The Best British Travel Writing of the twenty first century – A Celebration of Outstanding Travel Story Telling from Around the World – Edited by Levison Wood and others – A guest Review from Peter

– Julie had this to review, and passed the job on to me.

Thirty outstanding travel stories from the last twenty years, collected during a time of Covid, inspired by Lockdown. Stories that don’t just want us to go somewhere, but make us want to know it. The stories were suggested by writers from around the world, and the final choice made by four writers “highly respected in the travel writing space” (page 11). I would have like a map and an index of countries. “The Night Train” takes us through Iraq in 2020, and “After the flood” is a picture of Armenia, a country where Mount Ararat (where Noah landed his ark) has a symbolic importance. We visit Bhutan for a coronation, and travel from Windsor to the Ganges. Charlie Walker hatched a plan to cross the Democratic Republic of the Congo by bike – at that point I wonder how you hatch such an idea – but every source said the River Lulua is unnavigable. In Kerala, chess has saved a village, sea kayaking in New Zealand sounds fun (but I can’t swim), and even flytipping in Leicestershire merits a story.

We follow snow leopards and spend a night in the jungle (lines like “having de-anted my bag and de-scorpioned Nick’s tent” page 84, don’t make me want to travel). Pantelleria, an island off the coast of Italy sounds more my taste, and I understand a little about a spiritual journey in Bhutan. An essay called “Bulls and Scars” makes uncomfortable reading – tradition is that the men whip the women, but who has the power? We find plants in Taiwan, ride the Reunification Express in Vietnam, and dive in Lake Huron. There is wisdom in Pakistan and gourmet food in New York – I felt much more alignment with the former than the latter, you can always gain more wisdom, but too much food is just gluttony (how many New Yorkers are starving?).

“Night in the African bush falls like a portcullis” writes Amelia Duggan (page 160), and I can imagine myself there. I am fascinated by pilgrimage, and Tharik Hussain’s essay on the Hajj will be worth further study. The monks in Laos rely on almsgiving, a motorcyclist tries to find gasoline in Bolivia, and climate change is affecting the city of Lagos. In Ethiopia we visit ancient churches carved out of rock, churches where even a baptism party has to climb the rock face to get to service. Lola Akinmade Akerstrom writes about her experience of travelling as a black woman, “a constant emotional minefield of wondering how not to let a singular negative experience derail the gift that travel is endowing me with in that moment” (page 217) – most of us could do with learning that. Stanley Stewart explores the wildness of Antarctica – now that is somewhere I would love to go – and Michelle Jana Chan reflects on what Covid will mean to the tourist trade of Africa. We debate current affairs on the English coast, smell the desert in Chad, and end walking the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The Abraham Path Initiative – “at this time of immense uncertainty and new global order, one can only hope that old barriers and misconceptions break down and that we open the way for new forms of travel. … We must move beyond closed borders and narrow minds to a more accepting global society” (page 261). Amen to that.   

Thanks Peter for this excellent Review!

The Midwife by Tricia Cresswell – a deeply impressive historical novel of people and place in the 1840s

The Midwife by Tricia Cresswell

This is an historical novel which is steeped in mystery, as well as the hard realities of childbirth and women’s position in society in the 1840s. Set in two locations, Northumberland’s Alnwick with its small town society, and London in both its fashionable and desperate areas, it tells two stories. One is of a woman, discovered on a moor, without a single thing to identify her, even to herself. The other is of a young, increasingly fashionable physician who specialises in pregnancy and childbirth, when both could be dangerous for even the healthiest and wealthiest women. The woman has no memories, but can deliver a baby and care for the wounded and ill with a rare skill. Dr Borthwick is a man-midwife, an accoucheur, who adopts methods of safely delivering babies that are in conflict with the established physicians of the day. 

This is a brilliantly researched book on so many fronts. The medical details seem accurate to this non specialist, and from delivering babies in one room shacks with the dirt of ages through to the bedrooms of the rich, the descriptions are convincing. The settings are also vivid – desperately poor farmhouses, dubious “clinics” and the over-decorated rooms of the rich and aspiring are all visualised for the reader in such detail. The narrative is never interrupted for a description or factual statement; like other readers I have found that it flows so smoothly that this book is almost impossible to put down. Both characters are aware of their clothing as giving an impression, and in the case of the mysterious woman, it seems to give her a name as she becomes Joanna, named by the woman Mary who helps to save her life. Her dirty and inadequate clothing will be replaced as she helps a man and his wife who creates a dress for her that suggests that she can make a real difference in people’s lives as she treats them. 

This is a book that works on so many levels. It has so much to say about the different ways that people live, in absolute poverty, disease and without hope, alongside those who live in such fashionable areas and social circles that reputation is all that is needed to gain success. It looks at the lack of medical knowledge of the time which meant that women and babies’ lives were at such risk from basic factors, compared with today. Other illnesses could only be tackled with simple remedies and almost instinctive care. This is also a book of sensitively and brilliantly descriptive characters who react in such understandable ways, from Mrs Bates, Dr Borthwick’s assistant who knows her work but can also show sympathy in surprising ways, to the strong minded women Dr Borthwick encounters who are determined to improve the lot of women throughout society. While there are mysteries at the heart of this book, there are also so many points of clearly described story that it is a fascinating novel to read. I greatly enjoyed this book, aware of the grim realities it presented, but also moved by the actions and reactions of the characters it features. It is a beautifully written novel of place, of people and so much more; I thoroughly recommend it to all those who enjoy historical fiction.     

A Daughter’s Hope by Donna Douglas – Three women and the challenges they face during wartime

A Daughter’s Hope by Donna Douglas

Hope is a difficult thing in Wartime, and in July 1942 the people of Hull had to have hope in the face of the destruction of much of the centre of the town in memorable air raids. This well written novel looks at the progress of the Maguire family and their friends in Jubilee Row, as some of the women are challenged in new ways as a result of the War. This is the third book in a series featuring the residents of the area, but could easily be read as a standalone as the characters featured are all well described in this largely self contained novel. The lives of women, even in wartime, are not lived without reference to men, but this book concentrates on the lives and loves of three women as it is definitely female led fiction. Thus there are some fascinating insights into the clothes, including uniforms, worn by the women in a time of shortage, and how they make the women feel. The author has obviously tackled a lot of research into the period, but has so absorbed the small and large realities of life that the narrative is never slowed down by facts. I found it a sophisticated view of what women’s lives were actually like at the time, when both in civilian and service life there are real challenges. I found this a particularly enjoyable book for its realism and reality, and was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it. 

At the beginning of the book the matriarch of the clan, “Big May Maguire” is overseeing the wedding of her daughter Iris, and getting cross with her oldest friend and sparring partner Beattie Scuttle. It is July 1942, and there is a lot of history behind all the relationships involved. She then has to break up an argument between the bride and Florence, her oldest daughter. Florence is shown not to be an easy person to be with, as she is resolutely single in a time when most women are eager to marry and have children. Florence is awkward and struggles socially, and is most fulfilled when at work for the Corporation supervising a typing pool of younger women producing bills and other paperwork. Even here she is unsure about the personal lives of the girls, so takes refuge in being strict. She is also aggrieved that she was sidelined for promotion in favour of Clement Saunders, an ineffectual man who has no real interest in the work. They are both commanded to attend a dance with local American airmen. Florence meets someone, and Clement faces a huge challenge. 

Meanwhile twins Sybil and Maudie are arriving to work as WAAFs on a fairly local airfield. Their very different personalities soon emerge as Sybil flirts outrageously with both officers and aircrew, at the cost of relationships with the other women. Maudie as always feels obliged to look after her, and at least try to keep her out of trouble, but Sybil is determined to seize each moment whatever the risk. As both women meet aircrews who are regularly risking their lives on operations, it is a risky time to form any sort of relationship. 

I found this a fascinating book because of its non straightforward attitude to romance it takes, when women have their doubts about what is going on in their lives. It provides intriguing story lines and insights into what lives would probably have been like when everyone’s fate was still in the balance to a certain extent, when the future was still unknown. I recommend it as an interesting contribution to the large numbers of books set during the Second World War which feature women’s lives.    

The Halfpenny Girls at War by Maggie Mason – three young women face their greatest tests from 1939 onwards

The Halfpenny Girls at War by Maggie Mason 

The Halfpenny girls are back – and this time it’s war. Three young women, Alice, Edith and Marg have grown up in the same street in Blackpool, but now it’s October 1939 and War has broken out. This entertaining and involving series of books has now reached its third novel, and for the three women who have witnessed and experienced so much in the past few years they are now beginning to be separated by circumstance and indeed love. This book could well work as a standalone picture of the sort of problems faced by women on the Home Front, not all of which are obvious. The author, Maggie Mason, also writes as Mary Wood, and has amassed a vast amount of knowledge of the background of women such as her main characters, and this certainly adds to the authentic feel of this book. Not that it is in any sense a dry narrative of what happened; Maggie has a real talent for creating and maintaining vivid characters who inhabit the pages of her books even when facing seemingly daunting and impossible problems. Their concerns, their clothes, the settings in the street and now wider areas contribute to a sense of fascinating reality. Not that the story is confined to the three women – a younger sister Jackie is also shown as having found love and appalling circumstances. This is a vibrant and entertaining book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

As the book begins Marg, Alice and Edith are sitting on the doorstep drinking hot chocolate which has been their habit growing up. Marg is about to marry Clive, and while things have slotted into place in terms of a suitable house big enough for Clive, his two sons, Gran and Jackie to fit into, it involves moving away from the only home she has ever known in Whittaker Avenue. Edith is struggling as her husband Philip is already away on war work. She has taken in three young evacuees from the East End, and while she is deeply attached to them they have come from difficult backgrounds and she has had to use all her developing teaching skills to get them settled into a new environment. Alice meanwhile is resolved to train in more than just basic first aid, especially as her doctor husband is so busy locally but may have to go elsewhere. Although Edith is also on the move, it is a rush job as so much was in wartime, but there is a band of friends to help. As each woman, including Jackie, goes on to face problems of various kinds, each is supported by the others and their families, real and acquired. 

The book does venture beyond Blackpool, but the love and help travels with people. Indeed, that is the central point of this book, that although the three women began with little, with few resources and difficult backgrounds, they have each made the best of their situations so far, and continue to do so throughout this final novel. Although an individual situation may seem bleak, each one can call on the other for emotional and practical support. The demands of war on the women and all the characters can be painful, involving separations and more, but this is a novel of community and the sort of family that can come together over a long and difficult time. This is a highly successful and very readable novel that I really enjoyed, and I recommend it to all readers who enjoy strong female led fiction set in the past. 

The Belles of Waterloo by Alice Church – an excellent historical novel set in the excitment of Brussels as three young women discover life and love

The Belles of Waterloo by Alice Church

This is quite simply an excellent historical novel, one which is strongly based on historical fact, but given a fictional treatment that makes the facts come alive. It tells the story of three sisters who are seen as ready for the adventures of romance and marriage, a familiar theme for a novel set in the early 1800s at the moment. It then puts the story of Maria, Georgy and Harriet and their family in their real historical context of Brussels in 1814 – 1815, a place full of military men after the taming of Napoleon and his exile to Elba. Much like the famous younger Bennet sisters, they discover that they are much in demand, along with their still relatively young mother Lady Caroline, by the idle officers and the beginnings of a busy social scene. The impetus of the story comes from the fact that as time moves on, the political scene changes and a very real battle gets nearer. 

This novel makes use of deep research into the period and the personalities that dominated it. Quotations from letters to the girls’ grandmother head each chapter, telling of balls, gossip and the edited experiences of a family forced by the gambling of an otherwise loving father to move to a cheaper city. This is in no sense a dry narrative however; Maria and her sisters are drawn as young vibrant women, inexperienced in some senses, but quick to master the social niceties. This is a novel of their adventures, their reactions to living in a place beginning to adopt the ways of London society, and the onset of an event that will change the lives of everyone they know, as well as their own. It is filled with the small details of clothes, setting, sights and even smells that successfully bring the story alive, as well as introducing and establishing characters that are three dimensional. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this wonderful novel. 

At the beginning of the novel, the Preface introduces Lady Caroline Capel, who has the unenviable task of informing her three oldest children, the only ones of her eleven offspring to be able to understand, of their imminent departure for Brussels. She knows that it is because of her husband’s immense gambling debts, but tries to screen the three girls from the real reason for them moving at this stage. Harriet is the thoughtful eldest daughter, who considers the implications of the news. Georgy is shocked, whereas Maria threatens mutiny. All three are poised to be launched onto London society , and moving them away from their friends and contacts will not help. All three know they will probably have to make good marriages, with or without romantic love being involved, and it is later that they realise that their chances of attracting a suitable husband with no money to speak of will be slender. Nevertheless, they become caught up in the excitement of moving everything they possess to another country, especially when they meet such contemporary celebrities as European royalty and generals en route. The house they are to live in has a good address and is spacious, and they soon discover that everything they wish to buy is so much cheaper than in London. They soon encounter eligible young men, including a prince, a Lord and a general, and as other families arrive a social scene of parties and other events soon emerges. Maria in particular is taken with at least one young man, even though he is soon seen as fond of strong drink. Each sister attracts considerable interest, despite their lack of fortunes, and accordingly have romantic adventures for better or worse. News soon emerges that Napoleon is on the loose again, and is gathering support, and the girls must make up their minds what to do in the face of danger. 

This novel includes many characters that it is possible to become attached to, and who seem to come alive in the vibrant setting of a society which proves to be on the edge of battle. The author is obviously deeply immersed in the period to the smallest detail, and has found individuals who already have amazing stories to bring to vibrant and consistent life. I really enjoyed this book, and thoroughly recommend it as a wonderful read.  

Behind the Olive Trees by Francesca Catlow – a romance and much more set in beautiful Corfu

Behind the Olive Trees by Francesca Catlow

This is a lovely book of place and characters which feature in a carefully plotted novel of sun, love and much more. Following the very enjoyable “The Little Blue Door”, anyone reading it will be inspired to read the first book and begin to look forward to the promised third book in the series. Set in a post pandemic tourist spot in Corfu, the sun filled experiences of Melodie and those she has come to know and love reflects the lives of contemporary women in all their possibilities, confusions and challenges. The sense of place which pervades this carefully written book is so strong that the house and other settings seem almost to exist as another character. The relationship between Melodie and Anton is celebrated throughout this book, despite some of the problems that they face. As Melodie struggles to discover what is being said in Greek, her narration must pick up on the small signs and clues of body language and context, and the reader is able to attempt to genuinely assess the situation alongside her. In a realistic and relatable story, Melodie must reflect on who really matters in her life, and how best to live her idyllic life in the sun in the light of her difficult past. I enjoyed reading this well written book, and am glad to have had the opportunity to read and review it. 

As the book begins, Melodie has gathered her courage to visit her mother’s house for the first time since she inherited it. Accompanied by the resourceful fourteen year old Gaia, she discovers that a young woman has been staying there. This is a discovery that will have important implications for the rest of the novel, as the girl reappears and refuses to be ignored. Meanwhile Melodie’s attentions and emotions are wrapped up in her love for Anton, and a wedding which is beautifully described in every respect. One of the clever aspects of this book is the way that many characters are introduced and reintroduced so that Melodie’s story is not told in isolation, but like most people’s lives lived in a context of others with all their faults and positive aspects. We accordingly see the friends and family members who have an influence on Melodie and Anton, the family resemblances and ties that link to the past and people who are no longer living. There are also stunning descriptions of the brilliantly designed house and garden that Melodie has come to live in, from the big rooms to the extensive garden with its romantic hideaways. The life in the area is also pretty idyllic, with locals who Melodie is coming to know well. There is definitely a difficult element of life ever present, as a person who Melodie feels that she must support is unpredictable, and not universally welcomed. As a very important person becomes suspiciously unwell, and other things happen that unnerve Melodie, it seems that she cannot relax and enjoy her life in beautiful Corfu. 

This is a well written book that manages to include so much, as elements of thriller begin to emerge in a novel that is almost set in paradise. What has happened to Melodie in the past would need working through, but as her narration progresses she becomes more certain that there is so much that still needs explanation. The building tension in this book is so well handled against what could simply have been a romance that the author demonstrates real skill in handling ideas, and so left me wanting to discover what happens next. This is a really impressive novel.  

Wartime for the Shop Girls by Joanna Toye – being on the Home front in the Second World War has its unlikely challenges for Lily and the others

Wartime for the Shop Girls by Joanna Toye

There are many female led novels set during the Second World War, and this one deserves its place with the best of them. It works because although the setting may be familiar to those readers who enjoy these books, it explores the subtleties of life for those people who were perhaps not in the direct line of fire, not in areas of heavy bombing, but for whom the effects of Home Front destruction were still felt in everyday life. It cleverly reflects the real effects of shortages, of the absences of men serving elsewhere, but also those who continued to live in the community. Friendship links can define daily life, whether because the difficulties of those who are close can affect how a sensitive and yet impulsive character like Lily feels, or because there is the faint stirring of more than friendship in the future. Lily is the main character in this well written series of books, yet many others have their moments as they face separation, childbirth, and the pressures of different demands on their lives. This is a book of characters who almost step from the page into the reader’s imagination. This may be the second book in the series, but I think it can work as a standalone. I certainly enjoyed the dramas and excitements of those who work and are associated with Marlows Department store in this enjoyable book.  

The book begins in January 1942, as Lily and her mother Dora welcome eldest brother and son Reg home. He is on a brief leave before heading to places unknown to fight as yet unknown battles. Lodger and friend Jim is also present; like Lily he works at Marlows, and is becoming a vital part of the smooth running of that establishment as well as supporting Lily and Dora. Lily cannot help but compare Reg’s calm and considerate demeanour with her other brother Sid’s more lively and humorous personality. Sid is a much closer sibling and it is not long before she arranges to meet up with him, in a typically complex wartime arrangement of trains and brief encounters. She is surprised when she meets him and is concerned about a secret that she must keep. Meanwhile her friend Beryl is approaching her due date, but as with many others her new husband Les is not present, shipped “overseas” for his military posting. Gladys, a friend who has had a recent tragic past, has at last found a special person in Bill, but he is also under orders to join his ship soon. Seeing her friends becoming romantically involved is having an effect on Lily, but she is aware “that kind of ‘belonging’ thing didn’t feel right for her. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to belong to anyone but herself, not just yet anyway.” Lily sees those around her and sees the possibilities of women having their own career, mindful of how after the First World War women gained the vote and began striking out in politics and other areas. Lily is an ambitious young woman, and is not keen to be limited by marriage at any time in the foreseeable future.

Altogether this is a thoughtful and engaging book with flashes of humour, moving moments and a genuinely thoughtful appreciation of what happened to those who were on the Home Front in the Second World War apart from the drama of local bombing and similar challenges. Lily, her family and friends are lively, realistic and essentially relatable characters, and I recommend this book accordingly.

Mailed Fist by John Foley – a lively and entertaining account of a tank troop at war first published in 1957, now reprinted in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series

Mailed Fist by John Foley

As war memoirs go, this lightly fictionalised account of a tank troop officer is brilliantly entertaining and very readable. John Foley was put in charge of a troop of tanks in April 1943 straight from Officer training at Sandhurst, having had several years of experience in the ranks. So while he has some idea of what military life is like, he is still keen to make a favourable impression as an officer, with pockets full of notebooks about tanks. The facts of what remarkable things a Churchill tank is capable of, let alone the crews that are operating them, fill this book with a practical humour that makes it entertaining as well as offering fascinating military history. The three heavy tanks, Avenger, Alert and Angler, are not the latest design, heavy and slow moving, but in this book they are shown as effective – most of the time. The men he leads are all characters, from the most long serving and resigned to the newest and keenest, they are all described as people who try to get the job done, but are also very human when put to the test. I enjoyed this book, savoured the humour, and was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.

The book opens with the memory of Foley’s first appearance before the Second in Command, later to be the Commanding Officer. He gets off on the wrong note by stamping his feet too loudly, making off with the duty truck and other accidental infringements en route to finding his troop of tanks, which turns out to amount to one tank, albeit with a cheerful and willing crew. Foley has been told that a good tank officer should be able to do all the various tasks that his crew members do, so he has an exciting (hair raising) time demonstrating his driving abilities. There then follows a long period of waiting for action, which leaves plenty of time to acquire two more tanks and crews, and get to know the ways of tanks in the English countryside, including their off-road capacities. As D Day approaches they receive limited information about what to expect, so spend hours waterproofing the tank – which provides a stern test for the newest crew member. Their adventures at and following the Normandy landings are not set piece battles- the Churchill tanks were meant to support the infantry trying to establish and maintain the progress of the Allied troops moving towards Germany, meaning that the troop was involved in the liberation of villages and towns which had been occupied. This brought some domestic adventures involving the gratitude of individuals. I found at least one anecdote laugh out loud funny, when Foley approaches a senior officer to complain about his troop being assigned a stone cattle building to sleep in during a quiet period. When he takes the officer over to inspect the unprepossessing building, they both discover that the men have transformed it into a lined semi palace with hammocks, lighting, and even a concert of light music to entertain them. They have acquired a window frame with glass and basically all the home comforts, much to Foley’s embarrassment. As a result he gets an additional role as a Welfare Officer to the entire squadron.There are dark times, literally, and a loss or two, but essentially this is the story of a group of men pulling together, improvising, coping, and generally improving their lot while fulfilling their role. 

I think I enjoyed this book so much because it reminded me of my own father’s reminiscences of driving a variety of army vehicles in similar circumstances. Foley was advised to write the novel when it was history, so it was actually published in 1957, and now appears as a welcome reprint in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series. It provides a realistic, fictionalised account of war experiences as it probably was, and it is all the stronger for it.       

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels -Book Corner, Saltburn

Bookshop Tour on Four Wheels – Book Corner, Saltburn

I found another accessible bookshop to investigate with Morgan, my trusty powerchair. Book Corner is a small bookshop in the coastal town of Saltburn in the north east, but packs a mighty punch! It points out on its website that it specialises in contemporary fiction for adults and children, and I can certainly agree that it had an impressive range of very new releases, as well as some older books at reduced prices. There was a tiny step which I could easily negotiate on Morgan, and I received a very friendly welcome as I happily admired the array of books. I loaded up a couple of bags with my discoveries! It is a lovely little town to visit and the bookshop was a real find!

24 Milton Street,


TS12 1DG

Call us on 01287 348010. Or if you prefer, you can email us directly at 

Winter Opening Times

Tuesday: 10am – 4pm

Wednesday: CLOSED

Thursday: 10am – 4pm

Friday: 10am – 4pm

Saturday: 10am – 4pm

Sunday and Monday: CLOSED

Who’s Lying Now by Susan Lewis – a complex and enthralling contemporary novel of secrets and lies

Who’s Lying Now? by Susan Lewis

This is a very clever and brilliantly constructed book. Written from several points of view, in that various female characters are the subject of the various chapters, and flashbacks are carefully deployed, this is a masterly display of creating a who dunnit, or at least what happened which never disappoints. Who to trust, who has something to hide, and what actually happens becomes a preoccupation for every character in this book, not only Clara, a young woman charged with investigating a disappearance, but also everyone involved in a complex web of networks that dominate the area. It is also set in the final weeks of 2020 and the early months of 2021, when lockdowns and restrictions made people feel unsure; when social distancing, wearing masks and online interviews made for uncertainty about people’s real expressions and intentions. This is a contemporary mystery which harks back to some events that happened previously, but crucially is mainly set in an uncertain time. It is an enthralling novel, and I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.  

The novel opens with Jeannie Symonds, a wealthy publisher with a reputation for being tough, on a long phone call with her assistant on 6th January 2021. She spots someone outside her big and comfortable house, the landscaper responsible for transforming the extensive grounds of her country home on the coast. Receiving a note she decides to leave her home quietly. That departure creates a mystery that forms much of the drive of that book. Twelve days later a young trainee investigator, Cara, is assigned to look into Jeannie’s disappearance, as referred to the police by Andee, an ex- detective. She had been contacted by Jeannie’s  husband Guy, a charismatic surgeon, who had appeared in the Seafront cafe of a mutual friend, Fliss. As Cara is introduced to the case, she is made aware that Jeannie apparently has a history of short term disappearances, partly in accordance with her somewhat mercurial temperament. Guy was not immediately concerned that his wife was not present when he returned from London, but eventually sought help from Fliss when she did not turn up. All that is known is that her car is missing, and that it is particularly difficult to go and stay anywhere in a time of lockdown. Fliss is well known to Andee and indeed the community. Her ex husband, Neil, is a landscaper and gardener much in demand in the area. Their teenage son Zac has largely grown up in his house which he shares with his second wife, the excitable Estelle and their daughter, nine year old Chloe. Zac has been staying with Fliss during the recent lockdowns, and between studying for A levels working for his father. Estelle is an unusual character who had written a successful novel some time ago, but is now estranged from her ex publisher Jeannie. She has a personal assistant, Primrose or Prim, who has become a member of the family. As Cara and Andee investigate the disappearance of the older women, the rather convoluted relationships in the community and beyond become even more stained, with everyone’s relationships and possible motives coming under scrutiny, even when there is uncertainty that a crime has even taken place. 

This is a completely enthralling novel to read as the characters are so well drawn and consistent, and the threads which draw them together and are under strain are fascinating. The pandemic elements are ambitious as so many authors are not yet tackling this time in detail in my experience, yet it is not overbearing. I recommend this novel as a great achievement and a really good read, taking the reader alongside the characters as they discover the truth and lies of a complex situation.