Still Life with a Vengeance by Jan Turk Petrie – a contemporary story of the price of fame

Still Life with a Vengeance by Jan Turk Petrie

Tension, emotion and the high price of fame all in one novel! This is a story of how quickly a life can unravel as a result of media pressure, and how trust within a relationship can be threatened. Eve’s story is of wealth and security on one hand, but also of secrets and potential lies on the other. This is a well constructed novel in which real suspense is created and maintained, as the main characters make discoveries and withstand shocks. The settings of a lovely house then a very natural place contrasts sharply and are beautifully described. The power of the rock star lifestyle, the money to buy whatever is desired immediately, is shown as bringing its cost in terms of celebrity and fame at the most difficult times in life. Eve’s life has had its challenges, and she has always been loyal to Nick, but now everything is put under stress. This author in her previous books has managed to create so much story out of everyday detail,and in this novel the small incidents add up to a sense of reality in a contemporary story of love, confusion and so much more. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this vivid and engaging book. 

As this novel begins, Eve is trying to make her beautifully styled home less perfect. After exhausting other possibilities, she is applying with her husband Nick to adopt a child, and she is trying to make a good impression on a visitor who is charged with assessing their suitability. Their discussion recalls their meeting and early relationship, when Nick noticed Eve and followed her to her house with the yellow door, a fact enshrined in one of his most popular songs with his group “Twin Barrels”. They both work hard to present a unified front, and most of the time Eve is happy with the relationship, with the home she has rebuilt, a horse to ride and local friends. When a disturbing report emerges that Nick and his band are being accused of attacking a German woman in a club during a tour several years before while on tour, her first instinct is to protest his innocence. Social media and other news outlets are not so sympathetic however, and within hours the band is being condemned on all sides. As most of the group assemble at the house, it begins to sink in that their songs are not being played, their tour is cancelled and they could lose everything. Despite employing security guards and taking all kinds of advice, Eve and Nick’s peace is thoroughly shattered, and Eve loses all hope of ever being allowed to adopt. Will her relationship survive as more shattering facts become clear, and can she ever regain trust in anyone?

This book features some very beautiful descriptions of a place which provides Eve with a new perspective despite everything. I enjoyed this book for its twists and turns, its surprises and revelations. Eve’s reactions to what is happening in her world are so well captured, as events beyond her control seem to impact on everything. I admire this author’s ability to create so much emotion from the little details, and her ambition in maintaining characters that I came to care about. This book provides interesting insight into the power of the media in a complex world to affect real lives, and I recommend it as a really engaging read.       

Running Behind Time by Jan Turk Petrie – a wrinkle in time causes issues for Tom and Beth

Running Behind Time by Jan Turk Petrie

Sometimes I find a book that is so compelling that you finish it one sitting – despite the hour. This is one of them. I found this time travel story so fascinating that I was desperate to find out what happened next. Not only was I totally caught up in the story of Beth Sawyer in 1982 and Tom Brookes in 2020, but it left me thinking about some of the themes examined in this wonderful novel. What is it about the times we live in that is so different from forty years ago? Tom is a man who has returned to live with his mother to sit out the pandemic while furloughed, defined by his lack of work, living in a cottage in a small village. Beth is watching an eclipse, feeling that it is a momentous event, aware that it portends change in the July of 1982. Forty years separates them. It is only when an extraordinary set of circumstances come together that they get a glimpse of another world, of different priorities and possibilities, and an encounter that will shape their lives. In a book which immerses the reader in two different time periods, questions are asked about what has changed, and what are the implications for hindsight. I found it a really good novel, and was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.  

Tom is spending his time walking in the countryside, covering considerable distances. His mother spends her time cooking and listening to Classic FM, and is taken aback when he tells her that he is going to travel to London to see a friend about work. She points out that in July 2020 travelling on a train poses a risk, that he will have to cover his face, that when he comes back he will have to stay downstairs, mindful of the risk of spreading the virus to her. Certainly when he gets onto the train he obeys the rules of sitting a distance from others, wearing his scarf in a “desperado” fashion. When everything changes he is appalled that people are crowding around, with no masks in sight, and openly smoking. Beth is a young actress who has just landed a part in a play in a small theatre, and to please the rather pretentious director decides to spend her day off dressed and speaking like her character. This adds to the confusion when her circumstances change, as she is not wearing her usual comfortable clothing, and confuses those around her even more.

There are many clever plot points in this book, but it is also possible to admire it for the casual references to life in the two time periods such as the cars, the music and of course the mobile phones. There is a lot of humour amid the confusion, such as the influence of local gossip, the problems of clothes, and the small details of daily life which are confusing, such as phone boxes. It is in some ways a disconcerting read, or fantasy, but it is grounded in such practical settings that it is perhaps a little unsettling in a good way. I was impressed at how quickly the characters pick up on the new normal in a pandemic, such as the rules about masks and social distancing, and how defining they have become within such a short time. I thoroughly recommend this book for those interested in how this time may be seen, and how the difference of time can affect our views of life.

The Truth in a Lie by Jan Turk Petrie – Contemporary relationships in all their complexity

The Truth in a Lie by Jan Turk Petrie


Contemporary relationships can be complex, and families have secrets which go back over many years. This subtle and intelligent book takes a situation that many of us can understand, the illness of a parent, a nightmare journey in appalling weather, and a desire to discover something of the past. Charlotte is a writer, keen to grasp at the truth and aware that she has had difficult relationships in the past. That is not only the obvious situation with Michael, but also with Duncan, her ex husband, and her mother. Her most worrying relationship is with Kate, her daughter, as she is aware that her own instability is having a marked effect on Kate’s studies. This is a remarkable book as the author is so good at the little details, the food and drink, the furniture of various rooms, even the quality of light. The dialogue is also convincing, as it effectively reveals much about the person speaking, their attitudes and their relationships. I have been fortunate enough to read two of Petrie’s other novels, both set in the mid twentieth century, and have admired her ability to create a sense of place and time. I am impressed that her skill at setting the place and sense of people has translated to a contemporary novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 


This book begins in London 2018, as Charlotte moves out of the house that she and Kate have shared with Michael. While it has been a relatively amicable break up, Charlotte is aware that she is walking away from a significant part of her life, and making a new start in a very different home. When Duncan turns up she is thrown, but not only by his arrival, as the call comes through from the hospital that her mother is very ill. The description of waiting in the hospital is so accurate, and what subsequently happens is so believable, that it makes the rest of the book really powerful. The way that relationships emerge, old secrets brought out and new perspectives are created shows that this is a  cleverly constructed narrative that has much to say about Charlotte’s relationship with her mother, who it appears has a more complex background than was first apparent. Charlotte feels that she needs to find out what went on, and the writer’s imagination means that she can more than hazard a guess at some of the pressures on the woman she remembers from growing up. Her own relationship with Kate is dominated by an urge to protect, to  allow her freedom. There are some surprises to come, but they are all totally realistic, and emerge from the rest of the narrative. 


I found this an engaging story with so many aspects of life that are realistic and well realised. The character of Charlotte is so realistic as she narrates her story, noticing the small things as well as the dramatic moments. This is a book that I feel accurately portrays the complexities of modern relationships and life, and I recommend it as a solid engaging read.    


As I said above, this is the third of Petrie’s books that I have read, and I must say that I am a fan! I wondered about a historical novelist turning to a contemporary story, but I found this book so compelling that I finished it in two sittings. I think that the author only finished this book during lockdown, so I am hoping that she is already coming up with a new idea!

Towards the Vanishing Point by Jan Turk Petrie – women’s choices in mid twentieth century Britain

Towards the Vanishing Point by Jan Turk Petrie


The power of friendship is often the subject of novels; rarely is it so wrapped up in the plot that it powers much of the believable tension throughout the book. Beginning in 1938 with two small girls forming a friendship that will last for many years, it is a dominant theme which runs through a book with immense atmosphere and an appreciation for setting that makes it an excellent read. The author has created characters who linger in the mind in all their nuances and behaviour. Not that they are fixed; the wartime setting affects the relationships of many young people in terms of love and loss. Another theme is domestic violence, proving that it is not only a modern problem but that it has afflicted women and men for many years. This novel is a strong witness to the loyalty of friends in challenging times, and the way that families affect relationships in a small area. Beautifully descriptive and intense, this is a well paced and well written book. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent historical novel.


The book is largely set in the North of England, where two small girls are partners in a three legged race. Stella is determined to win, but Lily eventually realises that winning is important, learning from her more confident friend. They discover a book which will shade their view of relationships for years; growing up is very much presented as a time of learning. As the bombs fall in 1941, the slightly older Lily hears gossip about women and babies which shocks and leaves her with a view of women’s life. Another scene is later in the war when the two young women meet airmen who are actually fighting in the battles which were so important to the country, with two different outcomes. Stella’s life is transformed by that night, leaving her with decisions and responsibility that she has never previously imagined. Lily’s meeting will end differently, and also change her life for a long time.  


As the two young women’s families leave them with different circumstances, the story of Will Bagshaw emerges. His second wife has just died in slightly suspicious circumstances, and he soon fixes his attention on Lily, who has felt left out. This meeting and subsequent events tests the friendship between the young women, but what will be the outcome of this complex situation?


This is a mature book which looks carefully at the variability of relationships against a background of war and peace, with questions of love in various forms. Women’s lives are thoughtfully examined, as they respond to the problems of life in a society which has been permanently changed by war. The buildings, the houses that the people live in, are brilliantly described, the ways that people live respectable lives in the shadow of change, are so well realised. This is a novel of people in a very detailed way, but also of place. The particular events of the book, the increase of tension, the way the action evolves, only takes place because of the nature of the houses, the way people live, and the build up to the suspenseful ending. I enjoyed the style and plot of this book, a slow burner, with a pace that allows for the development of character. A remarkable book which has a fine plot, it is recommended to many fans of historical fiction set in the mid twentieth century.      


 This is a fairly quick read, if only because the suspense towards the end of the book is terrific. Staying in at the moment means I am tackling a lot of books, but not necessarily finishing them! Mind you, “The Other Bennett Sister” by Janice Hadlow is so big and so carefully written that it takes a long time to read, but it is the perfect dependable distraction. I do have rather a soft spot for Pride and Prejudice sequels and associated books, and I am enjoying it, but so far no major revelations! 

Too Many Heroes by Jan Turk Petrie – a post war thriller with real impact


In 1952 Britain was still a disturbed place, with criminal interests, wartime mistakes and social pressures. This thriller brilliantly immerses the reader in a post war world through the eyes of Frank, who has several guilty secrets. As he does temporary jobs and leaves suddenly, he seems resigned to living a life on the move, with hints of his past. This world is typified by dirty side streets, smoke filled pubs and dubious characters. The summer heat is relentless in the centre of London as pennies are eked out for small treats, and a fake beach attracts so many. Relationships are somehow bitter and fearful. The research behind this book is impeccable and the realisation of the themes is so convincing as to draw in the reader, especially as the tension ratchets up with accusations of guilt forming a significant element of the book. As Frank moves around London it is almost as if a camera follows him, and Grace’s small actions contribute to a sense of her character. This is a book of deep feeling anchored in harsh circumstances, and the writing really made me care about the outcomes for the characters. I felt really involved in this narrative, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.


The book opens in June 1942, when Frank is in the rear turret of a British bomber plane. While returning from a raid, the plane is hit and everyone is in danger, and Frank is especially vulnerable in a nearly separate section of the aircraft. The plane is trying to land as the prologue length section ends. We next see Frank nearly ten years later, sleeping in a barn and working hard on a farm. He has changed his name and finds himself in conflict with a gamekeeper, who mysteriously suffers a life changing injury just as Frank chooses to move on. The scene moves to a house where Grace is dealing with her difficult mother. She resolves to return to London, despite her realisation that her husband’s letter asking her to return is less than genuine. Frank is working hard in a pub, running the bars as the landlord Dennis finds other things to do. When Grace returns to the pub they feel a mutual attraction, and amidst the shabby and grey rooms they inhabit they begin to act on it. Frank’s bravery and quick thinking draws attention to him in a not altogether positive way; he begins to think of disguises and varying his routine. As Dennis’ actions cause tension, it begins to feel that London is a dangerous place.


I found this book enthralling and exciting, as it drew me in to a time of threat and unfairness in contrast to the notion of a jolly peace time. The author’s undoubted ability to create an atmosphere of threat from in depth research, a sense of place and a true understanding of character makes this a memorable read. The plot is well worked out and holds together in all details. I enjoyed the character of Grace particularly as she comes to realise the truth of her situation. This book dispels some of the illusions of a positive post war society, and I enjoyed its honesty. I recommend this to all fans of thrillers with real human characters in a historical setting.