Book Review: The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side by Agatha Christie

A few years prior to the start of the story, Mrs Bantry, a friend of Miss Marple, sold her home, Gossington Hall, in the village of St. Mary Mead.  It passed through a number of hands, until it is finally purchased and renovated by the film actress Marina Gregg and her fourth husband, Jason Rudd, another big name in the film industry.

A few weeks after they have moved in, they open up the grounds and certain rooms of Gossington Hall in aid of the St John’s Ambulance.  Throughout the day a select few of the guests are invited to take drinks with the famous actress and her husband in the house in an upstairs reception area.

However, whilst the meeting and greeting of the guests is taking place, Marina Gregg, a usually attentive host, becomes distracted, virtually ignoring the woman speaking to her.  Instead of paying attention to the woman, a Mrs Heather Badcock, the organiser of the event, her gaze is trained on something over the woman’s shoulder, her expression frozen and fearful.   Moments later, Heather Badcock is dead.

It doesn’t take long to realise that the woman was murdered.  Poisoned.  But why?  And by whom?  Who could have poisoned the woman in a room full of witnesses who swear they didn’t see a thing?  And could she have been murdered by accident, the intended victim being the famous, glamorous Marina Gregg?

Miss Jane Marple can no longer get out much.  Old age is catching up with her, and her nephew Raymond has sent her a live-in companion / housekeeper / carer, a very patronising Miss Knight.  Frustrated that she can no longer always do the things she used, and constantly irritated by Miss Knight’s presence and manner, Miss Marple focuses on the murder at Gossington Hall to take her mind off her own problems.  Although she may be old, there is absolutely nothing wrong with her mental deductions and she still has a great understanding of people and human nature.  So, naturally, Miss Marple is the first person to solve the case.

I love reading Christie’s novels.  They are so easy to read and get lost in.  The title for this one is a line from Tennyson’s The Lady of Shallot, which is a favourite poem of mine.

This is quite simply an excellent murder mystery, one that takes its time to unravel as we are taken through the list of suspects.  If you have yet to read The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side but love cosy murder mysteries, I highly recommend that you give it a read.

Short Story Review: The Trebuchet Murder by Susanna Gregory

Set in 1380, The Trebuchet Murder is a historical murder mystery set in Ely Hall at the University of Cambridge.

Brother Edmund is secretary to Prior Richard, warden of Ely Hall, the chosen college for the most promising of students in the Benedictine order.  Brother Henry, the college’s former Professor of Theology has recently died, leaving the position vacant.  It is now up to Prior Richard, with the help of Brother Edmund to find his replacement.

There are three candidates applying for the position: Brother Luke, Brother Jean and Brother Bravin, the latter being greatly detestable to all, but due to circumstances beyond his control, Prior Richard is being leaned upon quite heavily to pick him.

However, when Brother Bravin is found dead, buried beneath the decaying timbers of a trebuchet, Brother Edmund quickly realises that his demise was no accident.  But who was responsible?  Brother Edmund investigates.

The Trebuchet Murder is a captivating tale that quickly engages the reader, bringing medieval Cambridge to life before their eyes.  The characters are realistic and the historical detail greatly enriches the story.

I absolutely loved this short story.  It was clever, and it offered an ending I never expected.  A really enjoyable, quick historical read.  Highly recommended.

This short was found in Murder Through the Ages: A Bumper Anthology of Historical Mysteries, ed. Maxim Jakubowski.

Book Review: The Medici Secret by Michael White

The story begins with a flood in a Milanese church crypt in the 1960’s.  But it’s not just any church crypt.  It is the crypt housing the mortal remains of the Medici family.

Back in the present, scientists have been given unprecedented access to the Medici burials, but when the lead Professor, Carlin Mackenzie, is found murdered in the pop-up lab within the church, the question is, what had he found?  His niece, Edie Granger, is another member of the research term, and she wants to find out.

In Venice, an elderly gentleman turns up on the doorstep of Jeff Martin, an out-of-favour Medieval historian.  The old man claims to have been the church warden at the Medici Chapel at the time of the 1966 flood and reveals the disturbing events that came to pass on that evening, events no one has been willing to take seriously.  When Jeff hears of Professor Mackenzie’s untimely murder, he knows he needs to speak to his old friend Edie Granger, and quickly.

However, they quickly learn that they are not the only ones on the same quest for the Medici secret and these others are far more ruthless…

Interspersed with the threads of the story set in the present, we are given the historical back story, told through the eyes of Cosimo de Medici, himself on a quest for a secret.

Set mainly in Milan and Venice, the visual descriptions of the cities, both in the present and past, were vivid and realistic.   Having read James Becker’s The Nosferatu Scroll less than a month ago, itself set in Venice, it was interesting to recognise some of the places that were mentioned.

The characters, both the primary and secondary ones, were engaging and as the plot twists and turns, you don’t know exactly what is going to happen, and most importantly, how it is going to end.

I found The Medici Secret a gripping read; in fact, I finished the book in a day because I couldn’t put it down.  It is rich in detail, and the different story lines flow together smoothly, with ease.

I recommend The Medici Secret to those who enjoy a good historical mystery.

Short Story Review: Breakfast is Severed by TyCobbsTeeth

David, an IT specialist for the army, starts his day with an interrupted breakfast, and things quickly go down hill from there.

Whilst eating a toasted bagel, he receives a phone call from his boss about a crisis in work requiring his immediate attention.  However, this is momentarily shoved to the back of his mind when his barking dog, Curly, draws his attention to a raging fire on the edge of his property.  When he takes a look outside he finds that the fire has already started consuming houses further up the street.

What we come to learn as we read the story is that the world has been hit by a global food crisis, and Breakfast is Severed recounts the localised issues that David is witness to.  As society begins to break down, it doesn’t take long for things to escalate.  In a matter of hours, life as David knows it has completely fallen apart.

This short story is a fast-paced read, full of action.  The plot, revealed a bit at a time, was unpredictable and the depth of description provided within the story brought the scenes David witnesses to life in a vivid way.  We are cleverly shown all the important aspects of his life and how they are affected by the crisis that is raging all around.

Breakfast is Severed presents us with a worrying vision of a future forged out of food shortages and how a population might react when struggling to survive.  If you are looking for something different I recommend you give this a read.

Breakfast is Severed is a prelude to the novel, Society for Supper, released December 2014.  I downloaded a copy of Breakfast is Severed for free from Smashwords.

Book Review: Aleta and the Queen by Priscilla Galloway, illustrated by Normand Cousineau

Aleta and the Queen is a tale of ancient Greece, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.

Odysseus, the King of Ithaca, husband of Penelope and father of Telemachus, has been gone for nearly twenty years.  He left to go fight the Trojans with the rest of the Greek kings, albeit reluctantly, and the war itself lasted ten years.  However, the journey home was much longer than he anticipated.  His faithful wife has no idea what could have kept him away, but she believes that he is not dead and will come back to Ithaca as soon as he is able.  There are others though, who do not want that to happen.  They would much rather Penelope chose a new husband, who would in turn become king of Ithaca.  And so the palace is full of suitors, all of who want to be the next king.

Aleta is the granddaughter of Queen Penelope’s closest servant, Kleea.  At aged twelve, Aleta can pass by almost unnoticed as she moves around the palace, which is a good thing, when she tries to help her grandmother and the Queen stall the suitors plans.  But there is more going on at the palace than simply how the missing king should be replaced – and by who.  And this concerns Aleta herself.  Why is it that her mother and grandmother don’t get along?  And why does her mother show so little interest in her?  Something isn’t right and Aleta wants to find out what.

When things go awry, the two story lines converge, and Aleta finds all the answers she has been looking for, with drastic results.

Aleta and the Queen is a captivating story and the illustrations that accompany it are colourful, vivid and stylised, in a similar way to ancient Greek art.  The characters are realistic and the story deftly weaves myth and legend with historical detail, bringing the period and the mythology to life.

Aleta and the Queen is a great introduction to the world of the ancient Greeks, one that would engage most children interested in history.  At the start of the book there is a handy guide to pronouncing Greek names as well as a map of the world marking many of the place names that are mentioned in the story.

Short Story Review: They Never Get Caught by Margery Allingham

Harold Brownrigg is a chemist with a few money problems and a wandering eye.  His wife, Millie, is just dull and stupid, nothing like some of the pretty girls that come into his shop.  But none are so captivating as Phyllis, a young woman half his age.

However, Phyllis feels guilty about what they are doing even if he does not, and so decides to end it.  This is too much for Harold, especially when he hears that Phyllis has been seen about town with a younger chap in a flashy car.  It is becoming more and more obvious for Harold that Millie is just a problem he needs to get rid of.  Once he has got rid of her, not only will it clear the way for him to be with Phyllis but he will also be able to get his hands on the money left to Millie by her father.

And so begins the intricate planning of a murder.

They Never Get Caught was an interesting, engaging read.  I felt very sorry for poor Millie as I moved through the story.  Harold was extremely cold, even when he felt unnerved by what he was trying to do.  The twist in the tale – which I won’t mention – was very good.  I didn’t expect it, probably because I was too preoccupied by the callous nature of Harold.

If you like ‘golden age’ crime stories, then I would recommend They Never Get Caught to you.

This short story was found in Great Crime Stories by Chancellor Press.

Book Review: Conscience of the King by Alfred Duggan

Conscience of the King is set between the years 451 and 534, during the Dark Ages, and follows the life of Cerdic Elesing, the founder of the Kingdom of Wessex.  It is a complicated time, one full of danger.  Much of Britain is suffering at the hands of raiders, and small, independent, fortified towns make up much of the land.

Coroticus is the third son of the ruler of the town-fortress of Anderida, one of these small, independent towns, who has ambitions of one day turning Anderida into a Kingdom.  His eldest brother, Constans is heir to the estate.  Paul, the second son, will be Bishop of Noviomagus when he is old enough.  And Coroticus…is often reminded that there is no place for him in his father’s plans for the future.

However, Coroticus doesn’t see things the same way as the rest of his family.  He longs for the day when he is independent.  So he bides his time.  Although many obstacles cross his path, he is clever and cunning, and on the rare occasions when good fortune makes an appearance in his life he is sure to make the most of it.

Political intrigue, murder, ambition, decisive action, plotting…they can all be found in Conscience of the King, the story that brings to life the journey Coroticus made to ensure his dream of independence became reality.  All he needed to do was change his name, found a kingdom and become a king.

Prior to reading Conscience of the King, I had not come across any of Alfred Duggan’s books.  But his accessible style of writing historical fiction is amazing.  His narrative is full to bursting with facts and details, and when I realised that the book was first published in the 1950’s I was astounded, for it read more like a book published much more recently.

Alfred Duggan weaves a clever, intriguing story, bringing Dark Age Britain to life with vivid descriptions and colourful accounts of the people and places that Cerdic, who Coroticus becomes, encounters.  You are not meant to like Cerdic.  He is a terrible person, who writes so matter-of-factly about doing so many wicked things.  And yet you almost find yourself hoping that he manages to make a go of it.

I believe those that enjoy good historical fiction would find Conscience of the King an entertaining read.