Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for the State of Treason by Paul Walker

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Paul Walker to the blog, with a guest post on the historical research he undertook to write State of Treason, set in Elizabethan England, a period that’s a particular favourite of mine.

Here’s what Paul had to say about his research methodology for the William Constable spy thrillers.

“I’m not a historian and had read very little history non-fiction in the years leading up to 2018. So, I was under no illusion that writing my first work of historical fiction was going to take a lot of research. It was going to be my second attempt at writing a novel. The first, a recently completed contemporary thriller, had been put to one side as an apprentice piece. It wasn’t very good, but I had learned a lot; enough to convince me that I was ready to tackle historical fiction. Mind you, I didn’t take much convincing. I had harboured that ambition for about 20 years, ever since reading the Patrick O’Brian series of books on the early nineteenth century English navy. I adored O’Brian’s use of language and the way his writing had produced a sharp sense of time and place. 

I had selected the period and genre as an Elizabethan spy thriller. I’ll admit that the choice of period was influenced by my relative familiarity with characters and events, but that learning was gathered from reading fiction, watching films, TV series and docu-dramas. I didn’t have the depth of knowledge that would escape the attention of eagle-eyed readers ready to pounce on any error in the timeline of actual events or placement of a real character in the wrong town or country.

Like a game of donkey’s tail, I had stuck a pin in the chronology of English history – now what? I knew I had to do research, but there was no typical, documented way to research historical fiction. Of course, there’s also no standard route to writing a novel. Some plan meticulously with charts and spreadsheets for events, characters, sub-plots, locations, dialogue and action while others simply start tapping on the keyboard or put pen to paper and see where it takes them. I’m not a great planner, but understood that I had to create a structure from my research, which I would use to direct my writing. How that structure would manifest itself, I wasn’t sure.

We have an excellent independent bookshop nearby (David’s of Letchworth if I am allowed to name drop) with an extensive second-hand section on history. At the outset of my research, I purchased 17 books; 3 were biographies of Elizabeth; others covered major historical figures from the period including Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley, Doctor Dee and Francis Drake. I didn’t read every page of these books, but I became immersed in more than three months’ reading, note taking and expanding my research library by following up references in the original collection.

I’m fascinated by maps and charts. I purchased a wonderful book titled, London: A History in Maps by Peter Barberand a large map of Tudor London, which I unfolded and pinned to the wall of my writing shed. I had London as the location and chose the year 1578 as the starting point for my first book. I picked that year as I could find nothing of great importance recorded in the literature, so I was free to invent intrigue and peril. On reflection, that was a strange decision, but as it was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, I probably lacked the confidence to weave the plot around real events. The second and third books in the series have actual historical episodes at the core of their stories.

I had done enough research to create a plot and begin writing. But research never stops and there wasn’t a day’s writing when I didn’t have to check facts, research new possibilities or unearth more detail on a generalisation. Of course, a lot of this research is on the Internet and Wikipedia provides a ‘quick and dirty’ source to check or validate information. There are many other useful websites and documents online, although veracity, objectivity and completeness should always be questioned. Unexpected, and valuable sources of information are held in unpublished academic theses, dissertations and lectures, not least because they can often contain surprising pearls of knowledge.

The first book in the series is titled, State of Treason. The plot developed in a way I didn’t anticipate, involving privateering and an adventure to the ‘New Lands’. For reasons I won’t divulge here, the scholar protagonist, William Constable, invents a device for improving the accuracy of ship navigation. This meant further research and a crash course on celestial navigation, as well as reading up on the explorers and adventurers, John Hawkins and Humphrey Gilbert. The shadow staff mentioned in the book as William’s invention, is an imagined forerunner of the backstaff or Davis Quadrant. Captain John Davis conceived this instrument during his voyage to search for the Northwest Passage and is described in his book Seaman’s Secrets, 1594.

A key incident referenced in the second book, A Necessary Killing, was the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland. I was grateful for discovery of a dissertation by C Sasso at the University of Chicago on the Desmond Rebellions, as I regularly delved into its pages to help with the writing.

The third book, The Queen’s Devil, has probably the most complex plot incorporating threads of a number of real occurrences and characters. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking historical characters was Giordano Bruno, a defrocked Dominican Friar turned philosopher and proclaimer of an infinite universe. I was particularly indebted to John Bossy’s book, Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair; an enthralling read as well as a mine of information on plots and intrigues in 1580’s England.

So, there you have it; a rundown of the main elements of my research that led to writing the William Constable series of historical fiction. I understand this blog post would have been more interesting if I had taken the trouble to visit the sites in person, absorbed the sensation of time and place from historical objects and examined Walsingham’s original handwritten letters in the British Library. I regret, the truth is more mundane.”

What a fascinating journey into researching the time period. I’m always astounded by how the little pieces of information discovered while researching something else, ultimately worm their way into novels. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your experiences. I agree that a good second hand book shop is a must.

If this has you intrigued, as it does me, here are the details for State of Treason, available now as an audio book, as well as ebook.

London, 1578

William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.

His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life are forfeit.

Buy Links:

Amazon

AudioAmazon UK • Amazon US  

This book can be read for free with #KindleUnlimited subscription. 

Meet the Author

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.

Website • Twitter • Facebook

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Today I’m delighted to welcome Toni Mount to the blog with an excerpt from her new novel, The Colour of Evil.

Here’s the blurb;

Every Londoner has money worries, and talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.
When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities. Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.
From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners. From mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds? Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Hue-and-Cry

Of a sudden, there came a shout of ‘Stop thief!’ from farther along Bladder Street. That set off the hubbub of the hue-and-cry. Neighbours hastened onto the street, sounding horns, clattering spoons on pots and pans, adding to the din. It meant Adam and I were obliged to join the chase, pursuing the miscreant, whoever he might be. Adam sprinted ahead, fleet of foot, with Gawain running at full speed, thinking this a fine game. They turned up Noble Street, betwixt the precinct of St Martin-le-Grand and the Goldsmiths’ Hall, disappearing from my sight, along with the crowd of others who ran, hoping to apprehend the villain.

Never much of a runner myself, I soon lagged behind, keeping company with a breathless old man and a woman encumbered with a sleeping infant on her shoulder and armed with a hefty ladle. We would ne’er catch the most sluggardly criminal but the law demanded we make the effort, or else be fined for aiding and abetting the same. My hip was hindering my progress, slow as it was, and by the time we reached St Vedast’s Church at the lower end of Noble Street, I had to pause to ease my protesting bones. The old man stopped beside me to catch his breath; the woman too.

It was then that I glanced up the alleyway beside the church. A pile of rubbish half-blocked the narrow passage. All was filth and grime and stank of stale piss. Yet there was just light sufficient to see a flash of red: a good shoe, I realised, protruding from behind the unsavoury heap of detritus.

I pointed it out to the old man, then put my finger to my lips.

The old man nodded his understanding. He and I crept forth, into the alley. Like so many such passages around the city, this one seemed to end in a blank wall beyond the rubbish. There would be no escape for the vermilion-shod thief – if it was he. I stepped around a broken, handle-less bucket and then a collection of rusted metal odds and ends so as not to alert our quarry. When we drew within a yard or two, we both dashed forward, shouting ‘Hold! Hold, villain!’

A middle-aged fellow leaped from his place of concealment and attempted to push us aside. I shoved him in one direction and the old man tripped him. As the culprit staggered back along the alley, into Noble Street, the woman with the infant awaited him. Her skilful use of the ladle without rousing the child was remarkable. She brought it down upon his head, then whacked him across his middle. He went sprawling in the dirt. The clang of metal as he hit the ground revealed his ill-gotten gains, hidden ’neath his jerkin. A gilded candlestick rolled aside, its partner lay sorely dented – mayhap by the ladle blow – beside the fallen fellow. We had caught our thief.

We dragged him to his feet and shook him awake, marching him back to Bladder Street. I had the stolen candlesticks tucked under my arm. The rascal began complaining and attempted to pull free as his senses rallied but the woman threatened him with the ladle and he came quietly, resigned to his fate.    

The householder he had robbed greeted us as heroes, the more so when I returned the candlesticks, though he sorrowed at the damage done. We said naught concerning the ladle as the possible cause of the dents.

‘Ale! Ale for all!’ the householder cried as those who had spent their strength in the hue-and-cry began to trickle back, to report that the thief had got clean away. Most seemed delighted that we had apprehended the culprit but a few were annoyed to have gone to so much effort for no purpose. Others – including Adam – were disappointed to have missed out on the moment of capture. 

‘There was naught exciting about it, cousin,’ I assured him.

‘Did he put up much of a fight?’ someone else asked.

I was about to tell him ‘nay’ but the old man – Todd by name, as I learned – made answer for me.

‘I’ll say. The devil fought us like… like a devil. Kicking and flailing and yelling filthy words at me, young Seb here, oh, and Alice… her with the babe-in-arms. So we pummelled him and took him by force, didn’t we Seb? He was lashing out, all to no avail. We was too much for him, wasn’t we?’ 

The event grew in the telling, Todd elaborating and inventing new details to each new listener who asked. He and I became more heroic in our actions as the evening wore on; the woman, Alice, the true heroine with her ladle, became relegated to the role of a mere on-looker. By the time the City Bailiff, my friend Thaddeus Turner, arrived to take the thief into custody, Todd’s tale had become one of knights errant upon some holy quest. He told Thaddeus how we had wrestled the sword-wielding scoundrel of unsurpassed strength to the ground, despite his casting of evil charms upon us, taking many a cut and buffet in exchange – no matter that we bore not a solitary mark from our encounter.

I shook my head behind Todd’s back, such that Thaddeus should see me.    

‘I shall make a true report on the morrow,’ I mouthed to him, not wishing to spoil Todd’s hour of glory.

Praise for The Colour of Evil

Samantha Willcoxson, author & historian:

Toni Mount is simply brilliant. If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake – and I do – you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley. From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”

Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy:

“Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”

Sharon Bennet Connoly, author and medieval historian:

“A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”

Kathryn Warner, medieval historian and author of numerous books about the fourteenth century, including biographies of Edward II and Isabella of France:

“The ninth instalment of Toni Mount’s popular Seb Foxley series is sure to delight Seb’s many fans. Mount puts her deep knowledge of late medieval England to good use once again, and takes us on another exciting adventure, this time with Seb’s older brother Jude, returned from Italy, in tow. Mount’s detailed world-building, as always, brings fifteenth-century London to life.”

The Colour of Evil is available to read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

Connect with Toni Mount

Website  Website  Twitter         

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Amazon Author Page

Goodreads  Fantastic Fiction

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Colour of Evil blog tour.

Happy Release Day to The Custard Corpses – a delicious 1940s mystery

Say what?

I know, but there you have it. 2020 was a strange year and out of it grew The Custard Corpses. I really, really hope you will take a chance on it, and enjoy something a little (okay, a lot) different from this historical fiction author. (The advanced reviewers are loving it.)

Here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

I want to give a shout-out to my cover designer, Flintlock Covers. It is exactly what I wanted when I thought about the cover for the book.

Book Review – Blood Runs Thicker by Sarah Hawkswood – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

August 1144. Osbern de Lench is known far and wide as a hard master, whose temper is perpetually frayed. After riding to survey his land and the incoming harvest from the top of the nearby hill, his horse returns to the hall riderless and the lifeless body of the lord is found soon after.

Was it the work of thieves, or something closer to home? With an heir who is cast in the same hot-tempered mould, sworn enemies for neighbours, and something amiss in the relationship between Osbern and his wife, undersheriff Hugh Bradecote, the wily Serjeant Catchpoll and apprentice Walkelin have suspects aplenty.

Blood Runs Thicker is the first book I’ve read by Sarah Hawkswood, although this is a long established series that somehow, I’ve missed before.

I confess, I struggled a little with the ‘ye olde wordy’ language and speech but soon became accustomed to it, and could settle into the carefully crafted reconstruction of the period.

The story quickly gathers pace, and I was drawn into the mystery. The characters are well-sketched, and the interactions between Bradecote, Catchpoll and Walkelin lighten the narrative. I think Walkelin will be a character that develops moving forward in the series.

And the resolution of the mystery is deliciously complex and thoroughly enjoyable. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series, a firm 4/5 from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Blood Runs Thicker is released 18th March 2021, and can be purchased here.

And if you’re curious, please do check out the other review on the Blood Runs Thicker Book Blast.

Book Review – The Consequences of Fear (Maisie Dodds #16) by Jacqueline Winspear – 1940s Historical Mystery

Here’s the blurb;

It is September 1941 and young Freddie Hackett is a message runner – he collects messages from a government office and delivers them to various destinations around London. He sets off one day with a message, along a route of bombed-out houses, and witnesses a murder. Freddie instinctively wants to summon the police, but he has an envelope to deliver first – all communications during wartime could be urgent. When the man who answers the door appears to be the very same person he has just seen kill another, Freddie rushes to the police, but is summarily dismissed. However, he remembers an address in Fitzroy Square, belonging to a private investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Will she believe him and help solve the mystery?

The Consequences of Fear is the first Maisie Dodds book I’ve read (I know, it’s number 16 – but I’ve just ‘got’ into books from this time period). It won’t be the last.

For a first time reader, there were a few stumbling blocks now and then throughout this book, only to be expected, of course. There are clearly well-loved, repeat characters in this book, and the author does a great job of involving as many of Maisie’s friends and allies as possible. This allows the case to be quite complex as she attempts to solve it, running between London and Chelstone.

I really enjoyed how deeply embedded the story is in the history of the period, and I think Maisie will be a fascinating character to uncover in earlier books.

Thoroughly enjoyable, even for a newbie.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

The Consequences of Fear is released today, 18th March 2021, in hardback, and on 23rd March in ebook. Get it here.

The Custard Corpses – cover reveal and First Chapter

Here is it, a book I never thought I’d write – not only a mystery, but one set nearly a thousand years after most of the books I write, and one which began with a series of adverts.

Here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

As this is something completely new to me, I’m going to share a snippet of the new book.

Chapter 1

Erdington, October 1943

Sam bit back the cry of pain, coming to an abrupt stop. The pavement was shaded with the colour of the advancing night, but even so, he knew where the uneven step was. He really shouldn’t have kicked it. Not again. Would he never learn?

He blinked the tears from his eye and lifted his right hand to rub it over the ache of his lower back. All these years, and still it hurt. It would never stop. He knew it, and yet sometimes, he forgot, all the same, only to be rudely reminded when he overbalanced or attempted to take a step that was just too wide.

There was a reason he was here and not on one of the many front lines of this terrible war, the second in his lifetime. There was a reason he was here while his son, John, fought in his place.

His breath rasped through his suddenly tight chest, and yet the thin shard of light from behind the tightly closed curtains encouraged him on. Inside, there was companionship, and it drove him onwards, made him quest to be a better man. Despite the fact he knew it wasn’t true.

“Come on,” he urged himself, and although it was going to ache, he forced his legs to move, left, then right, then left, and his hand reached up to push the welcoming door open.

Appetising smells greeted him, and he dredged a smile to his face, turning to hang his hat on the waiting peg and to shrug the overcoat from his thin shoulders, revealing his policeman’s uniform beneath. The blue so dark; it was almost black. He hooked his gas mask above his overcoat. There in case he should require it. But no bombs had fallen for half a year now. He hoped none ever would again. No voice was raised in greeting to his noisy arrival. It never was.

With the door closed and locked behind him, he slipped his feet from his black shoes, using one foot to force down the ankle and then doing the same in his socked-feet. It was better than being forced to bend when his back was so painful, even if it was destroying the back of his shoes, as his wife complained whenever she witnessed it. He’d taken to hiding his work shoes behind the boots he wore to the allotment. Better that Annie did not see them.

Opening the door that led into the heart of his home, he paused, just watching her for a heartbeat.

“Evening, love.” He bent to place a kiss on his wife’s head, refusing to notice the thinning brown hair, the streaks of grey making up more and more of it as the years passed. A skeletal hand reached up to grip his, and he squeezed tightly, settling beside her at the table.

A single lamp afforded the only light in the small kitchen, a warm fire burning in the hearth in the sitting room as he settled beside her. His wife didn’t so much as look at him. Sam considered that she didn’t want to see the ruin of her husband. 

Time hadn’t been kind to either of them and yet he couldn’t help but be grateful for the years they’d had together. It could have been so different. So many of his brothers-in-arms lost fighting over two decades ago. They would have loved to live long enough to see the ravages of time etched into their skin and characters, to grow weary with aches and pains, to learn the experiences that only time could afford.

A flurry of movement from Annie, and a plate was placed on the table before him, the lid swept aside. The steam took only a moment to clear, and he suppressed his rumbling stomach. It was a meal as any other day, not particularly appetising, and yet, food all the same. He was grateful for the potatoes, harvested from their garden, and the gleaming orange carrots, if not for the small sausages. Gravy pooled around the meat, and he closed his eyes, imagining a feast fit for a king, before meticulously cutting, eating and savouring every mouthful.

His wife didn’t speak, and neither did he. No doubt, she was as caught up in her thoughts as he was in his.

He considered reaching for his newspaper, but instead, his eyes were fixed by the bright image that lay open on the magazine discarded on the table before him. The Picture Post. Was there ever a magazine more filled with stories that titillated while offering little or no actual facts?

Not that he ever complained. Not anymore. If she enjoyed the stories and bright images of the adverts, then why should he? Anything that distracted her from the constant worry about their son. Anything.

Now, he found a smile tugging on his lips, and his mind cast him back to when his son had been a small boy. John had delighted in such simple antics as that on display. The custard advert enticed all parents to part with their hard-earned ration coupons. He couldn’t see that a liberal dollop of the sugary, creamy mixture would help any child become an athlete, professional cricket player or ballerina, but what did he know? He was just an old man, with a job that kept him busy and an ache in his heart where his youth had once been.

Sam reached for the folded newspaper, the smirk still playing on his lips.

“Don’t.” His wife’s voice shocked him, sounding more formidable than he’d heard for the last few years, ever since their son had left to fight Britain’s fresh battles against the might of Hitler and Germany.

He lifted his eyes to find hers boring into his.

“Don’t,” and now there was more softness, but it was too late. His eyes had alighted on what she’d been trying to keep from him.

Once more, he felt an unbidden tear form in the corner of his eye as he gazed at the hazy black and white photograph. Not that he didn’t know it intimately. He did. He’d stared at that image, and others besides, until they were emblazoned on his very soul, overriding even the final images of his lost comrades from the Great War, the war to end all wars. How wrong they’d been.

He swallowed, the burn making it feel as though it were cardboard and not the remnants of his dinner that he evacuated from his mouth.

“Again?” he felt the need to say something.

“Again,” she replied, and there was understanding and sorrow in that look, and he didn’t want any of it. He didn’t want to add to her fears and worries with his own.

“It was a long time ago,” he tried to reassure, reaching for her hand and encasing it within his. It was no longer soft but instead forged in iron, the wiry strength surprising him, even though it shouldn’t, not after all this time.

“It rolls around too quickly, these days,” a hint of a smile on her thin lips, blue eyes glistening with sorrow, and he realised that she was trying to reassure him. He hated it that she felt the necessity.

“And still, there’s no closure for the family.”

“No. But they’re not alone in that. Not anymore.” Her voice trailed off as she spoke, and he turned to gaze into the glow from the table lamp, allowing it to haze in front of him. She was right in that, as well. Many would never hold the knowledge of what exactly happened to their loved ones. Yet, there was a world of difference between adults and children. It was the fact he’d been a child that cut the deepest. 

His mind returned to that terrible day. How could it not? He’d been a young man, wounded and broken after his time at The Front, but at least he’d still breathed. Not like the splayed body found in the undergrowth close to the church hall, eyes forever staring. Somehow, the rigour mortis of a smile on that cherubic face, so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking the boy was merely caught in the act of playing hide and seek.

But the face had been blue and white, the eyeballs rimmed with the grey haze of death that he’d come to know so well during his time in the trenches before his injury had ensured he need never revisit the place.

In the faded light of the lamp, he watched the scene, as though he’d been a bird, able to watch from above. His eyes alighted, not on the corpse, but rather on his chief inspector, the man who’d made him who he was today, and yet who’d been broken by the failure to solve the death of the boy.

Sam found a soft smile playing around his lips. Fullerton had been a meticulous man, with his long mackintosh and tightly wedged police hat covering the tendrils of greying hair showing beneath it and in the sideburns that snaked down to meet the dark moustache quivering over his lips. Many would have been forgiven for thinking he had no compassion for the corpse. But no, he’d had more than most, but he had desired to solve the case, to bring the perpetrator to justice. It was a source of unending disquiet that it had never been possible.

It had marked him from that day he’d found Robert’s body to the day of his death.

It hadn’t been Sam’s first case, far from it, but it had felt like it. He’d learned so much, and yet it had never been enough. Not for young Robert McFarlane and his family.

He swallowed once more, his keen memory fastening on the scene. Or rather, on the way that the body had been presented. The murderer hadn’t killed young Robert beside the church hall behind the High Street. In fact, they’d never found the place the murder had truly taken place, only where the body had been found.

Sam thought of Mrs McFarlane, her tear-streaked face, her shaking shoulders. Her oldest son, taken from her, just as her husband had been by the enemy’s bullets during the Great War. There’d been so much grief and loss in the years during and after the war, if not dead on some far-flung battlefield, then carried away by the terrible Spanish influenza. It had all seemed never-ending. And then, the spark of an untainted future when all had seemed calmer, taken between one breath and the next.

Sam had never seen grief festoon someone so entirely. As Chief Inspector Fullerton had told her the news, she’d aged before their eyes. It had taken his quick reflexes to ensure she didn’t collapse to the floor on the bright red doorstep, her young daughters, wide-eyed and sobbing as they watched their mother, hands clasped tightly together, as though they could hold their mother up with such an act.

There’d been a time when Sam had wished Chief Inspector Fullerton hadn’t told Mrs McFarlane in such a way, his words hard and unfeeling, and yet, he’d come to appreciate that there was no right and wrong way to impart such terrible news. It was almost a kindness to say the words, ‘your son is dead,’ as quickly as possible. There was no need to use superfluous words, to offer sympathy, to say anything but the facts.

Her accusing eyes had followed him through the years. Why they’d said that day and many days since, is my son dead, while yours yet lives?

It was not Mrs McFarlane who’d marked the anniversary of her son’s death, each and every year for the last twenty years, but rather, her daughter. The older one, Rebecca, had taken on the responsibility for ensuring that no one ever forgot her brother when her mother sadly passed away, worn down by grief and loss, by the need to survive in a world turned upside down, with nothing but a war pension to ease the burdens. 

It was Rebecca who routinely sent letters asking for updates on the case. It was Rebecca that he tried to avoid at all costs when he saw her at church, on the tram or along the High Street. It was Rebecca who’d broken Chief Inspector Fullerton, in a rare show of emotion that shocked him to recall, even now. He’d never seen Fullerton like that. He’d never imagined Fullerton could be so very emotional that tears would run from his brown eyes, that he’d tear at what remained of his hair in frustration. 

Chief Inspector Fullerton had retired a few years ago, but he’d not lived long enough to enjoy it. Sam shook his head. One murder and so many lives destroyed, and still, the murderer was out there, perhaps hiding, perhaps luxuriating in what he’d managed to get away with, or maybe, he was dead as well, getting away with his crime for all time. Twenty years was a long time.

Sam was snapped from his reveries by a bowl appearing before him. Somehow, he’d become so lost in the past; he’d not even heard his wife stand at the stove for the last many minutes.

A cheeky smile from her, driving away the wrinkles and the grey streaks in her hair, making her look twenty years younger, and he looked down at the bowl before him.

“Custard?” he asked, enjoying the unusual light-hearted look on her face.

“I know it’s your favourite. There’s even some apple in there, somewhere, and some blackberries, picked from the country lane on my walk yesterday afternoon to Pipe Hayes Park.”

“How did you get it?” he asked, eagerly spooning the sweet mixture into his mouth.

“I’ve been saving my packets. I didn’t tell you. I know you wouldn’t be able to wait.”

“Then you have my thanks,” he grinned, fully returning to the present. He couldn’t do anything about the past. No matter how much he wished he could.

“This is delicious,” he complimented his wife, leaning back, hand on his full belly.

“Well, now you just need to wait another year, and then you can have more.” But there was a lightness to her voice when she spoke, and the flash of joy in her eyes cheered him. There was so much wrong with the world at the moment, and yet here, beside his wife, in their cosy front room, everything was well. Even if only for now.

Intrigued? The Custard Corpses is released on 25th March 2021, and you can preorder it here.

Book Review – The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward – historical fiction

Here’s the blurb;

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

An exquisitely crafted and compelling mystery that invites the reader in to the crumbling Clewer Hall to help unlock its secrets alongside the unforgettable Louisa Drew.

I’ve been drawn to books like The Quickening for my last few reads, and it’s helped that there’s been a good selection in the Kindle 99p sale.

The Quickening sits comfortably within its genre – it’s not a terrifying ghost story, although it is eerie in places, and with a definite supernatural element.

The main character, Louisa Drew, immediately earns the sympathy of the reader. A life challenged by recent tragedies, a desire to move on from them finds her in an uncomfortable position, hungering for the life she once led before the war, with the promise of the future not quite what she’d thought it might be. Combined with the secrets that permeate Clewer Hall, the scene is set for a fascinating and intriguing story as we learn more about Louisa, and more about the inhabitants and history of Clewer Hall, and the famous seance of thirty years before.

An enjoyable read.

I snapped this up for 99p in the kindle sale, and you can buy it here.

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Book Review – Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver – historical fiction. Recommended.

Here’s the blurb;

In Edwardian Suffolk, a manor house stands alone in a lost corner of the Fens: a glinting wilderness of water whose whispering reeds guard ancient secrets. Maud is a lonely child growing up without a mother, ruled by her repressive father. 

When he finds a painted medieval devil in a graveyard, unhallowed forces are awakened. 

Maud’s battle has begun. She must survive a world haunted by witchcraft, the age-old legends of her beloved fen – and the even more nightmarish demons of her father’s past.

Spanning five centuries, Wakenhyrst is a darkly gothic thriller about murderous obsession and one girl’s longing to fly free by the bestselling author of Dark Matter and Thin Air

Wakenhyrst drew me in because of the blurb and the cover. It might have helped that I’ve just read a few books with a similar theme – supernatural mixed with historical fiction.

Wakenhyrst didn’t disappoint. The character of Maud was immediately engaging, that of her father, quite distant, until we get some way through the book, and the reader begins to realise the story is about the relationship between Maud, her father, the fen and the local church.

What delighted me about this book was just how deeply embedded it was in the distant past – both the Early English period, and the fifteenth century, moving forward to the early 1900s and also stopping off in the 1960s, making use of the pervading attitudes in all four time periods to drive the narrative.

It’s not an easy, pleasant read, but it is a worthwhile read, extremely atmospheric and with a little twist, right at the end, which makes sense of so much more. Recommended.

It was 99p on Kindle when I purchased it, and still was when I wrote this review. You can purchase here.

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Book Review – The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea – historical murder mystery

Here’s the blurb;

When Rósa is betrothed to Jón Eiríksson, she is sent to a remote village. 

There she finds a man who refuses to speak of his recently deceased first wife, and villagers who view her with suspicion. 

Isolated and disturbed by her husband’s strange behaviour, her fears deepen. 

What is making the strange sounds in the attic? 

Who does the mysterious glass figure she is given represent? 

And why do the villagers talk of the coming winter darkness in hushed tones?

The Glass Woman is an intriguing tale of Iceland in the late 1600s.

I make no bones that I am fascinated by Iceland, perhaps not during this time period, but earlier, when the country was being settled. I tried this book on the off-chance – Jane Eyre in Iceland – yes, please.

And indeed, it is a dark tale, told from the viewpoint of Rosa. It is dark, frightening and claustrophobic, and reads very much like a much more modern Icelandic ghost story I read recently. It makes you shiver, it makes you feel for Rosa, but then everything changes and the book is not at all what you think it’s going to be.

I found the story intriguing and engaging, and if it’s not Jane Eyre in Iceland, it’s because the book is actually much harsher.

A wonderful story, thoroughly enthralling.

The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson – Book Review – 1930s murder mystery

Here’s the blurb;

Something sinister is afoot in the streets of Dundee, when a puppeteer is found murdered behind his striped Punch and Judy stand, as children sit cross-legged drinking ginger beer. At once, Dandy Gilver’s semmingly-innocuous investigation into plagiarism takes a darker turn. The gruesome death seems to be inextricably bound to the gloomy offices of Doig’s Publishers, its secrets hidden in the real stories behind their girls’ magazines The Rosie Cheek and The Freckle.

On meeting a mysterious professor from St Andrews, Dandy and her faithful colleague Alex Osbourne are flung into the worlds of academia, the theatre and publishing. Nothing is quite as it seems, and behind the cheerful facades of puppets and comic books, is a troubled history has begun to repeat itself.

The Mirror Dance is my first encounter with Dandy Gilver, even though this is book 15 of a 1930s mystery series.

The story is told from Dandy Gilver’s point of view, and while she does sometimes share thoughts and speech which are a little wordy, it doesn’t detract from the storyline, which is satisfying and quite deliciously complex.

Even though the voice of the narrator, Dandy, gives a few hints that all is not as it seems, I genuinely didn’t work out what had happened until it was revealed at the end.

A really enjoyable and entertaining read. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

The Mirror Dance is released on the 21st January 2021 in hardback and ebook and is available here;

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