The Secret Guests by B.W. Black – Two Princesses escape the blitz, only to face other dangers

The Secret Guests eBook: Black, Benjamin: Kindle Store

The Secret Guests by B.W. Black


A book of war time secrets, long memories and much more, this is a fast moving novel about a unique though imaginary situation. It is based on the idea that the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, were in real danger during the London Blitz of 1940, and it was decided to send them to a safer place. For reasons which are not made clear, it is decided that they should be sent to the rundown house of a poor duke in Ireland, a neutral country in the war. Not being heavily guarded, the girls’ safety is largely dependent on maintaining the secret of their presence. There is the obvious danger of invasion by German forces as far as Britain, a short distance away across the sea. Also there is the perennial problem of Irish politics and long memories of past injustices and betrayals; the local people and even the small squad of troops are more sunk in their past disputes than is realised. The girls themselves are portrayed as a version of how they are perceived to be as adults, as one of the interesting things about this book is that the reader knows the girls survive. This is a well written book which introduces a lot of ideas and characters in a relatively short space. It is an unusual and effective mystery thriller. 


The book begins with Margaret watching the view from a Buckingham Palace window at the age of ten. Elizabeth collects her, and they go to their parents before setting off for their exile which is meant to keep them safe. A young woman, Celia Nashe, is known to be tough and resourceful, and having been accepted into MI5, looks to be sent on a mission with danger and purpose. Detective Garda Strafford, who has had a difficult past, is apprised of his mission by the Irish minister of external affairs. Both are to spend an indefinite length of time guarding the two girls in a house that has seen better times. Isolated and without a clear idea of what their task entails, both find the house and servants frustrating and the girls icily well mannered. Strafford retreats into a pattern of moody consideration of his lot; as the son of Anglo Irish landowners he has some idea of  the style of life the duke is trying to maintain. Nashe is frustrated that her brave mission is so far confined to being a sort of nanny, sort of guard against the unknown. Although issued with a gun that she is trained to use, the very domestic nature of the setting gives her no clue as to what she is actually supposed to do. The two girls meanwhile are different in their reaction to their uncomfortable confinement, their questionable aliases and seclusion. Elizabeth is strict in her deportment and only reveals her true love for horse riding. Margaret however is overwhelmed with various emotions  and longs for a different sort of freedom.


I found this an oddly paced book with emphasis on some characters and their motives, both within the house and in the area outside, which distracted from the central idea of the girls whose safety is paramount. Having said that, the story does place the characters in their setting, with all their weaknesses combining and leading to the rather brilliant ending. This is quite a different book in that it does not sit comfortably into crime or straight historical fiction; it is a sort of historical thriller which combines so very good characterisation with a clever idea. A concise  and fascinating read, it has many points to recommend it.


This is a different book from those I have been reviewing recently. The author is otherwise known as Benjamin Black, who writes the Quirke crime novels, and is in turn a pen name of John Banville, who won the Booker prize in 2005. So this is an example of an author who uses different names for different genres, and this is the first book I have read in any of them. (though typically I may well have some of his other books on the shelves. I must have a look!


On a more personal note, I am glad to say that my Daughter is getting better, though rather stiff and bruised. Thank you for your good wishes  for her recovery.

Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic – Miss S arrives in Plummergen and begins her adventures

Picture Miss Seeton (A Miss Seeton Mystery Book 1) eBook: Carvic ...

Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic


The first of the ‘proper’ Miss Seeton books, this novel introduces various characters, mainly of course the brave and indomitable Miss Seeton herself, who sometimes does not appreciate what is really going on. Beginning with her getting embroiled in a Carmen – like murder with her trusty umbrella, Miss Seeton soon discovers that notoriety and threats can seriously inconvenience her. This book was originally published in 1968 by the first author, and is now republished by Farrago. Miss Seeton in this book is a retired teacher who has just inherited a cottage in an English village from her godmother, but soon comes to the notice of the police when she is an accidental witness to a vicious murder. As in the prequel which was written more recently, she has a talent for drawing images of people and situations which reveal much more than their outward appearance; their motives and real personality are strongly suggested for interpretation.  Superintendent Delphick, otherwise known as the Oracle, soon discovers that it is possible to find out a lot from the drawings when looking for murders and other problematic individuals. This book introduces some splendid characters in the village, and there are plenty of jokes and witty asides in a story that combines real wit with some interesting observations on the time. 


The book opens with Miss Seeton walking through the streets of London with her trusty umbrella when she sees an altercation between what looks like a young couple. Having intervened, she lands on the floor, but worse is to come when she discovers that the young woman has been stabbed. When questioned by Delphick and Sergeant Ranger, the Superintendent  hits on the idea that she could draw her impression of the attacker, and he is able to identify the attacker as the notorious Cesar Lebel. He realises that Miss Seeton is a valuable witness, but that if she is identified and her whereabouts become public knowledge, she may well be in danger. 


When she moves down to the village of Plummergen she discovers a community partly fuelled by gossip, but also made up of an unusual mixture of people. There is a couple who look after the house and chickens, who become quite strong in her defence when needed. Two women are advanced gossips, while there is a village shop that provides a source of interest. A writer of children’s books is in residence, with a daughter who is proving more than slightly difficult. The vicar is beyond vague, with a more organised sister.  My favourites are Sir George and Lady Colveden and their son Nigel, as they both quietly do good without fuss, while Nigel is sweetly determined to help his childhood friend. When she says in frustration that she could kill him, Sir George replies “Stupid…Wife always first suspect. Hire someone. Don’t let ‘em overcharge”. 


This is a book of slightly ridiculous events, wonderful characters and at the centre, the accidentally brilliant Miss Seeton. Her strange drawings provide the trigger for detection, her insights provoke investigations, but most importantly her dauntless bravery makes all the difference in this story of criminal goings on and life in the country side. Apparently there are at least twenty more Miss Seetons to come – I look forward to reading more as soon as possible.   


I am just about getting used to not writing (and publicising) a review for Saturday and Sunday – which worked out well as Daughter was involved in a car accident on Friday. She is okish now, but her car was most definitely not. Not her fault by the way! On a more cheery note next Sunday I am due to post another book in a English town murder mystery series, so maybe a theme is developing on this blog?

Victory for the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell – a slice of wartime life for brave women in 1942

Victory for the Shipyard Girls: Shipyard Girls 5 (The Shipyard ...

Victory for the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell


This further volume in the Shipyard Girls series featuring women who worked in the shipyards of Sunderland and their friends and families during the Second World War is mainly set in 1942. There are revelations of the women’s lives and loves centred around an area of intense industry, which also provides a target for frequent bombing raids. This is a book of intense emotions as the women’s experiences overlap and centre on the works, especially as Helen, the owner of the shipyard’s granddaughter is working as the manager. As with other series of sagas this book carries the story onwards, but this novel has its own plot, as the characters journey through several months of wartime experience. It also refers back to events that occurred a few decades before, as one character remembers a life changing series of experiences. There is tension as secrets are kept, but also hope in the form of children who symbolise the future as well as the past. Those who are keen to discover what has happened to their favourite characters will find much to interest them in this book, but it also works as a snapshot of the wartime experience of women. 


The book opens with a wedding, as Rosie finally overcomes her reservations and commits herself to Peter. Not that it is an easy situation; a decision he has made means that he will be absent for much of the novel. Still, there are memories made and a new start for both, which will have an effect on others known to them. Bel is now happily married, but is seized by the urge to discover from Pearl the identity and fate of her father, something which Pearl is intent on avoiding at all costs. Gloria is settling into her role as a mother once more, but without her lover she struggles, concerned not only for her own child but also Helen, who she has begun to see in a more sympathetic light. There is  a grievous threat made to many of the group of friends by an embittered woman, a revelation of family secrets that would hurt several people. Gloria and Rosie choose to act to limit the potential threat, but the machinations of Miriam will still affect more than one life. The bounds of friendship will continue to support the women who live through this difficult time but every relationship is severely tested.


This book, like the others in the series, is easy to become engrossed in as the situations of so many overlap and also move in parallel. This is a skilfully written novel which features many concerns of the time which went beyond Sunderland, as the fate of nations was still hanging in the balance. Revell’s usual high standard of characterisation is well demonstrated in this book, as well as her gentle development of plot. The sense of time and place also emerges so well from this book, as everyone feels that they must contribute to the war effort, either on the front line, the building and repairing of ships of war, or the taking care of children to allow others to work. I found this a fascinating book, and am keen to read more in this series. 


I am taking Saturday and Sunday off from posting again this week, but I will be gathering my forces for the following weekends. Reviewing a book a day does mean reading many books, which can be easy in many ways – but I do get distracted. I have even started watching “The Crown” again – and once again been impressed by the acting of the leads. I have nearly finished Downton Abbey again, an as for Poldark… Have you been distracted by any classic series?





The Case of the Running Mouse by Christopher Bush – a Dean Street Press classic crime novel

The Case of the Running Mouse: A Ludovic Travers Mystery (The ...


Ludovic Travers is on the case again – still in the Army , as it is 1944, but now being consulted as a detective in his own right. This classic of a woman who has disappeared is the 27th in the series republished by the wonderful Dean Street Press. Over the series Ludovic has developed as a character, and has changed from a vaguely interested amateur to an independent detective who is consulted in his own right in this book. The change is partly because he has been in the Army as an organiser of various military establishments, and the development means that it is perfectly possible to read this book as a standalone adventure. The other continuing character is George Wharton of Scotland Yard, who provides official backing, but Ludo’s attitude to him has changed into being able to predict his techniques and mannerisms, and he goes so far as to silently consider the older man of taking the credit for some of Ludo’s better theories, while issuing criticisms. This is no longer a partnership of detection; in this novel Ludo is taking the initiative into his own hands and avoiding sharing details of his involvement. Curtis Evans’ Introduction makes clear that in this novel Ludo enters the world of “high stakes gaming, where the men are bad and the women worse” on his own. Despite this book being written in wartime (1943), the war is very much in the background, as meaning that one character has lost a leg, and another is widowed. The mystery is all, and whether Ludo can work out just what is going on is the true point of this novel. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. 


Ludo finds himself on leave for fourteen days in London, with his wife working in the north of England. He is approached by a man, Worrack, who explains that he runs a discreet invitation only gambling club with the backing of a wealthy young widow, Georgina Morbent.The lady has other interests; specifically race horses, and it the reason she gave Worrack for a trip to Ireland to meet with the trainer of her great hopes for racing success. However, it would appear that she has gone missing, and neither Worrack or her sister has heard from her. Ludo agrees to investigate discreetly, and attends the club in question for background. He also meets the widowed sister, Barbara Grays, and her lover Tommy Hamson, as well some extremely dubious characters who apparently owe money and maybe more. It is when a mouse runs that everything suddenly becomes more confusing and even deadly.


This is a well crafted mystery with several red herrings and misdirections which keep Ludo much on the move. There are some well written characters as always, including the female characters who are thoroughly involved in the action. Ludo’s transformation into a detective in his own right maintains the focus well, as he narrates from his own point of view. As a one off murder mystery it works extremely well, as a development in a republished series it is fascinating. I recommend this book as a superb example of Golden Age detective writing from an author who has become less well known.  


This is another Ludovic Travers book which is so well written and plotted. Anxious readers will be glad to know that the mouse itself comes to no harm, despite what else goes on in this book. It is quite comforting to return to Ludovic and his detection, even in a time of war, which is probably a demonstration of its quality.

May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer – a Whitstable Pearl Mystery featuring Faye, a film star

May Day Murder (Whitstable Pearl Mysteries): Wassmer ...

May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer


Solving a murder in Whitstable takes local knowledge, inspiration and a sure instinct for people. All of which Pearl, a private detective who has spent her life living in the town, certainly has in great quantities. Her training as a police officer several years before has given her a background of knowledge of the more technical police procedures, as well as her friendship with DCI Mike McGuire. This book is the third in a series which features Pearl, her colourful mother Dolly, and her son Charlie. Happily this book can definitely be read as a standalone, as the author inserts many details concerning Pearl, her friends and the place itself. Her other business, running an oyster restaurant and catering for events, leads her to make contacts in the community although she is well known already. In this particular book a retired film star, Faye Marlow, has returned to the town where she was born and grew up. Her arrival raises emotions for many people, and the drama proves not to be confined to a film screening. As the centre piece event, the opening of the May Day celebrations draws near, tensions erupt in several ways, culminating in the very public display of a murdered body.


As the book opens, the outrageous Dolly is leaving Pearl in no doubt that Faye’s return reminds more than a few people of the trouble she caused when younger. Faye got a lucky break of an audition for a film in Hollywood as a young woman, and rapidly found a career in America before retiring with her husband to France. Her departure for America was after she had been engaged to successful local businessman, Jerry Wheeler, and abandoned their relationship in favour of stardom. Her return to the area has been negotiated by Pearl’s friend Nathan, working with a young woman from the town, Purdy. Both of them have a great enthusiasm for films, and they were extremely pleased to greet Faye, her P.A. Barbara, her chauffeur Luc and maid Rosine. Pearl is summoned to a borrowed house in the grounds of the Castle, a local landmark, with a lunch she had originally made to be eaten in her restaurant. Meeting Faye she appreciates how charming she is, but equally how demanding she could be as befits her star status. One or two events bring lots of people, eager to see the film star returned, but at least one person finds that old passions arise again with messy results. It is when a body is found in dramatic circumstances that DCI McGuire reappears on the scene professionally, aware that working with Pearl has caused him problems previously. It is a central part of the series, however, that he finds Pearl deeply attractive, and she is also interested in him. It is a sad fact that every time that get they get closer, something happens which diverts them.


This is a book which is very entertaining with a strong sense of place and characters that are realistic, strongly drawn and enjoyable. Whitstable is a community which is central to the story and the descriptions of the place really bring the story alive. The murder is a central part of the narrative, with all the tensions of an investigation and other issues. This is a really interesting series of books which combines descriptions of delicious food, the places in which the events happen and more. I really enjoy the settings, the characters and the plots of these books, and I would like to read more.    


This was a book that I discovered as the daughter’s room was being cleared of her stuff to be taken to her new house. There was a lot of it! Happily as the way through to the selves is clear I am discovering lots of treasures. Not that it stops me wanting to buy some new books of course!

The Colours by Juliet Bates – an intensely written book with a overwhelming sense of place


This book shows a very clever overlap between characters as the time spans between 1912 and 1981. It tells the story of a girl then woman, Ellen and her son Jack, who both have a unique hypersensitivity to colour, sound, views and people’s appearance. Ellen in particular sees and hears colour, smells the particular odour that people give off, is sensitive to the feel of sand, dust and much else. Jack shares some of her sensitivity to colour but both have a fixation with a view over sea to a particular point of land, known locally as the Snook, with a tower. Both are told that they emerged from the area, part of the sand and isolated countryside of the north east of England. This book manages to be both highly detailed as it describes a tree, a sliver of stone and grains of sand caught up in a hem. It also carries through great sweeps of landscape and views, the feelings that are created with the sights and sounds in the immediate environment. A realistic and intense read in many ways, it looks at people’s lives and loves over several decades, as the story alternates between the woman and man. This is an ambitious and complex story of fear and love, the power of the church in one person, the overwhelming obsession with place. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful book.


As the book opens the young Ellen is tending to her father, aware of the enormous importance of their surroundings to their lives. He has always told her that they originated from the sand of the Snook, the red sand that gets everywhere and is nearly impossible to remove. As her father dies, leaving Ellen and her brother Henry without a parent, Ellen is sent to a convent, where the treatment is harsh, as a result of the local priest’s intervention. Belatedly, Henry reclaims his sister and takes her to work for Mrs Tibbs, a blind and sad woman who comes to appreciate Ellen’s gift for description. Jack’s conception and birth changes things, as Ellen must consider life as a sole parent. As he grows Jack discovers that he also values the landscape and views of his native area. As war comes, events overtake both Jack and Ellen, he must learn to survive and use his gift, or at least combine his special insight with a means to live.


This is a very special book which celebrates a gift of sensitivity and obsession, an intensely written overview of lives and experiences which span most of a century. It comments on the cruelty of the treatment of women, especially in the name of a version of religion. There is an overwhelming sense of place for both the characters and reader; the vision of the writer is almost three dimensional, as it effectively conveys the tiniest sound and sight which is summoned up in words. It actually quotes George Elliot concerning the noise created by the smallest creature, that “we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence”, as it details the impact of the tiniest creature on the lives of Ellen and to a certain amount, of Jack. I recommend this book to those who revel in both careful writing and superb characterisation.


This is a very good read, and very different from many of the other books I have reviewed here – it is a very special read. As I have said before, I know have access to more of my fiction books, so who knows what will be gracing the next few posts! I also found a few books that I have read and not reviewed yet, so my work here is still to do!

Berringden Brow by Jill Robinson – A woman’s lively experience of life in a small northern town

Berringden Brow

Berringden Brow by Jill Robinson 


This is a witty, clever and honest fictional look at the life of a woman in Berringden Brow in the north of England. Originally published in 2001, this is a pre – internet book that revels in mixed messages of all sorts. This book is subtitled “Memoirs of a Single Parent with a Crush” on Ben, the librarian in the small local library. Jess is a woman with two sons, Alex, thirteen and living at home, and Tom who alternates University with his girlfriend’s house. This book is written in the style of brief chapters which tell of Jess’ life in a small town, covering her friends and relationships, her attempts to find paid work, and her helping others. Not that she is solely a doer of good works, but that she attempts to help those who find the odds are against them , as well as those who struggle with real life. The humour is never forced, but comes in the realistic dialogue with friends and family, and the exasperation with those that she is in contact with as she tries to cope with daily life. It is painfully realistic, as she tries to scrape together enough money to go the cinema, deals with her excitable neighbours and ponders the suitability of going on dates. I found this a fascinating and funny book, full of truthful insights into life, and was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.


The front of this book details some of the people that Jess encounters as she tries to find a happy relationship. Ben works in the library, where Jess is a frequent visitor for books, videos and records. They talk about films and much else, joke about local issues including vegetable placements, and agree about the perils of being “Overworked, underpaid, underappreciated”. Having gained a good degree despite extreme family problems, followed by an MA, Jess discovers that she is overqualified for many jobs, and doesn’t have the sometimes slightly bizarre experience demanded for others. She has had a failed serious romance with Robin, and she has spent much time in Africa, but realises all that he now wants from her is a spare room when he occasionally returns to the UK. Adverts for prospective partners produce a disappointing man who adds her to his shortlist owing to proximity, while a pen pal is less advantageous. Her dealings with her sons are often funny, especially as Alex proves to be quite the entrepreneur.  There are touching details about her neighbour and friend Fred, and her inspiration to improve matters. 


Jess is a lovely character, friendly, caring but realistic about many things and people. She gets herself into some interesting situations, partly because of other people’s behaviour. There are references to her difficult background, particularly of her mother. Despite the clever lightness of touch there are points of sadness, which are well handled. Fans of “The Diary of a Provincial Lady” or more recently “Bridget Jones” will find much to interest them in this unusual book, which is an entertaining and enjoyable read.  


This review is the first I have posted since last Friday, which is the longest gap since mid March! I will be trying to post every weekday and the odd day over the weekend. It’s still a lot of books! Happily we have managed to pack up many a lot of daughter’s stuff so I can get to more of my fiction, and only authors C – G are really difficult to get to now! It’s already saved me from buying four books that I found on my shelves. Hurray!

Out of Love by Hazel Hayes – the story of a relationship from an unusual perspective

Out of Love by Hazel Hayes


This is a remarkable book telling the story of a relationship, from beginning to end, from first date until the final break up. What makes it remarkable is that the book begins with the break up, in all its mess, misunderstanding and mistakes, and ends with the first meeting. The conceit is clever, as it at first presents all the factors that cause the ending of the relationship and goes on to show exactly where they came from. It features the relationship from the point of view of a young woman who has a particular set of experiences, as she falls in love with Theo who seems to be so special, eager to plan for the future they will have together. 


The narrator whose voice we hear throughout has past experiences that will affect the relationship, including extreme anxiety. Theo has issues with his mother, who proves to be a dominating and difficult woman. Both have come from families who have coped with difficulties,  and the narrator perhaps comes to realise just how significant these issues on both sides. This honest and painful account of love gone wrong actually becomes lighter as the book goes on, as the dialogue of the couple is full of the possibilities of new love. This is a very contemporary tale, full of the honesty of relationships and attractions of all kinds. The rooms, the houses, the apartments in which the story takes place have a bearing on the way it develops, especially when they are hot, run down, or even beset by mice. This is a very interesting book, and I was glad to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book.


The book opens with a simple question “Cup of tea?” but in this book every question of this sort is weighted down with significance. Another realisation “He asked if we could have a break but what he meant was a break up”. As this first section proceeds we discover how complicated this break up really is, as the practicalities of moving  on are worked out, as the boxes are packed and removed in a van. It is the small actions of muddling up vital papers with trinkets  which were once of importance, the deciding what important talismans of a full relationship may be. It is the sort of break up that has no one end date, with Theo possibly trying to let her down, while reluctant to concede that the relationship is beyond rescue. As references to significant dates and people emerge, the reader is intrigued to know what their relevance are to the relationship. 


This book has a momentum which keeps the reader’s interest, even when they have a good idea what the ending will be. There are some characters, relatives, friends, chance acquaintances, who have an effect on the narrative in an intriguing way. The dialogue can be light and funny, as well as full of significance. This is a romance and a very personal story, an important realisation of how people arrive at certain points in their lives and relationships. Working with an unusual concept, this is a well written story which is a very successful read.    

River Rats by Andy Griffee – A Johnson and Wilde mystery set on the canals of Bath

River Rats by Andy Griffee


Living on a narrowboat on the outskirts of the lovely city of Bath sounds an idyllic life for Jack Johnson after the excitement of the encounters with dangerous people in the first book of the series of Johnson and Wilde mysteries. This book would be a good stand alone read, as the characters of Jack, his friend Nina and Eddie the little dog are swiftly described and made very real. Once again Jack and Nina find themselves in trouble, as life on the canals is seldom boring when they allow their curiosity to take over. This adventure, like the first, involves a lot of canal side action, although not so much travelling up and down the canals of Britain. Jack uses his journalistic experience to ask the questions, Nina’s bravery and resourcefulness is called on again, and Eddie is a useful foil to keep the story moving. New characters and situations emerge which keep the action lively, as a murder and threats of violence mean that Jack and Nina’s settled lives are overturned. This is another lively and absorbing novel which keeps the pace up and is a really good mystery or thriller. I was really pleased  to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.


As the book begins there is a death. A wealthy man is attacked leaving Bath’s Pump Room late at night, but this is not an ordinary mugging. As he is knocked unconscious and pushed into the river, there is the sense that he was targeted. Jack meanwhile is paying his regular visit to the laundrette in preparation for Nina’s regular visit at the weekend. He meets two small children and their mother, but the latter, Linda, is aggressively suspicious of him. Jack’s narrow boat, the Jumping Jack Flash, is once more a cosy home for him at a permanent mooring at the bottom of a friend’s garden. He has also got a part time job as a sub editor on the Chronicle,  a local paper. He discovers that the murdered man was a Mr Rufus Powell, and Ben, the editor, is keen to feature the links with The Canal Pusher which was the subject of Jack’s well received book. Jack later encounters some more people who have permanent moorings on the canal, but they have been offered substantial sums of money to give up their rights. Linda and her children have a boat there, as does an elderly professor who has a beautiful boat filled with his collection of books and other treasures. As the little community decides they wish to stay put, there is a suggestion that pressure is being applied by a company who wish to develop the adjoining site. As Jack and Nina investigate, they discover a complex set up which involves planning permissions and a Hells Angels chapter, newspaper editors and a friendly actor. As the excitement mounts, Jack and Nina rediscover the dangers of life on the canal.


This is a lively and entertaining novel of contemporary issues and the particular problems of historic cities like Bath in terms of environmental concerns. I especially enjoyed the characters who feature in this novel; apart from Nina and Jack the professor and Rani are fascinating, and Will is a lovely returning character. The tension is well set up and maintained, and there are elements of thriller in the later part of the book. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a contemporary novel featuring some fascinating characters and an entertaining plot.       


Having read and reviewed the first two books in this series, I would love to read others. The canal setting is really well drawn and the characters are really attractive. There is a hint of an Oxford link?

Canal Pushers by Andy Griffee – a thriller set on the waterways of England

Canal Pushers by Andy Griffee


Hiring a narrowboat with a view to buy after a trial period does not sound a dangerous thing to do, or even something worthy of publicity, but when Jack Johnson gets divorced and finds himself unemployed, it seems to be a safe option. Cruising around at four miles an hour, he believes, will give him time to consider if he wants to find a permanent mooring and go back to work as a journalist. This book, however, is a thriller, which is quite difficult to achieve when one of the main characters is a long and impressive narrowboat called “Jumping Jack Flash” which anchors the action to the side of a canal. This is the first in a series, and it soon becomes clear that more can happen on Britain’s canal system than could be imagined. This book deals with the canals around and through Stratford on Avon and the contrasting waterways of Birmingham. Jack and his new friend Nina discover many things about each other and themselves after spending a few days in each other’s company, but there are many surprises throughout this well written and entertaining novel.I was excited to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book.


This book begins, however, with a description of a lone fisherman, sitting beside a lock and waiting. He has no bait on his hook, however, as what he wants to catch is much larger and more challenging than anything expected from the water way. When a drunken man appears unsteadily on the towpath, he uses his tackle to push the man into the water, and forces him under the water with a large net. 


The scene moves to Jack picking up the keys to a sixty four foot narrowboat, and beginning to realise that  it will take a bit of starting, steering and negotiating, let alone getting through locks. When he realises that he cannot even close the door he is very grateful to receive an offer of advice from a younger woman who seems to want to remain independent of further conversation. When Jack’s friend Will lets him down, he is happy to take help from the quiet young woman who calls herself Nina. They have not gone far before they encounter a young man who calls himself Sam and who is begging for money and food. Nina and Jack allow Sam to come onto the barge to get cleaned up with his small dog Eddie, and they send him on his way with a small amount of cash. When Sam’s drowned body is found in the canal the following day, Jack and Nina adopt the dog and make further inquiries into what happened to Sam. Their investigations mean that Jack discovers that Sam may well have been involved in something much bigger and illegal that put him at risk, and frightens Jack when he searches for more evidence. To add to the situation, Nina turns out to have a huge problem that has led to her reluctance to talk about herself. Can Jack and Nina hide themselves, Eddie and a narrowboat from all their potential pursuers in the centre of England?


This is a book which has an excellent plot combined with realistic and interesting characters.  There is some humour in the dialogue between the interesting characters, and a lot of realism. I thought the setting was very interesting and the canal side life was warmly described. This is a well written thriller with a lot of suspense and some well drawn characters. I found this an excellent beginning to the series and I would be keen to read more books from this author.