A Case of Royal Blackmail by Sherlock Holmes – a young Sherlock discovers some of his powers

A Case of Royal Blackmail by Sherlock Holmes

So it would appear that Sherlock Holmes wrote down an account of his first cases from before even Dr John Watson was on the scene. This lively account of various, and possibly intertwined, cases is a fast moving story narrated by the great man himself, combining his developing detection skills, his rapidly widening knowledge of the Artistic London set, and his already exhaustive knowledge of the highways and byways of late Victorian life. This is not the semi recumbent Holmes who is capable of long days of thought and addictive haze as enshrined in the Watson narratives but a young man of twenty-four eager to increase his knowledge of the world and definitely able to look after himself in nearly every variety of physical encounter. This is a man who is adopting disguises, handing his card over to potential sources of information and more, and making imaginative leaps of deduction. Fingerprint technology is in its infancy and graphology, or the study of handwriting, is still a novelty. This is a book of mysteries without gory murders or serious crime in the obvious sense, and the royal involvement is well handled. 

I really enjoyed this book which in some ways barely pauses for breath in its headlong pursuit of truth or at least an expedient answer. London in 1879 is a fascinating place in this book with more than its fair share of street criminals, but it is paced out in neat minutes, dangers and a variety of atmospheres. There are some amazing characters, from aristocracy, independent women and even an endearing street urchin immediately named Wiggins by a benevolent Holmes. Much faster moving and somehow lighter than many canonical Sherlock stories, this is a real gem of a book which I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review.  

The book opens with Sherlock recalling from a distance of five months the beginning of a month-long case on the first day of a sweltering hot July in London. As he goes through a London park he notices a crowd drawn by Frank Connell, “a well-known confidence trickster and illegal bookmaker” who is whipping up a crowd with anti-monarchy rhetoric. Seizing the megaphone Holmes greets the aggressive crowd with “Good anarchists of Marylebone, you have been misled.” This Sherlock knows how to handle a crowd, as well as the aggressive individuals in the vicinity. He is hastening back to his lodging with his sort of Cousin Sara, because he has appointment to host no less than the young Oscar Wilde, whose loss of a heirloom tie pin grants Sherlock not only a tidy guinea a day employment but also introductions into the artistic community of painters, actors and others who will help with the main case that Sherlock is engaged in at the same time. The narrative often digresses into a study of London, its noises, smells and sights which permeate the story. This is a London of horses, pickpockets, dark alleys where it is unwise to tread, as  wealthy people of slender reputation and questionable morals. Sherlock is consulted by a royal solicitor, George Lewis, whose chief client is Edward, Prince of Wales, known as Bertie and infamous for his many affairs. A blackmail letter sets Sherlock on the trail of handwriting, stationary and the “scandal press” in the hunt for a mysterious correspondent.

I really appreciated the level of research that has gone into this novel, which is apparently endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate. The small details of London life are well explored which speaks of enormous research which is never intrusive. The spirit of the original stories is preserved well, with the bonus of an energy that is quite irresistible. The characters, ranging from actresses and models, journalists and gossip collectors, to brother Mycroft in his club are all well introduced and described. I recommend this book to Sherlock enthusiasts who will appreciate its clever narrative and the hints of what is to come in the Sherlock stories.  

The Governess by Wendy Holden – the story of a woman trying to live her own life alongside a royal progress.

The Governess by Wendy Holden, 

Marion Crawford became governess to the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret in 1933. She was not an obvious choice; her background was unconnected to high society and she had left wing sympathies. In this fictionalised account of her life Marion is a strong willed young woman who wants to make difference, and probably did in an unexpected way. Marion, or “Crawfie, is apparently not mentioned much in the official accounts of the royal family’s life, as she was seen to have betrayed their privacy by writing her own story. This is how the author starts this intense novel, with an elderly woman waiting for a sign that she is important to the two women she devoted her life to for so many years. At one point she says to the young Margaret “I sacrificed my happy days for you, you see.”, and much of this book is about her choices being affected by others.

 The story is about national events from Marion’s perspective, an insider but never truly on the real inside when trouble arose. This is a well researched novel which takes a particular line of narrative which blends assumptions with objective history. It makes no claim to be a documentary, and some of the story may be inaccurate, but overall this is a novel which is secure in its settings and makes sense of some grey areas. It is the story of a strong woman who is determined to ensure that two girls would have contact with a world beyond the palace walls. Marion’s desire for her own life conflicts with what is perhaps the greater need of a girl destined to be queen, and the events which shaped her. This is a perceptive and intensely written novel of big events, human relationships and the reality of life in royal households at a significant time. 

At the beginning of Marion’s story she is an idealistic teaching student who finds a sharp contrast between the rarified atmosphere of a private boys’ school and the harsh nature of life in Scotland’s poorest slums. She is determined to make a difference, especially when she comes across Valentine, a student at Edinburgh university who has great ambitions to change the whole of society. She is seduced in several ways, as well trying to help Annie, a small girl in terrible poverty. Marion is persuaded to take a holiday job with the then Duchess of York’s sister, and is firmly persuaded to transfer to the Duke’s household. From there she is a witness to the inner workings of royalty, the personalities that led to an abdication and its effects. A time of war, the developing personalities of the girls and much else is explored in depth. 

There is another story of Marion’s own life and relationships alongside the royal progress, of a woman from a modest home, struggling to find the right clothes, the right words for dealing with unique situations. It is at once a personal story of daily life in an impractical world of protocol and tradition, as well as reflecting the remarkable people ranging from royal dressmakers to heads of state. There is loyalty, betrayal, affection and many different kinds of love. It is moving and powerful looking at a significant time from a specific point of view, a personal progress through an unusual life.I found it an enjoyable and intriguing  read.  I recommend it as a book with real depth for anyone interested in the life of a woman at the heart of affairs with an unusual perspective of the development of a queen.         

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn – a brilliant historical novel goes paperback!!

The Smallest Man | Book by Frances Quinn | Official Publisher Page | Simon  & Schuster UK

Last year I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing this lively and honest book narrated by a small man who finds himself involved in a civil war, meeting royalty in trouble and much more. Moving, funny and brilliantly written, I thought I would repost my review to celebrate the paperback publication. If you enjoy historical fiction, I think you will enjoy this special book.

The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn

Nat Davy realises something at the age of ten, in 1625. He is small, the size of a toddler, so much smaller than anyone else in the village of Oakham. He realises that he is not growing, and an encounter in a fairground convinces him that even magic will not help him. He will become known as “the smallest man in England”, and will be called far worse in this story which begins in the early part of the ill fated reign of Charles I. His life story is fictional, but has its roots in the real story of the small man, Jeffrey Hudson, who was court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria. Nat’s career and life was largely imposed upon him, but in this novel he is shown as making choices, exerting his determination, being a much bigger person than anyone else. He remembers his mother’s advice :” I want you to remember something, Nat. You’re small on the outside. But inside you’re as big as everyone else. You show people that and you won’t go far wrong in life”. This exquisite historical novel follows the fictional Nat as he finds himself in the unhappy retinue of a very young queen and discovers how he can encourage her, and as the country is tipped upside down how he can continue to help her. Love, despair, fear and hope are experienced through the eyes of a different sort of hero in this well written and plotted book I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The novel begins with the boy Nat striving to grow by any means, or at the very least proving his usefulness. He knows, as a result of his overhearing his parents, that he will never earn his keep, never help his father find enough money to support his drinking habit, never be big enough to be loved. His sudden arrival at court is terrifying, let alone leaving his beloved mother and younger, but bigger, brother, Sam. He becomes the darling of  a young woman whose husband’s loyalties are diverted to the Duke of Buckingham. Being the queen’s pet means that he lives well with food and clothing usually reserved for the extremely wealthy. He knows, however, that the weak and easily led king needs careful handling, as his quiet arrogance and vanity must be satisfied and channeled. Nat has his own enemies, those who label him as other, who taunt and bully a young man who happens to be very small. He must draw on a quiet friendship and his incredible determination to improve his position in a spectacular way. 

This is a very special book that handles the vast political upheaval of civil war from the point of view of one individual who has to try and reason for himself the risks and dangers of life in a country where alliances can change overnight. Nat’s story, as he recounts his tale of struggling to survive and understand love, is honestly told. I found this such an engaging book and Nat a wonderful character. The research is so well integrated into the story that it is a pleasure to read, and this story is a beautifully written story. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys an insight into a very different life, but one with many recognisable points.   

The Crooked Shore by Martin Edwards – a contemporary crime thriller set in the Lake District

The Crooked Shore by Martin Edwards

With suspicious deaths, cold cases and a sumptuous setting, Edwards’ latest novel is an impressive tale of relationships centred on the Lake District. This novel follows The Dungeon House, but works well as a stand alone with some well established characters. DCI Hannah Scarlett is a determined investigator, keen to increase her team to better find leads in the twenty year old disappearance of a young local woman. Ramona Smith had a reputation locally for a complex romantic life, and her mysterious fate has cast a destructive shadow over many lives. The investigation has sprung to life again with a new tragedy that could only happen on the Crooked Shore, a special place of particular danger. Hannah’s team must work hard to track down all the potential people who may know the truth of past events and contemporary dangers. With at least one murder already committed, the desperate search for the killer must speed up to prevent more deaths.

This intense novel is written with several strands of story. Hannah is obviously a skilled and experienced detective who is keen to get her team up to full strength, with the support of the new Police Commisioner, Kit Gleadall. The Prologue features an anonymous speaker confessing to the murder of Ramona Smith, and from that moment various characters are introduced who may well fulfill that role. Edwards is extremely able to introduce three dimensional characters with realistic attitudes and personal histories that weave in and out of the narrative. The establishment of the setting is well done, with the particular atmosphere of a town and countryside of historic significance. I enjoyed the writing immensely and was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent novel. 

Kingsley Melton is sitting on a bench overlooking the Crooked Shore. He is charged with selling luxury apartments at Strandbeck Manor, a difficult job for this man in his fifties, who has the air of one defeated by life. The appearance of a lone jogger barely attracts his attention, while Kingsley considers a sighting of a young man that he feels he has every reason to suspect of guilty dealings. Logan Prentice has spent time at a nursing home where Kinsley’s mother was a resident, and Kingsley believes him guilty of a crime there. While he contemplates this, the jogger becomes trapped in the sand in front of him and Kinsley can only look on in horror as the tide advances. Kingsley’s obsession with a woman who lives in an apartment in the manor comes to dominate his waking hours. It later emerges that the jogger possibly meant to end his life in an horrific way, following his father’s suicide exactly twenty years before. Gerry Lace had been the chief suspect in the disappearance of Ramona, an investigation led by the late Ben Kind. The death of his son, Darren Lace, on the beach provokes a reassessment of what really happened to Ramona, with implications for many people in the area. 

This novel has real depth as both the investigators and the investigated are seen with all their interrelated stories. It is a relatively small community in a contemporary world where rumours and theories of guilt are easily communicated. This is a thriller where time is of the essence as old wounds and new dangers emerge, and Edwards maintains the tension admirably throughout, building to an exciting climax. The characters are well drawn and realistic. The plot is complex as the investigation and action takes place in the present but is affected by the past. This is a well written novel which I found completely involving and intriguing. I recommend it strongly to those who enjoy a contemporary thriller with a strong sense of place and complex characters.   

Captivating the Cynical Earl by Catherine Tinley – a Regency novel of assumptions and discoveries

Captivating the Cynical Earl by Catherine Tinley 

Jack Beresford, the Earl of Hawkenden, is an enigma. Abandoned and ill treated as a child he has had to work hard to save his family’s fortunes since his abusive father’s death. The only other person he has had to confide in and share the burden with is his younger brother Tom. For years they have presented a united front to the world, now Tom has announced that he has contracted a speedy marriage to an unknown young woman. Jack is appalled, thinking the worst of a woman who has ensnared Tom, and when he believes that he sees her at an evening party, he waits until she is alone. Lady Cecily Thornhill is taken aback by his verbal attack, especially as she is not completely sure of the wisdom of her best friend Nell’s hasty marriage. Jack’s mistake preys on her mind as well as his when he realises that he has confronted the wrong woman. A small and unintentional house party forces all sorts of situations, realisations and revelations. 

This lively and well handled romantic novel set in the early Regency period contains some memorable characters. Drama and dialogue dominate this narrative of mutual misunderstandings. Jack is a character who is reluctant to express his true feelings; his tendency to overthink the motives of others leads him into lots of trouble. This is a carefully written and memorable novel of slow burning romance, which is special given that some of the characters almost believe that love has little place in marriage. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel. 

The book opens in March 1819 with Tom announcing to his elder brother Jack that he has recently got married. Jack is shocked and feels betrayed that in this most important decision Tom has not consulted him, not even told him. Meanwhile Cecily is worrying about her widowed mother’s financial state; while her guardian is sensible and generous, Lady Fanny Thornhill, Dowager Countess of Kingswood is light minded, extravagant and has had many affairs. Her ambitions for her only daughter mean that she is in London before the season properly begins, spending money they do not really have. Cecily is an attractive young woman who has a sense of responsibility as well as an interest in business affairs. When she encounters Jack she is definitely attracted to him, which makes his anger towards her feel even worse. Tom invites his new wife and her best friend Cecily to the hunting box, or relatively small house, Hazledene. Nell can now chaperon the unmarried Cecily, and it seems a good opportunity to assess their relationship. It is only when the stubborn Jack turns up with two friends that they realise that this will be an oppressively small place in which to stay, especially as it is filled with childhood memories for Jack. He is also fighting a strong attraction to Cecily, which conflicts directly with his intention to marry a woman simply to have an heir.  As time passes and local people get involved, the stress of proximity creates more drama and crisis within the complex relationships in the house.

This is a romance novel which brings up certain points about assumptions of men and women in relationships of the time. The setting, of a house in the country, is well drawn, so that the reader can visualise the place. I enjoyed reading this book with its well drawn characters, especially Cecily and Jack, with satisfying developments. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an uplifting historical romantic read.    

Welcome to Ferry Lane Market by Nicola May – a Cornish community with a warm atmosphere

Welcome to Ferry Lane Market by Nicola May 

Hartmouth in Cornwall is a special place. It is very special to thirty-three year old Kara Moon, where she lives at the centre of a small community. Her father runs the local ferry boat that enables locals and tourists to visit the market which runs two days a week, and when he was abandoned by Kara’s mother he was traumatised. Unwilling to leave her vulnerable father alone, Kara gave up her college place to study floristry; she still loves flowers and works long hours for a local florist. It is when she finally gives up on a long term boyfriend and throws him out of her home that she realises that she must make a new start. 

This is a lively novel of people in a setting of a close community which works well; the writing is sparkling and mature while the overall story is well constructed with some twists and turns. There is romance, but that is only one element of a story which celebrates family life, friendship and the need for adventure and new beginnings. There are some truly touching moments as well as some funny incidents, linked by lively dialogue. Kara and the other characters are well drawn, consistent and really come alive. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.

The book begins with Kara trying to cope with a difficult terrapin called Sid Vicious which belongs to her feckless boyfriend Jago.He is unemployed, obsessed with the Beatles and evidently a drain on Kara’s resources in every respect. This particular Friday she is going to take action with the support of her long term friend Star, who runs a shop in the village. It would seem that Kara is painfully aware of Jago’s failings, and begins to realise that she has taken too long to get rid of him. On her journey to where she knows he will be, she encounters her father’s assistant on the ferry, Billy Dillon, who despite being younger than Kara, has strong feelings for her. There are other people who have a real affection for Kara. Probably the closest is her grandfather, Harry, who lives with her father Joe. The shopkeepers and cafe owners are all happy to see her, and it is obvious that she is a local favourite. Finding herself living alone, her friend Star suggests that she takes in AirB&B guests, and in those first few weeks she meets some interesting people from various parts of the world. Her realisation that there is more of the world to discover may well come to some special climax when she is offered the opportunity of a lifetime – but will she take it?

This is a very special book which is optimistic in its tone, as there are some satisfying events, discoveries and revelations throughout. Kara is a well rounded character who is naturally popular and shows some very human traits. Her relationship with her family is realistic, including her sister who left to go to University and never returned to Hartmouth. This is an enjoyable book which I really recommend to anyone who likes contemporary fiction with romance and community life set in beautiful Cornwall, and adventures elsewhere.

The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach – A lively and timely look at the life of an older woman in London

The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach

Pru is the narrator of a contemporary story of relationships, memories and several surprises. As a narrator she is perhaps a little unreliable, and she is certainly quite overtaken by her emotions as she tries to cope with several domestic blows. As a seventy year old woman she has strong views on men, romance, her best friend and memories of the past; she wants love and friendship. Her children are in other countries with their own lives and show little interest in being in touch with her. Left on her own she becomes depressed and desperate, and when she sees a special black dress in a charity shop she buys it on impulse. She has mistakenly attended the wrong funeral at a busy crematorium, and this gives her an idea for an activity which offers hope as well filling time. 

This is a quietly ambitious novel in which a woman seems to break a lot of rules while trying to avoid dwelling in the past.  It has much to say about the changing nature of parts of London and lifestyle choices, seen through the eyes of an older woman. The writing is lively, the dialogue  is often sharp, and altogether it is a very quirky and memorable book. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The Prologue concerns Pru buying a black dress in a charity shop. An unusual find, it fits and suits her well, and it triggers an idea. She explains to the reader what is going on throughout the novel, but her questionable reliability means that she holds back on certain facts. Her first line is “It was a sort of madness.”, as she goes on to reveal that her husband of many years, Greg, has departed, leaving her to cope with an “insanely lonely” life in a “stagnant house with no other person to stir the air”. With her children abroad and having outgrown most of her friends, the only person she can turn to is Azra, a free spirit, a woman who seems to thrive on being unconventional. Formerly known as Linda, she lives in a small flat, apparently has unconventional relationships and has a unique dressing style. After Greg’s departure she urges Pru to take action and find a new relationship. She does not, however, suggest Pru’s plan to use her black dress; to attend the funerals of unknown women in order to get close to the new widower. Pru is aware it is a morally dubious enterprise, trying to establish a relationship with a recently bereaved man, and yet it becomes an occupation which largely consumes her. She looks for funeral notices in papers and chooses a service to attend. Her plan seems to have some success, unlike the rest of her life when she seems to be immobilised by her memories and grief and her husband’s desertion. As she ventures to risk more, there are many surprises to come in this unusual novel. 

This is a very readable book with some amazing characters. It is essentially contemporary, with some vivid descriptions of how members of families have different interpretations of the past, how areas of London change, and how people struggle to understand others. It presents a unique picture of life for an older woman left largely alone in later life, and a powerful story by a somewhat unreliable narrator. It is a memorable and important read with a great deal of impact, as well as some lively and funny moments. I recommend it as an insightful and timely novel.   

The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney – Introducing Alethea, a memorable young heroine

The Master of Measham Hall by Anna Abney

A wonderful historical novel set in the exciting period of the monarchy’s Restoration In 1665. It is the story of Alethea, a young woman standing alone in the face of plague, religious differences and discrimination against her gender. There are many strands in this book which are not all confined to history, especially the fear of illness, of others who are different, the treatment of women who are seen as incapable of independent action. Alethea is a strong character, who has to grow up fast and depend on her wits to survive in a turbulent time. She has a deep affection for her family, especially her disgraced brother William, who she is very close to, and even her younger step sisters occupy her thoughts. 

This is an ambitious novel which covers a great deal in a book of a reasonable length, which flows really well. The author has done a great deal of research into the history of the family that lived in a now missing house in Derbyshire, the time at which the novel is set, and even the clothes and estate management of the period. This research is never allowed to slow the narrative down, as it crisply rolls along with some surprises and twists. This is a really well written novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.  

As the novel begins Alethea is staying in London, at the house of a family friend, Lord Calverton and his wife Lady Margaret. It is an uneasy time for everyone in London, as a plague is raging through the houses and streets. Fear and suspicion is not confined to the poorer areas, as even those who have come through a time of civil war and are relatively wealthy. There are also problems relating to old loyalties, as those who fought on the two sides are only now becoming reconciled and their financial  situations being stabilised. Alethea is a poor relation in the household, but his lordship seems vaguely interested in her for her evident intelligence and vivaciousness. A terrible change means that Alethea is left to fend for herself in London, and it is  fortunate that she encounters Jack, whose whole attitude to life is very different. She is plunged into a world that is wildly outside her experience, and her fundamental beliefs are deeply challenged.  Her decisions are those of a young woman discovering so much at a young age, and there are many surprises yet to come. Her decisions and reactions will have long running implications for her and many others.

This novel essentially represents Alethea’s progress, in which she has to improvise in order to survive. There are others around who have different agendas, the urge to survive, follow a leader, to live what they believe is a religious life. Alethea’s own beliefs are shaped by many elements, including the difficulties of being a Catholic in a country where persecution is still a danger. This novel is a vibrant and memorable book which introduces an eminently sympathetic heroine.I really enjoyed reading of her varying fortunes as she tries to work out the best way of life for herself, those around her, and her beloved home, Measham Hall.

Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell -the joys and challenges of looking after four children

Eternity Leave by Simon Kettlewell

Many people have looked after children as their main task in life, but in this book Simon Kettlewell takes it to extremes with humour and a nicely judged sense of drama. It is a fictionalised account of a man being in charge of four children, the first three being born really close together so that he was looking after three children under two when his partner Bridgit had twin girls. He makes the point that what he is doing is what so many women do, but he finds the problems of being the only male child carer in the village a strain. It is a funny and almost surreal look at the problems of being left with small children while one’s partner works long hours in a high pressure job. He is keen to comment on how most fathers do not concern themselves with working full time and missing out on their children,while he is aware how much Brigit feels she is missing out. Kettlewell’s assumed character is keen to stress that he is not just looking after his children with the aid of a copy of “The Complete Guide to Childcare”. He has great dreams to be a novelist, if he ever gets time and space to write. He admires and is desperate to emulate Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, with a small holding and self sufficiency. Unfortunately he discovers that there is a huge difference between the theory and practice as with many things. This is a lively and entertaining book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The second chapter begins with a memory of being young and seeing a film which makes him think about having a family and living in a house. He decides that Brigit is the woman that he wants to be with, and it is nineteen years later that he realises how far they have come. Chloe is his oldest daughter and they find themselves in India, and he realises that she is an effective adult in her own right. His twin daughters Ruby and Emma are awkward teenagers both determined to drive the car. Ollie is a younger child, with issues surrounding the internet and computer games. This is the point at which he is looking back, remembering his sense of panic when Brigit went back to work leaving him in sole charge of a small child. Partly because he feels inadequate in a woman’s world, and partly because he honestly cannot see how any one person can cope. When twin girls appear he is even more at sea, as the physical problems of amusing and caring for them all threatens to defeat him. There are some very funny set pieces involving buying chickens, and caring for animals. They culminate in a very funny party where all the birds, pigs and other animals escape and chase the children. The narrator spends a lot of time bemoaning the fact that he is the only man in many meetings and groups – he even gets to know Marlon the music man as a rare male interloper. 

This is an unusual book in that it represents a person trying to get along with life and those around him as best he can. He is an honest and thoughtful narrator, seeing the best in people as well as quietly revelling in the gossip of a small village. I really enjoyed the way he looked back on what seemed at the time to be so difficult, but was really the best, when he loved being with the children. This is a well written book of contemporary life, with an appreciation of the different roles people play and the joys of bringing up children with all the challenges.     

The Road from Cromer Pier by Martin Gore – a seaside community with a theatre which inspires loyalty

The Road from Cromer Pier by Martin Gore

This is a novel that successfully covers so much in a relatively short space. Theatrical life, a small community, financial trickery, and romance is well addressed in this multi layered book which reintroduces some characters from a previous novel as well as bringing in some new ones, such as Tom Stanley. It works well as a standalone novel, as I had no knowledge of the previous book, but I soon felt that I understood some of the issues surrounding an end of the pier theatre as well as those for whom it becomes a focus. Among its impressive list of topics tackled is domestic abuse, stage fright that becomes a long-term metal health issue and complex financial dealings. There are also some very realistic characters struggling to come to terms with challenges in their lives such as retirement. Not that any of the people of this book are on the breadline, but there are those who fear for their way of life. There are long held grudges and indiscretions, mistakes and deliberate actions, and this is an entertaining read throughout.

The setting, mainly in a somewhat faded but still vibrant seaside community, is well drawn, and it is easy to see why it attracts the loyalty of so many of the characters mentioned. It is essentially a contemporary novel, but is pandemic and Brexit free, and is therefore reminiscent of a recent past of community life. I recommend this entertaining book and am glad that I had the opportunity to read and review it.

The book opens with a young woman, Amy Raven, preparing for an important performance. Although apparently possessing a great deal of talent, she is trying to steady herself after developing stage fright. It is an example of the caring nature of those in the theatre management that she is given a chance to redeem her career, especially Janet and Karen, who bear the financial responsibility to ensure that the show goes on. They decide to call on another talented singer and dancer, Hannah, to be a back up for any problems that Amy may have, but in so doing they trigger a series of events that will affect many in the theatre and those on its fringes.  Amy is only one person of the many who visits Cyril, an elderly man who has great wisdom to pass on about his own struggles with theatrical life.

Another strand of this book is the financial complexities that emerge from Lionel’s continuing interest in the pier and therefore the theatre. He is the misguided but also challenging character whose selfish actions threatens so much in the town. It is to help with his bad faith that Tom is brought in, an expert in company problems, who is seeking a new way of life after the loss of his wife and all-consuming job. What will he discover in this seaside town?

This is a very human book which brings in enough tension to be an exciting read without pushing it into melodrama. I found it entertaining and the sort of book which creates real interest in the characters so that it is difficult to put down. I soon picked up the strands from the previous novel and enjoyed the way that many of the sub plots were carefully worked out. This is an ideal read for a holiday – and especially one in a seaside resort in good weather!