3 star

The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell

Title – The Silent Companions

Author – Laura Purcell

Published – October 2017

Genre – Historical fiction

This was a book that I’d heard a lot of people raving about and when I saw the hardback on the shelves it was so beautiful that I added it to my Christmas list (and received it!). And now I’m in two minds whether or not to publish a review. It didn’t come from a publisher so I feel no pressure to be positive but I don’t mean to be negative for the sake of it. I still feel it’s worth saying what I thought because there are comparisons to be drawn with other similar books that I’ve read.

The book is set (mainly) in 1865. A little while in the future Mrs Bainbridge is in an asylum and a doctor persuades her to write down her account of the events in an effort to understand what led to her incarceration. In 1865 Elsie is newly married and newly widowed. The death of her husband has taken place at his family home, The Bridge, an old and crumbling mansion where her story starts, with shades of Rebecca. This part of the book is very much a chilling, gothic story but quite slow to develop and it didn’t have the atmosphere of something like The Unseeing. One of the issues I had was when a third timeline was introduced after diaries dating back to 1635, written by a previous owner of the house, are found in a mysterious garret. I then found the shifts through the three periods a struggle and I couldn’t take to the character who had written the diaries.

The silent companions of the title are a set of mysterious wooden figures that, sometimes, resemble some of the characters in the household and then appear where they aren’t expected. I had a quick ‘google’ to see a real example – http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object. Part of my problem was that these didn’t seem as sinister to me as they should have done. By coincidence it’s not long since I read The Coffin Path and that was where I first came across these unusual figures – and these I did find creepy, perhaps if the order in which I read the books had been reversed I might have felt differently.

When the threads of the different timelines are resolved and there is a final climax to the story I was impressed by the turn of events.  It’s a shame that I didn’t find the book as atmospheric and chilling as others did.







Perfect Remains – Helen Field

8111buIJ6TLTitle – Perfect Remains

Author – Helen Field

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is a series that I’ve seen a lot of buzz about on Twitter and has glowing reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, so I took advantage when there was an offer to download the book for free when a new book in the series was published. And now I discover it’s one of those books that the rest of the world seems to like and I have a dissenting voice, in fact I’m torn between giving it two or three stars, but I’m feeling generous.

The main character is D I Luc Callanach – half French and half Scottish he has recently transferred to Edinburgh after working for Interpol in France. He has the looks of an underwear model and a dark and mysterious past. His first case with his new team is the disappearance and subsequent murder of a young professional woman.

When I said that Callanach is the main character that’s only partly true – the perpetrator of the crimes gets his own fair share of the limelight. This is a book where you know from the outset who committed the crimes, how he is carrying them out and the deceptions he is using to trick the police. An unlikeable character I couldn’t wait for him to get his comeuppance. Obviously a disturbed individual but so disturbed that I was never sure that the motive behind his crimes even made sense to him.

There is a lesser strand to the main plot about babies being found in a park which is investigated by one of Callanach’s colleagues and I wondered if this was a means to an end for a later point in the plot; it didn’t seem properly developed but seemed more to serve a purpose.

The setting is Edinburgh but the writing didn’t get the feel or the atmosphere that told me anything about the place – it could easily have been set in the suburbs of any other large city. The dual point of view aspect was one of things that didn’t endear the book to me, while I like police procedurals I much prefer that the mystery unfolds for me as it does for the investigators, I don’t particularly like to be in on the secrets. There is a considerable amount of violence in the book. I’ve read worse, or perhaps more graphic, but it was all against women and there were certainly aspects that seemed gratuitous. There was an inevitable romance which didn’t particularly add anything to the story. To me it felt like a book someone would write who has read a lot of crime fiction and thinks ‘I could do that’. I think it needed a bit more refinement, a bit more editing, a more critical eye.

But how can I argue with all those hugely positive reviews?


The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin

Title – The Wicked Cometh

Author – Laura Carlin

Published – Feb 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s 1831 and men, women and children have been disappearing from the streets of London. Hester is a young woman who lost her somewhat privileged life when she was orphaned and was taken in by her father’s ex-gardener and his wife, which has led to her living in ever more wretched conditions. She is pinning her hopes on being able to meet her long lost cousin in London but a chance incident and injury sees her become something of a ‘project’ for the Brock family – Calder Brock, his sister Rebekah and their uncle. Hester is sent to their country house where they plan to educate her (as she has managed to keep to herself the fact that she is actually relatively well educated), she makes friends with some of the housemaids and is mentored by Rebekah.

This is a book or two halves. There is the ‘salvation’ of Hester and her burgeoning relationship with Rebekah. Then there are the ‘investigations’ as they play amateur detective in trying to find what’s become of the missing people, uncovering some unpleasant secrets in both their families along the way.

I have to say this book that wasn’t really for me. The stories and the multiple threads became quite convoluted and the author packed a lot in. I wasn’t a huge fan of Hester, for some reason I didn’t find that her character rang quite true – although nothing I can really put my finger on. The author does paint an interesting and atmospheric picture of London, demonstrating some of the contrasts between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ and there is a period leaning to the writing. But the very end of the book felt like it had pushed the credibility of the story too far.

Many thanks to the publisher for the netgalley. You can see another point of view on Kate’s blog.


Murder on Christmas Eve

Title – Murder on Christmas Eve

Author – Compilation of short stories edited by Cecily Gayford

Published – 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’m not someone who tends to read ‘seasonal’ fiction, if anything I prefer to read books set in a different season to the one I’m in. Who doesn’t want to escape into the hot sun when they’re stuck in a dreary British winter? But in this case I couldn’t resist the cover!

The stories are from a mix of writers, both contemporary (Ian Rankin, for example) to more classic crime (John Dickson Carr, Margery Allingham). The setting for all is around Christmas but some are more ‘festive’ than others. I’ve read some good crime fiction short stories but the quality of these was a bit hit and miss. With the stories being written decades apart it’s difficult to know if they had all been specifically written as a Christmas short story or if they were just what the editor managed to find.

The GK Chesterton story was the longest and was a very complete puzzle and it’s always good to see Father Brown. Although I did feel that the story could have finished a few pages before it did and it wasn’t really connected to Christmas. I also enjoyed the first story ‘The Trinity Cat’, by Margery Allingham, this is probably the closest to my expectations of what the stories would be like. Many of the other stories were about a sleight of hand or a misunderstanding – perhaps the limitations of the short story format meant that this was the easiest was to present a puzzle and solve it. And some of them managed to miss the mark completely.

The collection is short and perhaps would make a good present for someone who isn’t normally a crime fiction fan.


Dead in the Dark – Stephen Booth

51-AWfPgd4L-2Title – Dead in the Dark

Author – Stephen Booth

Published – July 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

If I were to pick one sub-genre of crime fiction as being my favourite it would have to be the British police procedural. Although I’ve only read one of Stephen Booth’s previous titles in the Cooper and Fry series (this book is number 17) this seemed like a series that I would really enjoy.

In Dead in the Dark there are two main police investigations – Fry is involved in investigating the murder of a Polish immigrant while Copper is on the hunt for a man who was accused of killing his wife ten years ago, but who has now disappeared himself.  The story of the immigrant does allow Booth the opportunity to include some aspects of social commentary, proving that even the Peak District isn’t immune. Fry and Cooper are working independently now and although their paths do cross occasionally this book certainly didn’t lead me to understand any more about their relationship.

The problem is, I’m afraid, that I didn’t really enjoy this book. The single reason for this is that it felt like a much shorter, pithier one that had been padded out. It’s almost 400 pages long and I suspect that there’s a really good 300-page book trapped inside. There was a lot of background in the book that I didn’t need to know to understand the plot, not only did it slow the pace of the storylines but it was distracting too and I found myself skipping sections which was a real shame.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


The Breakdown – B A Paris

Title – The Breakdown

Author – B A Paris

Published – Feb 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

With a set of bookshelves that are just my ‘to read’ books it can be difficult choosing the next book to read, in this case I went for a book that Goodreads told me was in the running for their annual Goodreads Choice Awards in the ‘Mystery and Thrillers’ category.

On a stormy night Cass takes a shortcut home through the woods and drives past a woman parked in her car. When the news the next day is that the woman has been found dead and she also realises that she knew the woman, Cass becomes consumed by guilt.

I wasn’t hugely keen on Cass as a character. She’s suffering from memory lapses and is worried that she, like her mother before her, is suffering from early onset dementia, but her initial decision not to tell her husband what happened felt like a frustrating mistake when you’re looking in from the outside. I know authors play with ‘what if’ scenarios but as a reader I’m not keen on the plots that rely on the main character making the wrong choice at the beginning (usually keeping a secret) on which the rest of the plot depends. Despite my misgivings I couldn’t fault the writer in creating a character who felt fragile, fractured and brought to close to breaking point.

As with The Roanoke Girls it would be very easy to compare this to (in this case) a single film/play which would give away the main premise (I won’t). As it was I felt the author was trying to keep the suspense going until close to the end of the book when I had realised some (admittedly not all) of the key elements much earlier on.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


Playing With Death – Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

Title – Playing With Death

Author – Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis

Published – July 2017

Genre – Thriller

I was in the mood for an American thriller or police procedural and I was lucky to find this in my TBR but surprised to find it was a Simon Scarrow book I was choosing.

The main character is FBI Agent Rose Blake, after an undercover mission to catch a notorious serial killer fails she is assigned to investigate a suspicious arson attack and death. The investigation quickly picks up a link to a new technology product, high tech companies and a virtual world.

An FBI ‘technothriller’ by Simon Scarrow was a surprise, I really enjoy Scarrow’s Roman Macro and Cato series and his Wellington and Napoleon series, so this felt like a real departure. The book is credited to both Scarrow and Lee Francis and I couldn’t say how the input was divided and what each of the authors brought, the writing style was quite different to Scarrow’s books but the environment here was technological rather than historical. It’s also in the present tense which made it feel more ‘immediate’ but as this is an unusual choice it also feels slightly jarring to read.

I was really in two minds about this book. It was engaging and had lots of pace but some of the technology aspects made it feel like an ill thought out version of a Michael Crichton thriller. I liked Rose but I think that if you didn’t know the gender of the author most people would guess the character was written by a man which is a shame. The book is thought-provoking in terms of the development of technology and social media but the specific issue at the core (and I’m being cryptic here to avoid spoilers) meant it missed the mark for me.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.