Book Review: A Dreadful Penance by Jason Vail

A Dreadful Penance is the third book in the Stephen Attebrook Mysteries by Jason vail

Summary (from back of book)

November 1262 is an unlikely season for war.  But war nonetheless is coming to the March, the wild borderland between England and Wales.  Not the war that most fear between the supporters of the King and the rebellious barons uniting around Simon de Montfort, but with Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, the Welsh warlord who styles himself Prince of Wales and who has united the fractious tribes of his land against the English.

The English are uncertain, however, where and when the blow will fall.  So, Sir Geoffrey Randall, coroner of Herefordshire, dispatches his deputy, the impoverished knight Stephen Attebrook, to the border town of Clun to make contact with a spy in order to learn Llewelyn’s plans.

At the same time, Randall directs Attebrook to investigate the murder of a monk found dead in his bed at the Augustine priory of St. George at Clun.

The assignment casts Attebrook into the middle of a desperate feud between the priory and the lord of Clun and reveals a forbidden love that can only result in suffering and death.

Favourite Quote

Although he could not help looking clownish – a little round man with his head wrapped in linen who could barely keep his place upon his mule – any fool was dangerous with a sword.

Review

This is the first book I have read in the Stephen Attebrook Mysteries and I loved it.  I have added the other books to my TBR list, but this novel works well as a standalone.  The author provides enough information on what has gone before to ensure the reader can, not only keep up with the storyline, but enjoy it also without feeling like they needed to have read the first two books before this one.

Stephen Attebrook is an interesting character.  I like his fairly abrasive personality and the antagonistic camaraderie he shared with Gilbert Wistwode,a clerk also in the employ of Sir Geoffrey Randall.

I thought the story was a little slow to get going at first, but a couple of chapters in and the pace and the drama suddenly picked up.  What followed was an entertaining, gripping read, that I struggled to put down.  The historical detail was fascinating, with sufficient depth to bring the time and place to life.  The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt the ending was too abrupt.

I am eager to read more of this series, and would recommend this books to anyone who has an interest in the Marches during the medieval period and to those who enjoy historical fiction in general.

Rating

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Book Review: A Body in the Backyard by Elizabeth Spann Craig

A Body in the Backyard is the fourth Myrtle Clover Mystery by Elizabeth Spann Craig.

Summary (from Wattpad)

It’s just an ordinary day for octogenarian sleuth Myrtle Clover—until her yardman discovers a dead body planted in her backyard. This death isn’t cut and dried—the victim was bashed in the head with one of Myrtle’s garden gnomes.

Myrtle’s friend Miles recognizes the body and identifies him as Charles Clayborne… reluctantly admitting he’s a cousin. Charles wasn’t the sort of relative you bragged about—he was a garden variety sleaze, which is very likely why he ended up murdered. As Myrtle starts digging up dirt to nip the killings in the bud, someone’s focused on scaring her off the case. Myrtle vows to find the murderer…before she’s pushing up daisies, herself.

Favourite Quote

This precognition was an irritating thing.  It made you feel like you were always one-step behind.

Review

This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and the first in the Myrtle Clover Mysteries that I have read.  And, I can say I really enjoyed this cosy mystery.  Myrtle Clover is an entertaining sleuth.  She reminds me a little of Miss Marple as she is always popping up everywhere, but unlike Miss Marple, Myrtle is so much more proactive when it comes to finding the evidence she needs to solve the case.

Myrtle is a fantastic sleuth determined to get to the bottom of the case before her son, Bradley’s chief of police, Red does.  Red is an interesting character.  Professionally he doesn’t want his mother to interfere with a murder inquiry.  Personally he is worried about her, and thinks at her age she should be living in a retirement home.

There were other entertaining characters in this story also: Wanda the psychic and her brother, Crazy Dan, her neighbour, Miles, and Pasha the feral cat (one of my favourites).  I liked how the other characters interacted with Myrtle, their opinions varying from a nosy old lady to a vulnerable OAP, from the stern teacher who taught them over thirty years ago to the crank gnome collector.

This gentle-paced cosy mysteries was a fun, quick read.   I will definitely be reading more of the Myrtle Clover Mysteries, maybe even before this month is out.

Rating

Originally I was only going to award the book 3.5 / 5 but Myrtle was so much fun I bumped it up to 4

I found “A Body in the Backyard” by Elizabeth Spann Craig on Wattpad.

Book Review: Requiem for a Mezzo by Carola Dunn

Requiem for a Mezzo is the third book in the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries by Carola Dunn.

Summary

When Daisy’s next door neighbour gives her tickets to the opera at the Albert Hall, she has her fingers crossed for a quiet evening out with the dashing Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard.  Things are going swimmingly until after the interval when one of the soloists drops dead on the stage.  And it quickly transpires that the victim, Bettina Westlea, made many enemies in the musical circle she moved in, the majority of which were with her on stage at the time of her death…

Favourite Quote

(2 favourites this time as I couldn’t choose between them!)

Tall and sleek, she wouldn’t have been caught dead in last year’s calf length hems, though her budget was as limited as Daisy’s; she made her own clothes and spent on materials and trimmings the equivalent of what Daisy put into books and gramophone records.

*

‘Daisy!  Don’t tell me you’ve fallen over another dead body?’

Review

I am a big fan of Daisy Dalrymple.  I like the way perfect strangers just walk over to her and unburden themselves of all they know about whatever crime the Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher is working on, much her to bemusement and his annoyance.  How can he keep her safe if she finds herself right in the middle of everything?  It’s also nice to see how much Alec recognises and respects Daisy’s intelligence and independence.

There is such an interesting list of characters in this instalment, hailing from all corners of Europe.  This adds flavour and colour to the story, and as the majority of the cast are all singers, they have entertaining artistic temperaments too.

Light and easy to read, these books are full of the charm of the era in which they are set, though you will find mention of some of the main events that had a tremendous effect on people at the time: the First World War, the influenza epidemic and the Russian Revolution.

If you like cosy mysteries set in 1920s England, I think you will enjoy these books, as you will if you enjoy Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Phryne Fisher stories or pretty much anything written by Agatha Christie.

Rating

Book Review: Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

dissolution front coverDissolution is the first book in the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom.

The year is 1537.  Anne Boleyn had been beheaded eighteen months previously and England is witnessing the dissolution of the monasteries.  In charge of this great undertaking is Thomas Cromwell, the vicar-general, who is sending out commissioners across the land to help him close the religious houses.

One such commissioner is Matthew Shardlake, a London-based lawyer, who sometimes undertakes assignments for Thomas Cromwell.  When Shardlake is summoned from another case in Surrey and told to report to Cromwell’s office immediately, it can only mean that there is important work to be done.  When the lawyer has his audience with the second most powerful man in England, it is to learn that another commissioner has been murdered whilst on Cromwell’s business, at the monastery of Scarnsea on the Sussex coast.  Not only must Shardlake uncover the murderer but also complete what his predecessor failed to do: persuade the monks at Scarnsea that their monastery will close.

However, there are dark goings-on at Scarnsea.  Not only has a commissioner been murdered, but an act of sacrilege has been committed in the church.  Surrounded by suspicion and treachery, Shardlake must use all the talents he possesses – including his wits – if he, and his assistant Mark Poer are to survive the investigation.  And yet, perhaps more importantly, as the case unravels, what Shardlake witnesses firsthand may lead to him questioning that which he has firmly believe for many years…

This is a fascinating historical series set in one of the most turbulent periods of English history.  I have read the first half of the series before, but decided that I wanted to read them again before allowing myself to read the later books –  an activity that I cherish 🙂

Matthew Shardlake is a highly likeable character who, with a hunchback (which is dealt with sensitively by the author), has a lot stacked against him.  Commoners tend to fear him – contemporary superstition maintained that it was unlucky for someone to be touched by a hunchback, whilst those of his profession are jealous of his connections to Thomas Cromwell.

There were a number of characters that I found myself liking as I made my way through the book.  Brother Guy of Malton, who is a monk of Moorish descent.  Mark Poer, Shardlake’s assistant, who has currently fallen out of favour after a period of disgrace.

The story is rich and flows with ease.  The descriptions and historical detail provided by the author are vivid, bringing both the story and the time period to life.

Dissolution is a great first book for a series.  It had me hooked from the start and I’m looking forward to enjoying the other books that follow it.  I highly recommend it to those who have an interest in the period.

Book Review: 4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Elspeth McGillicuddy has just completed her Christmas shopping in London and is on the train to St Mary Mead to visit her old friend, Jane Marple.  When another train draws parallel to her own, the blind in the opposite compartment flies up and she glimpses a man strangling a woman.  Although she cannot make out all the details, she is certain of what she saw, as is Miss Marple, when she recounts her tale.

Naturally, they report what she believed she witnessed to the appropriate authorities, but when no body materialises, Miss Marple realises that she is going to have to come up with a plan to not only prove her friend was right, but to find justice for the dead woman.  Using maps and Elspeth’s recollections, Miss Marple is able to pinpoint the location of the crime.  Nearby can be found Rutherford Hall.  Logic dictates that it is there, perhaps somewhere on the edge of the vast estate, that the murdered woman’s body lies dumped and hidden.

Miss Marple calls in a favour with a friend, the much in-demand Lucy Eyelesbarrow, who gets herself employed as a sort of housekeeper by the Crackenthorpe family who live in Rutherford Hall so that she can investigate undercover.  However, things are not that easy.  The Crackenthorpes are a dysfunctional family, who lie, cheat and keep secrets.  But is there a murderer in Rutherford?  Who is the dead woman?  And, is Lucy in any danger?

This is one of my favourite Miss Marple stories (my favourite is Murder at the Vicarage).  Lucy is a very interesting character, especially, I believe, to later generations who lack first-hand experience with domestic service.

The opening chapter unveiling the crime is one of the best starts to a book.  It is remarkable and unforgettable and although we, like Elspeth McGillicuddy are witness to a murder, there is nothing anyone can do.  We are all helpless as the woman is being strangled on the other train.

The Crackenthorpe family are interesting suspects, especially as they all seem to have a secret they wish to keep hidden.  And of course, old Crackenthorpe, the miserly father of the brood, is entertaining in as much as he thinks all of his children are trying to kill him but he plans to outlive the lot of them.

A fabulous cosy mystery and a quick read whodunnit.  What’s not to like?

Book Review: Death of a Cad by M.C Beaton

death of a cad by mc beaton front coverDeath of a Cad is the second book in the Hamish Macbeth mystery series by M.C Beaton.

Captain Peter Bartlett is by general consensus, a cad.  Not many people have a good word to say about him – quite the opposite.  Except, he seems to have a way with the ladies.

So when Priscilla Halburton-Smythe returns from London, bringing her fiance, the famous playwright, Henry Withering, home to Lochdubh, her family throw a party and invite a number of people to stay at Tommel Castle.  Only Captain Peter Bartlett turns up murdered…

Can Hamish Macbeth solve the case when it seems nearly everyone at the party detested the man and had a motive to kill?

I love this cosy mystery series.  Hamish Macbeth is a fabulous character and the books are just so easy to read.  Effortless, indeed!

The Highland setting is well-described and the story’s unfolding is easy to visualise.  Lochdubh is the perfect location for a gentle, humourous piece of cosy crime fiction.

M.C. Beaton has a great way of portraying her characters; not too heavy on the detail but provides enough for the reader to get to know them.  This helps when the cast is as vast as the one we see in Death of a Cad.

This is simply a wonderful instalment in a great series.  Death of a Cad is an entertaining read, one that I would recommend to all fans of cosy mysteries.  I can’t wait to read book three in the series, Death of an Outsider.

Short Story Review: Death in the Dawntime by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

This historical whodunnit is set around 35,000 BC, amongst the ancient aboriginal peoples of Australia.

When Grabtake is impossibly murdered in a sealed cave, the young Nightwish is desperate to prove himself.  With the help of Tinglesweet, a girl the same age as Nightwish, they go about trying to solve this murder mystery, analysing the evidence and working systematically through possible theories.

But uncovering a murderer is dangerous.  If they have killed once, what’s to stop them killing again?

I loved this short story.  The language used captivated me from the start and brought to life this locked room mystery set in prehistory.  As I read it I had to pay careful attention to the words to ensure that I didn’t miss anything, but this only heightened my enjoyment of it.

The names of the characters, for example, Nightwish, Rainspeak and Toegone, not only had me concentrating on the language and words, but also on their meaning.

A great short story, one that I’m sure I will return to again.

This short story was found in The Mammoth Book of Historical Detectives, ed Mike Ashley.