Review: Murder at the Village Fete by Catherine Coles #NetGalley #BookReview #1920s #Mystery

My thanks to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for a review copy of this one.

After not really requesting books from NetGalley for a bit (so as to tackle by own TBR pile), last month I came across a handful that sounded so interesting and I ended up requesting. One of these was this one–Murder at the Village Fete. This one, a cosy mystery set in the 1920s, was described as Downton Abbey crossed with Murder She Wrote.

This is the second in a series, The Tommy and Evelyn Christie Mysteries. Tommy Christie, formerly a policeman is now Lord Northmoor having inherited the title unexpectedly in the previous book. His wife, Evelyn had also served in the police. In this one, the couple—who are still adjusting to their new life and roles—have been convinced by Evelyn’s sister, Millicent, to host the local fete at Hessleham Hall, while her father, a former MP has asked them to invite some of his close friends and former colleagues to stay. Most of the guests are trying with endless demands and complaints, causing much annoyance to both the staff and Evelyn. Among the guests staying with the Christies is the current local MP Robert Billingham, who is to open the fete. But on the morning of the fete, as Evelyn and Tommy are walking her Gordon Setters, Nancy and Davey, they come upon Billingham lying face down in the stream with a knife in his back! The case is entrusted to Detective Inspector Andrews, but Tommy and Evelyn soon realise that for their guests’ safety, they must themselves step in and find the murderer.  

For starters, even though this was the second in the series, this was not a hard one to get into; one gets a general idea of the events that unfolded in book 1 and it’s easy to pick up the threads again. We learn a little about the simpler lives Tommy and Evelyn lived before he came into the title, the struggles they are having adjusting, but also how they are using the opportunities that this brings to do well by people. Both Tommy and Evelyn are very likeable characters, as is the mischievous Auntie Em (Emily, Tommy’s aunt), who isn’t shy of speaking her mind.

The theme around which this mystery is centred is corruption in arms/ammunition supplies during the war which resulted in many soldiers losing their lives. Tommy is deeply affected by this since he had served in the war and is carrying wounds from the time. There are numerous suspects including even possibly Evelyn’s father, but certainly all the guests he has invited to Tommy and Evelyn’s for they were all serving in key positions at the time. And they have all received letters of blackmail about the incident. Besides the four, the beautiful new schoolteacher, Isolde Newley seems to be hiding something, while a young reporter, Ernest Franklin is also snooping around.

The mystery itself as a result has a few threads and with all of the main suspects having a stake in the corruption scandal, one is not quite sure which of them did it, or whether the blackmailer had more of a motive than blackmail itself. And then of course, there is another death as well, complicating matters. The Detective Inspector seems out of his depth (as is expected in such books) and it is Tommy and Evelyn who do much of the investigating.

The author also uses the story to explore relationships—highlighting Tommy and Evelyn’s comfortable and loving relationship where each has complete trust in the other; and give the other the chance to live their life fully, and so the things that make them happy (including Evelyn’s regular visits to the kitchen and doing some baking there). Some of the others we see are not as lucky. Alongside we also have a possible romance thread with Isolde Newley being somewhat interested in the attractive, but reticent local doctor, Dr. Mainwaring.

While this was a light and fun enough read, there were also some aspects that didn’t work for me. For one, while the murder was supposed to be at the village fete according to the title, we barely see any of the actual fete—I mean it is mentioned and some events happen, but nothing significant; even the murder has taken place before the actual fete, so the fete seems lost in all of this.

Then in the mystery, for one I felt, the murder itself happened far too soon, before we even really got to know the guests. There wasn’t even a chance to guess who the victim might be, it simply happens. Then in the investigation, in some of the conversations Tommy and Evelyn have with various people, they seem to approach them far too directly, rather than more tactfully, if that makes sense—you can’t exactly expect anyone to just come out and admit they were involved, after all. And one suspect Tommy just pronounces as innocent without giving a convincing enough reason (in fact, any reason) for doing so (that makes one begin to doubt his skills as a detective).

The other issue I had was with the writing itself; to me at times it felt (especially in some of the dialogue) far too modern for the time period in which it is set; for instance, Tommy using the expression ‘meet up’; also there were other instances where it just didn’t seem like people would speak that way/use those expressions, so it felt a bit off.

All in all while this had a promising setting and plot, it turned out just an okay read.

Shelf Control #115: One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus #YoungAdult #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 25th of November, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what it’s about, why you want to read it, when you got it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is yet another young adult mystery (I seem to be reading or picking these up a lot lately), and the first in a series of the name name with (so far) two books, One of Us is Lying (2017) by Karen M. McManus.

Described as a mash up of The Breakfast Club and Pretty Little Liars, in this one, we have five students, Yale hopeful, Bronwyn (‘who has never publicly broken a rule’); Cooper, sports star (‘who only knows what he’s doing in the basketball diamond’); Nate, bad boy (‘only one misstep away from a life of crime’); Addy, prom queen (‘holding together the cracks in her perfect life’) and Simon, creator of a notorious gossip app at Bayview High. On Monday afternoon, all five walk into detention, but Simon never makes it out of the room–and this just 24 hours before he was set to post their deepest secrets online. All four immediately become suspects but did one of them actually do it or are they ‘the perfect pasties for the killer still on the loose’?

It is only in the last few years that I have been picking up young adult fiction a lot, mostly after coming across titles that sounded interesting on YouTube or Goodreads. And Young Adult mysteries have come to my notice that way as well (as also via NetGalley), and to my own surprise I have ended up enjoying a lot of them. This one being in what sounds like a typical high-school setting had me a little sceptical but being a mystery/whodunit proper (which I mostly can’t resist, as I’m sure is clear from my posts by now:)), I also did want to give it a shot, so I ended up ordering a copy. Goodreads friends have given it pretty positive reviews as well, so let’s see. I’m hoping this will turn out to be an enjoyable read.

The author Karen M. McManus lives in Massachusetts. She holds a masters degree in journalism, and has written three young adult mysteries/thriller, with a fourth book out later this year.

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Do you enjoy young adult mysteries? Which are some of your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Cover image and book info from Goodreads as always (here) as is the author info (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth here

#BookReview: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson #Mystery #YoungAdult #TrulyDevious

In The Hand on the Wall, Maureen Johnson gives us a satisfying conclusion to the two mysteries surrounding Ellingham Academy which we have been following from book 1. This is of course, the third book of the Truly Devious series of Young Adult mysteries (I recently found out that there is to be a fourth book but that will be an entirely new mystery).

Ellingham Academy, the setting for the series, is a school in Vermont which was established by a tycoon in the 1930s for students who excelled or were gifted in particular areas, and which allowed them to pursue curricula that were designed to develop these interests. For our main character Stevie or Stephanie Bell, this is true crime. She is interested in solving crimes and more specifically the mystery surrounding the school itself for 80 years ago just after the school was set up, the founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and while his wife’s body was found, his daughter Alice was never recovered. Another student Dottie Epstein, a rather clever young girl had also disappeared at the time. And just before the disappearances, Ellingham was receiving mysterious, threatening messages from someone who called themselves ‘Truly Devious’. Now as Stevie is beginning to reinvestigate the case, deaths begin to take place in the present as well, first one student and then a second, and both had been working on a documentary connected with the old case. And where we left off last, a third person interested in the Ellingham matter died in mysterious circumstances. But was it just an accident as it seemed to be?

In this instalment, Stevie has solved the 1930s mystery (or so she thinks), discovered who Truly Devious was, but Alice is yet to be found. Also, in the present-day mystery, the threads are yet to be connected—were all the deaths simply things gone wrong or accidents? Not only that, her boyfriend or at least the boy she was interested in, David has gone missing and is miffed with her for acting at the behest of his father. Stevie is feeling lost amidst all of this and needs to get her thoughts together but a huge storm is about to break out and the school is suddenly evacuated. Another turn of circumstances, and Stevie and a small group of friends end up being the only ones staying behind at Ellingham and in this freezing place, Stevie must put the final pieces of the puzzles (both) together.   

Compared to book 2, I found I got into this one far more easily (though the gap between my reading this and the last was about the same as between book 2 and book 1), and found myself absorbed back in right from the start. Like the first two books, this one also follows a dual timeline and so we the reader see events as they unfolded back in the 1930s (as also the present), while Stevie must work them out for herself, and so while she does solve the puzzle, we the reader have a fuller and clearer explanation (of the older mystery, I mean). This was something I oddly enjoyed. In fact, the 1930s mystery with all its twists and complications was the one I ended up enjoying much more than the present-day one. The solution to the latter too was satisfying, no doubt, but perhaps not something that entirely took me by surprise (I mean, not that I guessed but it wasn’t the kind that sometimes entirely blows one away, if that makes sense). The romance thread was also not my favourite but her friends were kind of fun. And I also did enjoy the Agatha Christie references (in this one it is essentially to And Then There Were None which is supposed to be Stevie’s favourite) once again.

Overall I really enjoyed the series, though and would like to read the new mystery when it comes out. What I’d have done differently with this series would have probably been to not read it as it came out but wait till they were all available because I felt with the gaps between books, I did lose track of characters and developments in the story.

Have you read this series? What did you think of it? Any other young adult mysteries that you’ve read and enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Images: the first mine, and the second via Goodreads.

Shelf Control #114: Miss Moorthy Investigates by Ovidia Yu #HistoricalFiction #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 18th of November, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, don’t forget to link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is a recently acquired cozy mystery, which I picked up after coming across the author by chance, on account mostly of its setting. The book is Miss Moorthy Investigates by Ovidia Yu and the setting is Singapore in the 1970s.

A couple of months ago, in a YouTube/booktube video discussing cosy mysteries on which I happened to leave a comment, I came across the author’s name in another comment which mentioned that Ovidia Yu’s mysteries were set in Singapore. This immediately interested me since I haven’t read very many books set in Singapore (I think Crazy Rich Asians was one series that fell in that category), and I love mysteries (as I’m sure you know by now), so she seemed a perfect author for me to explore. Looking further I found that she has a series set in 1930s Singapore, one featuring Aunty Lee which I think is contemporary, and then this one which seems to be a standalone, which is set in the 1970s. Since this was a short one and a standalone, I thought I might be a good place to start so I ordered it.

1970s Singapore–safe, strait-laced–is terrorized by a bizarre killer, ‘the Strangler’. The Strangler targets single, successful career women, and removes their hands. Miss Moorthy (based on the author’s friend), is a school teacher, and feels safe despite all the rumours around. But then her colleague Evelyn Ngui is murdered and her free-spirited flat-mate Connie encounters the murderer–and that too, in their apartment. Now Miss Moorthy must investigate. But will she be able to find the killer, and with all the secrets she’s uncovering, will she be able to come out alive?

This sounds really delightful since it combines what sounds like an interesting mystery with a setting which I certainly want to explore. All the more so since it is one I don’t really know much about (the time period in the place I mean). So certainly want to pick this one up soon.

Have you read anything by Ovidia Yu before? Which book/s and how did you like it/them? Any other mysteries or books set in Singapore that you enjoyed? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Book cover image and info from Goodreads as always (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, set in a dystopian future, The City in the Middle of the Night (here)

#Review: Naked Heat by Richard Castle #Mystery #Castle

Naked Heat is book 2 in the Nikki Heat series of books. The series was published as to tie-in with the TV series Castle in which Richard Castle, an author, first comes in contact with Detective Kate Beckett when a copycat killer bases his crimes on the former’s books, and decides to base his next series on her. The books were actually written by screenwriter Tom Straw, but published under Castle’s name and feature his picture as author. Since I enjoyed the series so much, the initial seasons particularly, I had been meaning to give the books a try as well, and now I finally read this one which I’d bought last year.

 This one opens with Nikki Heat on her way to a crime scene when she encounters something rather unusual. At the crime scene, she finds a victim who used to drive a truck delivering vegetables and fruit with no apparent reason why anyone would kill him. Almost before finishing with that scene, she is called to a second crime scene. Here the victim is a gossip columnist, Cassidy Towne and the person that reporter the murder is journalist Jameson Rook, who was working on a story on her. Needless to say, Towne was no pleasant person and has an endless list of ‘victims’ who’d wish her dead. We follow Rook and Heat and officers Riley and Ochoa as they interview suspects and try to find out which of them actually did her in. As Towne was a celebrity columnist, this is the world they find themselves navigating—not just a singer and a sportsman but also a politician whose career Towne cut short, and Rook’s connections help get them around a bit.

On the personal front, Rook and Heat have broken up since the article he was shadowing her team for ended up focusing on her rather than the team as a whole which left them all angry, and Nikki feeling wronged. Working with Nikki again on this case, Rook hopes to patch things up with her and the others, but Nikki’s old boyfriend enters the scene complicating things a little.

This is an enjoyable read that plays out more or less like any episode of the show Castle. The characters are basically versions of those—Castle is Rook, Beckett is Heat, Ryan is Riley, Esposito is Ochoa, and medical examiner Lanie is Lauren, while Castle’s mother Martha becomes Margaret though his daughter is not in the book (nor mentioned). The mystery is fairly complicated with plenty of suspects (all with strong enough motives) and some red herrings. We also learn something interesting about Rook; while Heat’s mother’s murder is mentioned but there are no developments in that direction. The only complaint if any I had was that may be it felt was a touch too long; but as someone who really enjoyed the show, I thought this was a great deal of fun.

Are you a fan of the show? Have you read this one or any of the others in this series or the Derrick Storm ones? Which ones and how did you like them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

#Review: Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt #Mystery #GothicRomance #SpookyReads

This is the first of Victoria Holt’s gothic romances, and my first time reading one of her books though I have read and enjoyed historical fiction written under her other pseudonym, Jean Plaidy, before. This was also one of my first seasonal reads this October, since it was described as having a gothic/spooky tone to it. This one has a Jane Eyre/Rebecca kind of plotline. Martha Leigh is young, unmarried and impoverished which means the only course open to her is to go out as a governess. And this she does—the story in fact opens with her on a train heading to Cornwall and to Mount Mellyn, the residence of the TreMellyns. Martha’s employer (or should I say her Rochester) is Connan TreMellyn, while her charge is Connan’s eight-year-old daughter Alvean, who has had, as is customary in such stories a few governesses before, none of whom lasted very long. At TreMellyn, she also meets (among others) the housekeeper, Mrs Polgrey, slightly imposing but friendly enough when she gets to know her (in other words, no Mrs Danvers), and neighbours Celestine Nansellock and her brother Peter, who are friendly, both with Martha and her employer, though there is something that strains the relationship between the TreMellyns and the Nansellocks. Also there is Mrs Polgrey’s strange granddaughter Gilly, who seems to sing, yet not speak to anyone. Alvean, Martha’s charge, is headstrong and sullen, but Martha soon finds that all she wants is her father’s love and approval, but he continues to be cold. She also finds that her employer’s wife Alice died a year ago in somewhat mysterious circumstances, and in some way or other her shadow remains in the house. In fact, even on the railway journey to Cornwall, someone had warned her to watch out for Alice!

This was a reasonably enjoyable read for me, which delivered on most though not all of what it promised. The plot was as described on the lines of Jane Eyre and Rebecca—more the former than the latter in the sense of a governess going out to look after a child and falling in love with her employer, and there being a secret surrounding the employer’s wife’s death. Our heroine Martha is spirited, outspoken and up for the challenge of looking after a child (something she isn’t used to). In fact, more than that, she is not simply interested in getting young Alvean to accept her but also to improve her relationship with her father. Then she also takes up the case of little Gilly, who she feels is misunderstood. While she is the ideal ‘romance’ heroine, on many occasions, her reactions did feel to me a little childish. The romance thread of the story is I guess the usual, with Martha initially disapproving of her employer, but slowly taking to him; though the change of heart felt a little sudden.

The setting I thought—of a manor up on the Cornish cliffs, with a mysterious death (more than one death, actually) and the foundations she laid of our heroine being warned about Alice was quite perfect. But the spooky elements I felt didn’t turn out to have the effect of actually being creepy or scary in the slightest. There are mysterious whispers in the waves, and shadows of Alice, but the other threads of the story may be take up more prominence and so these don’t quite have the effect I’d have liked them to. But, the book did end up having a genuine mystery plot, surrounding the events that have taken place before Martha’s arrival, and there is more than one secret that the house and the people living in and around it are keeping—some she seems to find out quite soon, others remain a mystery right until the end. So there is a surprise awaiting one in the end, though I must say, if it had turned out as Martha begins to imagine it, it may have been more dark and fun (for us, not her).

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Any Gothic Romances that you read that were actually scary? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

#Review: #The Mysterious Affair at Styles #AgathaChristie #Poirot #Mystery #Centenary

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie’s first detective novel, which also introduced us to one of her most famous characters, the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot first appeared in October 1920, and thus turned 100 this year. I revisited the book in celebration earlier in October (though I only got down to writing my thoughts/review now).

 Agatha Christie began writing this one during the First World War when she was part of the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment), and working in a dispensary; her sister Madge had challenged her to write a detective story earlier. When she began thinking about and planning it, it was the setting she was in then that influenced quite a bit. Working in the dispensary at that point, ‘it was natural that death by poison should be the method’ (Christie, An Autobiography, p. 261 (Harper Collins, 1993 ed)). Not only that, one of the characters we meet, Cynthia Murdoch is just as Christie was then, working in a dispensary and surrounded by poisons. In deciding who the characters were to be, she also took inspiration from people she observed or chanced upon. ‘[W]hen I was sitting in a tram, I saw just what I wanted, a man with a black beard…’ (Christie, An Autobiography, p. 261 (Harper Collins, 1993 ed)). This bearded man went on to become Alfred Inglethorp in the book.

The book is set during the war (though published after it), and is like the Sherlock Holmes books Christie was fond of, being narrated by Captain Hastings, who is pretty much Poirot’s Watson (Christie herself describes him as such though Hastings doesn’t appear in all the Poirot stories, nor are they all told in his voice). Hastings is back home from the war front invalided when he runs into an old friend John Cavendish who invites him to stay at his family home, Styles Court, where Hastings has stayed before as a boy. Once there he meets John’s wife, Mary, sullen younger brother Lawrence, and young Cynthia Murdoch who is a VAD and staying at Styles as her mother was John’s mother’s friend. John’s mother he learns has remarried, and a much younger man, Alfred Inglethorp. None of the family seem to like him very much and Mrs Inglethorp’s companion, Evelyn Howard is most vocal in her disapproval. But Emily Inglethorp controls the purse strings and all her family is dependent on her for pretty much everything, though John as the eldest son will come into the house after her. One night Mrs Inglethorp who seems upset with her husband retires after dinner and later that night, dies—poisoned. Before these events, on a walk in the village Hastings had run into an interesting man he’d known before—a retired policeman, now there as a refugee from Belgium, Hercule Poirot; the refugees have incidentally been helped by Mrs Inglethorp. As soon as Mrs Inglethorp dies, Hastings calls in Poirot, just the man needed in such a situation. Meanwhile the case itself is entrusted to Inspector Japp (also a recurring character, and described by Christie in her autobio as a ‘Lestrade-type Scotland Yard detective (p. 290)). Working alongside Poirot or following him as he investigates, Hastings is puzzled by some of his actions and finds himself doubting Poirot, wondering if he’s lost his touch. Like Holmes, Poirot tells Hastings all he knows (or almost all) and all he has before him, and challenges him to reach his own conclusions, which Hastings does—but all the wrong ones.  In the end, it is Poirot alone who manages to solve it and reveal all (in a characteristic denouement scene as we see in many of the books—in fact John Lane, her publisher had got her to change the scene she had originally written (An Autobiography, p. 284 )), while the police seem to have caught onto the wrong thread.

This book, even though it is Christie’s first book, brings us an excellent puzzle with plenty of twists and turns that have one wondering who could possibly have done it. While the characters are more or less likeable (even though most of the family is more or less living on the old lady), many of them seemed to have a possible motive for killing Mrs Inglethorp, but whose motive was strong enough for them to have done it? Christie keeps us guessing right till the end. Of course having read this one quite a few times, I did remember whodunit, but as I have written in other reviews of Christie’s books, she has so many subplots and threads that one can’t really remember them all. In this one, there is an entire trial that takes place which I didn’t remember at all. That’s what I love about Christie, there’s always something ‘new’ even when you’ve read a book many times. And as always there are plenty of secrets, red herrings, and a touch of romance, which makes this a cosy but also interesting read.

Do you enjoy the Poirot books? Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image: my own.

Shelf Control #111: The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson #YoungAdult #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday, the 28th of October, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, where/when you got it and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!

Today my pick is a more recent acquisition (in fact among the latest additions to my shelves), and a book I’m very much looking forward to reading because it happens to be the final book in a mystery series. Truly Devious is a mystery series that follows a dual time line; in the present, we have a young girl Stevie Bell who has secured admission in an unusual school Ellingham Academy where gifted students are allowed to pursue curricula that suit their specific interests and gifts. Stevie’s interest–true crime! And the case she is specifically interested in solving has to do with the school itself. Eighty years ago, just after the school’s founding by tycoon Albert Ellingham, his wife and daughter are kidnapped, and while his wife’s body is recovered, his daughter was never found. The perpetrator identified at the time was unconvincing and Stevie wants to get to the bottom of the case. But then deaths begin to take place in the present as well. In the second book, The Vanishing Stair more developments take place, further deaths, and there are quite a few interesting revelations (my reviews of these are here and here).

This is the third part of the series where Stevie must put together all she has found so far and resolve both the events of the present and past, for though she thinks she has solved what happened all those years ago, has she really? In the present, three people are now dead and there is also someone missing. To add to everything, there is a massive storm heading towards Vermont where Ellingham is located!

I started this series knowing that the mystery/mysteries weren’t going to be solved in one book but over three so the fact that only a few revelations were made, or that there were cliffhangers didn’t bother me too much. But the gap between reading book one and two (eight months as I mentioned in my review) meant that some of the details had disappeared from my mind and it was a while before I got back into the book fully. The case is the same for this one since I read Book 2 in January, and it is again about 8 months. But I’m still excited to see how these mysteries are resolved and all the twists and turns that are to come. I also just found that the series is continuing with another book, and (luckily/thankfully) a new mystery for Stevie to solve now that she’s done with these.

Have you read this series or any of the books? How did you like it/them? What other young adult mysteries have you read that you liked? Any that you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Info and cover image from Goodreads as always (here)

Find Lisa’s pick this week, a collection of writings by author John Scalzi here

#Review: Heartstone by C.J. Sansom #historicalfiction #mystery #MatthewShardlake

The fifth of the series featuring Matthew Shardlake and set in Tudor England. This one is set in 1545 in turbulent times, for England is at war and the French are expected to arrive at any moment with an army and fleet of ships much larger than the Spanish Armada. And Portsmouth is where they are expected to arrive with Henry VIII preparing to head there. Meanwhile back in London, Shardlake finds himself called on once again by Catherine Parr, who had promised to keep him away from politics. And while she does keep her promise, she has a case for him nonetheless. The son of a former servant was tutor to two children Hugh and Emma; after their parents died, their wardship was bought by one Master Hobbey, clearly with far from noble intentions (benefitting from their property at the very least while they remain minors). But Emma too has died of an illness, while the Hobbeys with Hugh have moved to the country, dismissing the tutor Michael Calfhill. Michael happens to visit them one day one day, to look into Hugh’s wellbeing and finds out something horrifying, even filing a complaint about it (not saying what it was though). But before anything further happens, Michael commits suicide. Now Shardlake is asked to take the case and look into the matter and the welfare of Hugh. And where would the Hobbeys live, but Portsmouth. Alongside Shardlake also plans to look into the case of Ellen, the woman in Bedlam he met on a previous case and why her family seems to have abandoned her there. Since her village is also in the vicinity, he decides to investigate although he knows Ellen would not approve and wants the past to be left alone. Meanwhile his assistant Jack’s wife Tamasin is expecting while because of the war (and his impudence), he is on the verge of being drafted. This adventure takes us into not only some interesting mysteries, but also in the midst of the war showing both the young men who were being led there, their training, fears, apprehensions, and also some of the action itself, including aboard the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s carrack.

This is once again, like all the other Shardlake books, a doorstopper—the edition I have has 636 pages, but despite its length it is one that manages to hold one’s attention or even more so, keep one entirely hooked all though. I love how these books really pull one into the settings, as though we are there experiencing events unfold alongside Shardlake. The story, in fact the entire atmosphere is pretty intense, with Shardlake involved in two mysteries that are far from simple and that have, even before he has set out towards Portsmouth begun to put him in danger. When he arrives at the Hobbeys’ home, things seem perfectly normal at the surface, yet he knows the family (and perhaps also their lawyer who has travelled down with him) have something to hide. But what? The mystery surrounding Ellen’s past too is not a very straightforward one and even when he visits her village, the mystery only deepens. In in neither case can the reader figure out what the answer might turn out to be. To add to these baffling cases is the atmosphere of war itself, and for Shardlake the added danger that if he remains in Portsmouth too long, he might end up running into Henry VIII with whom his previous encounter was far from pleasant. His old nemesis Sir Richard Rich too seems to be watching his every step keenly. And in the Hobbey house, besides the tensions within the house, there is discontent in the village as well for the poorer residents are far from pleased with the Hobbeys’ dealings.

Although this is a grave and intense read, dealing also with some disturbing themes, it is also very interesting reading with well-drawn out (and very realistic) characters and a very gripping plot (or should I say, plots?). Once again an excellent read!

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Cover image: my own.