Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles -a Canon Clement Mystery set in an English village in the fairly recent past

Murder Before Evensong by Richard Coles

As I have lived in Vicarages for decades and have enjoyed Richard Coles’ writing and speaking, I looked forward to reading the first in a series of “Canon Clement Mysteries”, and I can report I was not disappointed. It is an intriguing mystery set in a community with a limited number of suspects, which captures a lot of the necessary elements of a successful murder mystery. There is blood; this is no gentle and delicate killing, and the trauma of the relatives in one case is very well handled. This is a mystery with real depth, as the characters are well handled though their introductions can be a little tricky. I was a little confused as to why four of the significant characters shared the same initial which meant I sometimes had to work out who I was reading about, which is a little technical detail which slowed the narrative for me. That said, this is a book written by someone who has a firm grasp and experience of how the politics of a fairly small parish can escalate into a problem, and provided real insight into village life (not usually beset with murder, but still…).

The decision to set it in the eighties was a very good one. It means that the police procedures are more straightforward, and that memories of the older residents are perhaps more eventful, certainly regarding the glory days of the big House, Champton, lived in by the Lord de Flores, “patron, landowner (and) employer” and family for centuries. Not that this is a house in full glory; there are Open Days on certain occasions when the public are admitted to set against the onerous death duties that beset many families at the time. The volunteers who steward and guide at the event in the novel are drawn from the village which allows for dramatic possibilities as characters are seen in a different setting. This is before the age of the smartphone when communication of events  is more face to face, which gives a certain impact to gatherings in the village shop or elsewhere. News about the events in the village arrive in newspapers rather than on screens which affects how it is received, even though rumour and gossip has already spread many details.  For those interested in church matters, it also means that Daniel Clement is Rector of only Champton St Mary, rather than a group of parishes. 

Daniel is the main protagonist of the novel and most events are seen from his point of view, and he works with one police officer throughout although more senior constabulary are threatened.  He is not a straightforward character; there are hints that he has a more worldly wise view than perhaps fictional clergy are usually given, and that he can be a bit abrupt even with his family  who admittedly could try the patience of a saint with their interruptions and attempts to find out more than they should. Daniel has a mother, Audrey, who lives with him and cooks and provides food ranging from his favourite meals to a carefully measured series of refreshments to the many visitors to the rectory. She is keen to be involved in every way and is a definite addition to the cast of the novel, able to sort out situations that Daniel may struggle with in her own inimitable way. Theo is the celebrity actor brother who on this occasion wants to observe Daniel closely as part of his research for a television role as a member of the clergy, at least until he gets bored. There are two other characters who defuse situations, make discoveries and generally break up potentially intense scenes – Cosmo and Hilda, a pair of discerning dachshunds. Their demand for walks gives Daniel a reason for touring his parish on foot and making discoveries

This is a novel that, unsurprisingly given its author, gets church “right” in every respect, and perhaps succeeds in challenging the assumption that parish churches in the past were always full with the faithful who observed the clergy’s will without question. It is a murder mystery than affects the community in a spectacular way, but is not brutal or an over written police procedural. This is an entertaining book which nevertheless maintains a sense of reality. It is very readable and essentially enjoyable, and I look forward to reading the further adventures of Canon Daniel Clement. 

Charlotte Fairlie by D.E. Stevenson – a vivid 1954 novel reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press

Charlotte Fairlie by D.E. Stevenson

When staying on a Scottish island, this book is the only one you can choose. Originally published in 1954 and difficult to get hold of since, this brilliant novel of school drama, romance and possibly the most scenic imaginary island you could wish for has recently been reprinted by Dean Street Press in its Furrowed Middlebrow series. Simply – I loved it! I found it so engaging, and despite its context in terms of time I found the characters showing  a fascinating mix of attitudes, some of which would not be out of place over half a century later. The problems of families with a dominating parent feels contemporary in some ways, while the challenges of island living are strangely familiar. All the characters are so well introduced and established, even if they only appear briefly – two elderly sisters are charming, whereas those involved in school disputes are satisfyingly strong. This is a fascinating and relaxing read with some clever insights, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The character of Charlotte is wonderful, as she achieves the job of headmistress at her old school St Elizabeth’s and discovers just how difficult a role that is – especially with the scheming Miss Pinkerton being unspeakably jealous. An almost mystical encounter with a special figurine adds to the dilemmas she faces, until a challenging girl arrives at the school. A family where a controlling father is restricting the children in every way is so convincingly drawn that I could understand the despair Charlotte and others who encounter  them experience. The loneliness of a woman in a job that Charlotte discovers seems almost familiar from books written in the twenty-first century. There are some wonderful set pieces as the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth is celebrated, including the sort of pageant that seemed to have been common in Britain in the twentieth century. 

The descriptions of the island of Targ and Charlotte’s stay there are brilliant. Not every day is sunny, though some are idyllic,which is very Scottish. That it is a different way of life for everyone who arrives there is beautifully descriptive, and Charlotte’s awareness of how it is so different from her normal life is touching. The romance element is well handled. There are minor drama and major threats, and there are several threads to the novel which are well dealt with throughout. 

This is a novel that I really revelled in, and would thoroughly recommend as showing Stevenson tackling more of a traditional form of novel with several twists that really lift it. It is of its time with its descriptions of ladies wearing hats and vivid descriptions of clothes which put it in the 1950s, but some of the themes and elements of the novel transcend its setting. The character of Charlotte is central, but the descriptions of Tessa are cleverly written. Targ is a very three dimensional place, though the school and surrounding area are also well described. Altogether this is a very special book, being of its time yet also fascinating several decades later, and I really enjoyed reading it.  

Little Dancer by Melanie Lechallas – Paris of the 1870s – a girl struggles to survive, model for Degas and forward a fight for change

Little Dancer by Melanie Leschallas

This is a vivid book of a harsh life in Paris in the 1870s. This is the city of the Commune in 1871, when hundreds of Communards were killed at the barricades. Well into Les Miserables territory, it is a tale of a young girl in a city where the rich flaunt their wealth and idleness, and women and children suffer and die for want of bread. Marie lost her father in a traumatic incident, a man well known for his revolutionary ideas about progress, the opportunities for girls like his daughters, and the need for social reform. Bewildered by events when she was a small child which deprived her of her beloved Papa, Marie  in 1878 wants to continue his battle, but watching her mother Gigi descend from a successful laundry owner to scratching a living is heartbreaking. Marie’s older sister Antoinette seems to care little for the cause, but is determined to survive by any means. Marie must find a way to survive, fight for her socialist principles, and discover what she can of the mysterious artist Edgar Degas.

This book is a powerful story of a young woman who keeps her eyes open in a city which encompasses such squalour and splendour. Her job as a Little Rat, or dancer for the theatre, allows her to earn a little for food, but is physically punishing in so many ways for a girl always hungry, wearing the discarded clothes of others.When she is chosen as a model by Degas she is taken aback; she knows herself to be too skinny and hungry to be attractive, yet the driven man seems determined to make a sculpture of her in a new way, painstaking and honest. Even his studio is bewildering, with a huge painting of a strange woman. As the work progresses, Marie encounters Degas’ associates, his angry brother, his determined friend Mary, and she becomes more confused by Degas’ true motive for choosing to immortalise her in a confusion of materials. Always there is the urge to remember her father and to continue his fight for the people. What can one underfed girl do against a system in which women have little choice but to sell themselves if they are not blessed with wealth?

This is a fascinating book which I found really powerful on so many levels. Marie becomes a symbol of the women and girls forced into desperate acts, yet what stops this becomes a distressing portrait of a system which could easily grind her down is her determination to act for the greater good. Her relationship with the mysterious Degas is a curiosity, an explanation for a brilliantly realised and much copied figure. This is a story which speaks volumes of the physical cost of dancing, the blisters and the sore joints, the bruises and the knocks. The author was a professional dancer, and this shows in so many ways. It expresses the hopelessness of the plight of many girls and women who have to use what they can to survive,and it is honest, if sometimes brutal. The relationship between Marie and Degas is the strange one of artist and muse and is so well described. The author has obviously done a lot of research into the sights, sounds and smells of the poor part of Paris, but it never interferes with the atmosphere or narrative. 

This is a rich and satisfying read with many threads, observations and issues woven in. The characters, from Marie to the smallest participant are so well written as to be memorable. This is a brilliant and enthralling read which I recommend to those who enjoy historical fiction in which women play a major, realistic part. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel of art, life and the fight to change an unequal society.      

Watch Out for Pirates by Jules Brown – Tales from a travel writier’s life written with honesty and humour

Watch Out for Pirates by Jules Brown

I am not well travelled – outside Britain- so I was not sure that I would follow this “Tales from a travel writer’s life”. I can confirm I need not have been concerned; apart from the fact that there are a couple of UK based stories, the irresistible humour and honest recollections of the trials and tribulations / opportunities for experiences that Jules has written in this book were so entertaining. As an experienced “Rough Guide” writer, he captures some of the stuff he has picked up (always tip generously in New York or risk being chased down the street), admits to being nervous of arriving in a new country, and that tracking down sites of interest can be a hot, dusty and unrewarding task. The joys of travelling alone are explored, but also the humour of walking with a friend and a loved one are memorable in this entertaining book. 

I don’t suppose I will ever drive across Australia myself, but in this book there is a memorable chapter about the grinding boredom of the road compared with the excitement of Bar Sliding ( you will have to read the book) and the question of what would the late Steve Irwin do when confronted with a big lizard guarding the car door. I really enjoyed the idea of being in a hot air balloon trip over Luxor in theory, but like Jules almost was, I think I would have been a bit put off by the high incidence of fatal accidents. Would I have been sufficiently reassured by the uniformed Kevin who was the pilot who Jules so well describes – I think not, but the contrast that he describes with the bustle and fuss of trying to visit Luxor on land may have swayed me. His account of accidentally leading the singing at a wedding in Sicily is lovely, despite his interesting and desperate choice of a song.

These far flung adventures are contrasted with more accessible accounts of British exploration. Behind the scenes at Blackpool is fascinating, even if you are not tempted by the multitude of attractions on offer. I really enjoyed the walking tour of Yorkshire with a like minded barrister in the enticing hunt for Captain Cook’s authentic stamping ground, and the proposed rating system for the disappointing remnants of buildings that were subjected to “Washing Away”. My favourite was undoubtedly the journey to find the locations for the series “Outlander”, which though undertaken for the benefit of another, was really quite enjoyed. I was touched by the memoir of life for much loved parents when they were first married and discovered the mixed joys of living and working in another country. 

The second section features tips for travel with and without a guide book, or in the event of wi fi failure. The words and phrases used to describe travel experiences could well be applied to other areas of life, so are well worth reading.

In short, this is a book which offers great entertainment and laugh out loud humour even for the most risk averse traveller. It is honest and funny, written in a friendly and warm style, and anyways engaging. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it, and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel in reality or the armchair variety.  

The Letter Home by Rachael English – Women in search of the truth – and survival

The Letter Home by Rachael English

This is the story of young women. All three of them are concerned with events which are history for two, and actual life experience for one. It is about chasing memories, evidence, gaps in lives, and survival. There are three stories running in parallel throughout this gripping novel, the stories of three women at close quarters, all at turning points in their lives. The writing is empathetic, showing how well the author simultaneously deals with two women living and discovering the truth in 2019, though from different backgrounds, as well as a third in abject poverty. This is such a well written narrative of women’s perspective on life in the past, dealing with the challenging present, and hoping for a more successful future. A subtly written novel in some senses, as the obvious problems of the past compare with the different difficulties of the present. This is an engaging book that I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review.   

The first section is set in April 2019 and concerns Jessie Daly. She is travelling to County Clare in Ireland, away from Dublin where she has been working and living as a journalist. She has had challenges in her recent past, and made a series of very public mistakes on late night television when she was unprepared and was drinking. After the social media savages her, she is shown returning home in ignomy. Her more settled sister and her caring parents are shocked, especially when revelations of further problems emerge. The saving in the situation for Jessie is being asked to help with some research into a local woman who was among the first to die in the Famine in Ireland in the mid 1840s. Sometimes known as the potato famine, the life and death shortage of the most basic food for the poorest was caused by a blight on the crop which they depended on. At the same time in Boston, America, Kaitlin Wilson is an outwardly successful woman who has an excellent career with a law firm and a long term partner. When her brother gets a job with a dubious political group which watches immigration, she feels compelled to discover more about her own relatives who travelled from Ireland. Not everyone around her supports her investigation.

The most powerful section of the book concerns the story of Bridget, who in the 1840s is part of a poor Irish family. The loss of her father to the sea makes life a struggle, but the failure of the potatoes they depended on makes her situation so much worse. When she loses others from desperate need, she is reduced to scraping a tiny bit of food for her daughter and herself. Her decisions will have a huge effect on more than one life, and reveal much to those who search for the truth in later years. 

This is a moving book which is in part based on true events. The settings are well established in each case, and especially in Bridget’s tragic circumstances. There is a lot of research behind this story, but it is never allowed to interrupt or dominate the narrative. This is a sensitively written and strongly felt book which drew me into the situations of the women. It is a strong and powerful novel, which I recommend for those interested not only in the difficulties faced by people in the nineteenth century, but also the motives for and the process of discovering the sometimes harsh details of a family’s past. 

Hotbed by Joanna Scutts – a book of the Secret Club that sparked Modern Feminism in America

Hotbed by Joanna Scutts

It is difficult to do justice in a relatively short review to an immense book that introduces “Bohemian New York and the Secret Club that Sparked Modern Feminism”. In Joanna Scutts’ Introduction which is invaluable in setting the style and nature of a coming together of women in America in 1912 onwards, as well as a book which surveys them in all their different agendas, lives and work, she outlines some of the difficulties of setting out the nature of the Society.  Despite its loose association and arguable lack of structure compared with other campaigning groups, it survived a World War and more local pressures in terms of Prohibition, Depression and pressure on its key members from legislation and life choices, and only faded in the onset of another cataclysmic World War. Taking the form of a secret social club in which discussion and activism in so many fields, including women’s suffrage, equal marriage, free love, child rearing and labour rights dominated activities, the “Heterodoxy” was far from a single issue group. Perhaps its strength was its loose form, which allowed and perhaps even tacitly encouraged experimentation and different lifestyle choices from its members rather than the strict and focused efforts of the various suffrage groups in Britain, which split on such things as the level of activity some members proposed as necessary and the personalities of some of its founder members. 

The group had its origins in the college educated women who would gather in certain restaurants in New York for informal discussions. Led and somehow hosted by its first founder, ex religious minister Marie Jenney Howe and her husband Frederic, a coming together of women in a cheap and somewhat district called the Village for lively discussion and resulting activities which blossomed into an organisation which attracted the articulate and dissatisfied. A significant number were relatively well off financially, which meant that publications and campaging magazines could be funded and could be distributed. Many members were writers, some of whose radical and innovative works gave new insights into a woman’s lot. One of the best known was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who had published a serious work “Women and Economics” as early as 1900, but who is perhaps best known today for her novella “The Yellow Wallpaper” which is a fictional but no less powerful protest against masculine medical oppression in female mental health. Many remarkable women identified with the causes central to Heterodoxy, including those in same sex relationships, and many who chose to use the forms of birth control then available to limit their families. Experiments with family structures, childcare arrangements and living arrangements were essayed – most women associated with the society had the financial and intellectual resources to write, live and generally challenge the social norms of the time. This is not to suggest that the living was easy – there were personal tensions, and divisions caused by War did upset some. There were also outside pressures on those who openly questioned the status quo and political organisations from the highest level. 

This is an immense work which like its subject, does not confine itself to straightforward chronological descriptions. There are pen portraits of leading memebrs of the group, together with such debates such as “Pacifism Versus Patriotism”. This book is about the early days and waves of “feminism” in America, and while the definition of even that basic term is debated in this book, the Epilogue sets out how femisinism today can be affected by some of the basic tenets of the group in terms of coming together.

Technically this is a very readable yet academically robust book. The Notes section at the end of the book gives notes and references for each chapter in enormous detail. The bibliography, or here “Works Cited and Consulted” is equally extensive. There is also an Index, which also highlights the well chosen illustrations. 

This book is a huge achievement in terms of women’s studies but also the nature of political and intellectual awareness and activity in America in the early part of the twentieth century. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.    

Death on a Monday Night by Jo Allen – a DCI Satterthwaite crime novel which stands alone in its enjoyable mystery

Death on a Monday Night by Jo Allen

A Monday night has great significance in this complex and hugely enjoyable murder mystery – it is the Women’s Institute Meeting night in the village of Wasby in Cumbria. This contemporary and exciting novel is the eighth in the DCI Satterthwaite series, and although this is my first encounter with the detective and those he works with, it is so well written that I was able to pick up the gist of the situation quickly. WI meetings can be lively, and Wasby like many English villages are full of local gossip and scandal, but it comes as a total shock to everyone when Becca, district nurse and Jude Satterthwaite’s ex partner, discovers a dead body at the end of the evening. 

This book turns out to be a fairly closed community mystery in the best traditions of British Crime writing, where the inhabitants of a single village and the surrounding area come under suspicion, and in living at the heart of the community, Jude is acquainted with some of the major players. There are backstories to be enjoyed when I can track down previous books in the series, but in the meantime this is a standalone and very enjoyable mystery in its own right. It is very scenic, and I would love to see a television adaptation! I found this a very readable book which was very entertaining, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The setting for the murder is an old village hall with a complex (and typical in my experience) arrangement of doors, exits and entrances. The meeting features Adam Fleetwood, an apparently reformed drug dealer, speaking about his past misdeeds and redemption, and Geri Foster, head of a drug rehabilitation project. Becca is present at the meeting, but goes outside shortly after the proceedings end. She is joined by a surprising companion before the lights in the hall all go out, and Becca moves swiftly to find the fuse box. Her discovery of the body of Grace Thoresby deeply shocks her, despite her experience of police work which she gained while close to Jude. While officially a sudden death, the local police are quickly involved, in the form of Ashleigh who is on duty while Jude turns up because he is local. Interestingly a more senior officer, Faye, takes a detailed interest in the case, and the complex situation which draws in family, acquaintances and old enemies. A woman’s secret life seems somehow connected to the events of the evening, but also the hard facts of the shattered relationship between Jude and his childhood friend. As the net of investigation grows larger and there is a real risk of future danger in the close knit community, can Jude and his colleagues sort out the threads of confusion around a brutal death before more people are put at risk, despite the problems of finding an attacker in such tricky circumstances? 

This is a very enjoyable and intriguing mystery which is well plotted and paced. It features characters who have real depth and reality, with their own issues and back stories which add a great deal to the overall narrative. This is a book that I greatly enjoyed and would genuinely recommend to those who enjoy crime mysteries set in a relatable community. I would be really pleased to discover more books in this series and by this accomplished author.      

The Sister Returns by Joanna Rees – a huge story of life in 1929 for a young women in a time of challenge and change

The Sister Returns by Joanna Rees

Drama, a dysfunctional family, pursuit across the world – this is a novel full of incident and excitement. Some characters have agendas that are dangerous to others, others pursue their interests in comparative innocence. At the centre of the narrative is the remarkable Vita, a young woman who has experienced so much in England, Paris and now America, but retains her ambitions and resilience. This is the third book in a trilogy, “The Stitch In Time Series”; the first two being “The Runaway Daughter” and “The Hidden Wife”, but as I have only encountered this final novel I can confirm that it is easy to pick up the main strands of the story. This is because each character is introduced well, with some brief accounts of what has happened before in relation to the overall story. It also helps that each character is robust and consistent in their thoughts and actions. This is the case with the major players as well as the minor characters; the way Rees draws and handles each character is admirable, summing up their motivation in a few words. This is a huge achievement in terms of narrative and drama, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The novel begins in 1929, after Vita has run away from her difficult family who run and own a Mill in Lancashire. She has been a dancer and generally had a good if scandalous time in Paris with her best friend Nancy. Vita’s escape to New York while pregnant with her son Bertie had its moments, but Nancy’s family has welcomed her into their luxurious home and lifestyle. Vita has her ambitions even if lasting love seems to have evaded her; she has taken responsibility for designing Nancy’s wedding dress. The preparations for the wedding dominate the life of most people as Nancy at last seems to be ready to finally settle down with Nate, a suitable man for the wealthy young woman. Unfortunately this is in the weeks leading up to the financial crash, and among those who have invested heavily is Vita, who has been looking to succeed in her ambitions to have her own underwear business. 

When everything goes wrong, the two young women and Bertie find themselves en route for Los Angeles, specifically for Hollywood. Nancy has ambitions to break into films as an actress, and Vita is keen to support her, especially when she gets a sense of the costumes, the sets and excitement inherent in the new and exciting movie business. Unfortunately people back in Lancashire still remember Vita in her original guise of Anna, and at least two people still feel resentment for her and are determined to take revenge and more. Her brother Clement is determined to get even, and although Edith has stolen much from her sister in law already, she becomes resolved to take action which will  damage Vita and others in so many ways. 

This is a vivid and big book in so many ways, with memorable characters and situations. It is mainly Vita’s story, but there are many others who are shown as active and resolute in their chosen paths. This is a book which features settings which are well described; New York at the height of its success and Prohibition, the beginnings of the Hollywood and the film industry, and life in Britain which is not immune from world wide events. This represents a lot of research, but there are no overwhelming passages of descriptions which would interrupt the narrative. This is an exciting book which definitely lingers in the mind, and drives onwards with fascinating details. I recommend this book and indeed this series to all those who enjoy big stories. 

The Yellow Kitchen by Margaux Vialleron -Three women, food and life in 2019

The Yellow Kitchen by Margaux Vialleron

The yellow kitchen in this novel is the most real setting throughout, despite the realities of London outside which also feature, and a never to be forgotten trip to Lisbon changes everything. This is a novel of three women, Claude, Sophie and Giulia, their interconnected relationship, and memories of mothers. In Claude’s hands it becomes a book of food, her chosen medium of expression, for when there is nothing that can be said in words. Blending, tasting and even recipe substitutions becomes her language, more so than the French she rarely uses, her literal mother tongue loaded with feelings about a life she has glimpsed and perhaps dominates the dreams she can express. Sophie, daughter of a celebrity mother, action driven when not actually asleep, creates magic with her makeup ideas, sculpting and changing a face. Giulia, for all purposes Italian, lives in the politics of the moment despite her non-specific jobs, running to clear her mind, recipient of the parcels from home which anchor her in her relationship with two women back there. This is the love story of three women. Love in all its companionship and challenges, its growth, development and change. 

The yellow kitchen is in a flat that Claude at first rents, with all the inconveniences of someone else’s use of space, but as it becomes more Claude’s own in spirit and fact, it changes despite being the hub of the three women’s relationship. In it Claude cooks, creates as the other two help by chopping, learning what the kitchen appliances are called, how they fulfil a role in preparing what becomes a joint enterprise, though always led by Claude. Claude is the one who spends all day serving other people’s food, but quietly develops her own distinctive pastries. She has her routines, her obsessions, of cycling, of wearing yellow, of almost standing outside her own experiences. Sophie is a driven woman, for a wedding, for her ambitions, for her desire to grasp each moment. Giulia filters things, is strong, responsive to the moods of others, but always a little on one side, not having the shared experience of a boarding school like the other two. As they and the world outside proceeds through the year 2019 “the last year of London as we knew it”, discoveries are made, decisions are made, and Claude is challenged with events in her life that haunt her memories. When something happens during a trip to Lisbon all three women are thrown, and everything is challenged. 

This is a book in which women are the main actors, and men are incidental to their lives. I found it entertaining and a compulsive read. Claude is the character who speaks in her own voice at certain points, full of the joys of preparing food for her friends, drawing them into her kitchen, her life. She is the anchor of the relationship, and I found her character to be the most complex. Sophie feels younger, more easily distracted in my reading of the novel. Giulia is the one that feels on the edge, yet also seems to be the one who encourages the relationship, and is there in times of crisis. This is a book to enjoy, which succeeded in increasing my appetite with its descriptions of food and its creation. This is a fascinating read, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.   

Listen To Me by Tess Gerritsen – a thriller and mystery from a well established detection team

Listen To Me by Tess Gerritsen

A murder, a puzzle and so much more – this is a vivid and challenging book in which established characters, Detective Jane Fizzoli and Forensic Pathologist Maura Isles, have to discover what is truly going on. A nurse has been brutally murdered in her own home in a seemingly motiveless attack, but what can be discovered from the information she left behind? As if Jane has not got enough to concern her, her mother Angela seems to have become a neighbourhood vigilante, obsessed with her new neighbours and what may be going on across the road. Angela usually confines herself to cooking up a storm for all comers, but is she now walking into danger? This fast moving novel is far more than a police procedural or mystery; the characters feel very real and have genuine depth. This was my first encounter with Rizzoli and Isles, so I can definitely guarantee that this works as a standalone, though I can see that the earlier books in the series will be worth tracking down. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enthralling book which I really found difficult to put down.

The great success of this book lies in the reality of the characters alongside a twisty plot. From a black boy’s mother angrily defending her son through to a young woman who seems to be being pursued by an older man, every main character is given a real focus, and in Angela’s case, a voice to describe what she thinks, feels and ultimately experiences. The detective team of Rizzoli and Frost has been together long enough to be a real family affair, even if Alice is a little trying. From such a background the breakthroughs that occur after a lot of hard work seem logical. Much of Angela’s commentary on her sort of investigations is almost light relief, though Jane’s weary reactions to her phone calls empathise how annoying she is, distracting her from a complex investigation with so many threads. Gerritsen obviously enjoys herself balancing humour and tension; not down playing the genuine suspense and terror of murder, but balancing it with a certain amount of honest comedy. As Jane has to work out the central mystery of who would find it necessary to kill a quiet, widowed nurse who has gained the respect of those who had worked with her, an old case seems to be haunting the investigation. 

There are many threads or strands to this case, some of which I spotted while others were a mystery. It is such a cleverly constructed novel where instinct and making the connections are so important, and I found as a first time reader of this author I felt completely able to follow. Its settings are convincing, and the author’s medical knowledge is well deployed to ground the clues and ideas. It was also interesting to get hints of Maura’s secret life. 

This is a murder mystery/ thriller which I greatly enjoyed, despite my relative lack of knowledge of American life and policing. I found it a fascinating read which I greatly enjoyed and would recommend to anyone who enjoys contemporary crime with a humourous twist.