Friday, 30 December 2016

Review: Ruth's First Christmas Tree by Elly Griffiths

Ruth's First Christmas Tree is a short story from Elly Griffiths's Ruth Galloway series, and fits in neatly between A Room Full of Bones and Dying Fall. At the time of writing, it's available as a free ebook; the last third of the book is an extract from Dying Fall.

Ruth has decided this year she will have the 'perfect' Christmas. Her daughter is now old enough to appreciate Santa Claus - and presents! It's three days until Christmas and all Ruth needs now is the perfect tree.

This series often refers to Ruth's involvement in excavating a wooden henge on the beach near to where she lives. The henge was moved to a local museum for preservation and now a small piece has gone missing. The curator is in hospital with pneumonia and Ruth's druid friend, Cathbad, is convinced the man's recovery depends on the finding of this small peg.

Will Ruth ever find the perfect Christmas tree? Will she solve the mystery of the disappearing peg? Unlike the novels in this series, no one is murdered but I found the story entertaining all the same. Part of the appeal of this series for me has always been the characters (especially Cathbad!) and the subtle humour. It's like spending Christmas with old friends!

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Monday, 26 December 2016

Review: The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths

This is the third book in Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series and my favourite so far. Six skeletons have been found on a local beach, their remains only exposed after a cliff fall. They appear to have been there for some time, possibly since WW2, and their hands have been tied behind their backs.

Meanwhile, two elderly men are found dead in apparently unrelated, non-suspicious circumstances. But there is one curious fact they have in common, something which could link them to the bodies found in the cliff - or is it just a coincidence? Except DCI Nelson doesn't believe in coincidences...

Normally I hate books written in the present tense but Elly Griffiths does it so well I don't even notice. I usually hate anything to do with WW2 too, but I found the historical backstory fascinating. I also love the humour and the way the main characters are starting to feel like family. 

Part of the mystery centres around an old gothic house, balanced right on the edge of the cliff and likely to go over any day. I LOVE stories with old houses in them and there is an especially creepy chapter where Ruth and Nelson find themselves trapped while a snowstorm rages.

Despite there being no shortage of potential suspects, I still didn't work out who the murderer was. Brilliant stuff!

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Friday, 23 December 2016

Review: Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

I bought this a couple of years ago but didn't get around to reading it because some of the reviews I read at the time made the story sound as though it might be too gruesome for me - I'm a bit of a wimp! But it was coming up to Christmas, I was going to be on holiday, and I wanted to read some 'festive' crime fiction. There's not a lot of it about, strangely enough!

Jessica Gold is the oddball of her family - loved, but definitely eccentric - her brothers even call her 'weird' to her face. It is the day before Christmas and she's headed into town to do some last minute shopping. She takes a break in a busy cafe, and is surprised when the handsome and charismatic Dominic Lacey takes the seat opposite her and begins to chat her up, mentioning how much she reminds him of his ex-wife. A man like this is usually completely out of her league, so when he invites her back to his apartment she goes quite willingly, even though the voices in her head are telling her she's an idiot.

She should have listened to those voices! Dominic Lacey is planning on having Jessica for Christmas, and not quite in the way she'd hoped. He's even got her some very special presents, one for each of the twelve days of Christmas - but will she even get to live that long? And what, exactly, did happen to that mysterious ex-wife?

Dying for Christmas is brilliantly written in a very modern style. I found Jessica entertaining and engaging, although not very likeable - but that was kind of the point. In fact none of the characters are likeable, but this is a very clever psychological suspense, and no one is quite who they seem. Dominic in particular is a deliciously manipulative villain; his desire to swap life stories reminded me a bit of Hannibal Lecter (don't worry, no one gets eaten!). The best way of describing the story is as the publishers have done: 'Misery meets Gone Girl'.

The story is funny in places, a kind of dark humour, and most of the nasty violent stuff happens off the page. There are a couple of massive twists about halfway through, one of which I guessed, the other I didn't. 

If you enjoy traditional, cleverly-plotted psychological suspense, and don't mind a few brief descriptions of off-the-page gruesome stuff, then this is the book for you.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Review: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

The Janus Stone is #2 in a series about Dr Ruth Galloway (a forensic archaeologist) and DCI Harry Nelson.

The story starts with Ruth visiting her fellow archaeologists on a Roman dig and meeting the resident expert, Dr Max Grey. His team have found bones buried beneath a wall, and we're introduced to the Celtic/Roman tradition of a foundation sacrifice - burying a body beneath a wall or doorway as an offering to Janus or Terminus. Janus is the god of beginnings, gates and doorways; Terminus is the god who protects boundaries and boundary stones.

This thought is uppermost in Ruth's mind when the police call her in to examine the skeleton of a child found by builders demolishing an old house, but surely it's just a coincidence that the body has been buried directly under a doorstep? There was once a children's home on the site, and two of the children went missing forty years ago. Could the skeleton belong to one of them? But why is the skull missing?

The story is cleverly written to include lots of potential suspects for murder, all with very plausible motivations and all with something to hide - including Ruth. How is she going to tell the father of her child that she's pregnant?

I enjoyed the book because I loved the characters, flaws and all, as well as the gentle humour and quirky historical details. I really love the character of Cathbad the druid and his unlikely friendship with DCI Nelson - who doesn't want to like him but just can't seem to help himself. And I love that Ruth is quite capable of saving herself - there is a rather tense chase scene at the end. I also didn't guess the identity of the murderer, which is always a plus for me!

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Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Friday, 16 December 2016

Review: The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

The Crossing Places is the first in a series featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. I'd already read #4 in this series over the summer (I have a bad habit of reading books out of order) but made the effort to track down the others as I enjoyed it so much. The story, as you might expect, is a mix of present day murder mystery and a bit of history. It is set in a fictional area of Norfolk, beside the sea.

DCI Nelson is haunted by the unsolved disappearance of a young girl and the mocking letters he received from the perpetrator; now another girl has gone missing in much the same circumstances. Is it the work of the same person, or a copycat? When the body of a young girl is found in the salt marshes opposite her home, Ruth is called in to determine whether the bones are contemporary or historic. She becomes more involved with the case as she realises the letters the abductor sent to the police contain many references to archaeology. Is the perpetrator someone she knows?

Unfortunately, because I'd read #4 in the series already, it was fairly easy for me to work out the villain - so make sure you read these books in order! I loved the characters, particularly Harry, Ruth and Cathbad, and the atmospheric descriptions of the salt marshes meant the location was almost a character on its own. I've now bought the next six books in the series, and I'm planning on having a lovely time reading them back-to-back!

Recommended, particularly if you like murder mysteries with gentle humour and not too much violence, served up with a slice of history on the side.

Related Post:

Review: The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths

Monday, 12 December 2016

Review: The Duke of Pleasure by Elizabeth Hoyt

I love Elizabeth Hoyt's books, particularly her Maiden Lane series, which is historical romance set in Georgian England. The Duke of Pleasure is #11 in the series but you don't have to have read the others to enjoy the story. 

Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the illegitimate son of King George II, who uses him as a kind of spy for the work he can't trust anyone else to do. Hugh's current investigation is into the Lords of Chaos, a secret society of aristocrats, similar to The Hellfire Club. One night Hugh is ambushed by their assassins, but fortunately rescued by a notorious vigilante known as the Ghost of St Giles - who turns out to be a woman.

Ironically, the female 'Ghost' Hugh is now obsessed with is already known to him as the street urchin 'Alf', who lives on 'his' wits by dealing in information - for a price. It takes Hugh about half the novel to realise Alf's real identity, and me about the same amount of time to recognise a reworking of My Fair Lady, as Hugh trains Alf to pass herself off as an aristocrat to help him steal some important papers and finally catch the Lords of Chaos.

I enjoyed The Duke of Pleasure because it wasn't the usual girl-meets-rake historical romance, it had lots of action and adventure, as well as a bit of a mystery, and I loved the character of Alf. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Georgian romance.

The Ghost of St Giles (a kind of Georgian Batman) has appeared as a main character in three other Elizabeth Hoyt novels: Thief of Shadows (#4), Lord of Darkness (#5) and Duke of Midnight (#6). Alf has also appeared in other Maiden Lane books, mainly Lord of Darkness. So if you do want to read the other books in the series, you might want to start with those.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Review: Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicoll Morgan

I was attracted to this book because of the cover and the title*, which goes to show just how shallow I am! At the time, the ebook version was a little bit expensive (it has since come down in price) so I borrowed a copy from the library. Because I was so keen to start reading it, I also downloaded a sample to my Kindle, and was initially disappointed because the first six pages were a long description of the heroine driving through snowy Yorkshire. I thought I'd made a horrible mistake! But when my library copy arrived I gave it another go, and became completely hooked!

The story is a typical cosy murder mystery. It was written in 1947 and it would be easy to make comparisons with Agatha Christie, but their writing styles are completely different. (Christie's  stories are more fast-paced, with fiendishly clever plots). But I liked the inter-action between Morgan's characters and they were different to the usual retired colonel/vicar/spinster types. For a start, our heroine (Dilys) is a commercial traveller - a partner in a firm of manufacturing chemists. Determined to reach her next stop by nightfall, she drives through the hills of Yorkshire and gets stuck in a snowstorm. She is quite pragmatic about it (something I loved about this character!) but ends up being rescued by Inigo Brown, who is on his way to stay with his uncle at Wintry Wold. Such is the snowstorm, they are soon joined by many others, much to the indignation of Inigo's new, young, and very glamorous Aunt Theresa.

Although the story starts off a bit waffly, once it gets going there is lots of witty dialogue, particularly between Dilys and Inigo, and even a hint of a romance. The potential suspects are introduced gradually, so the reader can get a real sense of who is who, and Dilys is a very likeable, almost modern heroine. I was well on the way to giving the book 5 stars, but towards the end it became a bit farce-like, with lots of 'mysterious' goings-on in the middle of the night, the heroine stalking the corridors with a poker, and cars being sabotaged. Although one strand of the mystery was easy to guess at, the identity of the murderer took me completely by surprise. 

If you love vintage murder mysteries, you will enjoy Another Little Christmas Murder, and I would have loved to have seen Dilys in more stories. 

*One niggle: there was no mention of Christmas until the epilogue, when one character mentions going to 'spend Christmas' with their family!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Review: Moonlight and Mistletoe by Louise Allen

I've always been a fan of Louise Allen and I picked this up when I had the urge to read something Christmassy.  The story is about Hester Lattimer, who has arrived in a sleepy English village hoping to escape a scandal. She has a small inheritance, which she used to buy the beautiful if slightly decayed Moon House and sets about trying to establish herself as a respectable single woman, with the aid of a timid ex-governess as her companion, a rescued waif with ambitions to be a butler and her maid. This is slightly hampered by the deliciously dashing Earl of Buckland setting up house directly opposite, setting village tongues wagging.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, because as well as the historical romance, there is also a bit of a mystery, both about Hester's 'scandal', threatening to derail her friendship with the Earl, and Moon House itself, which has not been lived in for many years and might possibly be haunted. Is the Earl's interest in Hester only a sham, to hide his interest in buying the house for himself? And what of the mysterious dead roses, appearing throughout the house?

The story is firmly set in winter, leading up to Christmas, although not overly festive. I loved the light humour and the characters - Hester, determined to be independent and not rely on a handsome man to save her; Jethroe, saved from the slums with ambitions to become the best butler ever; even nervous Miss Prudhome, the companion, determined to do her job and 'save' Hester from the advances of the Earl, even though she doesn't particularly want saving!

This is a well-researched, very entertaining Mills & Boon historical romance with a bit of a mystery and the occasional sex scene, and would definitely appeal to fans of the genre. Recommended!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Review: The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers is #3 in Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War series. The story is about Jacquetta of Luxembourg, the mother of Elizabeth Woodville, and is a prequel to The White Queen, ending neatly at the exact moment that story begins. With hindsight, I wish I'd read this book first, as it explains the tensions leading up to the start of the Wars of the Roses, something I never fully understood (maybe I should have paid more attention at school!). It explains who all the leading players were, and their motivations, which is a great help when many of them switched sides - and then back again!

The story starts with Jacquetta at the home of her uncle, making friends with one of his prisoners of war, a young girl named Joan, who says she hears the voice of God. As Joan has been advising the Dauphin of France in his war against the English, understandably the English want Joan dead. Sure enough, they burn her at the stake, for being a heretic, witch and traitor. And Jacquetta learns two important lessons (1) To keep quiet about her own visions and (2) That the wheel of fortune 'can thrown a woman so high in the world that she can command a king, or pull her down to this: a dishonoured agonising death'.

But Jacquetta has caught the eye of the most important man in France - the 'elderly' Regent, John, Duke of Bedford and brother to the English King Henry V - but not in the way she thinks. The Duke wants her to predict the future of England, but all she sees are a ring shaped like a golden crown, battle after bloody battle, and a queen with her horse at a forge, putting the horseshoes on backwards ... 

I think this is my favourite of the series so far. It shows the beginning of the amnosity between the House of Lancaster and the House of York, something I never really understood. I loved the character of Jacquetta, a strong woman who never really wanted the power she had, who learned to conceal her gift of second sight and anything else which might be construed as 'witchy'. Unlike the previous two books, The White Queen and The Red Queen, Jacquetta is often right at the heart of the action - with her own life, as well as those of her husband and children, in peril. She is feistier than Elizabeth Woodville (The White Queen) and a lot more likeable than Margaret Beaufort (The Red Queen).

A fascinating woman, an exciting read - and definitely recommended!

Related reviews:

The White Queen (#1 The Cousins' War) by Philippa Gregory
The Red Queen (#2 The Cousins' War) by Philippa Gregory