A welcome return of The Skelfs, a family who run a funeral parlour and are also Private Investigators in Edinburgh. I am on the blog tour today, thanks to Orenda Books and Random Things Tours for the invite and book. Find out more in the blurb and then onto my review below.
Death is just the beginning…
The Skelf women live in the shadow of death every day, running the family funeral directors and private investigator business in Edinburgh. But now their own grief interwines with that of their clients, as they are left reeling by shocking past events.
A fist-fight by an open grave leads Dorothy to investigate the possibility of a faked death, while a young woman’s obsession with Hannah threatens her relationship with Indy and puts them both in mortal danger. An elderly man claims he’s being abused by the ghost of his late wife, while ghosts of another kind come back to haunt Jenny from the grave … pushing her to breaking point.
As the Skelfs struggle with increasingly unnerving cases and chilling danger lurks close to home, it becomes clear that grief, in all its forms, can be deadly…
Beware of the single magpie on the cover…. “One for Sorrow” and all that. Grief can have consequences and people can behave oddly and “Black Hearts” becomes both literal and figurative. As grief takes hold, guilt also seeps in. Family is at the heart of this series of books and a love of music also creeps in.
The Skelfs are funeral directors, as a family, turned Private Investigators, so also deal with families in their many states of life on a day to day basis. Readers can follow this latest case as well as the backstory of the Skelfs themselves and delves deeper into their personalities and lives.
The lives of the Skelfs are in danger; Dorothy takes on a missing person’s case and little does she know what would come next… Hannah has a disturbing problem to contend with – she is being stalked. With so much at stake and so much to deal with, its a gripping read.
What occurs in Black Hearts is totally chilling, but with the dark humour that has been established in this series of books and always cuts through well in this Edinburgh based haunting mystery, as does the warmth that cosies it up, just a little, to show a little shed of light through the Black Hearts.
A Dark Steel Death A Tom Harper Mystery By Chris Nickson
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
A fire at the munitions factory may not be all it first seems, there is murder, a glimpse of politics, history and intriguing characters all bound together in a compelling story. Find out more in the blurb and then the rest of my thoughts in my review below. Thanks to Chris Nickson and Severn House for the opportunity to review A Dark Steel Death, a historical crime novel.
Tom Harper must catch a traitor intent on disrupting the war effort and bringing terror to the streets of Leeds in this page-turning mystery.
Leeds. December, 1916. Deputy Chief Constable Tom Harper is called out in the middle of the night when a huge explosion rips through a munitions factory supplying war materials, leaving death and destruction in its wake. A month later, matches and paper to start a fire are found in an army clothing depot. It’s a chilling discovery: there’s a saboteur running loose on the streets of Leeds.
As so many give their lives in the trenches, Harper and his men are working harder than ever – and their investigation takes a dark twist with two shootings, at the local steelworks and a hospital. With his back against the wall and the war effort at stake, Harper can’t afford to fail. But can he catch the traitor intent on bringing terror to Leeds?
This is a book with atmosphere, right from the foreboding cover, onwards and steeped with history and policing. Deputy Chief Constable Tom Harper is based in Leeds, Yorkshire and with the time being December, 1916, the book shines a light on this era during war times. Within it, there is also mention of Chesterfield in Nottinghamshire and other places have links in various ways.
It’s interesting as, recently there has been lots on tv showing Yorkshire in many ways in present times, so this is a way to delve into its past, as well as readers getting a compelling historical police procedural.
From the first page, it oozes a dark atmosphere out with flames from a large fire at the munitions factory. Time naturally progresses to January 1917 and the investigation gets off to a quick start and Tom Harper also has Brigadier Fox working with him on the case. As well as the investigation, there are nuggets of the way things work that were brought in then, such as the government bringing in summer time for the clocks, that continues and works for present times. Nickson gives good insight into historical detail that generally isn’t in the day to day knowledge or thinking of people, which adds an extra layer of interest, heritage and grounding, as well as an authenticity to the characters stories being told and the timeline used. There are also small moments of poignancy that give pause for thought.
A soldier had been murdered and as for other people in the midst of the war, grieving, there is a sense of what they are going through and the views, especially from Tom Harper. There’s a sense of community and of people doing their job with people knowing each other and especially Miss Cliff, since she knows everyone. There are also other intriguing characters to discover their positions in the war and their involvement and how sinister they can become. There are many truths and lies to be unpicked along the paths readers are led down as many people are met.
The mystery itself is interesting, but so are all the strands and people that weave through it, making it a very compelling read, and in time, a very involving page turner.
I am delighted to be on the blog tour for Clean Sweep. A poignant book with great themes.
Retirement was supposed to bring her time to paint. Instead, she would find a purpose.
Carli Morris is ready for her next chapter. Selling her Madison Avenue ad agency for billions, the self-assured career woman pursues her love of art and spends her spare hours volunteering. But her comfortable confidence turns to horror when a routine food delivery to a homeless encampment leads her to discover one of its residents dead and her two dogs orphaned.
With the heartbreaking incident reopening the wounds of Carli’s tragic past, she makes it her mission to find the lost soul’s family and re-home her canine companions. And the deeper the former marketing genius gets involved as an outreach worker, the more she is convinced that the answer to her family’s own sorrow lies on these very streets.
As she learns to truly see human beings she had previously treated as invisible, will Carli at last find her own peace?
The themes are what interested me most of volunteering spare time (which in turn becomes “so called spare time” as I also volunteer, so I know all too well, it isn’t really spare time, more a dedication to helping others and spare time becomes that small bit of time on holiday. The theme of social injustice and homelessness is also interesting and really gives a sense, certainly on a level about what it is to live life and try to survive on the streets. As Carli becomes more involved, the more intensely she begins to think of her own life. It’s well written and readers can see the change in Carli as she realises there were humans she would frequently ignore, namely those people on the streets, who can be treated as though they are invisible. It’s also a book about rediscovering self and personal growth. It’s interesting to see that there is a patch of life where Carli seems to of had it all, but really harbours tragedy in her past.
The themes are what really seems to drive this book and takes readers into streets not often explored and coupled together with Carli’s life, becomes poignant. It also explores the sacrifices made when supporting others and Carli certainly sacrifices a lot of her own personal needs.
It’s a book that will touch your heart and soul and consider what you do in your life and the people you may meet and how you handle them, interact with them and how you handle that balance in life when volunteering a lot of time.
Thanks to Love Books Tours for inviting me to review an insightful non-fiction book set in Italy.
At the age of 61, Cassandra, a single and peripatetic Brit, was asked to pack up her house and move to Italy to take up the offer of a much-needed job. 15 months later she was made redundant, leaving her unnerved, broke and unable to return home. Her dream of a new life was rapidly turning into a nightmare and, saddled with all her belongings, her antique furniture, over 800 books and her aged Siamese cat she had nowhere to go.
A kind friend offered them sanctuary in a tiny converted former barn in his family’s ‘Borgo’, a cluster of rustic properties grouped around a late-Medieval manor House in the mountains; the beautiful and mysterious Emilian Appenines of northern Italy. There she was befriended and watched over by the owner; an eccentric octogenarian, his household ghosts and 14 semi feral cats.
It’s a very descriptive book that takes time to read, but worth investing in as there is some beautiful writing in there. There is also some lovely descriptions of architecture to draw the reader into Northern Italy.
The eccentric octogenarian adds some interest and appeal as she became befriended by an owner of the properties Cassandra was at. It brought a bit of heart to the adventures of this part of her life.
There’s essentially a story of fighting against adversity being told as she wants to come home, but discovers she cannot, so has to find ways of making more money and hoping she is lucky enough to do this so she can return to the UK. I found myself wondering what the future would hold for Cassandra as it seemed like some bleak circumstances had been hit and wanted to know if it got better.
It was a pleasant read, if not at times, perhaps overly descriptive, but there are fascinating insights into how not all is lovely and perfect when you move, even with all the lovely food and landscape she encountered. It’s like a big dose of reality hits. There are also some historical insights that are interesting in the region of Italy Cassandra was in.
About The Author
Cassandra is a somewhat eccentric, unconventional and fiercely independent woman of pensionable age. Formerly an international real estate executive she travelled widely, living and working in various European countries – including Italy, Greece and Spain. During her time in Europe she fell in love with the countries, their cultures, the people and the food! She learnt several languages and spent all her spare time exploring.
Now happily retired, she lives alone with her rescue cat, Felix, in a quintessential 17th century English cottage where she writes about her 30 years of adventures. Her first book, ‘Cauliflowers through the Catflap and other tales from a solitary lockdown’ is a humorous and very tongue-in-cheek look at her experiences of shielding alone through the Covid pandemic. Her second book, ‘Tales from the Hamlet’, is a heartwarming tale of what happened when, living in Italy, she was unexpectedly made redundant and saddled with all her antique furniture, over 800 books and an elderly Siamese cat, she had no money to return home and nowhere to go.
Each book on this panel had murderous books set at parties. The talk was fascinating on many different levels as the authors talked about some of their books content and their influences. It was all very entertaining too. Before I knew it, an hour was up and this part of the party was well and truly over. All books mentioned are available now.
Panel: Clare Mackintosh, Chris Brookmyre, Lin Anderson
There are links after my write up to reviews I wrote previously on books by Chris Brookmyre and Lin Anderson. There will be one on Clare MacIntosh’s book in the near future.
Clare Mackintosh is the author of 5 bestsellers.
The Last Party, she says is set at a New Year’s Day party, held in a luxury resort on the border between England and Wales. She talked of bridges being built and all is going well, until someone is murdered…
Clare MacIntosh talked about not mentioning Covid as she doesn’t ever refer to current affairs or fixes a time in her books because she wants her books to be timeless, but she does fix a place. What was interesting, however, was the angle she chose to allow to feed into her book, that was Covid related, and that was her fascination of how people were crossing borders into different parts of the UK. She also touched upon Air B n B homes popping up in Wales and the “incomers” and how, I’m a way she is an “incomer”, so talked about how anyone moving, tries to fit in and how important that is to blend into the community.
She was asked about her police background and whether it a blessing or a curse. The blessing seems to be that it is useful for research, but the curse is knowing too much and remembering to fictionalise it. It was also fascinating hearing about how she fell into writing by accident in a way and how demanding working in the police was, especially the impact on her family life.
Chris Brookmyre talked about it being set on a fictional luxury island, that he has put people on, who you perhaps wouldn’t normally put together and how they have secrets to hide. He also says it’s about friendship and forgiveness.
She’s rented a luxury getaway on its own private island. The helicopter won’t be back for seventy-two hours. They are alone. They think.
He talked about how he thought writers were influenced by lockdown parties going on for those not abiding by the rules (politics was mentioned, because I guess, how could they not, by all of the authors), and how they created their own parties on a written page and virtual parties.
Chris Brookmyre also talked about creating tension between groups of people and his writing style and influence in a way of knowing you’re at the end of a chapter is fascinating and may remain in my mind. It turns out the end of Eastenders, with those drums and the end of a chapter have something in common – they both want you to tune into more, so it sounds like those dramatic Eastenders drums at the end of each episode and thinking of this, can help when knowing if the tension or dramatic effect of a chapter is there, or whether it is finished or has more to be written.
He talked about the island he set his book on and wanting a sense of isolation and also to portray the different levels of friendship you have with different people. He also talked about how he was conscious of the links between this book and Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ being made, but talked about how that was retribution and how his book is about having secrets and having to forgive.
It’s a stand alone psychological thriller, set in Blackrig in the Scottish Highlands and the outrage villagers have of a party house going to open.
Someone went missing 5 years ago and was never found, until now, creating all sorts of suspicion in the small village.
Lin Anderson talked about The Party House and how there is one bottom of a road she knows and how her friend had lots of highly entertaining stories to tell.
She talked about lockdown and the time where people were trying to flea to remote places to try and ‘escape’ Covid. It was interesting to hear what a sudden influx of people from all over felt like to locals, which features a bit.
The book is written with 2 view points, both with secrets and lies. She talked about small villages and how people talk and think they know everything about you (so true) and how this features.
Lin Anderson also divulged how her dad worked in the police force and ‘interrogated’ her in her childhood, much to the audience’s amusement, which then led onto some hilarious stories about real criminals being caught time and time again – one continually drew smiley faces after committing a crime, thinking this was clever, but of course was caught.
So, all in all, an enjoyable and entertaining talk is given by these 3 authors, so if you ever get an opportunity to watch them, I highly recommend you do so.
Now, I have mentioned how I have read and reviewed The Cliff House By Chris Brookmyre and The Party House by Lin Anderson, both of which are absorbing and enthralling thrillers, which I rated 5 stars. Here are links to those reviews and also a previous talk I saw with Chris Brookmyre.
Interview with Author – Matson Taylor Conducted By Louise Cannon (Lou)
Thanks very much to author of The Miseducation of Evie Epworth and All About Evie – Matson Taylor for agreeing to being interviewed. Within the interview , discover who inspires him to write and why he chose a particular timeline, his other job and what he is writing next and more…
The Miseducation of Evie Epworth was bestselling in both the Radio 2 Book Club and Richard And Judy Book Club.
Set in Yorkshire and London between the 1960’s and 1970’s. There is humour and poignancy to be had in both books.
Matson Taylor and his creation of Evie Epworth hit the bookshelves and caused quite a stir with witty and charming writing in both books
So, without further ado, here is the interview:
1. What or who inspired you to write?
Many things! I’ve always been a reader and just about every book I’ve ever read has fed into me wanting to be a writer. I think reading Kate Atkinson’s books, in particular, drew me to writing – I love the way she writes – there’s a real sense of fun but at the same time every sentence is beautiful – tuned and balanced to perfection. I wanted to see if I could write a book that combines humour with moments of restrained lyricism just like Kate Atkinson’s. Other authors who inspire me and push me to write better include Virginia Woolf, Sue Townsend, Alan Bennett, and Sarah Winman.
2. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is set in the 1960s and All About Evie, in the 1970s, what inspired this to be your timeline?
I’m a design historian and -like all historians- talk a lot about decades. I realised that quite a few of my students see decades as monolithic blocks of 10 years with everything staying the same until, on the 1st of January at the start of the next decade, everything changed. It’s not like this of course! Decades take a few years to ‘grow up’ – they need time to shake off the previous decade and develop a character of their own. So I thought I’d write a novel about the ‘coming of age’ of a decade and combine it with the coming of age of a young woman (Evie). I chose the 1960s because everyone feels like they know the 60s – we’re all children of the 60s and very aware of the all the music, fashion, films etc of the decade. And then in the second book I wanted to look at the the end of the 60s and the start of what comes next – and 1972 is really when the sixties ended! It’s the death of the idealism of the 1960s – quite a sad messy time… The new decade wasn’t quite sure where it wanted to go and it’s only really when the new generation came of age that the seventies arrived in all its glam, colourful, glittery glory.
3. The series could have gone either way – humorous as it is now or focusing on the more serious with Mrs Pym, was the humour and balance between the two intentional?
I wanted to write a funny book about serious things and combining the humour with emotional heft was always my intention for both books. I think books need both in order to make them balanced and enjoyable. I’ve had lots of wonderful compliments about how funny the books are but there’s also some pretty dark themes in there too: grief, death, guilt, the importance of liberalism and tolerance… People often tell me they laughed out loud AND cried when reading the books – and that’s just what I want!
4. All About Evie is still as humorous as the first, but shows a bit more fashion of the 1970s. How much did your job as a design historian at the V&A influence you in your writing of this?
It’s a huge influence. My job as a design historian has given me the tools to research material culture – when I started writing the first novel I was very confident writing about ’things’ (the fashion, food, interiors etc) because it’s my day job – I was much less confident about making up a story! The museum’s a great resource too – in fact, in the final chapter of the 1st book, Evie is wearing a Mary Quant dress – initially it was a generic 60s dress but, while I was writing, the V&A had a Mary Quant exhibition so Evie ended up wearing one of the 1962 dresses from the exhibition.
5. You’ve written about the 60s and 70s, so can readers expect more of Evie Epworth to be written, perhaps in the 80s and beyond?
Absolutely! I always planned the Evie story as a trilogy so there’s a final Evie book set in 1982. But before I get to that, I’m writing a stand-alone book (ie non Evie) – it’s set in the mid-to-late 70s in Rome and is the story of two broken people brought together by the universe to fix each other…