Reviews · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!!! Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

“What was it like? Living in that house?” 

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a non-fiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity – and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale.

But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself – a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

Do I have the book to share with you this Halloween! Riley Sager’s latest novel, Home Before Dark; now out in paperback, is the perfect mix of genuine scares, horror stylings, and thrilling contemporary mystery that will have you turning the pages and sleeping with the lights on this spooky season!

Having previously read and enjoyed The Last Time I Lied, I was excited to see that Riley Sager’s latest thriller came with some additional spooky stylings. The former novel was packed with growing tension and page-turning plot beats so I was keen to see what the addition of some trademark horror tropes would do to that mix. The answer, it turns out, is to make it even more page-turning – and to provide more than a few ‘sleeping with the lights on’ moments!

Maggie Holt’s life has been defined by The Book – the tell-all memoir that her father Ewan wrote after her family’s fateful stay at Baneberry Hall. According to The Book, the vengeful ghosts of Baneberry Hall drove Ewan, Jess, and five-year-old Maggie away from their dream home, never to return. But after her father’s death, Maggie discovers that her parents never sold Baneberry Hall. Despite being warned to never go back there, Maggie is determined to make the most of her unexpected inheritance – she’s going to renovate and sell her family’s cursed legacy; but not before she gets to the bottom of why her family really fled all those years ago.

When the body of a missing teenager falls out of her kitchen ceiling, however, Maggie gets far more than she bargained for at Baneberry Hall. Could her parents really have been involved in a murder? Or are the strange noises and fleeting shadows of Baneberry Hall really signs of the supernatural? As Maggie starts to delve into the history of her father’s House of Horrors, she finds herself wondering if he was telling the truth about Baneberry Hall all along.

Whilst Home Before Dark continues to showcase Sager’s command of pacing and plotting, it serves up some genuinely spooky and atmospheric moments alongside the more familiar mystery-thriller territory of its main storyline. If you love ghost stories and ‘true life’ tales of the paranormal, you’re sure to love Home Before Dark which alternates between excerpts from Ewan’s Amityville Horror-style memoir and Maggie’s own investigations in the present day.

There are a fair few plot strands to Home Before Dark and, whilst none of them are especially complex in and of themselves, Sager weaves them together in a deeply satisfying way whilst keeping the tension up throughout. There is the occasional cliché – and I can’t say I was wholly surprised by all of the twists and turns – but the relentless pacing kept my disbelief suspended and, on the whole, I found the ending provided a satisfying conclusion to the various mysteries – both real and supernatural – that were contained within the walls of Baneberry Hall.

Probably the best recommendation I can give Home Before Dark is that I was supposed to be reading this as an October readalong with some of the gang from The Write Reads. I say ‘supposed to be’ because, having picked it up one rainy weekend, I found myself unable to put the book down and raced through it in a matter of days – well ahead of our set reading schedule! Whilst it’s not a book that’s likely to linger in my memory, I had a ton of fun reading this and was wholly gripped by the spooky shenanigans of Baneberry Hall.

Offering a tense mystery-thriller plot alongside a side serving of mainstream horror, Home Before Dark is sure to appeal to fans of Sager’s previous thrillers whilst also delighting fans of page-turning contemporary ghost stories and things that go bump in the night! If you haven’t read any of Riley Sager’s work before, this would be an ideal place to start – especially if you’re looking for a spooky seasonal read this Halloween. And for fans of Sager, what are you waiting for?!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available now in paperback and ebook 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

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 Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Image Description: The cover of Richard Osman’s The Man Who Died Twice features a fox with a ‘burglar’-style mask over its eyes

It’s the following Thursday.

Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.

As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?

But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can The Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?

Having had a ton of fun reading Richard Osman’s quintessentially-British crime caper The Thursday Murder Club last year, I pre-ordered The Man Who Died Twice, eager to see what Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim got up to next.

Picking up on the following Thursday, The Man Who Died Twice sees the Thursday Murder Club gang rapidly embroiled in yet another mystery when former spy Elizabeth receives a letter from her charming but feckless ex-husband Douglas. MI5 operative, womaniser, and possible diamond thief, Douglas’s life is now under threat from the New York mafia, deadly international money launderer, Martin Lomax, and shadowy operatives from within the security services themselves.

Add in a vicious mugging that leaves one of the TMC gang in hospital, a local drug dealer keen to get into the international market, and the unwarranted attention of Douglas’s MI5 handlers, and the four friends are soon embroiled in yet another offbeat adventure of epic proportions – one that has plenty of gentle nods to the spy-thriller genre.

As was the case with its predecessor, The Man Who Died Twice manages a perfect balance between charming comedic adventures, head-scratching mysteries, and gently poignant reflections on aging, loneliness, friendship, death, and regret. The violent attack on one of the TMC’s own is particularly well executed, managing to convey the devastating mental and physical impact of the incident upon the victim whilst also showing the deep love and friendship that has developed between the key characters – and the extremes they will go to in order to ensure that the perpetrator doesn’t get away with his crime!

So much of the appeal of this series is in Osman’s tone, which perfectly captures the warmth and wit of the characters whilst being unafraid to confront the realities of aging. From Elizabeth’s fears for her husband Stephen, now suffering with the early stages of Alzheimer’s, to DCI Chris Hudson’s struggles with weight and fitness and his colleague PC Donna De Freitas’s loneliness, The Man Who Died Twice deals with all of them head on without ever losing the lightness of touch and warmth that categorises the book as a whole.

The other major appeal of this series is the characters. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim are an absolute delight but Osman has also created an appealing supporting cast, many of whom make return appearances from The Thursday Murder Club. The ever-reliable jack-of-all-trades Bogdan remains one of my favourite characters (and gets some scene-stealing lines and moments in this book), whilst Donna’s mum Patrice – who is now dating Donna’s boss, Chris – and Ron’s precocious grandson Kendrick make welcome additions to the growing cast of characters at Coopers Chase Retirement Community.

It was also nice to get a little more background into the members of the TMC themselves. Ron and Ibrahim are both given a little more to do in this second outing, whilst some of Elizabeth’s sharp edges are smoothed out as the shadows of her past come into the light. And Joyce? Well, Joyce continues to be Joyce – which is definitely no bad thing given how much fun she is!

Whilst I’d strongly recommend starting with The Thursday Murder Club if you’re new to the series (mainly because it is great but also because it’s a perfect introduction to the characters), The Man Who Died Twice is a standalone mystery that is sure to delight both new and returning fans, and definitely proves that The Thursday Murder Club was more than just a flash-in-the-pan hit. Osman has confidently built upon the solid foundations of the first book to develop his returning characters whilst offering readers another head-scratching mystery with the same page-turning propulsion of the original. I’m already eagerly awaiting the next outing for his septuagenarian sleuths!

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman is published by Penguin Viking 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

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 Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke

Image Description: The cover of The Lighthouse Witches has a red and gold lighthouse against a black backdrop. Wave-like foiled detailing swirls all around the lighthouse. Above it, the moon glows against the darkness.

Upon the cliffs of a remote Scottish island, Lòn Haven, stands a lighthouse.

A lighthouse that has weathered more than storms.

Mysterious and terrible events have happened on this island. It started with a witch hunt. Now, centuries later, islanders are vanishing without explanation.

Coincidence? Or curse?

Liv Stay flees to the island with her three daughters, in search of a home. She doesn’t believe in witches, or dark omens, or hauntings. But within months, her daughter Luna will be the only one of them left.

Twenty years later, Luna is drawn back to the place her family vanished. As the last sister left, it’s up to her to find out the truth . . .

But what really happened at the lighthouse all those years ago?

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll probably have realised that my reading taste is heavily skewed in favour of the Gothic, especially during the autumn and winter seasons. So when the blog tour invite for C. J. Cooke’s The Lighthouse Witches landed in my inbox – with its isolated setting, spooky setting (The Longing – was there ever a better name for a creepy abandoned lighthouse?), and promise of historical witchy mystery – I sensed Shelf of Unread catnip and signed on up!

When struggling single mother Liv is commissioned to paint a mural in The Longing, a 100-year-old lighthouse on the remote Scottish island of Lòn Haven, she sees it as an opportunity for a fresh start for her and her three daughters – fifteen-year-old Sapphire, nine-year-old Luna, and seven-year-old Clover. But all is not as it seems on Lòn Haven. Local legend says The Longing is built above a cave used to imprison and torture local women accused of witchcraft, and there are tales of Wildlings – supernatural creatures mimicking human children – wandering the local woodland.

Twenty-two years later, Luna is the only member of the Stay family still left. Now pregnant with her own child, she is left haunted by her time on Lòn Haven. All Luna knows is that she was found, apparently abandoned, in the woods near The Longing. Her sisters and mother have been missing ever since. So when Luna gets a call to say that Clover has been found, she is overjoyed at the thought of reuniting with her sister and discovering what happened on Lòn Haven all those years ago. Indeed, Clover is exactly the sister Luna remembers: she is, in fact, still the seven-year-old girl who vanished into the night all those years ago. How can Clover have been missing for so long yet not aged a day? Could there be more to the tales of Wildlings and witches’ curses than Luna believes? One thing is certain: Luna will have to return to Lòn Haven – and to The Longing – to find out.

I really loved the way that history and folklore is woven through every strand of this book. Like all good folk tales, there are a number of elements (such as the re-emergence of a still-seven-year-old Clover) that require you to suspend your disbelief and just roll with the story, but it is the premise for a brilliant mystery that is founded upon the (very real) history of the Scottish witch trials and the appalling fate of many of the the Scottish ‘witches’. C. J. Cooke has very cleverly woven this folklore into a tale of contemporary life – of mother/daughter tension, teenage rebellion, the bond between sisters, and the fraught paths that young women navigate as they move from childhood to adolescence and beyond.

Whilst I did initially find the structure a little confusing – the book switches between Luna in the present day, the perspectives of Liv and Sapphire in 1998, and a third, older perspective with some characters appearing across multiple timelines – perseverance paid off and I became thoroughly engrossed in the mystery of Lòn Haven and in discovering exactly what had happened to Liv, Sapphire, Luna, and Clover all those years ago.

C. J. Cooke perfectly realises the isolated loneliness of The Longing and infuses even the smallest of gestures and symbols with a creeping atmosphere of suspicion and claustrophobia – which makes for an intense and page-turning reading experience! Characters are also really well conveyed – from Liv’s watchful desperation to the haughty resentment and anxiety of teenager Sapphire, I really felt as if I was in their shoes when reading. And whilst many of the characters make what can be termed ‘poor life choices’, I felt really sympathy for the predicaments that they found themselves within – and for their inadvertent entanglement with forces beyond their control.

I did have a couple of issues with the logic of The Lighthouse Witches at times. I find it quite hard to believe that any police force or social services team would release a seven-year-old child so soon after her rediscovery – especially since this little girl has been missing for two decades, can’t explain where she’s been, and apparently hasn’t aged a day. At times like this, the magical elements of the story don’t quite line up with the realism of the situation and, for a moment or two, it jolted me out of the world of the novel. This is, I admit, logical nit-picking – as I said at the start of this review, folk tales often require you to suspend your disbelief and, as this novel uses folklore for much of its base, its unsurprising to find that the book requires the occasional leap of faith from its readers. But if you do like all your plotlines wrapped up with logical explanations, consider yourself forewarned.

Overall, however, I found The Lighthouse Witches to be a compelling, unsettling, and enchanting read. C. J. Cooke has expertly woven folklore and history into her contemporary tale to create a modern thriller suffused with the claustrophobic and chilling atmosphere of a classic Gothic novel. With its wonderfully evocative setting and relatable, flawed characters, The Lighthouse Witches provided a page-turning and atmospheric read that is sure to delight fans of Cooke’s previous work – and to garner her plenty of new ones too.

The Lighthouse Witches by C. J. Cooke is published by HarperCollins 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 Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 21 October 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 · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!!! The Whistling by Rebecca Netley

Image Description: The cover of The Whistling has a woman’s silhouette trapped within the flame of an old-fashioned glass-covered candle holder.

Alone in the world, Elspeth Swansome takes the position of nanny to a family on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea.

Her charge, Mary, hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin, William – just days after their former nanny disappeared.

No one will speak of what happened to William. Just as no one can explain the hypnotic lullabies sung in empty corridors. Nor the strange dolls that appear in abandoned rooms. Nor the faint whistling that comes in the night . . .

As winter draws in and passage to the mainland becomes impossible, Elspeth finds herself trapped.

But is this house haunted by the ghosts of the past? Or the secrets of the living?

Yes, I am back in full Spooky Season mode for this week’s post! Rebecca Netley’s The Whistling has been getting all of the accolades over on bookish Twitter and was definitely on my ‘most anticipated spooky reads’ list for 2021 – so as soon as the nights started to draw in and Spooky Season could be said to have officially started, I took the opportunity to get reading!

Scotland, 1860, and young nanny Elspeth Swansome arrives on the remote Scottish island of Skelthsea to take care of nine-year-old Mary, who hasn’t uttered a word since the sudden death of her twin brother, William. Having recently experienced her own personal tragedy, Elspeth is determined to save the little girl from the asylum – a fate that her hard-hearted aunt, Violet Gillies, seems to be planning for her.

Convinced that with some much-needed love and attention she can encourage the little girl to speak again, Elspeth tries to discover more about William – and about Hettie, her predecessor as the children’s nanny who apparently left her employment without warning just a few days before William’s death. But no one on Skelthsea will talk about what happened to William – or about the dark rumours that surface whenever Hettie’s name is mentioned.

When Elspeth begins to find strange dolls in long-abandoned rooms, and to hear the shrill pierce of a whistle cutting through the dead of night, she starts to realise that the cause of Mary’s muteness may lie in more than just neglect. What is Mary so afraid of that she refuses to speak? As Elspeth investigates further, the secrets and superstitions of Skelthsea begin to emerge, putting both her and her charge in danger.

The Whistling is an impressive debut that draws on all of the tropes of the classic ghost story, combining them with folkloric elements and a stunningly atmospheric setting to create a brilliantly eerie and otherworldly read. Lovers of the classic ghostly tales of M R James and the gothic eeriness of Wilkie Collins will feel instantly at home on Skelthsea, whilst readers of more modern takes on the genre will find the claustrophobia of Skelthsea – and, in particular, of Elspeth and Mary’s ‘home’ on the island, Iskar – offers the same creeping chills as Shirley Jackson’s Hill House or Daphne Du Maurier’s Manderley.

For me, the atmosphere of the novel was definitely one of its major strengths. The faded glory and crumbling chill of Iskar seeps off the page and I could practically feel the icy sea frets that roll into the bay at night. Rebecca Netley has also perfectly captured the feel of being an outsider in a small community and she uses this to great affect to make Elspeth – and by turn, the reader – uncertain of how to distinguish between superstition, rumour, and hidden truths.

The drawing out of the island’s secrets takes time and, if I had one criticism of The Whistling, it’s that the pacing can be a bit uneven. I raced through the first half of the novel, keen to discover whether the sinister dolls and strange noises were the work of human or supernatural entities, but then found the pace lulling in the mid-section, when the plot seemed to pivot towards more domestic dramas and personal backstories. Whilst these were interesting, they were quite a distinct change from the supernatural shenanigans of the opening half and, briefly, appeared to take the novel in quite a different direction. The pace picks up again towards the end of the book – and the supernatural plot moves back into gear with a vengeance – but, after a period of relative calm, I was left feeling like the dramatic reveal at the end was a little rushed.

The evocative atmosphere and story twists kept me reading though the slower sections and I’m glad I pushed onwards because, overall, The Whistling is one of those slow-burn ghost stories that creeps into your mind and lives there rent-free until you suddenly find yourself jumping at shadows and sleeping with the lights on. With it’s isolated setting and dour atmosphere, there are definite shades of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black here and, just as in that novel, the spooks come from gradually dawning realisation and slowly built horror rather than dramatic jump scares.

I also found myself wholly rooting for Elspeth in her relentless pursuit of the truth. Her determination to help and protect Mary is touching – as is Mary’s own growing affection for her new nanny. I was particularly impressed by how much of Mary’s personality and character Rebecca Netley has conveyed through gestures, small interactions, and subtle movements – proof, if it were needed, that characters don’t need to speak to make themselves heard on the page.

The Whistling is a fine addition to the resurgent tradition of autumnal ghost stories. It is clear from reading it that Rebecca Netley both knows and loves the genre and her novel pays homage to all of the classics. Look closely and you’ll see the reverberations of everything from James’ The Turn of the Screw to Sarah Waters’ more recent The Little Stranger. Yet The Whistling is also a ghost story all of its own – a brilliantly evocative novel that will reward patient readers with that spine-tingling feeling.

The Whistling by Rebecca Netley is published by Penguin Michael Joseph on 14 October 2021 and is available to pre-order 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 and to Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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 · Seasonal Reads

REVIEW!! The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward

Image Description: The cover of The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward has golden ivy leaves against a grey backdrop of faded brickwork

When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place.

Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years.


Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse?


As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…

With the onset of Autumn and the turning of the leaves, my reading taste has once more turned to all things historical and spooky. Yes, I’m back in my Gothic reading comfort zone – and Rhiannon Ward’s second dose of historical spookiness, The Shadowing, proved to be the perfect fit for my autumnal reading mood!

The Shadowing follows Hester, the youngest daughter of a well-to-do family of Bristol Quakers. When the family learn that Hester’s elder sister Mercy has died at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, Hester is sent north to Southwell to find out exactly how her sister ended up in such a place, why she had not felt she could draw on the support of her fellow Friends in the area, and whether she has received the burial rites due to her as a Quaker.

As Hester journeys north, she is aware of a presence travelling with her. Beset by traumatic dreams and ghostly visions – ‘shadowings’ – since childhood, Hester knows it is Mercy who travels alongside her. And when she reaches Southwell Workhouse, she soon discovers why. Mercy was pregnant when she died – and although the Master and Mistress of the Workhouse claim both she and the child were taken by cholera, Hester soon discovers that there hasn’t been an outbreak for years.

With the reluctant aid of local innkeeper Matthew and his serving maid Joan, Hester sets about investigating what is really going on at Southwell Workhouse. Why are her new Friends – fellow Quakers Dorothea and Caroline – so reluctant for her to visit the place? Why does the young town doctor take such an interest in her visits there? And who exactly is the ghostly Pale Lady who terrifies the women and apparently steals babies in the depths of night?

As with her previous historical novel, The Quickening, Rhiannon Ward has provided a compelling and atmospheric blend of historical mystery and ghost story in The Shadowing. I was fascinated by the historical detail – from Hester’s Quaker background to the realities of life in the Workhouse, there’s a real sense of both time and place in the novel, and you can tell that the author has done her research – although it is lightly worn and woven expertly into the story.

The novel doesn’t shy away from portraying the grim realities of Workhouse life – especially for those deemed the ‘undeserving’ poor. I felt great compassion for the women (and, sadly, they were primarily women) forced to rely on the ‘charity’ of the parish due to abandonment or widowhood – and the novel does a great job of showing just how easy it would be for a young woman deemed ‘respectable’ and well-to-do like Hester to end up in a situation where her life – and her fate – is taken wholly out of her control.

Hester herself is a spirited main character. Although somewhat naïve – a result of her sheltered and strict upbringing – she is determined to get to the bottom of the unexplained deaths and disappearance at the Workhouse. I really liked the way in which Hester’s Quaker beliefs were woven into the plot, and the way in which they often ran counter to the more common ethos about who was ‘deserving’ of charity and the chance of redemption. Hester’s relationship with Matthew – the somewhat gruff and forthright publican at Southwell’s coaching in – is also really well done, moving from antagonistic to grudgingly respectful as the story progresses despite their very different upbringings and outlooks.

Although the supernatural element is stronger in The Shadowing than in The Quickening, Hester’s supernatural visitations and psychic senses are woven into the plot in a way that is wholly believable, and that adds an ever present sense of unease to the novel. Although Hester’s ‘shadowings’ are ghostly apparitions, the whole novel is imbued with an atmosphere of shadowiness (and some brilliant moments of foreshadowing), with Southwell itself quickly becoming a place of secrets and shadows, ready to leap at Hester from every corner.

Anyone who enjoyed The Quickening is sure to find The Shadowing a worthy follow-up, packed with the same level of historical detail and a brilliantly eerie atmosphere, and headed up by another strong and determined female lead. With its blend of historical mystery and supernatural happenings, The Shadowing is also the perfect fit for fans of Laura Purcell and Anita Frank, and an excellent addition to the popular genre of Modern Gothic.

The Shadowing by Rhiannon Ward is published by Trapeze (Orion) 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 and to Netgalley UK for providing an ecopy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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 DOUBLE FEATURE!!! The Appeal by Janice Hallett & True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

That’s right folks, today’s post is a double bonanza of crime fiction related goodness with reviews of two utterly fantastic crime novels that, although quite different in terms of tone and setting, both play with our readerly expectations and use their form and presentation to great effect. Both are strong contenders for my Books of the Year and, despite going into both with a fair bit of hype behind them, more than exceeded my expectations. So without further ado, let’s get to our first book!

Image Description: The cover of Janice Hallett’s The Appeal has an black and white line drawn illustration of a pretty village against a cream background. Over the window of one of the houses , there is a red ‘X’, with blood splatters to the edge of the image.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

In a town full of secrets…

Someone was murdered. Someone went to prison. And everyone’s a suspect.

Dear Reader – enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood, and ends with a tragic death. Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What’s more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed.

Throughout the Fairway Players’ staging of All My Sons and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick’s life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered. Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

Taking the form of a case file, Janice Hallett’s The Appeal presents crime fiction aficionados with a tantalising proposition: can you turn investigator and solve the case?

Told via a series of documents, The Appeal follows law students Femi and Charlotte as they delve into a lengthy trail of emails and documentary evidence to try and get to the bottom of the tragic death that rocked the small town of Lockwood in July 2018. Roderick Tanner QC is preparing to launch an appeal on behalf of the person who has been sent to prison for murder – but as the novel opens, you the reader don’t know who that is or even who has been murdered!

Instead you’re presented with a series of emails between the members of amateur theatrical society The Fairway Players. They’re preparing to welcome two new members – and to begin casting and rehearsals for a charity production of All My Sons which will be in aid of ‘A Cure for Poppy’, the charitable appeal set up to held the granddaughter of one of their leading members receive life-saving cancer treatment. But as the novel progresses – and Femi and Charlotte’s review of the evidence continues – it becomes apparent that all is not well in The Fairway Players. Amidst the traditional small town rivalries and petty power plays, darker forces are at work – and it might not just be murder that is the eventual outcome.

The documentary form gives The Appeal real pace and compulsion – I absolutely tore through the book, finishing it in just a couple of days! And whilst I did guess some of the twists and turns (working out the victim and accused murderer was pretty easy), other revelations kept me guessing right up until the very end! Janice Hallett has done a fantastic job of layering various levels of mystery and tension, leaving you as the reader/investigator trying to figure out whether someone’s seemingly innocuous message about staying out late for a few drinks with friends at the golf club is actually a cover for a personal intrigue – or a much darker and sinister deed. Some strands of the case turn out to be false leads and red herrings whilst others, seemingly small at first, morph into larger and more significant events giving the book a real sense of being a case file in progress – and of the reader’s investigations progressing alongside Femi and Charlotte’s.

I can’t say that the characters particularly drew me in to The Appeal – with so many of them it was, at times, easy to forget some of the more peripheral figures and I was very glad that I was reading in paperback so that I could flick back to the list of key players near the front of the book! In this way, The Appeal reminds me of the works of Agatha Christie – her standout characters tend to stick in the mind but many of her novels contain characters that flit around the borders, dropping in with a significant bit of information and then leaving. And, as with Christie’s works, the appeal of The Appeal very much lies in the compulsive plotting and the way in which it plays around with its form and with the reader’s narrative expectations. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

Which brings me, quite neatly, to the next book I want to review…

Image Description: The cover of Joseph Knox’s True Crime Story shows a greyscale photographic image of a young woman against a backdrop of modern apartments. Her face is largely in shadow so that her features are obscured.

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011. But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.

Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.

Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning.

Joseph Knox’s True Crime Story, his first standalone novel following on from his successful Aidan Waits series, delights in experimenting with form, creating a metafictional Manchester in which the writer, Joseph Knox, is both presenting the ‘true crime story’ of the title – an account of the disappearance of young university student Zoe Nolan – and becoming increasingly embroiled both in the mysterious death of the account’s author, Evelyn Mitchell and, possibly, of the case itself.

Told through a series of interviews between Evelyn and Zoe’s closest friends and family, interspersed with emails between Knox and Evelyn about the book, True Crime Story uses its narrative form and structure to not only propel the story and heighten the intrigue – inviting the reader to turn investigator in a similar way to Hallett’s The Appeal – but also to highlight the narrative voices that are missing from the tale.

Because, ultimately, True Crime Story is novel that investigates who gets to tell the stories of missing – and murdered – young women? Who decides whether Zoe Nolan was a dutiful daughter, a gifted musician, a manipulative hussy, an attention-seeker, or a messed up young woman? Could she be all of those things – or none of them? And who decides how Evelyn Mitchell’s work is presented to us, the readers – who has editorial control and what does that lead them to omit? And why?

It’s incredibly cleverly done but not in a pretentious way. As an English Literature student, I delighted in picking apart the metafiction of True Crime Story – and of thinking about the ways in which Knox uses the expectations of narrative, form, and genre to interrogate wider questions about the perception of young women in our society, the portrayal of missing women and girls in media narratives, the control of those narratives, and the rise in ‘true’ crime fiction stories and podcasts. But if all that sounds a bit pretentious, I should stress that I also enjoyed the novel as a reader, appreciating its well-realised characters and setting, interview-like presentation (which reminded me a lot of Six Stories, one of my favourite series of recent years) and compulsive readability.

With a selection of divisive characters – you’ll find yourself both loving and loathing many of them (often at the same time) – and plenty of unexpected twists and revelations, True Crime Story is both a gripping crime novel and a shocking, sometimes chilling, examination of the fate of one young woman – and the implications of her fate for contemporary society.

I can honestly say that both The Appeal and True Crime Story are strong contenders for my Best Books of the Year list. Although different in tone and setting, both of them play with the expectations of the crime genre – and the unique structures through which they present their stories – to heighten the tension and draw the reader into the narrative.

I stormed through both novels, desperate to get back to them whenever forced to tear myself away to attend to real-world life. And, unusually for me and crime fiction, I’ve kept both to read again in the future, sure that I’ll want to go back and unpick some of the clues and revelations through a re-read. Both are highly, highly recommend.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is published by Viper Books. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox is published by Doubleday. Both books are 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

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 Crimson Tide by Anna Sayburn Lane

When Helen Oddfellow goes to Canterbury for the opening of an Elizabethan play unseen for 400 years, she is expecting an exciting night. But the performance is disrupted by protests, then a gruesome discovery in the cathedral crypt draws her into a desperate hunt for a murderer.

Is the play cursed? The actors think so, but Helen doesn’t believe in curses. As friends go missing and Helen herself is threatened, she pursues the clues through the ornate tombs of the cathedral and the alleyways of the ancient city.

Mysteries from the distant and not-so-distant past are exposed.

Can Helen find the killer – before he kills again?

Having thoroughly enjoyed Anna Sayburn Lane’s previous two Helen Oddfellow mysteries, Unlawful Things and The Peacock Room, I was delighted to receive a copy of the third book in the series, The Crimson Thread, and to find out what literary mystery Helen has found herself embroiled in this time.

The time has finally come for the lost Elizabethan play that Helen and her investigative partner Richard found in Unlawful Things to be performed. The play is not without controversy – depicting Sir Thomas Becket (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury) as an anti-hero, its discovery has rocked some of the more extreme parts of the religious and literary worlds, and the play’s performance has attracted protests.

Going to the opening night performance in Canterbury – the site of Becket’s murder – Helen is expecting to have to defend the play but she is wholly unprepared to stumble upon a corpse in the cathedral crypt, and even less prepared when the body turns out to be connected to an old ally of Helen and Richard’s. Someone, it seems, is determined to stop the performance of the lost play – and to continue to hide Thomas Becket’s last secret. And it soon becomes apparent that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their aims.

As with Anna Sayburn Lane’s previous Helen Oddfellow mysteries, The Crimson Thread provides a page-turning literary mystery complete with a satisfying and intriguing intellectual puzzle and a trail of literary breadcrumbs for readers to follow as the mystery is revealed.

There are probably more thriller elements in this book than the previous titles – Helen finds herself up against a truly vicious villain who is capable of both psychological and physical violence – meaning that, with The Crimson Thread being a tad shorter than its predecessors (a slender 211 pages), the pace really rattles along, making for a page-turning and compulsive read. I finished it over the course of an afternoon because once I was absorbed in the mystery, I just didn’t want to stop reading!

Helen continues to mature as a character – she’s more sure of herself in this book, and more aware of the risks that she is taking. Whilst it was lovely to see some returning characters, it was also great to be introduced to some new faces – a determined and organised police detective, and a handsome actor (and possible love interest for Helen) being two of my favourites. I wasn’t quite as taken with the subplot of this book – the young choir boy who occasionally acts as a viewpoint character didn’t quite make up for the absence of newspaper reporter Nick Wilson for me – but I appreciated the change of location and the opportunity for Helen to meet new people, revisit old connections, and tie up loose ends from Unlawful Things.

As in Unlawful Things, the antagonists of the novel are brilliantly realised – one of them really made my skin crawl, being a blend of manipulative, deceitful, and outright violent. As I mentioned above, there are some scenes of both psychological and physical abuse in the novel – Sayburn Lane doesn’t shy away from depicting violence on the page when necessary – but, as in her previous books, this felt in-keeping with the characterisation of her villains.

Unlike its predecessor The Peacock Room, The Crimson Thread is a more direct sequel to Unlawful Things, picking up on a number of strands from the first book in the series and with the return of a number of characters from that novel. Whilst the mystery itself is, as with the others in the series, a standalone, I do feel that you’d get more enjoyment out of The Crimson Thread if you read Unlawful Things first – the central mystery of that novel is fairly key to this one, and a number of events and characters are referenced.

Fans of The Da Vinci Code and The Shakespeare Secret who have not yet discovered Helen Oddfellow should definitely be jumping on this series, as should any thriller fan seeking a change of pace from domestic noir. Lovers of literature will also find much to enjoy here – Anna Sayburn Lane has clearly done her research and her clear yet crafted writing really brings her characters and settings to life. Packed with twists, turns, action, and adventure, The Crimson Thread is another thrilling outing for Helen Oddfellow and I can’t wait to see what she might get up to next!

The Crimson Thread by Anna Sayburn Lane is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive and Waterstones.

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 author for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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 Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

PS: thanks for the murders.

The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should absolutely not be suspicious. DS Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing to concern her in carer Natalka’s account of Peggy Smith’s death.

But when Natalka reveals that Peggy lied about her heart condition and that she had been sure someone was following her…

And that Peggy Smith had been a ‘murder consultant’ who plotted deaths for authors, and knew more about murder than anyone has any right to…


And when clearing out Peggy’s flat ends in Natalka being held at gunpoint by a masked figure…

Well then DS Harbinder Kaur thinks that maybe there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all.

Having really enjoyed Elly Griffith’s previous standalone mystery The Stranger Diaries back in 2019, I was keen to read more of her work. Unfortunately however her more established Dr Ruth Galloway series didn’t quite gel with me, so I was delighted by the announcement of The Postscript Murders, Elly’s second standalone mystery.

I say ‘standalone’ but Goodreads has this listed as the second in the DS Harbinder Kaur ‘series’. This is possibly a tad misleading. Whilst DS Kaur did appear as one of the investigating officers in The Stranger Diaries, she wasn’t the protagonist and the two novels can be enjoyed entirely separately – the mystery in The Postscript Murders is entirely standalone and DS Kaur now takes centre stage as one of the viewpoint characters, alongside an eclectic cast of amateur sleuths. There are some nods back to The Stranger Diaries – references to Harbinder’s friend Clare, the protagonist of the previous books – but nothing that requires you to have read that novel in order to enjoy this one.

The Postscript Murders sees DS Kaur and her colleagues investigating the death of a 90 year old lady called Peggy Smith. Peggy had a heart condition so, at first glance, there seems to be nothing unusual about her demise. When her carer Natalka and ex-monk friend Benedict are held up at gunpoint in Peggy’s apartment – and when the gunman steals an obscure golden age crime novel – it does begin to look as if there may have been more to Peggy’s death than meets the eye. When it becomes apparent that Peggy acted as a ‘murder consultant’ for various well-known crime novelists – and when one of those novelists ends up with a bullet to the head – Harbinder realises she’s got a rapidly evolving and complex case on her hands. One that she could do really without Natalka, Benedict, and Peggy’s elderly neighbour Edwin getting wrapped up in.

Combining the ‘cosy’ amateur sleuthing of Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club with the literary mystery of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, The Postscript Murders is a wholly engaging read that alternates between Harbinder Kaur’s official investigation and the amateur sleuthing of Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin.

Harbinder really comes to life in this book and makes for an enjoyably cynical narrator and I really liked finding out more about her family and personal life in this book. Living at home with her elderly parents Bibi and Deepak (both of whom are an absolute delight to read about on the page), Harbinder finds it challenging to balance her job with her role as a daughter in a close-knit Sikh household – especially when Bibi falls over the family dog and requires additional care. Harbinder is also hiding the fact that she is gay from her family – and is doubting whether a thirty-something woman with a successful career should really still be living at home and spending her evenings playing Panda Pop. Watching her puzzle through both personal and professional dilemmas was one of the highpoints of the book for me – and I loved that, whilst Harbinder has both family and professional problems, Elly Griffiths didn’t turn her into the traditional ‘detective with issues’. Instead we get a portrait of a warm, loving family, and a respectful – if occasionally frustrating – professional environment – and of a woman working through where exactly she fits into it.

Natalka, Benedict, and Edwin, meanwhile, are a delightfully eclectic set of amateur sleuths. Carer Natalka is witty, confident, and captivating – but is running from painful memories and dangerous enemies back in her native Ukraine. Ex-monk turned barista Benedict, meanwhile, knows he’s fallen out of love with seminary life – but can’t quite find his place within the secular world. And former TV producer Edwin – stuck living at Seaview ‘Preview’ Court – faces a lonely existence without his friend Peggy. As this unlikely trio begin investigating Peggy’s death, they form friendships and bonds that are really lovely to read about. And again, whilst each of the trio have ‘baggage’, this is dealt with in a reasonable and realistic way.

I also really liked the way the plot centred around the literary world and, in particular, the world of crime fiction. There is a knowing and witty portrayal of the bookish community in The Postscript Murders that is sure to delight many readers – even us bloggers get a mention! And whilst there are several deaths in the course of the novel, there isn’t anything especially gory or violent – for the most part, the book stays firmly in the realm of ‘cosy’ crime in a similar way to the Golden Age mysteries to which it pays some homage. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of unexpected twists and turns along the way to finding out ‘whodunnit’!

Overall, The Postscript Murders is a charming and engaging mystery bought to life by a cast of vivid and endearing characters. Combining a well-plotted and page-turning mystery with plenty of warmth, wit, and humour, it is the perfect read for fans of The Thursday Murder Club or Magpie Murders, as well as anyone seeking a contemporary mystery that has all the hallmarks and charm of the Golden Age.

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths is published by Quercus 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 ecopy 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 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!