Magnificent Seven

Yes, issue no. 7 of Shiny New Books is now live!

SNB-logoI’ve got a huge BookBuzz section somehow – not entirely sure how! – so do go and check out our latest pick for the Book Club, our lastest Eds Discuss and all the lovely interviews and features from our talented contributors.

As ever, there are lots of reviews of fiction, non-fiction and reprints. I think my personal favourites of the novels I read this time were, in fact, three historical novels (inevitably, after criticising historical fiction here a few months back, that sound you hear is me chomping on my own words): Belonging by Umi Sinha, A Want of Kindness by Joanne Limburg and Rembrandt’s Mirror by Kim Devereux.

Well, you don’t need me to tell you how to navigate the site! Hopefully there will be something there for everyone.

More Cosy Crime

a death in the dalesIt just so happens that I’ve had two blog tours come along, one after the other. Today’s is for the latest (seventh) Kate Shackleton crime novel by Frances Brody, A Death in the Dales. Last year I reviewed Death of an Avid Reader, which I loved, and I very much enjoyed this one, too.

Kate Shackleton is, I suppose, somewhat like Maisie Dobbs, in that she is a post-World War One private investigator, one of the superfluous women whose husband died in the fighting and who needs to make her own way in the world. Kate was a VAD during the War, and so whilst she is undoubtedly a lady, she has a certain plausible toughness about her. She is ably assisted by her housekeeper, Mrs Sugden, and a former police officer, Jim Sykes, who goes to the places (like pubs, and servants’ quarters) that she cannot.

By this seventh outing, Kate has an admirer – Lucian Simonson, a doctor – and she has also discovered a family. Kate was adopted as a baby and has only recently found her natural relatives, who come from a lower social class than the one she was raised to inhabit. When her niece needs to convalesce after succumbing to a dangerous bout of diphtheria, Kate decides to take her out of Leeds and into the country. Lucian’s aunt has recently died and her house is standing empty; it’s the perfect opportunity for a holiday in the Yorkshire countryside, but it’s also clear from Lucian’s manner that it’s a trial run for Kate in a house that could easily be her own. Kate has come to value her independence, and she isn’t keen to be rushed. But at the same time, she is as aware as the next woman in 1926 that marriage offers a more conventional lifestyle than her rackety profession.

However, it seems Kate’s reputation has preceeded her. Lucian’s Aunt Flora has left a box of cuttings and notes for Kate concerning a murder that she witnessed from her bedroom window ten years ago. She saw the landlord of the local pub as he was knifed, but in a strange scuffle, the person who commited the murder was not the person tried and hanged for the crime. At the time, the word of one elderly lady was insufficient evidence against the fact that the drunk in the gutter was discovered with the weapon in his hand. Flora was convinced a third person had been involved, who had quickly run away, but with no idea who this person might be, and much hostility in the village against her defence of the accused, justice proceeded to her chagrin. Flora knew of her nephew’s involvement with a private detective and hoped to meet her one day – leaving her posthumous legacy for Kate when Lucian failed to introduce them in time.

Kate’s hardly been in the village five minutes before other inhabitants are seeking her help. Her own niece, Harriet, befriends a girl whose brother has gone missing, and the local gentry call Kate in on a delicate matter of missing love letters. You’ll not be surprised to know that all three mysteries are bound together in unguessable ways.

This is a reliably strong series with a plausible heroine and clever, deftly interwoven plots. There’s just enough history supporting the stories – in this novel the General Strike of 1926 is the main talking point, with Kate unable to access enough petrol for her car – to be realistic without overloading the reader. I found this highly readable, and satisfyingly written.


superfluous womenI realise this is Frances Brody’s blog tour but I hope she won’t mind if I mention another cosy crime novel I’ve been sent – Superfluous Women by Carola Dunn. While we’re doing the cosy thing here, we might as well put them all together, because if you like one, you’ll probably like the others. This is the 21st Daisy Dalrymple novel, and they are remarkably soothing comfort fare. I’ve read lots of them, and followed Daisy’s progress post-WW1 and the loss of her fiancé to her marriage (hopelessly shocking to her aristocratic mother) to a DCA from Scotland Yard. Daisy is a much more unofficial crime-solver than Kate Shackleton, and so this murder concerns the discovery of a body in the cellar of a house her friends have recently moved into. Three superfluous women, they have come together to share their living costs and pool their resources, and Daisy, visiting only while recuperating herself from bronchitis, just has the knack of being on the spot when crime takes place. I do feel that if you like Carola Dunn, you’ll like Frances Brody, and vice versa. It’s autumn, the nights are drawing in, the days are growing cold, and cosy crime is a wonderful antidote, I find, to the general blahs of the season.

Crime Fiction Giveaway

Just a quick post for this giveaway as the full review will appear in Shiny on 8th October when our autumn edition goes live. But the lovely people at Constable offered me a free copy for any of my readers, anywhere, and a comment will put you in the draw.

murder on seaEarlier this year I read the first in the Whitstable Pearl series by Julie Wassmer and enjoyed it. Wassmer used to write scripts for Eastenders, so she was always going to be a safe pair of hands. This second novel was, unsurprisingly, better than the first as is so often the case with crime fiction series, as the characters become more clearly defined and grow from book to book.

I started reading this one morning last week, and although I had all sorts of things I ought to have been doing, I finished it later that same day. It’s cosy crime set in the seaside community of Whitstable and our sleuth is restauranteur and private eye, Pearl Nolan. A spate of poison pen messages in Christmas cards causes much upset among Pearl’s friends and acquaintances, and is swiftly followed by a suspicious death at the church hall fundraiser. Pearl’s love interest, DCI Mike McGuire happens to be at the fundraiser thanks to Pearl and so he, too, finds himself excluded from the police investigation. Together, they set out to find the culprit.

This is just a really good, engaging story, lots of suspects and colourful characters, strong plotting, satisfying ending. Cosy crime isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s my comfort reading go-to. If it’s yours, put yourself in the draw, which I’ll close next Friday, 2nd October.

This Was Exciting Six Weeks Ago

Way back in the mists of time, which is to say the very end of July, Mr Litlove rang me early one morning to say he’d just learned his job was coming to an end. The reason was ostensibly reorganisation of the company, and indeed there is going to be a lot of that, none of which would have done Mr Litlove any good. But there were also probably deeper, darker reasons between him and his boss which I will leave alone for now. Suffice to say that the very evening before this happened, I had asked Mr Litlove just how long he thought he was going to manage to hold out in his job, and whether he was ever going to fulfill his long-held interest in furniture making.

So even though the news was a bit of a shock, it didn’t take us long to figure out that now his company was actually going to pay him to leave – before a great deal of confusion and chaos took place – and give him a very welcome boost to his life as a fine woodworker.

At the time this was terrifically exciting and alarming and new. There were weeks when all we did every evening was make plans. What kind of furniture would he make? Were we going to covert the garage to a workshop? What sort of budget could we live on? We began to sketch out a timeframe in which Mr Litlove could experiment and also stockpiled ideas for adjunct businesses that might bring in useful income, like running a workshop, giving woodworking demonstrations in schools, designing plans for pieces of furniture, and so on. I promised to run the social media side of things, and will start a blog later in the autumn – which should be interesting as what I know about woodwork would fit on the back of a postage stamp.

And then we eased from this state into one of waiting. I couldn’t say anything on this blog until an official announcement had been made, and it’s taken this long finally to reach that point. We put a whiteboard up in the kitchen and added any ideas to it that occurred to us. We totted up finances lots of times, and I had one day when I sat at my desk thinking, no income for a while and no stable income for much longer, crikey. So like all gambles, we put a limit on it and decided that a couple of years should show Mr Litlove whether he was really suited to a craftsman’s way of life, and he could rethink at any point.

And still we waited. It’s become, I suppose, a familiar daydream now and although it is actually going to happen, it feels unreal. But we do hope this will be Mr Litlove’s last week in the office and from next week onwards, we can finally start. I say ‘we’ cavalierly as no one in their right minds would put a chisel in my hands. But I will do my research-marketing-publicity bit and act as a general encourager. Something that Mr Litlove is very worried about. ‘I love all of you apart from your Puritan work ethic,’ he told me, and I must say I was rather thrilled at the thought of having a strong, healthy person to exert my plans for productivity upon, when that work ethic has had to make do with a chronic-fatigued me for so many years. ‘I’m going to be very vulnerable to workplace bullying at first,’ said Mr Litlove making a sad face. ‘Oh!’ I said. ‘But all I….’ ‘And you,’ he continued, ‘are going to be vulnerable to sexual harrassment in the workplace. Let’s face it, there’s going to be a tough couple of months ahead and it’s not always going to look professional.’

It’s certainly not going to be life as we’ve known it, but I’m ready now for it to begin.