Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Launch Party by Lauren Forry – release date 22nd June, 2023
#sci fi murder mystery #Moon adventure #locked room whodunit
BLURB: Ten lucky people have won a place at the most exclusive launch event of the century: the grand opening of the Hotel Artemis, the first hotel on the moon. It’s an invitation to die for. As their transport departs for its return to Earth and the doors seal shut behind them, the guests take the next leap for mankind.
However, they soon discover that all is not as it seems. The champagne may be flowing, but there is no one to pour it. Room service is available, but there is no one to deliver it. Besides the ten of them, they are completely alone.
When one of the guests is found murdered, fear spreads through the group. But that death is only the beginning. Being three days’ journey from home and with no way to contact the outside, can any of the guests survive their stay? I’m a sucker for space murder mysteries. While on Earth, authors have to make up all sorts of elaborate reasons why people don’t simply walk or run out of buildings where some deranged serial killer is running rampant – in Space there is nowhere to go! I love the sound of this one😊.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
Given that it was the second week of the Easter holidays, it wasn’t a surprise that the weather has been mixed, with several days of driving wind and rain. I even put the heating back on in the evenings, after having turned it off. On Monday, the boys came back from their holiday away with their stepdad, which they thoroughly enjoyed. So Tuesday ended up feeling weirdly like Sunday as we did the supermarket run, complete with menu plan and shopping list. It was lovely to have them back again – even though it was only a few days, I really missed their daft jokes and hilarity. We intended to go out and about a bit, but the weather wasn’t our friend and no one really wanted to brave the wind and rain for a trip to the beach/Highdown Gardens/Wetland and Wildfowl Trust. Or to go and see a film. Until yesterday when we went for a quick jaunt along the beach – which is what the pics are about. I’m so looking forward to the summer!
On Friday, I finally got around to tackling the BOOKS section of my blog pages, which were hideously out of date. It had been on my To-Do list when I got sick in March 2021… So if you saw a lowering black cloud swirling in a threatening manner over Southern England – that was me trying to recall exactly HOW to add pages. I know I’d done it before, but blessed if I could remember! And none of the videos were very helpful as they were mostly about WordPress websites. One did give a fleeting glimpse of the toolbar I needed, so I was able to figure it out. And then I had another conniption when I visited Bitly for the universal links I needed – the whole site was unrecognisable from the last time I’d used it! After a moment’s hyperventilating, I gritted my teeth, navigated my way around until it all made sense again. Needless to say – the whole job took most of the afternoon and early evening. But I’m ridiculously proud of myself for having tackled the job and got it done. I’ve also been editing Flame & Blame and Trouble With Dwarves to ensure I’ve enough description of the world. It’s a bit of a balance, as I want to give enough details so folks can envisage the place, without over-describing it.
It’s been another reading week where I haven’t got through many books, as I’ve once again been working hard on editing. Though I feel very fortunate to have listened to Paladin of Souls, which is absolutely fantastic.
Last week I read:-
AUDIOBOOK – Paladin of Souls – Book 2 of World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold In a land threatened by treacherous war and beset by demons, royal dowager Ista, released from the curse of madness and manipulated by an untrustworthy god, is plunged into a desperate struggle to preserve the endangered souls of a realm.
This wonderful sequel to The Curse of Chalion features poor, unlucky Ista, who had been disastrously entangled in the terrible Curse. And though released from its clutches, seems doomed to live a half-life surrounded by fussy old courtiers who are constantly on the lookout for any odd behaviour from her. Until she decides to escape by going on a pilgrimage. And is promptly overtaken by a catalogue of dangerous adventures that spin her onto a completely different trajectory. I simply stopped to give all my attention to the unfolding story, wonderfully narrated by Kate Reading. I love that Ista is a middle-aged protagonist who is justifiably bitter and angry at what befell her – and this nuanced, brilliantly written story explores her emotional landscape, as well as her ongoing escapades. 10/10
And Put Away Childish Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky All roads lead to Underhill, where it’s always winter, and never nice.
Harry Bodie has a famous grandmother, who wrote beloved children’s books set in the delightful world of Underhill. Harry himself is a failing kids’ TV presenter whose every attempt to advance his career ends in self-sabotage. His family history seems to be nothing but an impediment.
An impediment… or worse. What if Underhill is real? What if it has been waiting decades for a promised child to visit? What if it isn’t delightful at all? And what if its denizens have run out of patience and are taking matters into their own hands? Once again, Tchaikovsky delivers a quirky, thought-provoking book that has left me thinking about it a great deal since I finished reading it. Among other things, it’s a homage to all things Narnia and provides an interesting, somewhat dark, ‘what if’ around the portal fantasy tale. It’s also very funny in places… Review to follow. 9/10
AUDIOBOOK – The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal Tesla Crane, a brilliant inventor and an heiress, is on her honeymoon on an interplanetary space liner, cruising between the Moon and Mars. She’s traveling incognito and is reveling in her anonymity. Then someone is murdered and the festering chowderheads who run security have the audacity to arrest her spouse. Armed with banter, martinis and her small service dog, Tesla is determined to solve the crime so that the newlyweds can get back to canoodling—and keep the real killer from striking again.
I absolutely loved the Lady Astronaut series – see my reviews of The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and particularly The Relentless Moon, which was my absolute favourite as it was a wonderful murder mystery set in space. So I was very excited when I heard of this offering. But it didn’t quite live up to my expectations… I thought Tesla was a strong character – I thought her PTSD and physical issues were dealt with very well and Gimlet, her adorable dog was just that – adorable. But there was an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing around the ship that became a tad repetitive and I also found her constant canoodling with her husband in public places somewhat tacky. Even if they were on their honeymoon. And by the end of the audiobook, the cocktail recipes that began every chapter were driving me bonkers – I couldn’t quickly fast-forward through them and they completely yanked me out of the story with some boring yabber about drinks I’ll never try – I’m teetotal. Nonetheless, it still gets a respectable score, because I mostly enjoyed it. 7/10
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Fliss Chester’s first book in this series Death Among the Diamonds – see my review. So when I had the opportunity to get hold of an arc of this second book, I jumped at the opportunity – especially as it’s set in Cornwall, a place I absolutely love.
BLURB: A seaside party at a Cornish mansion with plenty of fizz, what could be more perfect? But something fishy is afoot… a killer lurks among the guests, and only Cressida Fawcett can stop them.
When Cressida Fawcett is invited to stay at Penbeagle House on the Cornish coast for a fancy-dress ball, she is looking forward to sipping rum cocktails clad as a pirate, watching the red-sailed boats go by and relaxing in the sea air with her good friend Dotty. But before they can raise their glasses to toast Cressida’s former flame Lord Canterbury’s engagement, he drops dead in front of the horrified guests.
The local doctor determines that Lord Canterbury was poisoned, and soon Detective Chief Inspector Andrews is on his way from Scotland Yard. But Cressida is dismayed by the murder of the intrepid explorer who once asked for her hand in marriage, and she cannot simply leave the case to the police. Together with Dotty and her little pug Ruby, Cressida searches for clues only to discover that many of the guests have a motive for murder. Did an irate journalist or a bitter fellow explorer send Lord Canterbury on his untimely final journey?
REVIEW: I have cut short the rather chatty blurb, which gives away a major plot twist too many and would definitely spoil your enjoyment. So don’t read it before tucking into this 1920s whodunit. Once again, I was swept away by Cressida’s gung-ho attitude to life – the kind of assurance that comes from being born into a rich, titled family. I also like the fact that she has determined to hang onto her independence and is reluctant to get married. After all, she has an income of her own, a lovely little car that takes her everywhere and the companionship of her adored pug, Ruby – why would she want to throw that all up for a husband?
The beginning of the book sees her zooming around the small, twisting Cornish roads far too fast in the company of her dear little dog and her best friend, Dotty, who is terrified by her very erratic driving. They are off to one of the social events of the year – the annual fancy dress ball at Penbeagle House. However the fun and frolics soon come to an abrupt stop when Cressida’s former suitor, Lord Canterbury, drops dead in the midst of the crowded party. Cressida fears the fit young man has been poisoned and the local doctor in attendance agrees with her.
Cressida summons DCI Andrews from Scotland Yard to come and investigate, but in the meantime, she is determined to do a bit of sleuthing before he arrives. Andrews isn’t as hostile to her interference as you’d think, because there is family history – Andrews went through the war with Cressida’s father. While Lord Canterbury seems an amiable young man, it appears that he had managed to run up a long list of people who have a grudge against him. I liked the list of suspects, which meant there were plenty of red herrings in play. I also like that Chester knows her history of the time – and that while women of a certain class with a drug addiction might not be regarded as ideal, it wasn’t the disgrace you might think. After all, within living memory opiates had been freely available over the counter as medicines for the kinds of nervous complaints common among upper class women, often as a consequence of being very confined within rigid societal expectations. I appreciated Chester’s nod to the darker consequences of those expectations within the story – and liked how she resolved the issue.
All in all, this is an engaging, enjoyable read, full of incident and some humour. Ruby, the little dog, also features constantly. I love how it never crosses Cressida’s mind that her rather spoilt little pug might not be welcomed by everyone. Recommended for fans of cosy whodunits in a 1920s setting, featuring a feisty heroine who could certainly be labelled a flapper. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Death by a Cornish Cove from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
No… I haven’t managed to get hold of all twenty-three of the previous books in this entertaining series – but I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, Cruel as the Grave, Old Bones, Shadow Playand Headlong. So it was a no-brainer that I’d request an arc for this re-release by the excellent Severn House publishing company.
BLURB: The clock is ticking for DCI Slider when a woman goes missing. Can he find her – and does she even want to be found?
Felicity Holland is missing. She left her handsome West London house to go to her weekly pottery class and didn’t come back. She’s a mature, sensible woman with a stable home life and a happy marriage – no reason to abscond. Her distraught husband is convinced she must have been snatched.
DCI Bill Slider and his team know that when a woman goes missing, you have to move fast if there’s to be a hope of finding her alive. But with no evidence of foul play – nothing to go on at all – where do you even start looking?
The clock is ticking. But as Slider tries to retrace the last known movements of Felicity Holland, he is led ever further down a dark and twisted path into the secret past of this beautiful, enigmatic woman.
REVIEW: Once again, the pages flew past on their own as I was engrossed in this police procedural whodunit from the first page. DCI Bill Slider is all about getting the job done – and that involves keeping himself and his team from attracting too much attention from Them Upstairs. So when a worried husband insists the police start looking for his missing wife – and rings up the Commissioner of the MET to ask that it’s done, he isn’t thrilled when he’s the one who gets the job. Because said husband is a successful author, who happened to go to school with the Commissioner, who’s also a fan of his writing.
Initially, everyone on the team is exasperated that their precious time is being taken up with this annoying case, that is bound to be trivial – and but nonetheless put in their best effort to get it sorted out as fast as possible. After all, some 95% of missing spouses either return, or let their half know where they are within three days. But when those days trickle by and Felicity still hasn’t shown up, despite Slider’s diligent enquiries, the team’s speculations become a whole lot darker.
I love Harrod Eagles’ easy style – she knows her main characters inside out and it shows. There is a lot of banter amongst the team, much of it funny enough to have me laughing aloud. And while this isn’t a gritty, blood-soaked affair, neither would I class it as a cosy anything. Harrod Eagles’ writing might not be unduly graphic, but neither does she ever let us forget that a beautiful, vibrant woman has disappeared – and is likely not going to be seen alive again.
I have also read sufficient books in the series to enjoy watching Bill’s happiness with his second marriage. So many protagonists in police procedurals are dogged loners, living on takeaways and constantly staying late at the office, that I enjoy his happy domestic circumstances and sociability.
I did get a little fed up about halfway through, when I knew exactly what was going on – and probably who’d done it. Although it wasn’t a dealbreaker, I was a little disappointed that the normally well-constructed and twisty plotting I’d become used to enjoying was thinner this time around. Until, it turned out – while I was right about some of it, I didn’t know who’d done it after all. And as events moved forward, I realised that I wasn’t supremely clever – and probably that guess happened just when the author wanted it to. So yes… the plotting is every bit as twisty and well-constructed as usual. And so heartbreakingly poignant that I finished the book with a lump in my throat.
In short, a thoroughly satisfying read and highly recommended for fans who like their police procedurals featuring a likeable protagonist and a memorable victim who certainly didn’t deserve what happened to her. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Before I Sleep from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 10/10
I enjoy a really good historical murder mystery – after all, before a certain time there simply wasn’t a unified police force to hunt down murderers and bring them to justice. So it was often left to determined individuals to try to figure out whodunit – the meat and drink of so many murder mysteries. What really caught my attention about this offering is the setting – the court of Henry VIII and the intriguing main character.
BLURB: 1529, London. Jester Will Somers enjoys an enviable position at the court of Henry VIII. As the king’s entertainer, chief gossip-monger, spy and loyal adviser, he knows all of the king’s secrets – and almost everyone else’s within the walls of Greenwich Palace.
But when Will discovers the body of Spanish count Don Gonzalo while walking his trusted sidekick Nosewise in the courtyard gardens, and a blackmail note arrives soon after demanding information about the king, is one of his own closely guarded secrets about to be exposed? Trouble is afoot at the palace. Are the king’s enemies plotting a move against him? Will must draw on all his wit and ingenuity to get to the bottom of the treacherous and deadly goings-on at the court before further tragedy strikes . . .
REVIEW: Will is a fascinating protagonist, based on a real character who was a fool in Henry’s court and held this unique place there throughout the tumultuous Tudor dynasty. Westerson convincingly brings him to life in first-person viewpoint (I), so we get a ringside seat to his movement through the social shark tank that is life at court – and his interesting and often moving relationship with Henry, who he loves very much.
He is a big character with clearly loads of personal charm – and a hearty appetite for sexual encounters with both men and women. I’m not innately drawn to characters who demonstrate promiscuous behaviour, so it’s a tribute to Westerson’s writing that this didn’t get in the way of my bonding with Will. While the murder mystery was well plotted, with a plentiful cast of those with strong motivations for doing the foul deed – my overall focus wasn’t actually on the crime.
Westerson does a masterful job of depicting the court at a time of political turmoil. Henry has put aside Catherine of Aragon and is in the throes of trying to dissolve his marriage to her in order to make way for his new favourite – Anne Boleyn. Or Nan Bullen, as Will insultingly calls her. His loyalties, particularly at the start of the book, are firmly with Catherine and twelve-year-old Mary, who have been banished to a wing of the palace and placed under guard. In happier times, he would play for Catherine and was a firm favourite with both mother and daughter and his loyalties are torn emotionally, as he is pledged to Henry and talks to him in a way that no one else dares, calling him Harry to his face – and sometimes telling him baldly unpleasant truths that his courtiers and advisors don’t confront. This aspect of his relationship is based on historical fact, apparently, and I found it fascinating.
This happens to be a period of English history that I know a fair bit about. So the intricacies of the political and religious manoeuvring surrounding the Great Question, as Henry’s divorce came to be labelled, are familiar. But seeing them from the viewpoint of the court jester is both refreshing and thought provoking. I’m delighted to note that this is the first book in a series – and I’m very much looking forward to reading the next one. Will Somers is a new favourite. Highly recommended for fans of well written and researched historical murder mysteries. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Courting Dragons from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
BLURB: Declutterer Ellen Curtis has been working to bring order into the life of Cedric Waites, a recluse in his eighties who hasn’t left his house or let anyone inside it since his wife died. On one of her regular visits, Ellen finds the old man dead.
Sad but, given his age, perhaps not unexpected. Nothing to get worked up about . . . until the police raise the suspicion that Cedric might have been poisoned! The cause seems be something he ate, and as Ellen cleared away the old man’s food containers, she is under suspicion. As is Dodge, who works for Ellen and has unhelpfully done a runner . . .
Meanwhile, a rival declutterer is out to sabotage Ellen’s reputable business, her two grown-up children are back home and in crisis, and she has a potential love interest. Ellen’s life has taken on a chaotic turn of its own! Can she uncover the killer and bring order back to her own life?
REVIEW: Before I go further, I need to mention a trigger warning – in Ellen’s past there is a suicide. While this book doesn’t go into huge detail about the event, ten years later it still reverberates through Ellen’s life in a poignant and realistic manner.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous two books, don’t be deterred from enjoying this one. Like many murder mystery series, while there is a narrative arc for the main protagonist, each whodunit is resolved within the book so you won’t be left to flounder. And an author of Brett’s skill and experience doesn’t do such things to his readers, anyway. I have huge affection for Ellen. She is at an age where she is of the middle generation squeeze – still looking after grown-up children, neither of whom are particularly thriving, as well as confronted with an ageing and increasingly frail mother. It doesn’t help that she isn’t on particularly good terms with her mother or her daughter.
I like Brett’s unsentimental approach to family life. There is often a rather unrealistic gloss around the key relationship between mothers and daughters in genre fiction, unless it is the darker psychological sort, or gritty murder mysteries. But while there is definitely a bedrock of love and concern in the relationship between Ellen and her children, she is also extremely careful to step around their adult sensibilities. The result is often poignant and humorous. In amongst all this family angst, Ellen is having to continue her daily routine – also refreshingly realistic.
The murder mystery in this story is a slow burn that gradually gains momentum. I won’t claim that the murderer is a huge surprise. But I wasn’t sure they would be satisfactorily uncovered so the police could step in – and I’m not telling you if that happens, as then we’d be lurching into Spoiler territory. Once more, I was pulled into this story to the extent that I didn’t put it down until I’d reached the end, so I read it in two greedy gulps. Highly recommended for fans of the gentler sort of murder mystery that nonetheless has an edged look at modern life. While I obtained an arc of Waste of a Life from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I enjoy Rebecca Roanhorse’s writing, see my reviews of Trail of Lightning and Black Sun. So when I had the opportunity to get hold of the arc of this intriguing novella, I jumped at the chance.
BLURB: High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.
Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector…
REVIEW: I have cut short the rather chatty blurb and recommend that you give it a miss if you don’t want your reading experience Spoilt. Given this isn’t a long read, you really don’t want to go into it knowing more than the bare essentials.
I quickly bonded with Celeste, who hasn’t had an easy time of it. Her overwhelming need to keep her sister safe within a rapacious society where the Fallen are automatically at the bottom of the heap shines through. I found her protectiveness endearing, especially when I realised the price she’d already paid to keep looking after Mariel. This drive certainly informs her actions throughout the rest of the book, when a grisly murder occurs and Mariel is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I hadn’t initially appreciated that this was a novella, or I had and then completely forgot about it by the time I got around to reading it, which is probably more likely. But it’s a tricky length to write well and only a relatively few authors manage to pull it off entirely successfully, in my experience.
I was impressed at how much of the world and scene setting unfolds within the narrative, as Celeste desperately scrambles to exonerate her sister. It’s a fascinating world, where the Fallen are immediately identified by their eye colour and because their ancestors happened to be on the wrong side of a heavenly war – they are automatically a downtrodden underclass. However, it’s the Fallen who can identify the valuable remains of Abaddon, whose body fell to Earth during the war. While the Elect reap the financial rewards, it’s the Fallen who have to mine the precious element that powers their Divine inventions. This tension is played out within Celeste’s family, as her Elect father took her away from the rough mining town that is Goetia to mix with respectable Elect society while Mariel and their Fallen mother had to stay behind. Once their father died, Celeste immediately returned to look after her sister feeling guilty and ashamed at having abandoned her and promising never to do so again.
I was swept along by Celeste’s increasing desperation – and a bit floored by the ending. While it certainly works and has had me thinking a lot about the outcome, I’m also left with wanting more. The world is interesting and I found Celeste and Mariel’s adventure riveting, but ultimately also a tad frustrating, as I felt the story ended a bit abruptly. I want to know how both Celeste and Mariel cope with the sudden change in their circumstances. I very much hope that Roanhorse will revisit this world in the future – more please! While I obtained an arc of Tread of Angels from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 8/10
I was in the mood for something a bit different, when this offering caught my eye. I was initially a bit hesitant – until I saw that Samantha Bond was narrating this one which gave me confidence to go for it. I particularly didn’t want to plough through some second-rate parody of Her Majesty, especially in the wake of her sudden death.
BLURB: December 2016 – A severed hand is found washed up on a beach next to the Queen’s estate at Sandringham. Elizabeth has become quite accustomed to solving even the most complex of murders. And though she quickly identifies the 70-year-old victim, Edward St Cyr, from his signet ring, the search for his killer is not so straightforward. St Cyr led an unconventional, often controversial life, making many enemies along the way in the quiet, rural world of North Norfolk, where everyone knows each other’s business.
But when a second man is found dead, and a prominent local woman is nearly killed in a hit-and-run, the mystery takes an even darker turn. With the Christmas break coming to an end, the Queen and her trusted assistant Rozie must race to discover how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Or the next victim may be found even closer to home.
REVIEW: I’m so glad that I went for this one. It’s a joy. Although it’s the third book in the series, I was blissfully unaware of the previous two books until I came to write up this review so don’t worry if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the other books – neither have I. Yet.
Set in 2016, the Queen is a battling a head cold as she and Prince Philip travel to Sandringham for the usual Christmas festivities. I loved the little additions, like the Queen’s chat with the PM. In fact, Bennett’s writing is enormously clever – she manages to avoid pinning the Queen down to any strong political opinion, which is entirely realistic. But neither does Her Majesty come across as too wishy-washy either. The only moment when I wasn’t completely happy with the depiction of the Queen is when she chooses to go wandering across the field, when the sensible option would be to stay in the Range Rover. But that is a minor niggle set against the rest of the book. In addition to the Queen, I loved Prince Philip’s character and the staff. I thought the relationship between the Queen and the royal household was very well done, particularly Rozie Oshodi, her Assistant Private Secretary.
As for the murder mystery, it’s a slow burn affair that throws out all sorts of puzzling details which at once stage had me wondering how the murder mystery was going to be wrapped up. I needn’t have worried. Bennett is clearly an experienced and able writer, who delivers a thoroughly enjoyable denouement. There were times when I listened to this with a lump in my throat for the loss of the amazing lady who ruled over us for a whole generation. Highly recommended for fans of quirky murder mysteries that is also well researched with a wealth of historical detail. I’m looking forward to tracking down the previous two books. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Murder Most Royal from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
I’ve a weakness for country house historical murder mysteries and that intriguing cover set in a very snowy landscape caught my eye. So I was delighted when I received an audiobook arc for this tale.
BLURB: Scarpside House is famed for its beauty, its isolation and its legendary parties. Tonight, it hosts the Penny Club soiree, an annual gathering of lucky men and women from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate their survival against the odds. But this year, their luck is running thin. Accidents do happen, after all…. And some are long overdue….
REVIEW: The premise is a very familiar one – there’s a country house full of guests with murky pasts which make them either liable to murder their fellow party-goers, or be murdered due to something they’ve done. And no… when it becomes obvious that there’s a serial murderer on the loose, they can’t just rush to the front door and summon their chauffeur, because this house can only be accessed by a funicular ride. And someone sabotages it after our plucky detective arrives.
I wanted to like this one more than I actually did. Hulme’s prose is lush and highly descriptive, both of her characters and Scarpside House, evidently going for a gothic vibe. However this sub-genre demands loads of tension and fraught sense of wrongness, tipping into horror at times. That means that the reader needs to be invested in at least the main character, so that when Detective Sergeant Frank Glover is in peril, or at least struggling with the investigation – we need to care. Despite David Morley Hale’s excellent narration, I never really bonded with Glover. I found his initial aloofness towards the recently bereaved guests rather off-putting. We spent a great deal of time in his head as he roamed around Scarpside House on a ceaseless hunt for clues, when he mused about the loss of his mother as a small boy and his feelings for a young woman who was caught up in a previous case he was working on. I thought him rather self-absorbed and didn’t like him all that much. This was a problem as we are clearly supposed to care about him when he gets into several dangerous situations. Whereas I worried more about poor Dotty.
The other issue is the constant over-description of the house. Hulme clearly has a vivid visual imagination, but I really didn’t need an intricate description of the colour of the walls in every single bedroom or the curtains, cushions and carpets. It defuses much of the tension built up by the growing body count. The creepy atmosphere caused by the snowstorm and the knowledge that there is at least one highly dangerous person roaming around the building is also compromised by the over-long descriptions as it slows the pace far too much and took my attention away from what really matters.
I wasn’t convinced that Glover would have co-opted Dotty, the servant in quite the way he did – but I was prepared to suspend my disbelief on that score as she is the only person in the book I really liked. The tone of murder mystery did seem rather overblown at the beginning, instead of building up that sense of dark wrongness that permeates a gothic thriller, so I wondered if Hulme would pull off a successful denouement that adequately explained all the rather elaborate and varied styles of killing. I think she manages it, just about.
I’m aware that writing a classic murder mystery these days, with a nod to those who went before, takes a great deal of technical skill. While I was never tempted to DNF this one, as I was invested sufficiently to stick to the end to discover whodunit, I do think Hulme’s editor should have been more rigorous with the red pen and murdered a few more of her descriptive passages along with the various victims. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Thirty-One Doors from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 7/10
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books they’ve read and share what they have got up to during the last week.
It’s been a rather torrid fortnight… Firstly, the good stuff. The celebration meal with my parents was wonderful – it was lovely to see them again. And the pics above are of us with them. My lovely parents are in the middle, the boys are on either side of them in the left photo, while in the right photo my sister is on the left and I’m on the right. It helped that the weather was warm, if a tad cloudy and the food at the Arun View was great. We are now in the tail-end of half term week, which has been a welcome break in amongst the daily routine of school runs and pickups from the station for college. We managed to spend a lovely afternoon at the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust during another amazingly warm October afternoon. And those are the pics below…
But in amongst all of that, my sister needed to go to A & E with terrifically high blood pressure – I’ve never seen a machine flash red warning lights and bleep before… We got to the hospital at 4 pm and finally returned home at 3 am, so it was a real marathon. She was actually seen really quickly, but needed blood tests, a thorough examination and then a brain scan to check for microbleeds. And of course we had to wait for the results. I cannot praise the staff highly enough. Everyone was professional, unfailingly patient and kind. There was also a great vibe amongst the people in our corner of the waiting room, where people were also patient and good humoured, despite a number being in pain and worried about their condition. I felt proud of being a Brit and deeply grateful for our hard-pressed NHS. It turns out my sister is suffering from severe stress and has since seen a doctor and is signed off work for a fortnight – I’m not surprised. Her pharmacy is hugely busy and they have lost 2 part-time and one full-time staff member and only replaced the full-timer. I am shocked at the level of abuse she has to endure on a daily basis by people waiting for prescriptions and underwhelmed by the support she gets from the management. Small wonder that she is ill, having worked flat out through the pandemic and still finding there is no let-up.
Unfortunately, I spent the next two days in bed with exhaustion. I was back on my feet just in time for my covid booster jab, which once more floored me… And Himself was also feeling dreadful with the effects of the jab – fortunately he was on a long weekend, otherwise he would have had to go sick. The good news is that apparently, the fact we felt so ill means that we will have produced a nice lot of antibodies to that strain of covid, which should provide good protection if we fall ill with it.
Poor Oscar has been nursing a shoulder strain, so wasn’t able to go the gym for the last fortnight, which he really missed. But this week he was able to resume his training schedule and also went back to football practice, which he is also enjoying. And Ethan managed to hand in his college assignment for the term with no problems and has been busy revising for his Maths exams, which he goes back to this coming week as he starts his second term at college.
This last week I read:-
Mindwalker by Kate Dylan Eighteen-year-old Sil Sarrah is determined to die a legend. In the ten years she’s been rescuing imperilled field agents for the Syntex Corporation—by commandeering their minds from afar and leading them to safety—Sil hasn’t lost a single life. And she’s not about to start now.
She’s got twelve months left on the clock before the supercomputer grafted to her brain kills her, and she’s hell-bent on using that time to cement her legacy. Sil’s going to be the only Mindwalker to ever pitch a perfect game—even despite the debilitating glitches she’s experiencing. But when a critical mission goes south, Sil is forced to flee the very company she once called home. Desperate to prove she’s no traitor, Sil infiltrates the Analog Army, an activist faction working to bring Syntex down. Her plan is to win back her employer’s trust by destroying the group from within. Instead, she and the Army’s reckless leader, Ryder, uncover a horrifying truth that threatens to undo all the good Sil’s ever done. With her tech rapidly degrading and her new ally keeping dangerous secrets of his own, Sil must find a way to stop Syntex in order to save her friends, her reputation—and maybe even herself. I really liked the sound of Sil having to race against her upcoming death at the ripe old age of 19. The whole cybertech part of the book was well handled and I really bonded with the gutsy protagonist. Being a YA read meant the emotion and romance featured heavily, but it certainly didn’t overshadow the main narrative arc. Enjoyable read. 8/10
The Deep End – Book 1 of The Country Club Murders series by Julie Mulhern Swimming into the lifeless body of her husband’s mistress tends to ruin a woman’s day, but becoming a murder suspect can ruin her whole life.
It’s 1974 and Ellison Russell’s life revolves around her daughter and her art. She’s long since stopped caring about her cheating husband, Henry, and the women with whom he entertains himself. That is, until she becomes a suspect in Madeline Harper’s death. The murder forces Ellison to confront her husband’s proclivities and his crimes—kinky sex, petty cruelties and blackmail.
As the body count approaches par on the seventh hole, Ellison knows she has to catch a killer. But with an interfering mother, an adoring father, a teenage daughter, and a cadre of well-meaning friends demanding her attention, can Ellison find the killer before he finds her? Laura at Through Raspberry Colored Glasses was talking about this series and I liked the sound of it sufficiently to look out the first book. And then, because I was in the mood, I then read it and thoroughly enjoyed the 1970’s vibe and lovely dry humour. The plotting was also nicely twisty, with a satisfyingly long list of possible suspects – no wonder the series is still going strong with such a successful start. 9/10
The Green Man’s Gift – Book 5 of The Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna A teenage boy has turned up in Snowdonia, barely conscious and babbling about beautiful women and fairy feasts. The authorities blame magic mushrooms. The wise women say different and they want dryad’s son, Daniel Mackmain, to investigate. He needs to watch his step in the mountains. Those who live in the hollow hills mask their secrets and intentions with sly half-truths.
Far from the woods he knows, Dan needs help from the allies he has made in past adventures. But he’s a loner at heart. As the true power of his adversary becomes clear, he must decide if he’s willing to see those he cares for put themselves in danger. Himself saw this one and immediately bought it – quite right too. This series is one of our favourites and this particular adventure, set in the Welsh hills, didn’t disappoint. As ever, McKenna’s strong descriptive writing, clever pacing and charismatic and entirely believable protagonist meant the pages simply turned themselves until I reached the end with that familiar sense of happiness and sorrow that only comes when completing a thumping good read. 10/10
AUDIOBOOK – Chosen For Power – Book 4 of the Dragon’s Gate series by Lindsay Buroker – REREAD Jak and his allies venture through the portal in search of the longevity plant their king demands, but all Jak wants is to find the elder dragons. Some say they’re extinct. Some say they’re in hiding.
If he can’t locate them, there won’t be anyone to teach his hatchling how to fly. Or to protect the dragon eggs preserved within a glacier on another world. Or to help him free his people from the tyrannical rule of the wizards. Jak has no choice. He must find the dragons. But some ancient secrets were buried for a reason. What he discovers may jeopardize not only Jak and his allies—the survival of the entire species of dragons may be at stake. I decided to reread this slice of this entertaining epic fantasy adventure as I’ve recently got hold of the next audiobook in the series and I wanted to ensure that I didn’t miss any of the plot points. It was a solid pleasure to follow Jak and his intrepid mother again as they once more are forced to risk their lives to follow King Uthari’s whims. I’m loving this adventure, which confirms Buroker as one of my all-time favourite authors. 9/10
Blood Will Tell – Book 6 of the Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow At the request of her grandmother, a matriarch of her Aleut clan, Kate Shugak travels to Anchorage to investigate the mysterious deaths of several Council members just before a crucial meeting to determine the fate of some disputed tribal lands.
I completed Breakup before realising that I’d somehow missed reading this one in the right order. As ever, the politics raging over the beautiful, fragile Alaskan eco-system is brilliantly depicted without turning into a moralistic rant. Shugak is a riveting heroine and I found the ending of this one immensely powerful and moving. 10/10