It was a bittersweet month this month as July has become indelibly linked with The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. Last year it was cancelled (along with everything else) but this year it was able to go ahead, albeit under more stringent covid protocols. Sadly I had to cancel this year for personal reasons so I tortured myself by spending my time viewing all the Twitter tweets and photo’s. I’m delighted that it was a success for all those that could make it and next year, come hell or high water, I’ll be back!
It also reminded me, that I’d set myself the target of reading the Theakston Crime Novel Longlist. As this list was released in May I’ve failed abysmally by only having read one, so I’ll need to buck my ideas up. For anyone interested here’s the list.
- Cry Baby by Mark Billingham
- The Other Passenger by Louise Candlish
- The Cutting Place by Jane Casey
- Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh
- Black River by Will Dean
- Between Two Evils by Eva Dolan
- The Guest List by Lucy Foley
- The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths SHORTLISTED
- The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone ***
- Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton SHORTLISTED
- Still Life by Val McDermid
- The Last Crossing by Brian McGilloway HIGHLY COMMENDED
- Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee SHORTLISTED
- Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent
- A Song For The Dark Times by Ian Rankin ***
- Remain Silent by Susie Steiner
- We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker *** WINNER
- The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood SHORTLISTED
Well I was doing quite well this month on the purchasing front until I made the mistake of going through my Kindle sale list this month and realising that I didn’t already own as many as I thought! While on the subject of bargains, several of the above books (as I put this post together) are available for Kindle at a bargain price – see the starred titles.
Other than dreaming of Harrogate, it’s been a pretty quiet month. No online events, no real events just the usual buying frenzy and not as many books read as I’d hoped. It’s a good job I’m still putting my stints in on the exercise bike or my reading would be virtually nil. Let’s see if things pick up next month
(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)
Books I Bought this Month
This is How We Are Human by Louise Beech
Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.
Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy … she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.
Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.
When these three lives collide – intertwine in unexpected ways – everything changes. For everyone.
A topical and moving drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family … to survive … This Is How We Are Human is a searching, rich and thought-provoking novel with an emotional core that will warm and break your heart.
The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn
War would bring them together.
But would it ultimately tear them apart?
Bea, Plum, Bubbles, Joy and Lucy are five young women looking for adventure, fighting a forgotten war in the jungle attached to the Fourteenth Army. Running a mobile canteen, navigating treacherous roads and dodging hostile gunfire, they soon become embroiled in life-threatening battles of their own – battles that will haunt the women for the rest of their lives.
Oxford, 1976. At the height of an impossibly hot English summer, a woman slips into a museum and steals several rare Japanese netsuke, including the famed fox-girl. Despite the offer of a considerable reward, these tiny, exquisitely detailed carvings are never seen again.
London and Galway, 1999. On the eve of the new millennium, Olivia, assistant to an art dealer, meets Beatrix, an elderly widow who wishes to sell her late husband’s collection of Japanese art. Concealing her own motives, Olivia travels with Beatrix to a New Year’s Eve party, deep in the Irish countryside, where friendships will be tested and secrets kept for more than fifty years are spilled…
Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan
Madame Burova – Tarot Reader, Palmist and Clairvoyant is retiring and leaving her booth on the Brighton seafront after fifty years.
Imelda Burova has spent a lifetime keeping other people’s secrets and her silence has come at a price. She has seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Her cards had unmasked them all and her cards never lied. But Madame Burova is weary of other people’s lives, their ghosts from the past and other people’s secrets, she needs rest and a little piece of life for herself. Before that, however, she has to fulfill a promise made a long time ago. She holds two brown envelopes in her hand, and she has to deliver them.
In London, it is time for another woman to make a fresh start. Billie has lost her university job, her marriage, and her place in the world when she discovers something that leaves her very identity in question. Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail which might just lead right to Madame Burova’s door.
In a story spanning over fifty years, Ruth Hogan conjures a magical world of 1970s holiday camps and seaside entertainers, eccentrics, heroes and villains, the lost and the found. Young people, with their lives before them, make choices which echo down the years. And a wall of death rider is part of a love story which will last through time.
The Last Goodbye by Fiona Lucas
How can you ever move on, if you can’t let go?
Anna’s world was shattered three years ago when her husband Spencer was killed in a tragic accident. Her friends and family think it’s time she moved on, but how can she when she’s lost her soulmate?
On New Year’s Eve, Anna calls Spencer’s old phone just to hear his voicemail greeting. But to her surprise someone picks up. Brody answers and is the first person who truly understands what Anna is going through. As they begin to speak regularly, Anna finds herself opening up and slowly she discovers how to smile again, how to laugh, even how to hope.
But Brody hasn’t been entirely honest with Anna. Will his secret threaten everything, just as it seems she might find the courage to love again?
One Way Out by A A Dhand
IMMINENT SECURITY ALERT, LEAVE CITY PARK IMMEDIATELY.
DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt; there is worse to come.
A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtareen – the chosen ones.
The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.
But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtareen, to offer the Patriots his own deal. Because sometimes the only way to save lives, is to take them.
The Madness of Grief by Richard Coles
Whether it is pastoral care for the bereaved, discussions about the afterlife, or being called out to perform the last rites, death is part of the Reverend Richard Coles’s life and work. But when his partner the Reverend David Coles died, shortly before Christmas in 2019, much about death took Coles by surprise. For one thing, David’s death at the early age of forty-three was unexpected.
The man that so often assists others to examine life’s moral questions now found himself in need of help. He began to look to others for guidance to steer him through his grief. The flock was leading the shepherd. Much about grief surprised him: the volume of ‘sadmin’ you have to do when someone dies, how much harder it is travelling for work alone, even the pain of typing a text message to your partner – then realising you are alone.
The Reverend Richard Coles’s deeply personal account of life after grief will resonate, unforgettably, with anyone who has lost a loved one.
Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron
“I’ll never want to draw anyone else but you. You are my muse. Without you there is no art in me.”
With her pale, luminous skin and cloud of copper-colored hair, nineteen-year-old Lizzie Siddal looks nothing like the rosy-cheeked ideal of Victorian beauty. Working in a London milliner’s shop, Lizzie stitches elegant bonnets destined for wealthier young women, until a chance meeting brings her to the attention of painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Enchanted both by her ethereal appearance and her artistic ambitions–quite out of place for a shop girl–Rossetti draws her into his glittering world of salons and bohemian soirees.
Lizzie begins to sit for some of the most celebrated members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, posing for John Everett Millais as Shakespeare’s Ophelia, for William Holman Hunt–and especially for Rossetti, who immortalizes her in countless paintings as his namesake’s beloved Beatrice. The passionate visions Rossetti creates on canvas are echoed in their intense affair. But while Lizzie strives to establish herself as a painter and poet in her own right, betrayal, illness, and addiction leave her struggling to save her marriage and her sense of self.
Rita Cameron weaves historical figures and vivid details into a complex, unconventional love story, giving voice to one of the most influential yet overlooked figures of a fascinating era–a woman who is both artist and inspiration, long gazed upon, but until now, never fully seen.
The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths
Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder inquiry on his hands. The boiling might have been just a medieval curiosity – now it suggests a much more sinister purpose.
Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard that the network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?
As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.
All the Fun of the Fair by Caroline Hulse
It’s 1996, summer is coming, and eleven-year-old Fiona Larson is determined to make this her best year yet…
The Fair is the only good thing that happens every year. And Fiona Larson is the only person in town who’s never been.
She’s pretended to go – but she’s never been allowed. Because, before Fiona was even born, her sister died there.
This year, everything will be different.
Fiona is about to turn twelve – older than her sister was. This summer, Fiona will save some money, make new friends, and finally have some fun at The Fair.
But what she’ll actually do is:
– Find a mysterious bag in a bush
– Spy on everyone
– Lose her only friend
– Make a lot of lists
– Learn the truth about what happened at The Fair…
Transient Desires by Donna Leon
In his many years as a Commissario, Guido Brunetti has seen all manner of crime and known intuitively how to navigate the various pathways in his native Venice to discover the person responsible. Now, in the thirtieth novel in Donna Leon’s masterful series, he faces a heinous crime committed outside his jurisdiction. He is drawn in innocently enough: two young American women have been badly injured in a boating accident, joy riding in the Laguna with two young Italians. However, Brunetti’s curiosity is aroused by the behaviour of the young men, who abandoned the victims after taking them to the hospital. If the injuries were the result of an accident, why did they want to avoid association with it?
As Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, investigate the incident, they discover that one of the young men works for a man rumoured to be involved in more sinister night-time activities in the Laguna. To get to the bottom of what proves to be a gut-wrenching case, Brunetti needs to enlist the help of both the Carabinieri and the Guardia Costiera. Determining how much trust he and Griffoni can put in these unfamiliar colleagues adds to the difficulty of solving a peculiarly horrible crime whose perpetrators are technologically brilliant and ruthlessly organised.
by Poppy Alexander
It’s only the beginning of her story…
Jess Metcalf is perfectly happy with her quiet, predictable life – it’s just the way she likes it. But when her beloved grandmother passes away and she loses her job at the local library, her life is turned upside-down.
Packing up her grandmother’s books, she moves to a tiny cottage in a charming country village. To her surprise, Jess finds herself the owner of an old red telephone box, too – and she soon turns it into the littlest library around!
It’s not long before the books are borrowed and begin to work their magic – somehow, they seem to be bringing the villagers together once more…
Maybe it’s finally time for Jess to follow her heart and find a place to call home?
The Pact by Sharon Bolton
A golden summer, and six talented friends are looking forward to the brightest of futures – until a daredevil game goes horribly wrong, and a woman and two children are killed.
18-year-old Megan takes the blame, leaving the others free to get on with their lives. In return, they each agree to a ‘favour’, payable on her release from prison.
Twenty years later Megan is free.
Let the games begin . . .
Before My Actual Heart Breaks by Tish Delaney
‘If I could go back to being sixteen again, I’d do things differently.’
‘Everyone over the age of forty feels like that, you total gom,’ says my best friend Lizzie Magee.
When she was young Mary Rattigan wanted to fly. She was going to take off like an angel from heaven and leave the muck and madness of troubled Northern Ireland behind. Nothing but the Land of Happy Ever After would do for her.
But as a Catholic girl with a B.I.T.C.H. for a Mammy and a silent Daddy, things did not go as she and Lizzie Magee had planned.
Now, five children, twenty-five years, an end to the bombs and bullets, enough whiskey to sink a ship and endless wakes and sandwich teas later, Mary’s alone. She’s learned plenty of hard lessons and missed a hundred steps towards the life she’d always hoped for.
Will she finally find the courage to ask for the love she deserves? Or is it too late?
You, Me & the Sea by Elizabeth Haynes
Rachel is at crisis point. A series of disastrous decisions has left her with no job, no home, and no faith in herself. But an unexpected job offer takes her to a remote Scottish island, and it feels like a chance to recover and mend her battered self-esteem.
The island’s other inhabitants are less than welcoming. Fraser Sutherland is a taciturn loner who is not happy about sharing his lighthouse – or his precious coffee beans – and Lefty, his unofficial assistant, is a scrawny, scared lad who isn’t supposed to be there at all.
Homesick and out of her depth, Rachel is sure she’s made another huge mistake. But, as spring turns to summer, the wild beauty of the island begins to captivate her soul.
The Posthumous Adventures of Harry Whittaker by Bobbie Darbyshire
The first task is caring.
Only then comes letting go.
When Harry Whittaker, much loved star of stage and screen, dies suddenly of a heart attack, he finds himself still in this world. Trapped in a bizarre afterlife, he struggles to free himself. Meanwhile, his estranged son Richard is also trying to escape – from his failing café, his dotty mother and the wrong girlfriend. Perhaps what they all need is a guardian angel.
The Burial Circle by Kate Ellis
A skeleton discovered. A murder to be solved . . .
On a stormy night in December, a tree is blown down on an isolated Devon farm. When the fallen tree is dragged away, a rucksack is found caught amongst the roots – and next to it is a human skeleton.
The discovery of the body and the rucksack revives memories for DI Wesley Peterson. A young hitchhiker who went missing twelve years ago was last seen carrying a similar backpack. Suddenly a half-forgotten cold case has turned into a murder investigation.
Meanwhile, in the nearby village of Petherham, a man is found dead in suspicious circumstances whilst staying at a local guesthouse. Wesley’s friend, archaeologist Neil Watson, is studying Petherham’s ancient mill and uncovering the village’s sinister history. Could the string of mysterious deaths in Petherham over a hundred years ago be connected to the recent killings?
As Wesley digs deeper into the case, it seems that the dark whisperings of a Burial Circle in the village might not be merely legend after all . . .
Unbreak Your Heart by Katie Marsh
ONE BOY’S WISH. ONE EXTRAORDINARY LOVE STORY
Beth is determined to forget the past. But even when she leaves New York to start afresh in a Lake District village, she can’t shake the secrets that haunt her.
Single dad Simon still holds a candle for the woman who left him years ago. Every day is a struggle to earn a living while caring for his beloved son. He has no time for finding someone new.
But Jake is determined his plan will succeed – and what unfolds will change all three of them forever.
Waiting for the Miracle by Anna McPartlin
Caroline has hit rock bottom. After years of trying, it’s clear she can’t have children, and the pain has driven her and her husband apart. She isn’t pregnant, her husband is gone and her beloved dog is dead.
The other women at her infertility support group have their own problems, too. Natalie’s girlfriend is much less excited about having children than her. Janet’s husband might be having an affair. And then there’s Ronnie, intriguing, mysterious Ronnie, who won’t tell anyone her story.
Catherine is sixteen and pregnant. Her boyfriend wants nothing to do with her, and her parents are ashamed. When she’s sent away to a convent for pregnant girls, she is desperate not to be separated from her child. But she knows she might risk losing the baby forever.
The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
Odile Souchet is obsessed with books, and her new job at the American Library in Paris – with its thriving community of students, writers and book lovers – is a dream come true. When war is declared, the Library is determined to remain open. But then the Nazis invade Paris, and everything changes.
In Occupied Paris, choices as black and white as the words on a page become a murky shade of grey – choices that will put many on the wrong side of history, and the consequences of which will echo for decades to come.
Lily is a lonely teenager desperate to escape small-town Montana. She grows close to her neighbour Odile, discovering they share the same love of language, the same longings. But as Lily uncovers more about Odile’s mysterious past, she discovers a dark secret, closely guarded and long hidden.
Based on the true Second World War story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris, this is an unforgettable novel of romance, friendship, family, and of heroism found in the quietest of places.
A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone
Meet the Skelfs: well-known Edinburgh family, proprietors of a long-established funeral-home business, and private investigators…
When patriarch Jim dies, it’s left to his wife Dorothy, daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah to take charge of both businesses, kicking off an unexpected series of events.
Dorothy discovers mysterious payments to another woman, suggesting that Jim wasn’t the husband she thought he was. Hannah’s best friend Mel has vanished from university, and the simple adultery case that Jenny takes on leads to something stranger and far darker than any of them could have imagined.
As the women struggle to come to terms with their grief, and the demands of the business threaten to overwhelm them, secrets from the past emerge, which change everything…
The Big Chill by Doug Johnstone
Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life.
While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.
But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?
Following three women as they deal with the dead, help the living and find out who they are in the process, The Big Chill follows A Dark Matter, book one in the Skelfs series, which reboots the classic PI novel while asking the big existential questions, all with a big dose of pitch-black humour.
The Bride of Almond Tree by Robert Hillman
Can one broken heart heal another?
Wesley Cunningham has come home from the War with more wounds than he can count. What he wants now is a quiet life – and he’s fallen in love with his beautiful, fiercly intelligent neighbour Beth Hardy.
But Beth’s own battles have just begun. Determined to change the world, her committment and ideals will extract a heavy toll. Through it all, Wes will not stop loving her. This is the story of their journey through the catastrophic mid-twentieth century to find a way of being together.
All my Lies are True by Dorothy Koomson (Capital Crime Subscription)
Verity is telling lies…
And that’s why she’s about to be arrested for attempted murder.
Serena has been lying for years. . .
And that may have driven her daughter, Verity, to do something unthinkable…
Poppy’s lies have come back to haunt her . . .
So will her quest for the truth hurt everyone she loves?
But whose lies are going to end in tragedy?
The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard (Capital Crime Subscription)
I was the girl who survived the Nothing Man.
Now I am the woman who is going to catch him…
You’ve just read the opening pages of The Nothing Man, the true crime memoir Eve Black has written about her obsessive search for the man who killed her family nearly two decades ago.
Supermarket security guard Jim Doyle is reading it too, and with each turn of the page his rage grows. Because Jim was – is – the Nothing Man.
The more Jim reads, the more he realises how dangerously close Eve is getting to the truth. He knows she won’t give up until she finds him. He has no choice but to stop her first…
The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
One family, two generations of women and a war that will change their lives forever
Ha Noi, 1972. As war breaks out in Viet Nam, twelve-year-old Hương clings to her grandmother in an improvised shelter as American bombs fall around them. For her grandmother, the experience is horribly familiar. This is a woman who knows what it takes to hold a family together as a country crumbles. And now, coming of age in a nation rocked by conflict, Hương must do the same.
With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko and the haunting beauty of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, The Mountains Sing tells the enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Trần family, intimate, lyrical and bursting with life.
Books I Read
Bloody January by Alan Parks
When a teenage boy shoots a young woman dead in the middle of a busy Glasgow street and then commits suicide, Detective Harry McCoy is sure of one thing. It wasn’t a random act of violence.
With his new partner in tow, McCoy uses his underworld network to lead the investigation but soon runs up against a secret society led by Glasgow’s wealthiest family, the Dunlops.
McCoy’s boss doesn’t want him to investigate. The Dunlops seem untouchable. But McCoy has other ideas . . .
In a helter-skelter tale – winding from moneyed elite to hipster music groupies to the brutal gangs of the urban wasteland – Bloody January brings to life the dark underbelly of 1970s Glasgow and introduces a dark and electrifying new voice in Scottish noir.
Laidlaw by William McIlvanney
When a young woman is found brutally murdered in Kelvingrove Park, only one man stands a chance of finding her killer. Jack Laidlaw. He is a man of contrasts, ravaged by inner demons but driven by a deep compassion for the violent criminals in Glasgow’s underworld. But will Laidlaw’s unorthodox methods get him to the killer in time, when the victim’s father is baying for blood?
Displacement by Anne Stormont
Divorce, the death of her soldier son, and estrangement from her daughter, leave Hebridean crofter, Rachel Campbell, grief-stricken, lonely and lost.
Forced retirement leaves former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter needing to find a new direction in life.
After Rachel meets Jack in dramatic circumstances one wild winter’s night, an unlikely friendship begins, despite their very different personalities. However, their feelings for each other gradually go beyond friendship – something neither of them feels able to admit. And when Rachel leaves to go on a life-changing journey to the Middle East it seems unlikely their relationship will go any further.
Can Rachel give her heart to Jack?
Can Jack trust himself not to break it if she does?
Set against the contrasting and dramatic backdrops of the Scottish island of Skye and the contested country of Israel-Palestine, Displacement is a story of courage and love where romance and realism met head on.
Settlement by Anne Stormont
Can love truly heal old wounds? Can the past ever be put peacefully to rest?
If you like a complex, grown-up romance with lots of raw emotion, dramatic and exotic settings, all mixed in with some international politics and laced with elements of a crime thriller, then this is the book for you.
Falling in love is the easy bit. Happy ever after requires work, commitment and honesty.
She wants him to be her friend and lover. He wants her as his wife. Can a compromise be reached? Or are things truly over between them?
When former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter met crofter and author Rachel Campbell at her home on the Scottish island of Skye, they fell in love. It was a second chance at happiness for them both.
But after Jack proposes marriage, it becomes clear they want different things.
Then, as Rachel prepares to return to the Middle East to work on a peacemaking project that’s close to her heart, and as Jack’s past catches up with him, it seems their relationship is doomed.
Can Rachel compromise on her need to maintain her hard-won independence?
Can Jack survive the life-threatening situation in which he finds himself?
Will they get the chance to put things right between them?
The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan
Three women. Three different stages of life. United by one thing: the chance to start again.
When Elizabeth’s husband dies, leaving her with crippling debt, the only person she can turn to is her friend, Jo. Soon Jo has called in her daughter, Lucy, to help save Elizabeth from bankruptcy. Leaving her old life behind, Lucy is determined to make the most of her fresh start.
As life slowly begins to return to normal, these three women, thrown together by circumstance, become fast friends. But then Jo’s world is turned upside down when she receives some shocking news.
In search of solace, Jo and Elizabeth find themselves enjoying midnight dips in the freezing Irish Sea. Here they can laugh, cry and wash away all their fears. As well as conjure a fundraising plan for the local hospice that will bring the whole community together…
The Road to Cromer Pier by Martin Gore
Janet’s first love arrives out of the blue after thirty years. Those were simpler times for them both. Sunny childhood beach holidays, fish and chips and big copper pennies clunking into one armed bandits.
The Wells family has run the Cromer Pier Summertime Special Show for generations. But it’s now 2009 and the recession is biting hard. Owner Janet Wells and daughter Karen are facing an uncertain future. The show must go on, and Janet gambles on a fading talent show star. But both the star and the other cast members have their demons. This is a story of love, loyalty and luvvies. The road to Cromer Pier might be the end of their careers, or it might just be a new beginning.
That’s me for this month so all that’s left to say is : Happy Reading!