Double or Nothing by Kim Sherwood – James Bond is missing – and the stakes are high for MI6 in this exciting contemporary spy thriller

Double or Nothing by Kim Sherwood

“James Bond is Missing” is a sort of subtitle for this book, and it means that most people who have ever seen a Bond film or read an Ian Fleming novel will have some idea what this fast paced book revolves around. This, however, is no 1950s glamourous spy novel, nor yet a politically incorrect spy chase, this is a novel of high tech, ambitious operatives trying to track down the elusive 007. Who seems to have disappeared while on a mission, despite leaving a series of bewildered friends, lovers and spymasters in pursuit and search. This is novel of mystery, tension, secrets, potential betrayal and the dangers of just being a “00” with a licence to kill in the twenty first century. It reveals something of the doubts and hesitations of being a trained operative in a world of electronic surveillance, listening and instant communication. Despite the possibilities of quantum computing and the resulting problems of dropping out of sight anywhere in the world, there is a reassuring amount of human interaction and resourcefulness that cannot be performed by a computer.

The main characters are those at the top of Britain’s MI6 who are keen to discover what has happened to their most flamboyant operative who had made some noises about life after his usual work but seemed immortal and ever present. The new generation of spies, Joanna Harewood 003, Joseph Dryden 004 and Sid Bashir 009 are the brightest and best operatives in the field, especially as the number of active 00s have been recently reduced in various incidents. They all have their own background issues of difficult family situations, failed romances and in one case, severe injury which has led to an innovative adjustment. Though they are affected by Bond’s disappearance, they have a target in their sights – Sir Bertram Paradise, a tech billionaire who is claiming that he is developing the technology to reverse the effects of climate change – to effectively save the world. Meanwhile a sinister mercenary group have been doing their best to deflect attention from this central mission – to discover if Paradise is all that he claims. Those closest to him seem to be a shifting group – can the three OOs work out what is really going on with a man who seems to be determined to gamble with everything, even the future?

This is an enthralling novel which demanded my attention and kept it throughout a series of worldwide encounters. As each of the operatives make discoveries as they search for the truth of Paradise’s activities and associates, I also found the work of those behind the scenes, especially Moneypenny, fascinating. This is a novel with much to offer in terms of excitement, intrigue and danger to the main characters. James Bond is a theme in that is so cleverly handled as the references to his well-known preferences and habits are threaded throughout the narrative, especially given his status with the younger characters, but this is no mere Bond spinoff; it has its own identity as a genuine thrilling novel. It is difficult to write about in detail without revealing the twists, secrets and even lies that are necessary to the plot. The writing is clever, taking in details as well as holding to the main drive of the story. The characters are well drawn and consistent, given that secrets are emerging about them throughout. This is an exciting and innovative novel which I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review, and I recommend it as an excellent read for all those who enjoy a spy-based thriller, and many others who are fascinated by contemporary technology in action.      

Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary: Quest for Life by Brendan James – a British teacher at large in Amsterdam in 1995

Gerard Philey’s Euro-Diary – Quest for a Life by Brendan James

This is an unusual, fascinating and often funny book. It is in the form of a diary kept for about a year by Gerard Philey, a teacher from Walsall, near Birmingham. Except that this is the year, 1995, when he decides to break away from teaching disinclined teenagers modern languages in the local comprehensive. Armed with a modest amount of money, the ability to speak three languages fluently and no plans, he decides to go to Europe. What transpires is a sometimes shocking, always surprising account of what he discovers there, and how he decides to embrace life whatever it holds. As it is written in Gerard’s own voice, I gained a real insight into what life was like in Amsterdam in the mid Nineties for a sometimes bewildered, always affable young man who has a real zest for life in all its strangeness.

Amsterdam is a place of dubious activities, on the edge of legality, and Gerard’s relative naivety often gets him into trouble. He frequently asserts that the Dutch are not easily embarrassed, or really shocked by anything much. He makes friends, meets lovers and does a lot of exercise, while living what transpires to be the Red Light Area in all its openness. He becomes accustomed to the sex industry in all its popularity, and indeed becomes the manager of a thriving sex shop. This is not a book of details, but there are factual observations on the behaviour of the women and men Gerard encounters, and their open attitudes in comparison with what he was used to in Britain. In a way this is a book about friendship, as Gerard meets and makes good friends, especially Frank, a German gay man who helps him finds work, accommodation and much more. Gerard is definitely more interested in women, and his calmness and reluctance to hurt anyone’s feelings means that he is aware how his relationships are fair from ideal. His visits to other European countries are very brief, but there is much to enjoy in his picture of Amsterdam.

This is essentially a light-hearted book which I genuinely enjoyed. It flowed well in its diary format, and it was very easy to decide to read on. Gerard is a warm character who gets himself into tricky circumstances, but emerges as a caring friend, particularly to Frank. The contrast between his old life and present adventures frequently occurs to him, and makes for a fascinating element of the novel. While the tone is often gently bewildered, there is also a poignancy to this book, when Gerard is genuinely concerned for others. Some of the characters may seem to be on the edge of reality, while others are recognisable from real life. All the characters, people, in this lively novel are well drawn and three dimensional, even if some are destined to only have a small role in the story. There is an underlying plot, and it is fascinating to see how it works out. I enjoyed reading this book, it has an interesting setting and the time period, before mobile phones and in the early days of the internet confused the issue. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel, which I found very enjoyable.

Folly Ditch by Anna Sayburn Lane – Helen Oddfellow in a hunt for a Dickens’ character and a dangerous situation

Folly Ditch by Anna Sayburn Lane

Helen Oddfellow has a talent for spotting literary links that no one else has seen for many years – but in this novel she also has a tendency to get into trouble. In this fourth Helen Oddfellow Mystery she thinks she may have found Dickens’ Nancy, but she may also have found a link to an old enemy. This book works well as a standalone thriller mystery as well as updating fans of the literary researcher on her latest adventures. Once again, I am very grateful for the opportunity to discover more of the world of a literary detective, combined with a vivid treatment of a contemporary issue. In this book there is a brutal and chillingly relevant description of people trafficking and those who benefit from the “debt slave” conditions that is part of the industry. I found it to be a genuine simmering thriller of the best sort where various characters are focused on and their motivation revealed.

In addition to Helen, whose discovery of an old book and cutting propels her into an archive search, Nick, a resourceful investigative journalist is looking into an extreme group which is fiercely opposed to immigration in all its forms. The self-appointed members of the Patriot group turn out to be a violent mob, and Nick and his contacts are kept busy trying to discover what is truly going on. Both Helen and Nick are dismayed to see that Gary Paxton has been released from prison, as both bear scars of his previous crimes and their confrontations with him. Helen is also getting fed up with her single life, and is concerned that her academic job is on the line when she is summoned to see the new head of department at the University, Emmanuel Brown. Instead, she is dispatched to Rochester to help at a Reception for potential donors at a new Dickens exhibition. As Dickens is one of the subjects of her London walks, she is keen to see the exhibition. It is when she buys an old book at a strange bookshop that she is set on the trail of one of the best-known characters from Oliver Twist, the doomed Nancy. Her research in the potential inspiration for the character gives her academic research a boost. She also appears to have attracted the attention of an admirer who shares her curiosity about Dickens, even though he is not really a reader. A return to the bookshop in Rochester seems to spark off a chain of events which will test many characters.

I enjoy the Oddfellow books because of their clever combination of literary mystery with a thriller type plot. There is a certain amount of violence which is in keeping with the tough themes that Anna likes to tackle in her novels. Not that I have to be a literary expert to appreciate the importance of the discoveries that Helen makes in the novels, just to know that in the case of classic authors the discovery of a new insight into their lives or work would be hot news. Helen has also developed as a character through the novels, though her willingness to become involved in potentially dangerous situations and her curiosity seems undimmed. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel on so many levels, as a contemporary thriller and a literary search as well as a well plotted novel. I recommend it to anyone in search of a good read with a contemporary theme and literary aspects with fascinating characters.

Small Angels by Lauren Owen -an atmospheric novel of supernatural power of the past in the present

Small Angels by Lauren Owen

The woods, in this enthralling and mysterious book, are alive. The past has returned despite all the efforts of those who know, and those who fear. This book is full of the power of the past, those who were wronged many years before, having to be placated. It is the story of preparing for a wedding solidly in the twenty first century, but it remembers old stories amongst tales of spiritual sisterhood. In a positive way it is a disturbing read, full of things seen out of the corner of the eye, felt more than seen, heard where they should not be. At the centre is a bride to be, Chloe, a relative stranger to the village, logical, determined and confident. Except that from the moment she hears a half story related in a pub, from the time she turns the key in the church of Small Angels, she feels that there is more to clear away than dust and neglect. That her perfect wedding and reception threatens something, someone in the woods, in the church, in the isolated Rose Cottage, and that who ever knows about it has not told her, dare not tell her. It is not only in the church, or the woods, but is a largely silent force that threatens everything.

This superbly atmospheric book is based on the near supernatural element of unwalked woods and the bounds between siblings. The story moves its focus between sisters and a grandmother who knows about the danger Mockbegger Woods pose, and who tries to strictly enforce a way of life on her grandchildren which she hopes will protect them and the villagers.  It is a well-constructed book that keeps the reader guessing with its vivid descriptions of rituals, stories and a girl that questions everything. It does not run along straight lines as befits its subject matter; different voices interrupt, remember, tell stories. The first section is called “Mockbeggar”, how it was, is important to tell stories to the trees, how they keep the stories, take a keen interest in the activities of those who enter its confusing paths. The story of a young man emerges that has a violent, brutal theme, of betrayal and fear. The woods have taken an interest in this man, this child as he grew, and how a family is set aside to remember and placate him. When this situation is challenged by Chloe as she prepares for her wedding, there must be a reckoning of age-old forces.

This book represents many excellent qualities. The writing has real depth and texture, as it takes realistic contemporary actions and casts them into the light of age-old threats, of noises outside doors, of plants that grow suddenly and dangerously, and unspeakable fears. It made me feel as if I was in the wood, apparently harmless, but liable to trap and grab at the unwary. The characters are extremely well written: Chloe’s mixture of confused determination, Kate’s quiet determination and Lucia’s eternal questioning. This is a book that enters the consciousness of the reader at a deep level, and perhaps disturbs sleep. I found it hard to put down on some levels, as I was keen to discover what happens next. The plot is difficult to describe without spoiling the surprises but is absorbing. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable novel and recommend it to those who enjoy a very different read.    

The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul – a novel of the women of Jazz Age New York, featuring Dorothy Parker and her circle

The Manhattan Girls by Gill Paul

A novel set in New York City in 1921 would be interesting – when it features Dorothy Parker in all her wit and reality together with the women around her, it is fascinating. In Gill Paul’s latest novel where she takes real women and weaves a convincing piece of fiction around them, Dorothy becomes Dottie, a woman who needs the support of others as she plunges from relationship to desperate state and creative blur and back again. Not that those around her are quiet and lacking in fame and achievement. Jane Grant was the determined first female reporter for the New York Times and passionately working towards founding a new Magazine. Peggy Leech worked on a magazine and her brilliant novels. Winifred Lenihan was a talented actress on Broadway who met with challenges because of her beauty. All these women live, laugh and work hard in this memorable and enjoyable novel which celebrates their relationship despite the pressures each felt in breaking with rules and expectations in a fast moving world. This is a world of Prohibition but where alcohol could be bought, made and enjoyed everywhere, where women faced age old problems of discrimination and vulnerability in new guises, where romance, passion and marriage were not always easy. It is a very enjoyable book as the focus moves from woman to woman for each chapter, revealing their thoughts and ambitions, their disappointments and challenges. It is a novel of friendship and support, gossip and achievement, where Dottie is capable of dry wit and humour in her worst moments as she struggles with her capacity for attachment. It is a novel of the Jazz Age when women had great opportunities and yet discover the world is still against them in so many ways. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent book.

As with Paul’s other novels, she has obviously done a lot of research into the lives of her subjects and made much of the facts that she discovered. In the back of the novel, she mentions how she moved and manipulated the biographical timelines of Dorothy’s life in particular in order to explain her known struggles with mental health, and paraphrased and gave settings for some of her best known quips. Exactly what motivated each woman at each stage is looked at in terms of the widely known facts about their achievements and marriages. Paul also looks at those around them, including the famous playwrights, journalists and writers that were known to them.

This is a book which deals with a very active time in the woman’s lives, when they were pursuing their ambitions despite some of the people around them who intentionally or otherwise put-up blocks to their progress. All of them went on to have an impact in some respect, so the piece at the end of the novel that outlines what happened next is especially valuable.  It is not a time and place I know a lot about, but I gradually learnt a lot about the time and in particular how women lived in the atmosphere of changing values and challenges. Dorothy especially is seen as vulnerable in unexpected ways, and yet none of the women however well meaning and supportive has it easy. I enjoyed reading about each woman from their own perspective, as they discovered the truth about the people around them. Marriage was a goal in some respects, but it was no guarantee of happiness or success. Winifred’s story, in particular, was a revelation, with considerable implications for women’s lives today. Altogether this is a very exciting and interesting book which I thoroughly recommend as giving a voice to women in a specific time and place which has echoes for life in the twenty first century.

Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders by Mick Finlay -an historical mystery thriller set in late Victorian London

Arrowood and the Meeting House Murders by Mick Finlay

It is a bitter winter in 1896 and a cold and brutal time in London for William Arrowood for this fourth murder mystery. As ever, the story is narrated by the faithful, resourceful and loyal Norman Barnett, whose insight into the situations they face may not be as incisive as “the guvnor”, but who is very useful in a fight.  As in the previous books, this is not genteel Victorian life and subtle criminal enquiries, but a dirty and basic city where women, men and children had very little, and survival was often the only priority. Some lived a little better, with money for treats and at Christmas time, outings. This is the setting for the job that Arrowood has taken on, to earn a few shillings. Two women and two babies live with him in a tangle of relationships resulting from the events as recorded in the previous novels, and there are other friendships and obligations that overlap into this book. It definitely works as a standalone book, with self-contained themes and events that make the most of the settings and memorable characters. I really enjoyed this book and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

This novel revolves around the arrival in London of a group of African travellers. They have been apparently brought by a showman, Bruno Capaldi, to become exhibits in his show of Wonders alongside other human curiosities. They have escaped from his control and are hiding in a Quaker Meeting House, where they have sought sanctuary. Mr Fowler, a leading Quaker, is concerned that they are in danger of discovery, and hires Arrowood and Barnett to guard them. Only one of the group speaks any English, and it becomes apparent that they are concealing secrets. When an attack happens, Detective Inspector Napper is brought in, and despite the publicity surrounding the murders, he is forced to ask Arrowood for help in discovering what is really going on. Arrowood agrees with the prospect of reward as well as concern for the people who are apparently adrift in a dangerous city. He is also mindful of his need to help support his wife Isabel and sister Ettie, especially when their babies become ill. Being a Private Investigator will call on all his skills as an investigator, as well as encountering the sheer physical challenges of London life.

As ever this book is vivid and full of detail, an immersive read of realistic characters who are introduced and maintained with careful detail. There is an immense amount of research behind this book in order to make the streets of London come so alive, and there is real skill in blending in all the details so they become natural. There is real depth to this novel, as alongside the main mystery there are subplots of Arrowood’s complicated family arrangements and Barnett’s own feelings, as well as other friends such as Lewis and Willoughby. This book also poses questions of the nature of Britain’s colonial behaviour and what happens when those native people affected rebel or come to Britain. I found it offered fascinating insights into a world where people with visible differences were put on display, and the effects that would have. This novel opens a world of realities of late Victorian life that are not always the subject of historical fiction. I recommend this book, and indeed others from the series, as gripping and enthralling novels of London life and rewarding mysteries.   

The Falcon’s Eyes by Francesca Stanfill – a big historical novel of a woman’s life in the twelfth century

The Falcon’s Eyes by Francesca Stanfill

Anyone who enjoys their historical fiction books minutely detailed, impeccably researched and with a real sense of “being there” will appreciate this big book from Francesca Stanfill. It is a totally absorbing book set at the end of the twelfth century, a turbulent time of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and challenging royal politics which affected the great families of both France and England. It is written from the point of view of Isabelle, a young woman whose love of stories, curiosity about the world and desire for more than a domestic life propels her and indeed the story through this meticulously written novel. Isabelle explains everything carefully from her perspective; her relatively comfortable childhood with its challenges and her great love for certain relatives, her surprise marriage and its difficulties within it, the repercussions of certain decisions she takes which places her in a unique position regarding a remarkable queen. Along the way the novel reveals the importance of clothes to create an effect, the precious nature of objects from the past, and the details of such things as falconry. It is a studied book of the beliefs and passions of the time, the expectations laid on women, the near absolute local power of aristocracy over lives. It is a subtle book of life on a non melodramatic basis, of the emergence of feelings, the insights that a woman gains into those around her, and the acceptance of new challenges. It is a totally immersive read, one which I enjoyed greatly, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review. 

This is a book which really captures the sense of being a woman in mediaeval times. Set in what is now France, this is a novel which deals in the emotions and feelings of Isabelle from her earliest times. It begins with a Prologue set in Fontevraud Abbey in 1204, and the death of Eleanor, a politically involved queen who had inherited the duchy of Aquitaine as a child. Her life as first the wife of a king of France, followed by her marriage to Henry ll, had been eventful, prolific in terms of children, and dominated by her support of her children against their father. It is obvious that she has been close to Isabelle and has entrusted many of her final secrets to her. Exactly how Isabelle, born in a family without political influence or particular financial status, became the companion of a powerful queen, is the main story of the book. Her progress, standing against those who criticised and took action against her, provides the main impetus of the novel. 

This is a novel written with real passion and involvement. Its minute detail and realisation contributes to a story of enormous depth which I found totally absorbing. The writing is memorable for its careful examination of a young woman’s thoughts and feelings, and I found a lot of sympathy for her as she experienced and remembered such figures in her life as a beloved grandfather and a special female friend, partly for their individual approach to life and their love of learning. This book is a special reading experience which I enjoyed greatly, especially for its thoughtful examination of what an unusual woman had to cope with in a complex time. I recommend it as a powerful read.  

Crook O’Lune by E.C.R. Lorac – a rural Lancashire Mystery from 1953 reprinted in the British Library Crime Classics series

Crook O’Lune by E.C.R. Lorac 

This book is subtitled “A Lancashire Mystery”, which is highly suitable for a book which reveals in its setting, making the most of the distinctive and largely deserted Lune Valley. It is written with the affection, detail and knowledge that distinguishes writing by an author who really knows an area. This is the sometimes bleak, challenging land of hill country in which farming and life is tough, known only by locals in all its ways. It is set in Lancaster, but as far away from the industrial areas as it is possible. While this excellent novel was originally published in 1953, its recent reprint in the British Library Crime Classics series has not only made it available once more, but also meant the addition of a fascinating Introduction by Martin Edwards, which details his visit to the area to see the hostelry and much else which remains. He also details the overlap between the families and characters who have been the inspiration for the novel, as well as the local stories. It is a very enjoyable story that I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review. 

The characters that people this story are also given far more depth than is often the case in a mystery novel. While most of the story is told from Lorac’s recurring character Chief Inspector Macdonald’s perspective, the first three chapters are given over to the newly arrived in the area, Gilbert Woolfall. He has just inherited Aikengill house on which most of the story is centred. He lives and works in a city, but like many others, is entranced by the house and area in which it is placed. He is beginning to make up his mind to move there, though with no view to actually farming the sheep which are the reason for people to be there, the only real produce of the hilly ground. Thus he encounters the local characters alongside the reader; the farmer who rents the land, the housekeeper who is finding it hard to move on, and especially the local priest who is a joyless, somewhat bitter man. The Rector, Mr Tupper, feels his grievances deeply and turns up at the house to express his annoyance that the late Thomas Woolfall, Gilbert’s uncle, did not leave a bequest to benefit the church or his stipend. It is patiently explained to him that Thomas had not only remodelled the house but also spent years going through old papers which set out that earlier Woolfalls had left historic bequests to ensure a clergy presence in the immediate area and a school. When Macdonald turns up to spend a holiday with his good friends the Hoggetts, he hears of the dispute among other local gossip. Macdonald is thinking of investing his own inheritance in a farm in the area when he has finished working for the police in London. He is inspired to help investigate a local mystery of sheep stealing, but it is when Aikengill house is set alight with fatal consequences that Macdonald really gets involved. Fortunately he is able to tackle the walks and climbs that are involved in the unforgiving landscape,as local loyalties and actions come under suspicion.

I really enjoyed this book, even though I am no farmer or rural dweller, but it is so vividly described that I could almost visualise the places mentioned. This book benefits not so much from research as experience of its setting, while the characters are well introduced and maintained in their variety and depth. The plot is clever and exciting, as figures that ought to be clear in such a deserted landscape appear unexpectedly. There is a good postwar atmosphere to the book, even though most of the inhabitants would not have had much direct experience of the War’s effects. It is a book that kept my attention throughout and I really enjoyed, and I would accordingly recommend this reprinted gem from a talented and entertaining author.   

Green Money by D. E. Stevenson – an entertaining 1939 novel reprinted by Dean Street Press in the excellent Furrowed Middlebrow series

Green Money by D.E. Stevenson

This is a gentle comedy featuring some genuinely funny characters, some of whose innocence nearly proves their downfall. First published in 1939, this book is now available in various formats from the Furrowed Middlebrow and Dean Street Press as part of their excellent reprint series. It is a novel of its time – set well after the First World War but with memories for some of past friendships forged in difficult circumstances, and written before the shadow of a new catastrophe overcame everyone. The main character is a young man, George Ferrier, who is delightful in his optimism and good nature. Those around him who have an impact on his life can find no malice in him; he simply just wants everyone to be happy. His ability to have adventures is wonderful, as he rescues, restores and tries his hardest to do the right thing. Fortunately he has his unpredictable Irish mother Paddy and his quiet and thoughtful father firmly on his side, who support his endeavours even when they are not sure what he is doing. As the quiet theme of romance continues beneath the surface, George must deal with many challenges – and his good humour makes for excellent reading. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this very enjoyable book. 

The novel is mainly concerned with George’s surprise assumption of a responsibility that he calmly expects not to be too onerous in the short term. While coming to the end of a short holiday in London, he accidentally encounters a man who proves to be an old comrade of his father. Mr Green is much taken with the young man, and immediately declares that he is the ideal person to be a trustee, in the event of his death, for his daughter Elma. Elma proves to have lived a very sheltered life with a memorable governess, Miss Wilson, who is habitually “full of the most frightful forebodings”. Not that there is any question of George having to assume any responsibility for her soon; Mr Green, who is very wealthy, intends to live for some time. When he does indeed die suddenly, George is cheered by the £500 he looks to gain, but daunted by the businessman who assure him that they will handle all financial matters for the estate. Not that George wants the money for himself, as he speedily buys a present for his much loved mother. Unable to shake the convention that some sharp practice is depriving the estate of some money, he decides to introduce himself to Elma and serve her best interests in person. As he makes her known to his good friend Peter and his sister Cathy, there begins a build up of drama that will have its very funny moments. 

The plot of this book has elements of farce in its misunderstandings, activities and events, and its tremendous set of characters who are variously determined, laid back, accepting, naive, anxious and always entertaining. The settings, from the slightly bewildering streets of London to a green countryside of horses, dogs and walks are beautifully written, but there is a standout trick of describing a hotel from its own prospectus, where everything is of the best. It is undoubtedly the characters which make this book become truly alive; relatable, amusing and always entertaining. This is a book that I greatly enjoyed and really recommend to anyone who enjoys a read from a slightly different time with characters we may well recognise from our own experience.     

The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. Maclean – A vivid and exciting novel of the Jacobite cause and the people who remembered

The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. Maclean

This is a historical novel that grabbed my attention and didn’t let it go until the final page and conclusion. Set in Inverness of 1752, six years after the battle of Culloden and a severe blow to the Jacobite cause and the supporters of King James. I am no expert in this period of history, but I do know Inverness and indeed the bookshop that in part inspired this excellent novel. Everything I needed to know is in this book about the lingering resentment against the Hanoverian forces who not only savagely defeated men on the battlefield but also ruthlessly pursued those who had supported them by vicious and brutal means. 

The book covers the story of some of those who continued to hope and work for the restoration of the “King Over the Water”, or who at least had suffered from the pursuit and execution of brave men and inflicted suffering on the women often left behind. It features the Grande Dames”, who in this novel are a small group of women who have lost loved ones in the fight, but who cherish hopes for the future. They are led by the redoubtable Mairi Farquharson, a remarkable woman who feels so real I was checking to see if she was an actual person. The main character, Iain MacGillivray, is a fascinating one, a relatively young man who not only remembers battle and the immediate aftermath, but also the appalling treatment of those who survived at the hands of the government forces. He is the bookseller, who goes to his shop and lives a life of memory, bitterness and limited pleasure. Those he knows, especially the bookbinder, Donald Mor and the mysterious Ishbel MacLeod are vivid and exciting characters with mysterious pasts and significant parts to play. It also includes a fascinating, somewhat reckless, character who is almost the stuff of legend. He is full of surprises and dominates many of the scenes in the book. 

There is a special atmosphere at the heart of this novel, both in the city and as the narrative leaves Inverness and shows the special places connected with the ongoing struggle. Some places bring back memories for Iain, vivid recollections of a childhood friend, while others are almost sacred but pressed into use from sheer necessity. At least one place seems full of the ghosts of those who have been killed, and the memories are almost part of Iain’s personality. 

This novel is made so alive by the fact that the author has been to all the places described, walked on the fields and explored the sites in which it is set. There is also so much research into the overlap with real events and people, but is so well blended in that it becomes a vivid part of the narrative. The city has obviously changed since 1752, but there is still the essence of the streets, the rooms and the buildings of the place that can be found in today’s Inverness. I truly enjoyed this novel, found it well paced and exciting to read, and I wish I could convey just how good it is to read. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book, and recommend it to those who love historical fiction with elements of mystery and thriller.