Frederica by Georgette Heyer – a funny, entertaining romance in the Regency style as a beauty is launched into society

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

This is a classic novel by Heyer which sums up the humour, incisive character creation and keen awareness of success in this period of Georgian high society and its obsessions. A stunningly beautiful girl is launched into society, there are adventures in some unlikely places, and there are some wickedly funny descriptions of people in all their glorious variety. Frederica is variously described throughout the book as not the radiant beauty of the family, but she is the one with the initiative and the determination to do the best for her family. Vernon, Marquis of Alverstoke is constantly surprised by Frederica and her family; from decades of boredom and easy living where everything is predictable, his involvement with the irrepressible Merriville family represents constant drama in his life. Charis Meriville is the beauty of the season, creating an upset wherever she goes among jealous mothers, lovestruck suitors and keen observers of a social season full of gossip. Much of the considerable humour in this book comes from the antics of the younger brothers, Felix and Jessamy, whose discovery of new family connections gives them even more scope for chaos inducing projects, as Jessamy repents and Felix pursues his passions in a headlong fashion. Altogether the Merriville family are enough to make anyone reconsider their life choices, and in this splendid read from an expert writer there is so much entertainment to be enjoyed.

Alverstoke is a wealthy and somewhat bored man, with his reputation as an elegant dresser and much more. One of his sisters, a widow who is actually quite wealthy, presses him to host a ball at his London house to launch her eldest daughter at the beginning of the season. Aware that Lady Buxted is sufficiently well off enough to cope without him, he refuses, which makes her indignant, especially as she is already of the allowance he makes to his heir, a nephew rejoicing in the name of Endymion. Another of Alverstoke’s relations, Mrs Dauntry, Endymion’s mother, is keen to press the case for Alverstoke to pay for the launch of her daughters, which he also rejects. His attention is drawn by his invaluable secretary to a mysterious Miss Merriville, and wishing to discover more, pays her a visit. He discovers that there is a distant family link, and that Frederica does not demand any financial support for a family she has been managing for years, but would dearly appreciate his help to introduce her beautiful sister Charis to London society. Intrigued and attracted by the unconventional woman who declares herself to be beyond all hope of marriage for herself at the advanced age of twenty four, he agrees to help by hosting the ball that his sister had demanded, shrewdly keeping Lady Buxted from discovering that Charis, who he wants her to sponsor, is outwardly far more attractive than her own daughters. As discovery is made, many men call on the famous beauty, and many suspect that Alverstoke is himself attracted by Charis, complications arise.

Although this book outwardly deals with romance and a memorable social season, much of the appeal comes from the activities instigated by Felix and Jessamy. Certainly they entertain and exasperate Alverstoke. Charis is drawn as an attractive but not very bright girl, which makes her somewhat one dimensional, and is rather dismissed by Heyer. Frederica becomes the real love interest, which is cleverly done as she is steadfast in denying that she has any interest in romance for herself. As with all of Heyer’s novels, there is detailed research on display here, as the descriptions of clothing, setting and behaviour is finely judged. The humour is both subtle and bordering on farcical throughout, especially concerning a boisterous dog which gets the normally calm Frederica into trouble. This is a wonderful read for escapist immersion in another world, beautifully written, carefully constructed and thoroughly recommended.    

The Art of Creativity by Susie Pearl – a book to help explore our creative personality in everyday life

The Art of Creativity by Susie Pearl

This is a self help book and more, as it confidently seeks to help the reader to look at their lives and discover time, space and impetus to become the creative person they want to be in new ways. This book goes far beyond encouraging the reader to paint, sing, write or many other forms of personal creativity; it encourages finding the mental space to relax and explore forms of creating which may be new or long abandoned. Thus it is not a book of how to draw, write music or other creative outlets, instead it encourages the reader to find the mental space to attempt something that they may have only dreamed of doing, and to accept when their attempts are not perfect. It encourages playfulness in creativity, discovery and exploration. The author is able to point to a wealth of life experience to inform her advice. She has also got a track record of working with highly successful creative people and lateral thinkers who have included her writing in their output. This is an unusual book in some ways, but immensely encouraging. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

This is a well presented little book which encourages the reader to set up a journal with space to write on a daily basis, a practice which it urges in terms of allocating time and space.  This is to be attempted by hand in an actual book, and Pearl suggests five exercises which will help in setting up the journal, such as intentions of what is be achieved and recording creative successes. It also records the benefits of writing in a journal, such as personal healing, better self discipline and improved memory. This is not an appointment diary, but an opportunity to consider intentions for the day. The book itself includes pages in which to record impressions and responses, as well as encouraging writing in the journal itself.  It also looks at the benefits of Mind- Mapping with examples to be followed in drawing a sort of illustration of a project such as writing a novel which may be of particular benefit to writers trying to work out how to begin. The section on Self – Care has interesting points on exercise and napping as well as eating healthily. There is also a useful introduction to meditation, which outlines a basic method which can be attempted. It also provides a useful list of the various types of meditation which would allow further investigation.

The subtitle of this book “7 Powerful Habits to Unlock Your Full Potential” highlights how the various topics included are helpfully set out, though it would also be possible to simply work through this book, absorbing its message that being creative does not require perfection in the eyes of others, but to enable exploration and experimentation by the individual for their own satisfaction and feeling of self worth. It also includes a Further Reading Section which suggests other books which would help the reader to explore particular topics introduced in this helpful book. This is a book of inspiration to explore the creative in all of us in whatever form that may take in a vivid and dedicated way.

The Body on the Train by Frances Brody – A Kate Shackleton Mystery of murder and more in 1929

The Body on the Train: A Kate Shackleton Mystery: 11: Brody,  Frances: 9781643851600: Books

The Body on the Train by Frances Brody

Kate Shackleton investigates many unusual things, but in this novel she has to push to the edge of friendship and a way of life that dominates parts of the north of England. When a body is found on a train bringing rhubarb to London she is contacted by Scotland Yard, not just because of the fact of an evident murder, but also because it came from a politically sensitive area of industrial unrest. This book is a worthy addition to the Kate Shackleton Mystery series, but also stands up well as a murder mystery on its own with shared characters and setting with previous books. As ever, it is an intense read with brilliant setting and a real feel for the atmosphere of the time; in 1929 Kate is a war widow with a depth of experience in nursing, detection and most importantly emotional intelligence where those around her are concerned. The research into the running of special trains is a worthy part of the novel, but Brody’s research is never intrusive or at the expense of the narrative. As ever the supporting cast of characters adds greatly to the story, as Sykes and Mrs Sugden use their own skills to discover different elements of the case. Kate manages to benefit from both of her family backgrounds, her adoptive influential parents with her father’s role in the local police and her birth family, here providing support when investigations take the trio into a different area. This is an entertaining read which never loses sight of the people involved in any murder case, and is an excellent piece of historical fiction.

The novel opens with Kate’s summons to London to discuss a case of a man’s body being discovered on the train. His identity is a mystery, and given the particular nature of the mining area from which the train has arrived, Scotland Yard is keen to keep a low profile and use more subtle forms of investigation which they believe Kate is able to undertake. She soon decides to go and stay with a childhood friend whose husband’s estate encompasses the area that could be the origin of the mysterious murder. While being confronted with some family secrets, Kate also learns of a second murder, which is causing a lot of local disquiet. Fortunately Sykes is also able to ask questions of those who may be able to shed some light on the original murder, while Mrs Sugden is aided and abetted by two young and enthusiastic helpers.

As usual for these novels, the chapters are mainly narrated by Kate herself, which allows her to explore her feelings about the people involved. A third person narration of the progress of the other investigators is also threaded throughout the book, with details that enlarge the reader’s understanding of the situation. In both cases the narrative flows well with effective hints about the developing storylines, allowing the reader to feel as if they can guess the outcomes. This is a well researched and written book which goes beyond a straightforward murder mystery, as it reveals a lot about the time in which it is set, and the people involved. There are flashes of humour which I enjoyed, as well as threats to safety and subtle changes of mood. As with the other books in this series, I recommend this as a fascinating read concerning the role of women in the interwar period, offering real insights into the period, and providing a satisfying mystery read.

A Cornish Betrothal by Nicola Pryce – An historical novel led by strong women

A Cornish Betrothal: 5 (Cornish Saga): Pryce, Nicola:  9781838950903: Books

A Cornish Betrothal by Nicola Pryce

Amelia Carew is celebrating her twenty fifth birthday in Cornwall, 1798. She is wondering if her new love, Dr Luke Bohenna, will propose marriage, after some time of courtship. There is one consideration; she was in love with another young man until she was told of his death. This historical romance is steep in the atmosphere of a locality familiar with life at sea, with naval officers, sailors of all sorts, a community involved with the insuring ships, receiving goods and helping with those affected by war. This powerful novel has much to say about the place of women in society and the importance of marriage in their lives, but also depicts some women who are unusual in their interests. Amelia is a woman who is very knowledgeable about the healing power of plants, especially herbs. In that respect this book overlaps with another by Pryce,  who has obviously gained a wide knowledge of historic medical uses for plants as well poisonous possibilities. A solid knowledge of the area is eident, as well as the transport favoured by the genteel classes of the times. Not that research ever intrudes on the narrative in a negative way, but Pryce has obviously immersed herself in the small details of life in the late eighteenth century. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book.

Amelia’s life in her happy family has been marked by her long time love for Edmund Melville, a young neighbour from a large house, son of a baronet. She grew up in the area in the company of Edmund and his cousin Francis. They were deeply in love, but for complicated family reasons Edmund joined the navy, and went away to sea . Since then Amelia was told of his death, which was confirmed by her godfather, and for the past eighteen months she has thrown herself into planting and caring for a herb garden. Distributing medicinal herbs and other charitable works has brought her into contact with a local doctor, and they have discovered a mutual attraction. Just at the point when everyone expects a declaration, Amelia receives a letter from Edmund, who has been a prisoner and very ill. In getting the letter translated Amelia makes another contact. Visiting Edmund’s childhood home she discovers that his mother is very ill and his sister Constance is threatened with an arranged marriage. Amelia becomes determined to keep her promises to Edmund and become his wife, but there is something very disturbing about him on his return beyond his scars and symptoms of trauma. As Amelia struggles to decide if she should honour her promises to Edmund, she cannot forget her love for the devoted Luke.

This is a powerful and emotional book which deals with romance in a realistic way as it portrays problems faced when more than one person is attractive. There are some fascinating historical details of naval life in the period, as well as family issues, commercial details and the political realities of French prisoners. The herbal recipes and knowledge are carefully inserted and made relevant as an important part of Amelia’s life.  I found this an exciting and fascinating book, full of twists and turns, which kept me guessing throughout. While characters from another book inhabit this story, this is very much Amelia’s narrative as supported by other memorable characters. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in well written historical fiction, especially with the focus on strong women, in an exciting setting. 

Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer by Jenni Fletcher – a Regency escapist treat with family and romance

Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer: A Historical Romance Award Winning Author  (Regency Belles of Bath, 2): Fletcher, Jenni: 9781335505958:  Books

Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer by Jenni Fletcher

Scandal, romance and more feature in this delightful Regency novel full of humour, realistic dialogue and biscuits. Featuring an independent heroine who is trying to do her best as a businesswoman, aunt and defender of her shop, this book also introduces a naval officer who makes several discoveries about a woman who hates compliments. When Henrietta attacks a mysterious intruder, she little suspects that he knows a lot about Belles, the biscuit shop she manages with the redoubtable Nancy. Sebastian is a hero who admits he has a lot to learn about people, especially a woman who is sensitive about her past. The responsibility for three boys is a sudden burden in this novel which looks at the complications of families in a different world, but one which has familiar echoes for many of us. This book is actually part of a series that tells the story of those women who work in Belles Biscuit shop, but there is no need to have read the previous book to enjoy this one; there are many references to characters in the previous novel, which are sufficient. This book is very much Henrietta and Sebastian’s story, full of the doubts, challenges and twists which make it truly entertaining throughout. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The book opens with Sebastian, brother of Anna, the absent shop owner, discovering that during his absence at sea over several years much has changed in the shop that used to be run by his family. After nearly breaking his nose, Henrietta allows him to camp in the downstairs room, only to be woken by her assistant Nancy conducting a similar attack on him, not knowing of his existence. He notices Henrietta’s extreme attractiveness, despite her attempts to dress down and her coldness, and he thinks about hurrying to see his family. However, his attention is taken by Henrietta’s three nephews, who soon claim him as an important figure in their lives, as their father is struggling with grief for his late wife. Almost despite herself, Henrietta begins to relax in the company of such a thoughtful and helpful man, but has such overwhelmingly bad memories of previous relationships and the gossip that they attracted that she resolves to pull back from any further involvement. It is perhaps when other people get involved, and a mysterious stranger appears to need help, that they discover that significant action must be taken.

This book is truly a joy to read, especially as Regency stories hold a particular attraction at the moment. It is delightful escapism, and has some genuinely very funny elements, including Nancy who frequently lets fly with her observations and opinions concerning everything. The family theme works well, and there is much more to this book than a straightforward romance. It is well paced and flows well, as it represents many of the responses and actions of the two main characters. The dialogue is lively and well written, and strikes a contemporary tone, though it is never anachronistic. This is a lovely book for anyone who enjoys a gentle escapist read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys romantic historical fiction.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce – a warm, funny and an unusual novel of a woman’s search for the incredible in life

Miss Benson's Beetle: An uplifting story of female friendship against the  odds: Joyce, Rachel: 9780857521989: Books

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

An unusual book of female friendship, the hunt for what is truly important in life, and much more, this is a novel that offers so much. Funny, touching and definitely unusual, this book deftly handles challenges and tragedies with humour and real insight into characters who make unlikely choices. With an eye for the ridiculous, Joyce never criticizes people for their choices in clothes or behaviour, but lets the reader makes her own connections. With mysterious secrets and past tragedies, the reader is invited to work out subtexts without working too hard, as the story flows without apparent effort.

The main character of Miss Margery Benson is a wonderful creation; from a childhood tragedy to bored and unfulfilled teacher is a short section, but implies so much about women’s lives in the first half of the twentieth century in a way that is particularly impressive from a twenty first century writer. She inspires, not that she would ever recognize that description, and her loyalty is touching and over whelming. This is a story of a quest for a near mythical beast, with a lot of hard won knowledge and planning, but no one could plan for real life as seen in this book. Enid Pretty defies description, but is also a memorable character. The other people of this book are real people in the novel, as each contributes their backstory, their own obsessions and more. Journeys, settings and life generally are beautifully drawn, and give real depth to this unusual and memorable novel.

The book opens with a defining line. “When Margery was ten, she fell in love with a beetle”. It proves to be a significant day in 1914, when her life was about to change dramatically. The golden beetle is in a book of incredible creatures, “The Golden Beetle of New Caledonia”, and her father’s near throwaway line “Imagine how it would be to find this one, and bring it home” is going to affect her life forever. The focus then shifts to September 1950, a colourless existence as an ineffective teacher, a sort of breakdown which drives Margery into a course of action. This is a post war London of rationing, shortages and pale lives, as the after effects of two world wars are still being felt and life seems one dimensional. Margery comes up with a plan so audacious that she can hardly bear to admit to it, to travel to New Caledonia and find the golden beetle, to bring home specimens that will take their place in the Natural History Museum. She makes meticulous preparations, but it is in trying to find a companion/assistant that she inadvertently changes lives. Her travels, with their challenges, twists and turns are brilliantly described, and there are several moments that are genuinely moving as well as many different insights.

This is a book that I would thoroughly recommend to anyone seeking something a little different, with its dark moments but also with its genuine humour. It is a historical novel in some senses, but it also speaks of people and their settings in so many ways that are timeless, the secrets that they keep, their resilience, their ability to adapt. There is a strong bond here between women, compelled by their idea of a second chance, their vocation, their unspoken loves. For those who want to read outside a set genre, who enjoy the unusual, this is such a good novel about more than a hunt for a beetle, however golden.  

In this first post of 2021, may I wish you a Happy New Year. Let’s hope that everything soon gets easier for all!

English Climate: Wartime Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner – A collection of stories written in a time of challenge

English Climate: Wartime Stories: Townsend Warner, Sylvia:  9781910263273: Books
English Climate: Wartime Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner – Persephone  Books

English Climate: Wartime Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner  

This book contains a tremendous collection of twenty two stories that sum up a lot of the British attitudes to the Second World War. Written in the moment, these stories were submitted to the New Yorker and other publications and have been collected by Persephone in this fascinating book. Though some have not been seen since their original wartime publication, all stand up to being read again in the twenty first century, despite their brevity in some cases. Their accurate representation of life in the English countryside is witty, full of atmosphere and conveys a lot of the sense of the people’s reaction to the shortages, rationing, evacuees and so many other elements. These stories, though excellent and successful, were often unpublished since the original publication; indeed, as Lydia Fellgett writes in her excellent Preface, Townsend Warner was uncertain herself as to whether some of the stories had actually appeared in the New Yorker, given the complicated wartime situation. Fellgett goes on to write that the stories “perfectly balance the domestic and the political. And they bring such joy with their quick humour and their lively detail.” This book features stories of implication, suggestions and dialogue which speak of people beset by war, coming to terms with a new way of life. It is a collection to be savoured.

The stories are wide ranging, beginning with a well travelled shirt, and going on to discuss the almost mundane everyday story of a time bomb. The latter story makes much of the London landscape and what someone would save. “Noah’s Ark” reflects the difficulties people living in the countryside had with the expectations of evacuees, displaced children without parents shipped out into new environments. A mother of evacuees appears in a later story, together with some humour about a donated coat, and exasperation with her demands for help. This book mainly features women, coping, or trying to, with shortages and rations, learning new skills with weaponry, depending on men or striking a blow for independence. There are managing women, who insist on their war effort being up to standard, despairing of those who had not built up a store. There are people in difficult situations, as a funeral may mark more than one death. A story from December 1942 deals with a woman who has designed and surveyed her own remarkable house, as she tries to take over the whole war effort in the area, earning herself the title “Austerity Jane”. A strange tale sends a mixed message about the generosity of others regarding much loved possessions. 

Most of these stories are fairly short, some almost impressions, others introducing more nuanced characters, reacting to new experiences and challenges. The writing is generally light, but none the less successful in conveying so much. Townsend Warner is known for her novels, but also produced several collections of short stories, and on the evidence of this book I would love to track them down. Persephone have produced several collections of stories, diaries and novels actually written during the Second World War, and for its immediacy, its ability to convey an impression of how people felt, and sheer audacity of its style, this is an incredible example of a Persephone reprint. 

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin – a perfect autumn winter escapist read

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin

This is a charming autumn/winter book, with events happening throughout the seasons. Holly Martin has created some vibrant and realistic characters dealing with less than perfect situations, complex family issues and challenges along with romance. Sandcastle Bay is a coastal village where the story is set and some of the characters have appeared in other books, but this is very much a standalone book which I enjoyed (and read quite fast!). Isla Rosewood lives in a cottage with her nephew Elliot following her brother Matthew’s death. Elliot’s mother effectively disappeared before the tragedy, so Isla has given up her flat, career and life in London to look after the little boy. She has support from her family, but the real involvement in their lives comes from Leo Jackson, Matthew’s best friend and Elliot’s godfather. Leo has a difficult history in the village, and Isla knows him well enough to be wary of him, but his care for Elliot is transforming, and she begins to wonder. A series of challenges makes for difficult decisions, and much is discovered about people, their feelings and more in this book which shows real insight into village life and contemporary relationships.

The book opens with Isla and Leo meeting four years before the main narrative of the book, on the evening before Elliot’s christening. Their encounter that night is memorable, but Leo’s behaviour drives Isla back to London. The book properly begins with Isla and Elliot living in Hot Chocolate cottage, and Leo visiting nearly every day. Having been let down previously, and knowing Leo’s reputation, Isla resolves to keep him at arm’s length as far as romance is concerned, though acknowledging that he is a positive element in Elliot’s life. This is difficult to understand for family members in the village, and those who take a great deal of interest in the affairs of others. A very funny scene in a local café shows how people are keen to know exactly what is going on, despite Isla’s reservations. As activities continue in the village, Isla, Elliot and Leo are drawn together. Her confusion is not helped by her two enormous concerns. She is not earning any money as she has been living off proceeds of her London flat sale, but it is now running out. The cottage’s mortgage is paid off, but Sadie’s, Elliot’s absent birth mother, name is still on the title deeds. Isla has been granted guardianship of Elliot, but full adoption has been difficult to achieve as no one has been able to discover Sadie’s whereabouts, though she is suspected to be somewhere exotic. With an ongoing job search and the background concern about Elliot’s future, Isla has little time to spend on considering a romantic future with the dangerously attractive Leo.

This is an enjoyable book with consistent and well-drawn characters who reflect very real life concerns. Even minor characters have their contributions to make to this frequently funny book, especially when the frank and talkative Elliot asks some awkward questions. When Isla experiences challenges and Leo faces difficulties with his past, they are evidently part of a close and enviable community. This is a well written book which has a strong romance at its heart, but also looks at real life problems. I recommend it as a contemporary escapist read which has some fascinating twists and turns.

The Chocolate Lovers’ Christmas by Carole Matthews – a book of Friendship and Chocolate

The Chocolate Lovers' Christmas (Christmas Fiction): Carole  Matthews: 9780751552133: Books

The Chocolate Lovers’ Christmas by Carole Matthews

A book about the joy and comfort of chocolate – and some women who eat it! This book is centred around a group of women who share a friendship which means a lot to each one of them, especially when expressed through chocolate treats. This is a funny book which deals with the lead up to Christmas on one level, but is really about the complicated relationships the women find themselves in. Although each character has appeared in previous books by Carole Matthews, this book stands up very well as a book on its own. Partly narrated by Lucy, who has a very funny tendency to get herself into all sorts of trouble and her relationship with “Crush” or Aiden, this book also looks at more serious issues of complex family arrangements. Nadia has faced a terrible situation in the past, but now needs to cope with a changed life with a small son, Lewis, and so needs help from the other members of the group. Autumn helps with Lewis, but  her fiance is perhaps less than supportive. Chantal has the confidence of a super model, but is finding looking after her daughter more than exhausting. While chocolate is the answer for most situations in the short term, it may well take more to deal with them long term. Fortunately Lucy is bound to come up with a scheme – that involves roping in other members of The Chocolate Lovers’ Club in this enjoyable and endearing read. 

The book opens with Lucy expounding a few of her theories about chocolate, a subject she loves – “I, Lucy Lombard, manager of Chocolate Heaven and self – confessed chocolate addict”. It is her ideal job, running a small chocolate shop and cafe in London. Her friends gather there to recover from their challenges, and she loves selling chocolate products to locals drawn in by her displays. She has many ideas for increasing trade, but her long hours in the shop is affecting her relationship with Crush, despite their love for each other. Various incidents, including a very funny encounter with chocolate body paint, lighten the mood of this book on a regular basis. Indeed, despite the real challenges faced by the women, Lucy’s talent for disaster always makes this contemporary read a well balanced and often funny book. Autumn’s family situation is difficult, despite money not being a problem, and Matthews’ ability to sensitively deal with the pressure of distant parents is well illustrated. Chantel’s situation of exhaustion is a common problem, but her relationship with her partner is made more complex by an unusual link to another woman. Nadia has employment problems which put more pressure on a single mother, but her friends are there to help.

This is an enjoyable book which does not need to be kept for Christmas time, though it may influence the reader to look for chocolate while reading. Despite some of the themes explored, this is generally an uplifting book, if only because of Lucy’s antics. It is a sensitively written, with vivid and lively dialogue which suggests the characters immediately. The setting, in a small shop cafe, is well drawn, which is also the case when the focus is further afield. The ongoing issue of Lucy’s ex – boyfriend is well handled, as are some issues which the book tackles. This is an enjoyable read not limited to Christmas, celebrating people, friendship and of course, chocolate.   

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman – a humourous look at murder, investigation and later life

The Thursday Murder Club: The Record-Breaking Sunday Times Number One  Bestseller: Osman, Richard: 9780241425442: Books

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This book is probably worth the hype. It gives a positive view of older people, seemingly retired in a community for the elderly, but with the determination, persistence and bravery normally only allocated to the young in fiction. This is a book of mystery, murder and notably, things that happened a long time before it began, as integrated and complicated like real lire. Nothing is straightforward, which is how most of the characters like it. Each of the characters has great depth and a backstory, even if it is never explained in this first book of what promises to be a successful series. Contrasting ways of life adds to the charm, even if more than one murder is the theme. The humour is understated and very based on the individuals concerned, and emerges in the dialogue and in one case the pages of a diary. Expectations for how people should behave and think is pleasantly upset, and there are many twists and turns. I found it really enjoyable, packed with red herrings and surprises, and a thoroughly readable novel.

At the beginning of the novel, which begins with the title “Meet New People and Try New Things”, Joyce reveals her introduction to the Thursday Murder Club in pages of her diary. Elizabeth asks her, during lunch, about knife wounds. Being an ex nurse, Joyce was able to supply the information, gaining the approval not only of Elizabeth, but also Ibrahim, who she is yet to meet properly. PC Donna De Freitas turns up to do her Practical Home Security talk, though bored with the relaxed attitude to policing in the quiet area of Fairhaven. Poised to talk about window locks and identification, she soon discovers that the residents of Coopers Chase Retirement Village expect something more, even though one wistfully observes “I’d welcome a burglar. It would be nice to have a visitor”. Elizabeth introduces herself and Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim, as not friends but a group which comes together to discuss crimes. Donna is quietly taken with the group, which is fortunate as when a murder takes place which is firmly connected with the Village. Donna is desperate to get involved in the investigation, and there is a subtle way that it is achieved with the connivance of the group, who continue to work alongside the police in somewhat unusual ways. Not that anyone has any idea where the whole project is headed; even the controlling, free thinking and ubiquitous Elizabeth takes chances on things that baffle and bewilder others. 

This is an often lighthearted, sometimes touching book, which deals with death in a respectful way without undue sentimentality. Murder is involved, but is never brutal in the eyes of those investigating in either an official or unofficial way. I found it a well written and plotted book, which reveals the human side of both police, those involved in crime. The characters are well written, consistent and interesting, who often reveal hidden depths. This book strongly argues for older people enjoying a certain black humour, and different life views based on long experience and practical expediency. Elizabeth is a cleverly written character, letting slip details of a mysterious and exciting past. This is a good read, full of in-jokes, moving asides and understandable emotions. I recommend it as a cosy mystery in some ways, a humourous read, and an incisive book about attitudes to later life.