival of her erratic and unreliable mother and controlling ex-boyfriend, Justine’s new start is soon in danger of repeating old history. And then her troubled eldest daughter starts asking questions about a long ago summer in 1935…

As you can hopefully tell from that brief synopsis, The Lost Girls is a page-turning and compelling mystery set over dual timelines. Alternating between Justine herself in the present day, an elderly Lucy writing down her recollections of that long ago summer, the mystery of what happened to Emily gradually unravels alongside Justine’s present day woes and conflicts to create a complete picture of a family haunted by long-buried secrets and betrayals.

Although compelling, the plot is relatively sedate for the first half of the book. There’s quite a lot of setup to establish the characters and the setting, which really helps to build the tension for what ended up being a pacy and explosive second act! I really loved the sense of place that Heather Young manages to convey. She captures both the nostalgia of Lucy’s childhood summers by the lake – all sunlit evenings and rising emotions stifled by the heat – and the cold isolation of the modern day Lake House, frozen in time just as much as it is frozen within the wintery Minnesota landscape.

The characters were, for me, a little harder to like. Although I could sympathise with Justine, I sometimes struggled to empathise with her inability to cut her ties and make a new life for herself and her girls. Although I don’t want to give any spoilers, there are a couple of characters in her life that I would have given the heave-ho much sooner – and before events turned dramatic!

Lucy was, for me, the more compelling voice in the narrative. Although often irrational and petulant, she comes across as a typical eleven-year-old girl, caught somewhere between childhood and her teenage years – and aware that her older sister Lilith is growing up and leaving her behind. The revelations about Lucy’s life and family are also utterly devastating – and really put into perspective some of the events that have come beforehand in the book, as well as some of the ripples that feed through to the present day narrative.

Although primarily a mystery, The Lost Girls does also deal with family dynamics and family secrets. Although it tackles the subjects with sensitivity, trigger warnings should be noted for sexual abuse, child abuse, gaslighting, and coercive control.

Overall, The Lost Girls is a captivating story of loss, guilt, hope, redemption, and escape. Its dual narratives are handled with great skill to make for an enthralling mystery of one family’s secrets and lies over the space of 64 years. Haunting and intriguing, The Lost Girls is sure to appeal to fans of Rachel Hore and Kate Morton, as well as to anyone seeking a compulsive and compelling read.

The Lost Girls by Heather Young is published by Verve Books and is available now as an ebook and to pre-order in paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Book Depository.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher and NetGalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 09 July 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdey Pugh

When Mr Collins is found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s garden, simmering tensions are revealed beneath the elegant Regency surface of the Rosings estate.

The prime suspect is Mr Bennet, who was overheard arguing with Mr Collins over the entail of Longbourn in the days before the murder was committed, and who stands to benefit more than anyone from the Rector’s death.

His daughter Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that holds the key to the murder. Can she prove her father’s innocence in time to save him from the gallows?

As a lover of all things Austen, I have eagerly devoured several Austen-adjacent novels and ‘sequels’ over the years. Most have centered on Elizabeth Bennet: she’s fought zombies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), and solved a murder (Death Comes to Pemberley) but, more recently, other characters have come to the fore. From servants (Longbourn) to Charlotte Lucas (Charlotte), to Mary Bennet (The Other Bennet Sister), Austen’s most famous novel seems to invite infinite re-tellings.

Annette Purdey Pugh’s debut novel, A Murder at Rosings, is an imaginative addition to this contemporary tradition, moving the action away from Longbourn and Pemberley to Rosings, the home of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr Collins, one-time suitor to Elizabeth Bennet and heir to the Longbourn estate, has been found stabbed to death in Lady Catherine’s garden.

The pompous vicar was overheard arguing with Mr Bennet in the days before his death – and it appears Mr Bennet may be the only person who benefits from the Rector’s death. It is left to Mary Bennet, with the support of her new friend Anne de Bourgh, to try and uncover the key to the murder. As the official investigation gathers pace, Mary uncovers a scandalous secret that could change Rosings forever.

Offering an interesting perspective on some of Austen’s well-known characters, A Murder at Rosings is an entertaining ‘cosy’ mystery (although there is mention of and allusion to sexual assault and sexual coersion, albeit without any graphic language or content) with plenty of twists and turns, as well as an insight into the ‘below stairs’ life of a great house such as Rosings.

Whilst characters remained true to Austen’s depictions of them, Annette Purdey Pugh has fleshed out ‘incidental’ characters such as Mary Bennet and Anne de Bourgh with nuance, developing character traits from Austen’s novel to create fully rounded and believable characters that have additional depth. Lady Catherine, for example, remains aloof and opinionated but is shown to also be a genuinely caring mother and a reasonable employer.

In addition, Purdey Pugh has created some interesting original characters – the local magistrate, Sir John Bright, acts as a reasoned and reasonable principle investigator into the crime and is ably – if naively – assisted by local constable Robert Archer. There are also plenty of red herrings to detract from the main plot – a pair of suspicious stable boys, a frightened young orphan – that keep the pages turning and the mind whirring!

My only quibble is that, despite the blurb, Mary doesn’t really do much ‘investigating’ – this is not like Elizabeth in Death Comes to Pemberley, placing herself at the forefront of the investigation. She does discover a crucial piece of evidence but if you’re looking for a Bennet centered book, Murder at Rosings isn’t it. Sir John and Archer lead the investigations and Murder at Rosings is, on the whole, an ensemble affair featuring a range of Austen’s characters – such as Mary – in ‘walk-on’ parts. Still interesting, but arguably not ‘as advertised’ in the blurb.

Imaginative and interesting, this was a light and engaging mystery that ably expands on Austen’s original whilst remaining true to the spirit, character, and style of her works. Pacy and page-turning, the central mystery has some intriguing twists that will keep you guessing, whilst Austen fans are sure to enjoy revisting some of her beloved characters in a new setting.

A Murder at Rosings by Annette Purdery Pugh is published by Honno and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

f you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 30 June 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! A Public Murder by Antoinette Moses

‘My mother was a very difficult person, Inspector, and not always a very nice one. I can think of any number of people who would want her dead.’

For DI Pam Gregory, unravelling the murder of archaeologist Stephanie Michaels was always going to be hard, but she had no idea it would change her life.

In this remarkable crime debut, award-winning author Antoinette Moses takes the reader on a gripping journey from Cambridge to Crete to find a story that has been hidden for decades.

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know that I love a good police procedural – Sarah Ward’s Connie Child series is a favourite of mine, and earlier this year I really enjoyed the first of A J Cross’s forensic mysteries, Dark Truths. And now, thanks to Antoinette Moses and A Public Murder, I have another series to look out for when I head for the bookshop!

A Public Murder introduces the reader to DI Pam Gregory. Smart, compassionate, and resilient, Pam has worked through both professional challenges and personal hardships to become the head of the East Anglian Special Operations Unit (EASOU). Although her boss would rather she spent more time on the paperwork and less time in the field, the unit is producing results, and the book opens with Pam and her team successfully wrapping up a long-running County Lines case.

Rather than celebrating their success however, Pam and her team are thrown straight into their next case when renowned archaeologist Stephanie Michaels is found dead – brutally stabbed and then ceremonially displayed on the horns of the Cretan bull at the centre of her new exhibition. Initial investigations show that there are many people who might have wanted to kill Stephanie but, as the investigation continues, the clues increasingly point towards Crete – and to a Cretan vendetta that may threaten Stephanie’s daughter, Jen.

With both the media and the political spotlight upon her, Pam is in a race against time both to find Stephanie’s killer and protect the future of her team. But as she lands in sunny Crete and begins to learn about the real Stephanie, Pam is forced to re-evaluate the priorities in her own life – and her own hopes and dreams for the future.

I have to admit that, when I started A Public Murder, I wasn’t 100% sure I’d get on with it. The book opens with the brutal killing of a cat, and the murder of Stephanie is also fairly gory. Animal death and gore are usually two of my bookish no-no’s but, in this instance, they really are the hardest hitting sections of the book – get past the first couple of chapters, and you’re in more gentle procedural territory, albeit with some mentions of or allusions to marital/domestic violence, drug use, alcohol abuse, racism, sexism, gaslighting, torture and violent crime. In all fairness, the violence is not excessive either – the way Stephanie and Skimbles (the cat) are killed does end up being very relevant to the story, so its essential not gratuitous.

I instantly warmed to DI Pam Gregory. She’s a fantastic lead character – smart but compassionate, she combines being a tough, resilient, and professional detective with a more in-secure and uncertain personal core. As such she felt well-rounded and fully realised, and I found myself as interested in the personal journey that she undertakes as the professional one.

The supporting characters are, for the most part, also well realised. I really like Josh, Pam’s second-in-command at EASOU, as well as Stavros, her liaison in Crete. Nikos Leotakis, the Cretan billionaire pulling the strings behind the scenes, was also a great character, and his involvement added an element of both glamour and danger to the case. I did, however, feel there were slightly too many named characters at times. Pam’s EASOU team, for example, are fairly large and I kept expecting some of them to make more of an appearance than they did. There were also a few subplots – mostly involving interpersonal relationships within the EASOU team – that felt somewhat redundant to the overall story, as well as some head-hopping from character to character that, often occurring without notice, took a little while to get used to.

This did not, however, detract from my enjoyment of that story. The central mystery of who killed Stephanie Michaels is a compelling one and I really enjoyed following Pam and her team as they carefully eliminated suspects and motives. I did feel that the Cretan part of the book would have benefitted from a little more space – without wanting to spoil anything, the killer and their motives are introduced a little late and I felt that the last 30 pages raced a little too quickly, with some rather sudden changes in tone and character, especially in the case of Stavros.

I also really enjoyed the depictions of both Cambridge and Crete. You can tell that the author is familiar with both locations and, especially in the case of Crete, the scenery and lifestyle were both vividly evoked on the page. I could practically imagine myself sat in the heat and eating all the delicious Greek food that is described! And I was fascinated to discover not only Stephanie’s life in Greece – which includes an important involvement in some little known Greek history – but also to follow Pam’s own journey of self-realisation on the island.

A Public Murder is a thrilling and accomplished police procedural that is sure to appeal to fans of the genre. With an intriguing and original main character, a compelling plot, and some fabulously realised locations, it’s the perfect summer read for crime fans – and I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens to DI Pam Gregory and her team next!

A Public Murder by Antoinette Moses is published by Black Crane Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 04 June 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews

REVIEW!! Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews

Celebrated, bestselling, elusive…who is Maud Dixon?

Florence Darrow wants to be a writer. Correction: Florence Darrow IS going to be a writer. Fired from her first job in publishing, she jumps at the chance to be assistant to the celebrated Maud Dixon, the anonymous bestselling novelist. The arrangement comes with conditions – high secrecy, living in an isolated house in the countryside . Before long, the two of them are on a research trip to Morocco, to inspire the much-promised second novel. Beach walks, red sunsets and long, whisky-filled evening discussions…win-win, surely? Until Florence wakes up in a hospital, having narrowly survived a car crash.

How did it happen – and where is Maud Dixon, who was in the car with her? Florence feels she may have been played, but wait, if Maud is no longer around, maybe Florence can make her mark as a writer after all… 

One of the best things about book blogging is discovering books that you might otherwise have missed through other lovely bloggers. If it hadn’t been for the lovely Clare over at Years of Reading, I might have missed out on Who is Maud Dixon? and, let me tell you, that would have been my loss because this book is an absolute corker!

Who is Maud Dixon?, the debut novel from Alexandra Andrews, is a literary mystery reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith at her most chilling but with a pinch of Elena Ferrante’s carefully observed female relationships and Harriet Lane’s unreliable narrators thrown in for good measure.

The novel follows Florence, a young and somewhat awkward young woman living in New York and dreaming of literary success. Unfortunately Florence lacks the experience to put her dreams into words. Surrounded by the glamour of New York’s literary intelligentsia, her writing has dried up and, as she watches her colleagues achieve successes that she can only dream of, Florence begins to lose herself amidst a dangerous mixture of ennui and bitterness.

After a series of poor decisions result in her losing her publishing job, Florence is overjoyed to be approached by elusive novelist Maud Dixon. Maud Dixon or, as it turns out, Helen Wilcox’s wildly successful debut novel, Mississippi Foxtrot, set the literary world on fire and now she needs an assistant to help her whilst she concentrates on her second book. Cue Florence’s entry into the world of Maud Dixon/Helen Wilcox. But is there more to Maud/Helen than meets the eye? Florence may wish to emulate Helen’s success but who really IS Maud Dixon?

Saying anything more about the plot of Who Is Maud Dixon? would spoil the book. In fact I’d actually argue that this is one instance in which the blurb potentially gives a little too much away – the less you know about this book going in, the more satisfying I think you’ll find the experience of reading it. Suffice to say that there really is more to Maud/Helen than there first appears – and more to Florence too – and the novel unfolds into an intimate portrayal of these two women and the lengths that they will go to in order to both forge and protect their literary identities.

Florence makes for an interesting – if not always likeable – protagonist. By turns naïve and scheming, she is a young women entirely unsure of who she really is. Dominated by an overbearing mother throughout her childhood, Florence has escaped to New York in the expectation that simply by moving she will become everything she is meant to be. Her failure to recognise that some effort on her part may be required in order to achieve her literary dreams did frustrate me at times but, as events unfolded and Florence becomes more entangled with Helen/Maud’s life, I began to be more sympathetic towards someone who is clearly out of their depth and wildly unprepared for the challenges she faces.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, there are strong Highsmith vibes in Who is Maud Dixon and the plot turns on issues of identity. How do we know who we truly are? What processes do we go through to become that person? And what lengths will we go to in order to protect that? Finding the answers to these questions will, for Florence, entrap her in a haze almost as suffocating as that created by the Moroccan heat she finds herself living in.

Who is Maud Dixon? has that enviable page-turning quality that makes it a perfect holiday read. With its glamorous depiction of the literary scene and its heady descriptions of the Moroccan heat, I was transported by its pages and ended staying up well past my bedtime to finish it! Packed with well crafted twists, hazardous situations, complex characters, and a series of poor life choices (ingredients that make for the BEST revelations!), it would make for the perfect summer read for anyone who loves a good literary mystery.

Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews is published by Tinder Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!!! The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine

WHO WOULD MURDER THE DYING…

London, 1665. Hidden within the growing pile of corpses in his churchyard, Rector Symon Patrick discovers a victim of the pestilence unlike any he has seen before: a young woman with a shorn head, covered in burns, and with pieces of twine delicately tied around each wrist and ankle.

Desperate to discover the culprit, Symon joins a society of eccentric medical men who have gathered to find a cure for the plague. Someone is performing terrible experiments upon the dying, hiding their bodies amongst the hundreds that fill the death carts.

Only Penelope – a new and mysterious addition to Symon’s household – may have the skill to find the killer. Far more than what she appears, she is already on the hunt. But the dark presence that enters the houses of the sick will not stop, and has no mercy…

V. L Valentine’s The Plague Letters opens with the Reverend Symon Patrick, newly returned to London by order of his patron and regretting both his enforced return and his separation from the vivacious Elizabeth. Symon returns to a city filled with fear and a household in uproar – during his absence, bubonic plague has arrived and Londoners are fleeing to the country if they can. And in the midst of the chaos, one of Symon’s maids has gone missing.

When the missing maid turns up dead, no one – least of all Symon – is surprised. The body shows unusual signs – a shaved head, strange inked markings, signs of restraint – but London is full of superstition, quacks, and dubious medicines. But when another young woman arrives in the same condition, Penelope – a new and quick-witted addition to Symons household – forces the reluctant reverend to take notice of the possibility of a killer in their midst. Someone, it seems, is attempting a series of misguided experiments in an attempt to rid London of the plague – and they’re more than happy to trial their ‘medicine’ on human subjects.

Desperate for answers, Symon is forced into an unlikely alliance. A group of medical ‘professionals’ – an eminent physician, a well-known surgeon, a charismatic ‘healer’, and a pioneering apothacary – have formed The Society for the Prevention and Cure of Plague. Despite their differences – and their personal eccentricities – these men seek to end London’s suffering. But is a killer hiding in their midst?

There were times, especially early on, when I wasn’t quite sure what sort of book I was reading with The Plague Letters. By turns gorily vivid in its descriptions of the deprivations bought about by the London plague, the next page might see a farcical comedy play out as the filthy surgeon Mincey starts a fistfight with drunken apothecary Boghurst, or court favourite Valentine Greatrakes flounces into the room with a knowing smile and a witty retort. Turn the page again and you’re in the midde of a romantic drama, as Symon continues his illicit correspondance with the flirtateous – and very much married – Elizabeth. It’s as if V. L. Valentine has reached into 1665 and pulled out a slice of London life, upending it onto the page in all of its chaotic, messy, and gruesome glory.

Get used to the sudden lurches in tone however, and The Plague Letters offers a rich and rewarding mystery enveloped alongside deeply evocative depiction of plague-ridden London. The characters, whilst not always especially likeable, leap off the page, pulling the reader into their messy lives – and into their hunt for an increasingly unhinged killer. V. L. Valentine has a real eye – and ear – for the strange and the absurd, brilliantly capturing both the dark humour and the grit of the bodily experiences evoked on the page.

Symon makes for an interesting – and occasionally infuriating – main narrator. Suffering from melancholy and increasingly embroiled in relationships he neither fully understands nor fully appreciates, he is a man whose inner demons constantly wrestle with his better angels. Once paired with clever, mysterious Penelope however, Symon soon begins to untangle his knotty mess of life choices and I enjoyed seeing the pair’s relationship develop from antagonistic tolerance to trust over the course of the novel. Although the ending leaves many of the personal mysteries within the characters lives opaque or unresolved, I still felt as if I had got to know – and even to like – these flawed and changeable people by the of the book.

The eccentricity of style – that alignment of the grim and the grimly funny – may put some people off The Plague Letters but settle into this novel and you’ll find a cleverly-plotted mystery, some fantastially realised characters, and a deeply evocative depiction of seventeenth-century London. It’s as if Imogen Hermes Gowar’s sublimely eccentric The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock had been combined with the tension of Andrew Taylor’s Ashes of London and the mystery of Antonia Hodgson’s A Devil in the Marshalsea. Fans of historical crime will find much to delight in – as will anyone who enjoys being dragged in to a book and taken along for a wild and unpredictable ride!

The Plague Letters by V. L. Valentine is published by Viper Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to the publisher for inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 April so check out the other stops on Twitter and Instagram for more reviews and content!

Reviews

REVIEW!! The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Japanese cult classic mystery

The lonely, rockbound island of Tsunojima is notorious as the site of a series of bloody unsolved murders. Some even say it’s haunted. One thing’s for sure: it’s the perfect destination for the K-University Mystery Club’s annual trip.

But when the first club member turns up dead, the remaining amateur sleuths realise they will need all of their murder-mystery expertise to get off the island alive.

As the party are picked off one by one, the survivors grow desperate and paranoid, turning on each other. Will anyone be able to untangle the murderer’s fiendish plan before it’s too late?

Originally published in 1987, Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders is considered a cult classic in its native Japan and is credited with reviving interest in the traditional puzzle mystery format, inspiring a new generation of Japanese crime writers.

Now re-issued by Pushkin Vertigo with a translation by Ho-Ling Wong, the novel pays homage to several Golden Age crime classics, most notably Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Despite some misgivings, several of the most prominant members of the K-University Mystery Club head to the now deserted island of Tsunojima in an attempt to solve the myterious triple murder that happened there six months previously. Setting up camp in The Decagon House – the only remamining part of eccentric architect Nakamura Seiji’s Blue Mansion complex – it isn’t long before the group begin to suspect that they may not be as alone on the island as they thought.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, former club member Kawaminami Taka’aki receives a sinister note signed by Nakamura Seiji – “My daughter Chiori was murdered by you all”. But Nakamura Seiji was one of the Tsunojima victims, and has been dead for six months.

Alternating between Kawaminami’s investigations on the mainland and the increasingly sinister events taking place on the island, The Decagon House Murders offers an homage to Christie’s original whilst creating a uniquely twisty and cleverly plotted mystery all of its own. Replete with references to Christie’s classic – and to the detectives and writers of the wider Golden Age milieu – the novel still manages to innovate and there are a number of intricate twists on well-worn formulas.

I particualrly loved the way that the novel wears its antecedants and inspiration on its sleeve – the writing is incredibly self-aware and delights in being knowingly referential without this ever feeling like a distraction from the plot. Readers familiar with Golden Age crime will delight in picking up on references as much as they’ll enjoy the fiendishly clever mystery that has been created with the bones of the crime fiction it pays homage too.

Because for all its referential playfulness, The Decagon House Murders is a twisty and enjoyable mystery in its own right. With its contained setting and cast, dual narrative and dual timeline, there’s plenty of space for red herrings, plot twists and sudden revelations. Although I did guess the ‘who’, I have to admit the ‘how’ still surprised me – and there was an enjoyable twist at the novel’s close that I did not see coming!

I also really enjoyed getting to know the characters – especially Kawaminami and his fellow ‘detective’ Shimada – and was impressed by how well drawn each of the detective club members felt, despite some of them only being in the story for quite a brief period of time.

If you don’t enjoy classic or ‘Golden Age’ crime, The Decagon House Murders probably isn’t going to convert you – it honours the genre and conforms to many of its tropes, albeit in a knowingly playful way. Fans of the classics of crime fiction will, however, find much to enjoy here and the book makes for a fantastic introduction to Japanese crime fiction, or to crime fiction in translation. As a fan of the genre, I really enjoyed The Decagon House Murders and look forward to reading more of Pushkin’s translated Japanese crime classics very soon!

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji is published by Pushkin Vertigo and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Reviews

REVIEW!!! The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper

Yesterday, I kissed my husband for the last time . . .

It’s the summer of 1959, and the well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes, California, wilt under the sun. At some point during the long, long afternoon, Joyce Haney, wife, mother, vanishes from her home, leaving behind two terrified children and a bloodstain on the kitchen floor.

While the Haney’s neighbours get busy organising search parties, it is Ruby Wright, the family’s ‘help’, who may hold the key to this unsettling mystery. Ruby knows more about the secrets behind Sunnylakes’ starched curtains than anyone, and it isn’t long before the detective in charge of the case wants her help. But what might it cost her to get involved?

In these long hot summer afternoons, simmering with lies, mistrust and prejudice, it could only take one spark for this whole ‘perfect’ world to set alight . . .

Despite being permeated with the sultry heat of a long summer afternoon, The Long, Long Afternoon did not take a long, long time to read. Instead journalist and editor Inga Vesper’s debut novel whips along with a page-turning quality that belies the suffocating atmosphere radiating from its pages.

Beginning on hot summer afternoon in 1959, the novel opens with housewife Joyce Haney standing in her picture perfect suburban garden , contemplating whether or not she should water the pots on her patio. A few pages later and Joyce is missing, the only remnant of her existence a bloodstain on the kitchen floor and two terrified children. Joyce’s distraught husband can think of no reason why anyone would wish to harm his wife. And her neighbours in the manicured suburb of Sunnylakes say that any disappearance would be very out of character. But behind the respectability of their coffee mornings and art classes, the women of the Sunnylakes Women’s Improvement Committee might no more about Joyce Haney than they’re letting on. And as the investigation continues, the Haney family’s ‘help’, Ruby Wright, quickly realises that something terrible may have happened to her mistress…

The characters in this suburban thriller are all brilliantly drawn and I loved finding out all the secrets hidden behind the respectable facades and well-trimmed lawns of Sunnylakes. I particularly liked the character of Ruby Wright, the Haney family’s ‘help’. Overlooked because of the colour of her skin, Ruby’s position as an outsider in the Sunnylakes community confers on her distinct advantages when it comes to investigating what happened to Joyce. After all, no one checks their conversations if it’s only the help listening in do they? And I really felt for Ruby as she has to choose between keeping her head down (and keeping her job) and pursuing her suspicions that someone in Sunnylakes may have deliberately harmed her employer.

Whilst Joyce’s disappearance remains the focus of the book, Inga Vesper has done a fantastic job of weaving in the racial tensions and politics of suburban America in the late 1950s, and I got a real sense of the varying constraints placed on different members of the community. From the daily prejudices Ruby faces as a black woman who refuses to let her intelligence be dismissed, to the stifling constraints required of a suburban housewife, the novel deftly weaves discussions of race, class and gender together to create a multi-layered mystery packed with atmosphere and period detail.

Whilst I didn’t find the ‘whodunnit’ especially surprising, The Long, Long Afternoon did keep me hooked right up until the end. Alternating between the perspectives of Joyce (in the past), Ruth, and investigating detective Mick, the story offers plenty of unexpected twists to throw the reader’s initial suspicions off course. And even though I did guess who lay behind Joyce’s disappearance, the explosive ending offered last minute twists and turns worthy of a thriller!

The Long, Long Afternoon combines the vivid atmosphere and lush writing of literary fiction with the pace and twists of a thriller to create a rich and compelling read that is perfect for whiling away your own afternoon with! With its suburban setting and noir-ish feel, fans of classic hard-boiled fiction will find a worthy modern take on the genre here (and one that comes with a delightfully feminist twist), whilst historical and literary fiction lovers will relish the well-told mystery and precise sense of place.

The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper is published by Manilla Press and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org and Wordery. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Dark Truths by A. J. Cross

When a headless body is discovered on a popular jogging trail, Detective Inspector Bernard Watts and his team are plunged headlong into a baffling murder investigation. Why would someone stab to death a young woman on her daily run – and take her head?

When a close examination of the crime scene results in a shocking discovery linking the present murder to a past crime, criminologist Will Traynor is brought in to assist the police. Aware of Traynor’s troubled past and already having to deal with inexperienced rookie PC Chloe Judd on his team, Watts is sceptical that Traynor will bring anything useful to the investigation.

He’s about to be proved very wrong …

Dark Truths – billed as a ‘forensic mystery’ – is the first in a new series featuring criminologist Dr Will Traynor. Those familiar with A. J. Cross’s previous Kate Hanson series will encounter some familiar faces – despite being a Will Traynor mystery, the majority of Dark Truths is told from the perspective of DI Bernard Watts, formerly of the same Cold Case unit as Hanson – but, for those (like me) new to Cross’s writing, Dark Truths provides a perfect jumping off point in the form of a solidly crafted police procedural with an interesting focus upon the forensic aspects of police work.

Opening with the disturbing murder of a young woman on a popular Birmingham jogging trail, DI Watts and his team are plunged into the investigation of a possible serial killer when further body parts are found nearby. Suddenly finding themselves with a recently killed headless corpse and a killing field of historic skulls, Watts reluctantly seeks the assistance of forensic psychologist Dr Will Traynor. Traynor has a well-deserved reputation for brilliance – but the tragic murder of his wife ten years prior has also left him lacking in focus, difficult to work with and, on occasion, entirely unfocused on the matter at hand. Adding to Watt’s problems is rookie PC Chloe Judd. Keen, clever and overly quick to jump to conclusions, Judd’s constant questions and outspoken personality make her a challenging partner for the observational and somewhat stoic Watts. Aiding Watts and his team are pathologist Dr Connie Chong, head of forensics Adam Jenner and geoscientist Jake Petrie – supporting characters that, along with Traynor, help add the forensic element to this forensic mystery.

Cross combines a largely likeable and interesting mix of personalities with a skilfully plotted drama that offers plenty of revelations and twists. I enjoyed the focus on the day-to-day aspects of police work, from the manning of tip lines and organising of public appeals to the painstaking fingertip searches of fields and hedgerows. It was refreshing to read a book in which an investigation is depicted in real-time – forensic evidence can take days, even weeks to process, and the post-mortem results are not instantaneously available to the investigating team – as well as one where the pressures of man-power, office politics, and budgetary constraints limit the action that can be taken at any one time. This realism is well-handled however and is never allowed to slow the plot down – instead it gives characters an opportunity to interview key witnesses, or allows a moment during which their backstories or personal interactions can be developed.

I did have one minor niggle with Dark Truths – PC Chloe Judd was, for me anyway, an annoyance every time she stepped onto the page, especially at the beginning of the book. Whilst she mellowed by the end, it was frustrating to see a determined and career-focused female character somewhat stereotypically depicted as abrasive, difficult and, at times, downright unprofessional. She also seemed somewhat inconsistent – veering between making some good analytical points and jumping to increasingly rapid and wild conclusions – and it wasn’t until about halfway through the book that I began to feel as if her character was there to be anything more than either a sparring partner for Watts or a way of integrating exposition of the finer points of forensic police investigation. I hasten to add that Judd’s portrayal by the end of the book is much better – she mellows as a character and develops as an investigator to the extent that I’d like to see her return in future books in the series – but I’d be lying if I said that her initial characterisation did make getting into the initial chapters of Dark Truths more difficult for me.

The forensic aspects of Dark Truth might not be for everyone – those who enjoy their crime with a heavy thriller twist might find the action a tad slow in places – but personally I found the depiction of these aspects one of the most fascinating aspects of the book. A. J. Cross is an experienced forensic psychologist herself and her experience in the field really comes across in this novel – although, crucially, she never lets the story become bogged down in detail, instead adding just enough to add depth whilst also moving the plot along. I also really enjoyed the ‘cold case’ aspects of the book and the way the present-day murder added to the discovery of more historic crimes – and increased the complexity of the case that Watts and his team are handling. Having read Dark Truths, I’m keen to go back and read Cross’s earlier mysteries which, I believe, focus more on this cold case aspect.

Overall Dark Truths is a solidly constructed and skilfully written police procedural with an interesting focus on the forensic aspect of police work. It introduces a largely likeable team of investigators who, by the end of the novel, have begun to work together in a way that bodes well for future instalments in the series – and with one of two mysteries within the character’s personal backstories remaining tantalisingly unsolved. Fans of Val McDermid’s Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, Ellie Griffith’s Ruth Galloway books – and of TV shows such as Criminal Minds – will find much to enjoy in Dark Truth‘s intelligent blend of forensic mystery, psychology, and police procedural, and I for one am looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Will Traynor, DI Watts, and their colleagues.

Dark Truths by A. J. Cross is published by Blackthorn Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Emma Welton from Damppebbles Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 27 February 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Deity (Six Stories #5) by Matt Wesolowski

Online investigative journalist Scott King investigates the death of a pop megastar, the subject of multiple accusations of sexual abuse and murder before his untimely demise in a fire … another episode of the startlingly original, award-winning Six Stories series.

When pop megastar Zach Crystal dies in a fire at his remote mansion, his mysterious demise rips open the bitter divide between those who adored his music and his endless charity work, and those who viewed him as a despicable predator, who manipulated and abused young and vulnerable girls.

Online journalist Scott King, whose ‘Six Stories’ podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the accusations of sexual abuse and murder that were levelled at Crystal before he died.

But as Scott begins to ask questions and rakes over old graves, some startling inconsistencies emerge: Was the fire at Crystal’s remote home really an accident? Whose remains – still unidentified – were found in the ashes? Why was he never officially charged?

Anyone who has followed The Shelf for a while will know that I am a HUGE fan of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series. The previous novels – Six Stories, Hydra, Changeling and Beast – have all been five-star reads for me and have consistently appeared on my Best Books of the Year lists. I love the podcast format in which the books are written as well as Matt’s subtle inclusion of supernatural and horror elements into the central mystery – so of course I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the tour for Matt’s latest in the series, Deity.

As with previous titles in the series, Deity sees online journalist Scott King investigating a specific case over the course of six episodes, speaking with six different people to gain six alternative perspectives on a series of events. In this instance, Scott is looking into the life of recently deceased pop megastar Zach Crystal. Wildly popular and with a devoted, almost cult-like fandom around him, Zach Crystal seemed untouchable. But dark rumours about Zach’s private life – and about the visits he hosted for teenage fans at his remote mansion in the Cairngorms – have begun to swirl around his legacy. As Scott delves into Zach Crystal’s life – and his death – questions arise about the nature of fame, the cult of celebrity, and the dark blurring between fantasy and reality.

Like all of Matt’s previous Six Stories novels, Deity combines the page-turning pace of a thriller with though-provoking and topical content. The series has never shied away from covering controversial or topical subjects but Deity is probably the darkest yet. Even a passing knowledge of recent pop culture will suffice to see that there are some chilling similarities between the behaviour of the fictional Zach Crystal and some of the events that have been bought to life in the wake of the #MeToo movement, as well as following the deaths of some of pop and rock’s biggest stars. As such, the novel provides thought provoking content on the nature of hero worship and celebrity culture, examining the extent to which the pedestals we place people on protect their behaviour from prying eyes.

Each ‘episode’ of Deity provides another perspective on the life of Zach Crystal, slowly peeling back the layers to reveal the truth of the man that lies behind the manufactured pop star myth. Complicating this are rumours of a supernatural entity that lurks in the forest surrounding Zach’s Scottish mansion. Could it be that this dark creature is responsible for the tragic deaths of two young fans? Or even for the death of Zach Crystal himself, killed at his home in a devastating fire? And what exactly has happened to Zach’s sister and niece, fellow residents of Crystal Forest and apparently his closest allies? Finding the truth will take Scott King on one of his darkest journeys yet.

Matt Wesolowski has done another fantastic job of really ramping up the atmosphere in this novel. There’s some fantastically oppressive and brooding passages and you get a real sense of the fear and uncertainty that some of the characters face, as well as the resignation, anger and frustration felt by others. The use of multiple perspectives means that long shadows – some supernatural and some all too real – are cast over other narratives and there are several moments when you think you might have arrived at the truth before being whisked down an alternative path or made to see testimony in a new light. It makes for a spectacularly wild ride and a page turning read – I devoured the book in the course of a weekend before turning right back to the start for a more measured re-read to take it all in.

Another fantastic addition to the Six Stories series, Deity is a fantastically dark and atmospheric novel that will chill and delight in equal measure. For those new to the series, it makes a brilliant jumping off point (although I’d urge you to go back and start from the beginning – all the books are fantastic) whilst fans will be delighted to have another story from this master storyteller.

Deity by Matt Wesolowski is published by Orenda Books and is available now in ebook and will be published in paperback on 18 February 2021 with pre-orders available from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 28 February 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Keeper by Jessica Moor

He’s been looking in the windows again. Messing with cameras. Leaving notes.
Supposed to be a refuge. But death got inside.

When Katie Straw’s body is pulled from the waters of the local suicide spot, the police decide it’s an open-and-shut case. A standard-issue female suicide.

But the residents of Widringham women’s refuge where Katie worked don’t agree. They say it’s murder.

Will you listen to them?

There were so many moments reading Jessica Moor’s Keeper when I had to remind myself that this is a debut novel. Compelling and powerful, this is a novel that reads like the work of an assured novelist, effortlessly combining the page-turning quality of a thriller with stylistic literary touches and a spare yet layered tone.

Before I go any further with my review of Keeper, a word on trigger warnings. The novel does not shy away from the grim realities of domestic abuse and systematic misogyny. Whilst never voyeuristic or unnecessary, the novel contains scenes that recount incidents of domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, gas-lighting, and coercive control. There are also mentions of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, drug addiction, prostitution, internet abuse/trolling, and systematic misogyny. In telling its powerful and sadly all too relevant story, Keeper puts on the page what many novels only imply. This makes for an intensely vivid and compelling story but also a disturbing and deeply chilling one.

Alternating between two timelines, the novel opens with the body of Katie Straw being pulled from a known suicide spot. Katie worked at the local women’s refuge, a controversial space within the small town of Widringham. According to Katie’s boss Val, the refuge has been receiving abuse on Twitter. The women who reside there speak of a man hanging around, a car idling nearby, and a locked gate left open. Coincidence? The police would like to think so. DS Daniel Whitworth is on the cusp of retirement. Whilst he knows he has a job to do, Katie’s history of depression and the manner of her death point to suicide. But the more he digs into Katie Straw’s life, the more there seems to be that would suggest her death is anything but straightforward.

Intervening into the details of the investigation into Katie’s death are sections entitled ‘Then’. Told from Katie’s perspective, these look back on her relationship with Jamie who effortlessly inserts himself into her life before slowly isolating her from her friends and family and even from her own self. These chapters were, for me, the most unsettling within the novel as they show how easy it is for an accomplished manipulator such as Jamie to take control of Katie’s thought patterns and for their relationship to shift into firstly emotional and then, later, physical and sexual, abuse.

Other chapters are told from the perspective of the women within the refuge where Katie worked, as well as from the point of view of DS Whitworth. Whitworth is an interesting character because, although he is old-fashioned and jaded in his attitudes, he does seem to be in some way aware of his own failings. On some level, he knows that he doesn’t really understand Katie or the women in the refuge who knew her and so he’s content to leave much of the talking to his trainee, DS Brookes, whose easy charm and placating manner eases nerves and opens doors. This makes for an interesting dynamic that plays with the reader’s perceptions, expectations and sympathies – and makes for a truly fantastic twist in the tale!

The voices of the women within the refuge, as well as that of Katie herself, are really well captured and their respective circumstances show that, despite what the media might have us believe, there is no such thing as an ‘average’ domestic violence victim. From the motherly Angie, who has spent over 40 years married to her abusive husband, to formerly well-off housewife Lynne, struggling to adjust to the life she has apparently chosen for her and her daughter, each of the women has a distinct yet realistic story – and each is wrestling with the reality of what has happened to them, and what they are going to do next. The sheer complexity and variety of their stories – and the way in which their narratives are interwoven with wider issues of societal and systematic misogynies – is heartbreakingly realistic and made me both extremely sad and extremely angry.

Keeper is not for the faint-hearted then. Brutally immersive and unflinching in its depictions of the issues it touches upon, it is a hard-hitting and insightful debut that offers pace and page-turning compulsion with some clever and stylistic literary twists. Emotionally devastating and viscerally told, this incisive debut is not exactly a pleasant read but it is a deeply important one and I look forward to seeing what Jessica Moor writes next.

Keeper by Jessica Moor is published by Penguin Viking and is available now in ebook and paperback from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Georgia Taylor from Penguin for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 01 February 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.

Reviews on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!