Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kings of the Boyne by Nicola Pierce



Nicola Pierce's latest novel follows the story of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 through the eyes of a variety of characters. The book can be read as a stand alone tale or as a sequel to her previous book Behind the Walls which dealt with the siege of Derry in 1689, as two characters from Behind the Walls also feature in the new book; brothers Robert and Daniel Sherrard. Also featured in the book are a young cavalry man Gerald O'Connor, his Parisien friend Jacques, their companions Michael and Joseph and a County Down farmer Jean Watson as well as King James and King William and their various advisors. Through the winter and spring of 1690 we see the young friends camping out and travelling wherever they are sent by the leaders of their armies as the day of battle draws ever closer, we learn of their fears and worries as they talk and write letters home and we see how they are changed by army life as they are forced to make decisions they never thought they would have to make including taking horses and livestock from hungry families and turning their backs on loved ones.
Finally the day of battle approaches and we learn the fate of all the characters we have grown close to. Nicola Pierce is a fantastic storyteller and here she condenses a number of complicated political and military events and makes them brilliantly readable and enjoyable. Her gift for bringing characters to life through their dialogue, interactions and quirks is uncanny and in a fantastic scene with Jacques, his girl Nancy and our young hero Gerald the three youngsters visit a bookshop in Drogheda. Gerald is a great lover of books and determined to purchase a gift for his sister but short of money he fears he will have to leave his chosen book behind, his friends however insist on helping him out. It's a wonderful little aside which beautifully demonstrates the author's skill at building characters that readers cannot help but root for. However that said there are also scenes which depict the ordinary soldiers on the other side of the battle lines. Throughout the author remains completely impartial in her storytelling. Even when it comes to describing the blunders and misjudgement of the leaders the story unfolds without judgement. This book is published by O'Brien Press for children aged 9 and upwards but I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Irish and British history.
Thanks very much to O'Brien Press for sending me a copy to review.

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood



Alison Littlewood's latest novel is a bit of a departure. The author is well known for her thrilling horror fiction and with her new book she continues to feature haunted houses and people, but with this novel there is the added element of historical fiction. Because of this I know this book will be a must read for anyone who like me devours tales of the Victorian gothic.
Inspired by a real life killing in the Irish countryside in the 1890s Littlewood relocates the action to her home county of Yorkshire in the 1860s. Albie is a London man, working his way up in his father's business. He first meets his young Yorkshire cousin Lizzie at The Great Exhibition in 1851, that great symbol of industry and technology. Eleven years later he is newly married and devastated to hear that not only is his cousin dead but her husband is accused of killing her; believing her to be a fairy changeling. Albie travels to the village of Halfoak to bury his cousin and discover what led to her death. In Halfoak he discovers a village that has remained almost unchanged for centuries where superstition holds sway and the villagers are reluctant to talk to an outsider. Alison Littlewood is fantastic at evoking a powerful almost claustrophobic atmosphere and a wonderful sense of clashing cultures as the old ways meet the new. This is a brilliant murder mystery full of gothic suspense and elements of magical realism. You will be entranced by the story as Albie questions what is real or not and wonders if the house is haunted, if his cousin was murdered or was she really a fairy. Perfect for fans of Wuthering Heights or The Woman in Black.
Thanks so much to Olivia Mead for sending me a copy to review.
Published by Jo Flethcher Books. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

November means Nanowrimo


National Novel Writing Month is a challenge which millions of people across the globe take part in every November, aiming to complete a first draft of a novel; 50,000 words,  in the 30 days of November. This means writing 1667 words everyday and not stopping to edit, revise or research. It's not for everyone. For one thing it requires a great deal of planning, not just of your ideas but perhaps more importantly of your time. It's all very well deciding to write nearly 2000 words every day but how do you actually fit it in to your day?
That has always been my biggest problem when November approaches each year. I have attempted Nanowrimo every year since 2010 but I've never achieved 50,000 words in the month. I know there are some writers for whom 50,000 would be more than achievable while to others it is never going to happen. I've spoken to writers who regularly churn out more than 2000 words a day comfortably and others for whom 500 is a productive day and I know that circumstances play a big part in this.I don't have a lot of spare time or willing/available babysitters so I know that while I may not achieve 50,000 words this month I would like to get back into the writing flow. I had established a habit of writing approx 750 words a day and I would certainly be happy with that. So let's see how it goes.

For inspiration here is an article about 8 best selling books that all began life as Nanowrimo projects
https://www.bustle.com/articles/192069-8-best-selling-books-written-during-nanowrimo-that-show-you-it-can-be-done

Ordeal by Fire Sarah Hawkswood



Sarah Hawkswood’s second outing for the detecting duo of Bradecote and Catchpoll means a change of publisher, but readers shouldn’t worry about having to read the books in order as this story works just as well as a standalone. The setting is Worcester in 1143 during the anarchy of the reign of King Stephen and features undersheriff Hugh Bradecote and Serjeant Catchpoll investigating a series of fires in the town. While the first fire could have been an accident, the Serjeant’s suspicions are raised when a second fire results in a death. Catchpoll is fearful and enraged that a killer seems to be attacking his neighbours while Bradecote is more pragmatic.
The pairing is an enjoyable one for the reader, as we see the experienced Catchpoll bristle at the restraint of the recently appointed undersheriff, while Bradecote struggles to assert his authority and also deals with a family tragedy. This book also sees the appointment of Walkelin; a bright if at times overly enthusiastic young man, whom Catchpoll raises up as his apprentice. The author’s detailed research is obvious without ever overwhelming the narrative, and the details of everyday life in medieval Worcester provide fascinating background and the hint of many future outings for the duo.  Ordeal by Fire is an ideal choice for fans of Ariana Franklin, Peter Tremayne and S.D. Sykes.
Reviewed for HNR 78
https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/ordeal-by-fire/

The Secret Wife by Gill Paul



Gill Paul’s latest novel is an intriguing blend of two stories in two different eras. A young woman hides away at a cabin inherited from her great-grandfather in upstate New York; Kitty is reeling after discovering her husband’s infidelity and still mourning her parents’ sudden death. The cabin offers her a place to think, and she determines to learn more about the man she inherited it from.
Dmitri Malama is a Russian soldier recovering from an injury in 1914 at Tsarskoe Selo, where he is looked after by Grand Duchess Tatiana who, along with her mother and her sister Olga, is training as a nurse to help the war effort. Dmitri and Tatiana grow close and begin to exchange letters, and gradually we come to understand the connection between Kitty’s family and the Russian royal family.
The Secret Wife is an enthralling and page-turning story linking two intriguing women and the very different lives they lead. This book follows the characters’ journeys across the century from the horror of the First World War and the terrors of the Russian Revolution, to the émigré community of Berlin between the wars, and the hustle and bustle of the mid-century New York publishing scene. It is wonderfully researched and beautifully written. This novel will appeal to fans of Rachel Hore and Lucinda Riley and offers readers a perfect blend of romance and history.

Editor's Choice HNR 78

The Last Hoseman by David Gilman


David Gilman’s new novel is packed full of intrigue, adventure and excitement. The tale opens in Dublin in 1899 with American Joseph Radcliffe; a lawyer and former soldier. Unafraid to represent radical young men who face the noose as a result of their Fenian beliefs Radcliffe is a thorn in the side of the British establishment. When his young son runs away from boarding school Radcliffe gets information that he has followed some of his friends in the Irish Regiments to the war in South Africa, so he sets off after him along with his old friend and army comrade Benjamin Pierce and they will need every skill they learned in the “Indian Wars” in order to track Edward down. Unfolding alongside this story is sixteen year old Edward’s tale of what he hopes will be a grand adventure and the story of Sheenagh a prostitute on the run for passing information from the Fenian Brotherhood to the British Army. The writing here is skillful and while the story is a page turner full of adventure there are a number of moments in which we are reminded that though most of the characters are fictional the horror of this war was not. Gilman remains neutral in his opinions while still managing to get under the skin of his characters and like all the best historical fiction it is the characters and how they play off each other that really makes the story come alive. A perfect read for fans of Bernard Cornwell.
Reviewed for HNS 78
https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/the-last-horseman/-horseman/

The Strange Case of Madeleine Seguin



A striking blend of fiction and fact William Rose’s novel focuses on a patient at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris as the 19th Century draws to a close. The author presents us with a series of reports, case notes and letters written by the various characters who each for their own reason has a particular interest in Madeleine and her development. Through the letters we are given a glimpse into the decadent world of the fin de siècle and the various groups and salons; the experimental young artists and poets, those dabbling in magic and the occult and the scientists and psychiatrists who both help and experiment on the people they treat. There is a gothic undercurrent to the narrative which makes it darkly compelling and sinister. There is a sense of hedonism and thrill seeking amongst a number of the protagonists which intensifies the decadent and gothic atmosphere of the story.
The book places the mad girl at the centre of the story but as in life it is not her voice we hear, instead we only learn about her through others. The author presents a fascinating insight into a particular place and time; The Countess fascinated by the devil, the young artist seeking an introduction into society, the young doctor and his rejection of religion in favour of science and the professor as a kind of impresario using his patients as props to impress. The author’s interest in psychoanalysis and art is apparent and makes for an intriguing combination. A recommended read for fans of Diana Bretherick.

Reviewed for HNR Issue 78


Friday, October 28, 2016

The Counterfeit Detective by Stuart Douglas



The Counterfeit Detective is the latest installment in Titan Books The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and it is Stuart Douglas's second contribution to the series.
The book begins with an anonymous letter which informs Holmes and Watson of another Sherlock Holmes at work in New York, and so the intrepid pair set out to investigate this false Holmes. The year is 1899 and their adventures begins almost immediately as they investigate the murder of a sailor on the ship as they travel across the Atlantic.
Arriving in New York with a letter of introduction from Inspector Gregson they meet a Yorkshireman; Simeon Bullock now an Inspector with the New York City Police and they begin to investigate the counterfeit Sherlock. However almost as soon as they begin the body count of former clients starts to mount.
This is an intriguing mystery full of twists and turns and Douglas does a great job at capturing the essence of everyone's favourite detective duo. The mystery here is sufficiently convoluted as to satisfy even die-hard fans and the introduction of Inspector Bullock; world weary and yet insightful is a welcome addition.
I think this novel is accessible to readers new to the series and to more seasoned readers and it makes a welcome addition to the cannon and to Titan's impressive output of Sherlockiana. With Season 4 of Sherlock due to broadcast on New Year's Day, another outing for the film franchise with Robert Downey Jnr and Jude Law in the works and Elementary with Johhny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu continuing it's popularity Sherlock fever isn't going anywhere.
Thanks very much to Alice Morgan at Titan Books for a review copy of this book. 

The Constant Queen by Joanna Courtney


The Constant Queen is the second in Joanna Courtney's series which examines historical events leading up to the Norman conquest of 1066. This follows The Chosen Queen which I reviewed last year. You can read that review here. The Constant Queen does not follow directly from the previous book in the trilogy because each book tells the story of a different Queen, so they each feature different characters and though the historical events have an impact on each Queen in the series there is no interaction between them. Therefore they can be read in any order. The Constant Queen is Elizaveta who was born into royalty as a Princess of the Rus, growing up with her many brothers and sisters at Kiev. 
This is the story of a fierce and lifelong romance between Elizaveta and  Harald of Norway who comes to be known as Harald Hardrada. Exiled from his own land Harald at first fought for Elizaveta's father and then went on to seek riches and glory in Constantinople before escaping imprisonment to return to Kiev and claim her hand. Travelling victoriously to Norway Harald is able to regain the throne but Elizaveta must contend with Harald's first love and handfasted wife Tora. 
This book is different in many ways from Joanna Courtney's previous novel because there is a greater emphasis on the detail of Elizaveta's domestic life and her frustration at being kept in the dark about events and being kept waiting. Because of this I felt the pace of the book sagged a little in the middle, However once Tora and Elizaveta come to a tacit truce the pace picks up again particularly as Harald prepares to invade England. 
Harald is often called the last of the great Vikings and there is certainly a great deal of detail about Viking life; both domestic and military and overall the book makes for a fascinating read. 
If you are a fan of Carol McGrath or Tracey Warr then you will enjoy this book.
Thanks so much Jess Duffy at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the book. The Constant Queen is out now in paperback. 

An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney


An Almond For a Parrot is the spectacular adult debut from award winning children's author Sally Gardner and be warned it is very much a book for adults. The novel is the tale of the life, loves and romantic and sexual awakening of Tully Truegood.
Following in the footsteps of eighteenth century heroines like Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill, Tully's story begins in 1756 in Newgate Prison where Tully awaits trial for murder. Through a series of recipes and recollections Tully recounts her journey from a neglected childhood with her drunken father to a life of luxury as the mistress of a Lord.
Treated as little more than a servant by her father, who gambled and drank away what little money they had after her mother's death, the only kindness Tully receives is from a indifferent gin-soaked cook. Her father trades Tully like a commodity; at 12 she is a bride in a "Fleet Marriage" at 16 she is the payment for a gambling debt. Tully enjoys fleeting happiness when her father brings home a new wife; as she has the kindness of a mother and a chance at learning, as well as new gowns and shoes but it is all too soon snatched away. When Tully finally makes her escape from her father's house it is the first time she has ever set foot outside and she is dazzled and thus begins her progress through the highs and lows of the decadent London of the eighteenth century.
With a powerful physic ability and a beautiful face Tully is soon the most celebrated courtesan of her age, before a shadowy figure from her past emerges to challenge her safety and position.
This is an incredible page turner full of immaculate period detail and peopled with great characters. A writer to watch.  If you are a fan of Debra Daley, Laurie Graham or Sarah Waters then you will love this book.
Publishing next Thursday; 3rd November and coming from new imprint HQ; part of Harper Collins this is a book that should not be missed. An Almond for a Parrot has already been listed in Buzz Feeds 24 most anticipated books of the Autumn and you can expect to hear a lot more buzz about it as publication approaches.
Thanks so much to Sophie Calder at Harper Collins for a copy of the book.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

As I Descended by Robin Talley


As I Descended is the third novel from Robin Talley; winner of the inaugural Amnesty Honour for her debut novel Lies We Tell Ourselves. The author once again chooses a school as the setting of her story. This time it is exclusive Acheron Academy, which prides itself on being diverse and 21st Century despite its gothic campus and the rumours of numerous hauntings over the years. Lily and Maria are senior students, near the top of their class, room-mates and secretly a couple. Only Maria's best friend Brandon knows their secret. So Brandon is happy to play along when Lily wants the three of them to call up some of the spirits of Acheron's spooky past with a Ouija board. Brandon thinks it'll be a bit of fun but when strange and frightening things happen during the session with the Ouija board and the girls start behaving strangely afterwards he's not so sure. Maria is desperate to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley Prize which goes to the top senior student every year but there's one problem Delilah Dufrey. Delilah is the most popular girl in school, captain of the girls’ soccer team and just a fraction of a percent ahead of Maria. While Maria has always worked hard and played by the rules Delilah flirts, sleeps and cheats her way to the top and  Maria has had enough; with the spirits of Acheron's gruesome past as a plantation peopled with slaves now unleashed Maria may just get what she wants.

This novel is a modern retelling of Macbeth, a psychological gothic horror with fantastic storytelling and some real twists and turns in the narrative. It highlights the danger of putting teenagers under so much pressure to perform academically and also to be the most popular in the school as well as the stresses that can cause students to buckle when they have to hide a part of themselves because of pressure from friends, teachers, parents etc. The horror and haunting is well done and there some really creepy moments. The back story about the plantation and the cruelty that was inflicted on the slaves is also intriguing. 
A great spooky read in the lead up to Halloween. 

Thanks to Isobel Fenlon at Midas PR for a review copy. As I Descended is out now published by MIRA Ink a division of Harper Collins. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Dear Charlie by N. D. Gomes


Dear Charlie is a powerful contemporary debut novel. Set in England in 1996/97, it deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. The book is narrated by Sam; 16 years old and brother of Charlie, the one who carried out the shootings before taking his own life. Sam is desperate to understand Charlie's actions and he is also dealing with the media frenzy, the anger and grief of local people and trying to grieve for the brother he loved but he's not sure if he really knew him. The book is Sam's letter to Charlie and his attempt to work his way through his own grief. 
The book opens with Sam's fear as he starts a new school. He is bullied and harassed but he simply accepts it making no complaint. He soon realises that there are a group who don't attack him and begins to sit with them and eventually make friends. This group of outsiders become Sam's lifeline. He is able to just be a normal teenager; hanging out after school, joking around, going to parties. Somehow Sam is able to pull himself through the tortuous final months of school and try to get his life back on track.
This is a very clever and important book. While the author doesn't try to offer any easy answers to the great question of why school shootings happen she does show us Sam's and his parents struggle with the shock, anger, guilt, grief and recovery. We see Sam slowly make progress in therapy and return to his music and the tentative recovery of a relationship with his parents who had each retreated into their own misery after the killings. 
The author grew up in Scotland and was studying at Stirling University not far from Dunblane when the tragic school massacre took place there. She went on to become a teacher specialising in special needs and she was teaching in the U.S. just a few hours away from the Sandy Hook school when the horrific shootings took place there in 2012. The author's interest in and understanding of vulnerable teenagers really shines through in the writing of this novel and I highly recommend it.

Published by HQ an imprint of Harper Collins on 20th. Thanks to Isobel Fenlon of Midas PR for a review copy of the book.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Frances Brody's latest novel Death at the Seaside; the 8th book in the Kate Shackleton Mystery series. 


Having decided that nothing much happens in August lady detective Kate Shackleton heads off for a relaxing stay at the Royal Hotel in Whitby where she hopes to enjoy the sea view and plenty of fresh air and spend time with old school friend Alma and her daughter Felicity. 

However within hours of her arrival she stumbles upon the dead body of local jeweller Jack Phillips. Kate is particularly shaken as it was at Mr Phillips' shop that she and her beloved husband Gerald had chosen her engagement and wedding rings. So obviously returning to the jewellers alone was especially poignant for Kate. Having contacted the police Kate is perturbed to then become a suspect in Sergeant Garvin's investigation. However she soon discovers that Mr Phillips was a gentleman friend of Alma's and now Alma's daughter Felicity is missing along with Mr Phillips' boat. Kate knows that all the events are connected but she must investigate as discretely as possible to avoid Sergeant Garvin's suspicion but has Alma told her the truth?
This is the first of the Kate Shackleton Mysteries I have read and I have to admit I'm hooked. The books are set in the 1920s and Kate like many resourceful young women of the time has sought to achieve independence and has established herself in what many would see as a man's role as a private detective. Her husband was killed during the First World War and although this book has the genteel and easy feel of a classic cosy crime novel, there is still very much a sense of the visceral wounds of war. The characters, the setting and the era are very well set up, in particular the sense of a hidden world that takes place behind closed doors even in a small town where everybody knows each other's secrets; thus there are illicit affairs, elopements, smuggling and hidden resentments. 
I had no problem delving straight into the story despite not having read the previous books in the series, so I can recommend this book as both a stand alone and a new instalment. If you are a fan of Agatha Christie, MC Beaton or Jacqueline Winspear then this book is for you. I know I will certainly be reading more of this series.  

Thanks so much to Clara Diaz at Little Brown Book Group for a review copy of the book and a chance to be involved in the blog tour. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Blog Tour for Conquest Book 1 by Tracey Warr


I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the brilliant new book by historical fiction author Tracey Warr. Check out the review below and check out the details of all the other stops on the blog tour in the banner above.


CONQUEST: DAUGHTER OF THE LAST KING
BY TRACEY WARR

This is the first book in the Conquest trilogy by Tracey Warr and it centres around a number of real historical figures most notably Princess Nest ferch Rhys daughter of the last independent Welsh King; Rhys King of Deheubarth. Nest is captured from her home by Normans invading her lands and held hostage at Cardiff Castle. Nest is just 12 years old when her family are killed and she is placed under the protection of  the Montgomerys and  FitzHamons. Her "captor"  Sybil  soon becomes a friend as Nest trains to be a lady, learning French, History and courtly manners in order to become the wife of a Norman Lord. 
Although the book is peopled with a large cast of characters the relationships are well delineated by the author so that readers don’t become confused and joy of joys there are maps, family trees, historical notes and even a floor plan of Cardiff castle.
Nest is an absolutely fascinating character torn between two cultures and eventually between the love of two men. The book also features letters and journal extracts from other characters; Faithful Knight Haith and his sister Benedicta and Gerald FitzWalter a faithful friend to Nest adding further insight and details about court life and the ongoing fighting between the Normans and Welsh and especially amongst the Normans themselves. This book offers fantastic insight into the lives of women of the period; the frustration of being kept in the dark about events, the lack of control, the insistence on bearing a son and heir and the constant reminders that a woman’s greatest currency is in her ability to bear children.
There is a wonderful quality to Tracey's writing, every character and setting really leaps off the page and I can imagine this book making a fantastic film or television series. 

This is a wonderful novel brilliantly researched and told in a fantastic page turning style it will appeal to fans of Carol McGrath, Joanna Courtney and Patricia Bracewell. I thoroughly enjoyed it and cannot wait for the next instalment. 
Thanks so much to Natalie at Impress Books for the chance to read the book and take part in the blog tour. 
Conquest is available from Impress and published on October1st. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Associates of Sherlock Holmes edited by George Mann


This collection edited by George Mann is the third he has produced for Titan Books and features a number of writers well known for their Sherlockiana such as Lyndsay Faye and James Lovegrove as well as those such as Simon Bucher-Jones who is presenting his first Sherlock Holmes story here. Unlike many other stories set in the universe of Arthur Conan Doyle which present the cases from Watson's viewpoint as Doyle did, here we see Holmes and Watson through the eyes of others; including Inspector Lestrade, Irene Adler and many more. It allows many of the associates, clients and villains to tell their own stories for the first time. The collection opens with a new story from fan favourite Lyndsay Faye as she allows Police Inspector Stanley Hopkins who appeared in Doyle's "The Adventure of Black Peter" to tell us a brand new tale of body parts dredged from the Thames in "River of Silence" There are some brilliant supernatural touches too courtesy of Jeffrey Thomas and Tim Pratt.
Titan are undoubtedly the best and most enthusiastic publisher of Sherlockiana and this collection is a fantastic idea although some stories are less successful than others. This collection is also a wonderful showcase of the work of some great new (to me) authors of crime, science fiction and fantasy. I will certainly be exploring more of the work of some of the authors I have encountered here. Fans of Sherlock Holmes won't be disappointed and in fact I went back to the original stories with new insight.
Perfect for fans and new readers alike.
Thanks to Philippa Ward from Titan Books for a review copy of this book.
Associates of Sherlock Holmes is published later this week. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Harrowing by James Aitcheson



The Harrowing of the North is a famous phrase familiar to many of us as the tactic used by William the Conqueror to quell rebellion in the North and ensure the conquest of England was complete. In this novel James Aitcheson shows us the personal side of this tactic, as the land is cleared and the people; men, women and children are murdered, often in the most cruel and gruesome of ways.  We meet five individuals; Tova a maid and her mistress Merewyn who are fleeing Merewyn’s husband’s family, Beorn the warrior who rescues them from a Norman attack, Guthred a former priest and Oslac a wandering storyteller. As the people of the North flee the approaching Normans so these five must also make their way Northwards to Hagustaldesham (Hexham, Northumberland).
The storytelling is brilliantly framed with each part of the book covering one day of travel and the various characters telling their stories each evening as they prepare to rest, a style not dissimilar to The Canterbury Tales. In this way we get an insight into each character and understand their perspective on the situation. The author does not shy away from the truth of the bloodshed and cruelty of events and it becomes clear that although they are fleeing the Norman army who have destroyed their homes, they are also each fleeing from their past. The storytelling is wonderful each character tells their story in their own voice but the pace never flags, the plotting is taut and the characterization deft. James Aitcheson is a fantastic writer who has brought to vivid life a dark period in English history, shining a light on ordinary people and the impact on them of historical events. 

Published by Heron Books 2016
This review first appeared in The Historical Novel Review

Ascension by Gregory Dowling


Gregory Dowling’s fifth novel; his first foray into historical territory, is set in mid 18th Century Venice and introduces a charming protagonist in the form of cicerone or tour guide Alvise Marangon. Having grown up mostly in England Alvise makes guiding British tourists his specialty but he gets more than he bargained for when he offers to guide the young Mr. Boscombe and his tutor Mr. Shackleford.
Soon Alvise is entangled in the city’s criminal underbelly finding himself arrested, robbed, beaten up and finally persuaded to join the city’s secret network of spies to uncover a criminal threat that goes to highest levels of Venice’s aristocratic society.
This is a wonderful page turner with a fabulous cast of characters from the gambling dens to the theatres, the booksellers to the taverns, the courtesans to the gondoliers. Alvise is able to use his innate sense of theatre and charm to move fluidly between all the classes and this also makes him a perfect spy.

Dowling’s storytelling is superb and the sights, sounds and smells of 18th Century Venice are brilliantly realised. Although the plot is resolved the book has the feel of the first in a series so I hope there will be a return for Alvise. This book would be ideal for fans of Diana Bretherick and Robin Blake.
Published by Polygon 2015.
This review originally appeared in Historical Novels Review Magazine

A Ghost's Story by Lorna Gibb


A Ghost’s Story is an intriguing book, as it presents the tale of Katie King not a famous medium but a famous ghost. Although it is Lorna Gibb’s first work of fiction there are a number of real people included in the story. There is correspondence between Bob Loomis, Senior Librarian at the Magic Circle and the author herself who has received the Katie King ‘spirit writing’ from the Magic Circle archive, this writing is interspersed with a manuscript from an Italian Bookshop named after Katie King and the academic notes of Adam Marcus who had been investigating the manuscript prior to his death.
The narrative is in the voice of John/Katie King a celebrated spirit who visited a number of mediums during the 19th and early 20th century when séances and an interest in the spirit world were at their peak. Moving between America, Britain, Russia, Italy, France and Canada we observe Katie’s growth as she gradually begins to affect her surroundings, to be heard by those she is drawn to and even to enter into the mediums she visits.

Written in a vivid lyrical style the sense of passing time as Katie witnesses the changes in the places and people she visits and tries to be perceived and believed is beautifully rendered. Gibb’s research is meticulous and the unusual framing makes this a genuinely compelling read. This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in Victorian spiritualism but its unique style will undoubtedly mean its appeal will be much broader.
Published by Granta 2015
This review originally appeared in The Historical Novel Review Magazine. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick


Everything about this book was guaranteed to entice me from the title to the cover to the tag line 'Dark secrets lie just around the corner..' but most of all the blurb which not only hinted that this is a time-slip novel but recommended the book to fans of Barbra Erskine and Kate Morton. That was it, I was sold so even though the publishers were kind enough to send me an e-galley I just had to get a print edition too.
The book opens with The Winter Queen Elizabeth Stuart, a fascinating woman who I think simply doesn't feature enough in history or historical fiction. Nicola used a setting she knows well Ashdown House where she works as guide and with some poetic licence she has told the story of the house and some of it's occupants, real and imagined. This is my favourite kind of historical fiction mixing the magical and the mystical with the past and the present. In the present day Holly is searching for her missing brother Ben who vanished at Ashdown Mill where he was researching the family tree. Holly begins a desperate race against time to find her brother and discover the secrets about this fascinating place.  Holly discovers a diary written by a 19th Century occupant of the house before it was burned down and from this point Nicola Cornick weaves the three different timelines together skillfully in this deftly plotted book. Wonderful characters and excellent storytelling.
Published by Harlequin Mira. 

River Road by Carol Goodman


Carol Goodman is one of my favourite authors. She is a literary chameleon capable of writing gothic chillers, YA fantasy, romance and gripping crime. This book will not disappoint avid fans but will also appeal to those who have never read her before. River Road is a psychological crime thriller about a small town college professor Nan Lewis who is driving home in a snowstorm when she feels something hit her car. She convinces herself that it was just a deer but then she finds out that a brilliant student of hers, Leia Dawson has been knocked down and killed in a hit and run accident and she was found on River Road, just where Nan hit a deer or did she?
Goodman slowly reveals the secrets of Nan, Leia and the various other people in the cast of fascinating characters in this twisty, page turning novel. We learn that Nan's daughter was killed in a hit and run seven years before and since then Nan's marriage has disintegrated and her career has stalled. She's a creative writing professor who is unable to write. Her grief has left her psychologically paralysed and consumed by guilt. An intriguing mystery and several well developed characters will keep readers turning the pages in Goodman's first book with British publisher Titan. Ideal for fans of Liz Nugent or Elly Griffiths.
Thanks to Titan Books for a review copy.

The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson



Cassandra is a beautiful young lady bored and restless she longs for adventure. Mary Wilcox is a young woman who has been ground down by society, poverty and men, she is ready for change. Fred and Edmund are privileged young men with the world at their feet. Everyone has their place and everyone has a role to play. But what happens when a young woman decides to play a different role? Inspired by a true story this is the tale of a young woman who turns up at small village in England apparently unable to speak English. Taken in by a local wealthy family who decide that she is an exotic Princess, she is subject to experimentation and media speculation. As the questions come thick and fast how long will it be before the origins of Lady Caraboo will be discovered.

Catherine Johnson's wonderful new book was shortlisted for the YA Book prize although it missed out on the final prize; which went to Sarah Crossan. (The Irish ladies are winning all the prizes recently!) Nonetheless Lady Caraboo is an astonishingly powerful tale that combines gritty storytelling; the opening is stomach churning, with romance, friendship, self discovery and a portrait of Georgian England that you can feel yourself sinking into. There is squalor and splendour in equal measure. This is not an easy read. The treatment of women and of the poor is upsetting and vividly written. I am a huge fan of Catherine Johnson's writing and I highly recommend this book and all her books. Perfect as a companion to Pride and Prejudice or Frankenstein or if you enjoyed Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree.

Thanks very much to Clare Kelly from Penguin Random House for a review copy. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wild Wood by Posie Graeme-Evans

Another Australia author. One I have a bit of a soft spot for because she is such a beautiful writer and she writes my favourite kind of book; time-slip. Just like The Island House Wild Wood features an Aussie heroine exploring her British heritage. This book however is set not on a Scottish island but on the Scottish border. The modern story actually takes place in the early 1980s with Jesse Marley having just discovered that she is adopted she sets out to learn more about her birth family. Arriving in London she has an accident and finds herself in hospital unable to speak. She is treated by a neurologist Rory who encourages Jesse to draw and she begins to draw faces of people she has never met and a castle she has never seen. However the castle is quite real in fact Rory knows it very well because he grew up there. Rory takes her to see the castle and to try and understand what is happening to Jesse and what her connection to Hundredfields really is. Weaving between Jesse's chapters we get the tale of Hundredfields itself and the intriguing mystery that has been handed down through the generations. This is an intriguing tale of history, mystery, family and secrets that fans of Susanna Kearsley, Diana Gabaldon and Rosemary Goring will adore. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Vigil by Angela Slatter Blog Tour



I am so excited to be part of this blog tour for Vigil which is the first (solo) novel from Australian fantasy author. Angela has written a number of award winning short story collections and co-written two novels Midnight and Moonshine and The Female Factory with Lisa L. Hannett. If you are a fan of Jim Butcher, Patricia Briggs or Ben Aaronovitch then get ready for your next favourite read. You van connect with Angela on the internet @AngelaSlatter or through her excellent website http://www.angelaslatter.com/
Vigil is the story of Verity Fassbinder a Brisbane native caught between two cultures. Verity is the result of a marriage between a Weyrd and a Normal, her parents died when she was still a child. Her father was a notorious Weyrd criminal who broke the laws that preserve the fragile peace between our world and theirs. Now she utilises her own magic for good. Verity has super strength; handy when your job involves exploring spooky old houses and chasing Weyrd with a fondness for the old ways and a taste for human flesh. Verity works for the Weyrd council investigating anything strange or anyone who doesn't keep the peace between the normal world and the Weyrd. She has to respond to calls for help from the cops and the council which doesn't leave much time for relationships but it's all about to get very complicated as not only is there a new guy on the scene but kids are disappearing across the city and someone is killing Sirens, so Verity has a busy time ahead.
I loved this book. Verity is brilliant she's kind hearted but tough and she'll break the rules to do what's right. She's proud of her heritage while also feeling her father's legacy as a burden to be carried. The Weyrd characters are beautifully realised Angela Slatter has worked hard to establish a unique mythology which feels very Australian while also being tied to the old countries that many of the Weyrd come from and to the old mythologies. At the same time though Verity feels so thoroughly normal she looks out for her neighbour, she feels goofy around a potential date and she is well aware of the weirdness she carries around with her. It's a page turning read, highly recommended.

Vigil is available now from Jo Fletcher Books.

There's an extract below to give a flavour of the book and an insight into Verity and her methods. This quote in particular I can identify with:

"That’s where the bookshops came in: I didn’t feel as if I was playing dress-up or wearing a suit of
armour there. Around the books, I didn’t have to be anyone but me."



Vigil by Angela Slatter extract


I owned a lot of books, a collection built up over the years. Of course, heaps of information was
online but it wasn’t the real stuff; besides, I didn’t trust the Internet. It might give useful hints about
where to go when I was researching something, but those were simply leads, and whilst some
turned out to be useful, many were completely unreliable. The World Wide Web was just anarchy in
a virtual container – there was no knowledge there, only data in ephemeral and frequently unsound
form. But a book, a nice solid book, a thing you could touch and hold and, more importantly, own −
that was solid. That was tangible.
Books had shown me that although I was different, I wasn’t alone.
My father’s library disappeared after his arrest and was probably still mouldering in an evidence
locker somewhere. My grandparents had cleaned out Grigor’s house, my old home, and disposed of
anything that wasn’t suitable to be left next to Women’s Weekly, which covered pretty much
everything. They turned out to be very particular about reading material where I was concerned, at
such pains to give me a Normal childhood, but I started spending my pocket money on questionable
investments such as compendiums of tales about the occult and ghosts, myths and legends . . . weird
stuff that would later become Weyrd. I hid my illicit purchases under my bed, behind the old
suitcase stuffed with the toys I’d outgrown but couldn’t bear to throw away.
My adolescent rebellion might have been nerdier than most, but I found myself hanging out in the
sort of bookstores that didn’t look like proper shops, the ones hidden down dark alleys, with doors
with peeling paint and strangely sturdy locks, or behind hidden trapdoors in the storerooms of shiny
new book chain-stores, under which would be the rest of the inventory: books as old as breathing,
covered in everything from tightly woven hair to human skin, from shaved bone shards to glass,
from beaten bronze to blood-dyed silks.
I wasn’t like other kids. I knew things they didn’t; I’d seen things they never would – and I was
strong, so strong. Grandma warned me over and over: No pushing, no shoving, no fighting, no
matter what – you don’t know your own strength, Verity. I really did, though, and I was careful not
to use it against anyone – or at least, not until I was older and started recognising and encountering
the Weyrd again.
That’s where the bookshops came in: I didn’t feel as if I was playing dress-up or wearing a suit of
armour there. Around the books, I didn’t have to be anyone but me. That was where Bela first found
me − or maybe ‘made contact’. He knew who I was. Now I realise of course the Council would keep
an eye on Grigor’s daughter, but when I was fifteen I was flattered and naturally, I developed a fierce
schoolgirl crush. He wasn’t interested then (not until I was well into my twenties), but in those early
years he showed me my heritage, pointed me towards tomes filled with disguised versions of the
truth of where we came from, and others not so disguised. He taught me not to be afraid of what I
was.
It’s no wonder I loved him for so long.
He’d also been a great giver of books while we were together – a great forgetter of anniversaries
and birthdays, too, but random books-for- no-reason helped to smooth that over. But I’d grown my
library mostly on my own, though I only ever bought those volumes I could afford to pay for. Some
could be had for a lot of cold hard cash, others for a lock of hair, a tiny square of skin, a vial of blood
or a whisper of breath, but Bela had taught me that it was unwise to give up any part of yourself,
even for knowledge. You never knew what someone would do with something so personal.
The bestiary on my lap was written in bad Latin, which had made it a little cheaper, but it’d
still cost me the better part of a month’s salary. My Latin was even more atrocious (needless to say
my language studies grades had not been stellar), but it had good pictures, which I could ‘read’, and
armed with a dictionary and a basic primer, I managed. Shame about all that effort. The entry on
sirens told me nothing I didn’t already know.
The winged women with the legs of birds had not been sea-going to begin with. One
particular branch of the family had started that tradition, and had also started mating with men.
Their appetite for flesh had also increased, and over the years they’d evolved, losing their aerial
abilities and morphing into water creatures. The other branch, the older one, stayed aloft and kept
their wings − they didn’t hold with all that reclining on rocks and serenading their dinner, although
they still liked the seduction, the chase. Some liked the murderous habits so much they couldn’t or
wouldn’t give them up; some just liked to tease and flirt, to break a heart or twelve.
I closed the book and contemplated what could kill a siren. Bullets, arrows, decapitation,
they’d all do it. Poison wouldn’t work – maybe because their own blood was already so toxic. It’s
difficult to catch something that can fly away unless you’re a dab hand with nets. They had fangs and
claws, so they could defend themselves pretty effectively. And then there was that whole hypnotic
effect: some idiots, men and women both, were dumb enough to fall victim to their lures, rather like
a bird being mesmerised by a snake. On the whole, siren bodies were as frail as humans’, but unless
violence was visited upon them, they simply outlived us. Hell, they’d outlived whole civilisations.
And there had been no marks on the dead siren, whoever she was, apart from the standard fell-
from-a- great-height- and-went- splat kind.
The autopsy might show something, but I wasn’t going to bet on it. Whoever – or whatever
– had murdered the siren had probably been smart enough to clean up after themselves. So if there
was anything there to be found, I’d have to wait for McIntyre to call once the chopping-up- and-
cataloguing part was done. Oddly, I’m squeamish about that kind of thing.
The city’s sirens had a regular meeting place: they got together once a month, at the full moon, and
fortuitously, we were due a full moon that very Sunday. Sometimes they sang, not the nasty, lure-
you-to- your-death sort of singing, which is never conducive to maintaining a low profile, but a nice
ladies’ choir thing. They gathered together for the same reasons humans do: for companionship, to
be surrounded by their own so they didn’t feel so alone. Of course, there are edgy loners in every
species, and I really hoped that whoever the victim was, she hadn’t been one of those, not only
because that would it make my task more difficult, but it would mean she wasn’t mourned or
missed, and that always made me sad.
Mindful of Ziggi’s etiquette tip to ensure my continued good health – it was fairly basic: don’t be
rude, because sirens have a very strict view of what constitutes good manners – I tucked the bestiary
into my bag, rose and walked along the cliff path towards the park with its herd of BBQ pergolas
sitting in pools of artificial light. Maybe on a non-siren night David and I would go there, bring some
Thai food, talk into the wee hours.
The full moon turned the landscape silvery-ash. Everything – buildings, cars, city lights, trees,
people, the river below – was washed of colour, rendered ghostly and limned with a strange sort of
shine in the winter air. Soon enough I stopped noticing that because I heard the melody, seeping in
through my pores and making my belly tingle.
As I got closer the singing got clearer, splitting into lyrics, a version of Greek before time and
history were recorded. I caught the words for moonlight and grace and mother, which was as far as
my dodgy translation skills allowed. I figured it for a hymn, the open sky their church. The power was
pitched low, so as not to entrance anyone, but I could see figures gathered on balconies in the
apartment complexes across the road, and evening picnickers scattered along the cliffs listening,
quite still, food momentarily forgotten.
The women were clustered on one of the grey- and white-tiled lookouts, the one closest to
the tiny garden of St Mary’s Church, at the farthest end of the park. A glass and steel wall kept land
and empty air apart. About thirty of them stood in a loose arrow formation, hands by their sides,
faces lifted to the moon, mouths moving in unison. They were all dressed differently – anything else
would have screamed ‘cult’ – but without exception each was beautiful. Just behind every one I
could see a sort of shimmer effect: the hidden wings.
As I neared, I focused on the woman at the tip of the arrow. She was older than her
companions, although still enduringly lovely, ageing gracefully with high cheekbones and a firm jaw.
Others looked like extremely well preserved forties, a few in their thirties, but the majority of them
appeared to be young, late teens, early twenties. Many of these creatures were ancient enough to
have seen the Fall of Troy, but this was a relatively new nest, just over a hundred years old, in a small
community, owing to a general exodus when the proscription against human hors d’oeuvres came
into effect.
I stopped a respectful distance from them and waited for the song to finish. Slowly the notes
dropped away like leaves fallen from a height, and as the music died, so the colour was restored to
the cityscape. Then thirty heads turned to pin me with luminous stares until one broke from the
group, a glaring adolescent, and approached me.
‘You’re not welcome. This time is private.’
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


There's one more stop on the blog tour tomorrow over at Natural Bri, check it out. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Maresi The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschanioff


Maresi was translated from the Finnish and it demonstrates exactly why more Young Adult fiction should be available in translation. Maresi is a fantasy story set on an island populated entirely by women. Maresi travelled to the Red Abbey driven by desperation, hunger and fear. She had almost believed this sanctuary to be a myth, a place where women can escape, can be safe. Outside of the Red Abbey women are forbidden from learning, they must live by strict rules and they are never safe from the prospect of rape, death or slavery. Many of the girls who have come to the Red Abbey have escaped brutality. It is a place where community is celebrated. The women work together, grow their own food, make their own clothes and they have books which Maresi is encouraged to explore. When Jai arrives Maresi finds a friend but a chain of events is set in motion which brings danger ever closer to the Red Abbey. This a powerful and atmospheric tale. It has a strong feminist message and is also a thrilling and fast paced fantasy adventure. It has the quality of a fairytale which is partly the magic of the author's voice and partly down to the setting. I really hope to read more by this author and the quality of the storytelling makes me excited to discover more literature for young adults outside of Britain, Ireland the US. This book is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Frances Hardinge.

Thanks to Sam at Bounce Marketing for a copy of this book. Maresi The Red abbey Chronicles is published by Pushkin Children's Books.












From the publisher's website
Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren't allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.
Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.
Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.
A story of friendship and survival, magic and wonder, beauty and terror, Maresi will grip you and hold you spellbound.
'Dark, powerful and original... really stands out in a very crowded YA marketplace... Thrilling, suspenseful and gloriously feminist' The Bookseller
'Where YA fantasy can start to feel a little same-y, Maresi dark,occasionally harrowing, yet always readable stands out for its startling originality, and for the frightening plausibility of the dangerous world it creates. Maria Turtschaninoff s deceptively simple, occasionally almost fairy tale-like prose is also a joy: the voice of Maresi (our first person narrator) always feels distinct and believable' Rebecca Hawkes, Telegraph
'A book full of courage. Dark, brave and so gripping you ll read it in one sitting with that instinctive hunch hovering over your shoulder warning you that something terrible is about happen if you turn the page. And then you turn the page...' Laura Dockrill , author
'A tale of sisterhood, survival and fighting against the odds that will capture the hearts of both teen and adult feminists alike and will leave you feeling extremely empowered.
I think it s a very special book and one that deserves lots and lots of attention' Lucy Powrie, book blogger
'A poignant, slow-burning fantasy' Taran Matharu, author
'A compelling read... Turtschaninoff weaves in fantasy with feminism, creating a spellbinding read that is completely unputdownable' Guardian Children s Books
'A great read. I've been trying to put into words how it made me feel, but Maresi's voice is so different to anything else, it s taken me a little while to process.
'Such a beautiful, haunting tale. Maresi s voice is unlike any other YA voice I ve read; her voice is strong but she shows us so many different emotions. Her relationship with Jai and the other girls felt very real, dealing with all of Jai s problems how a friend would. They were there for each other and it was great to see that. The writing is amazing; it has an almost mythical feel to it. The way it flows made it such an easy and quick read. Obviously there are darker elements to the book but that only adds to the story and the world that has been created. It s good to see these issues being used in books and drawing them to the attention of our next generation' Fiona Hadfield , children s bookseller
'Atmospheric, immersive and definitely original, Maresi has a quiet, urgent magic that makes her story powerful, poignant and memorable' Jane Bradley, Founder & Director of For Books' Sake
'A web of strength, friendship and belief. A beautifully painted, fantastical setting like no other; this story will resonate with me for a long time' Ben Alderson, Benjamin of Tomes
'A few times in a life time, a book comes along that wraps you completely in its world and its characters. Wildly imaginative, vivid and filled with wonders' Casey Daveron, Casey Ann Books
Maria Turtschaninoff was born in 1977 and has been writing fairy tales since she was five. She is the author of many books about magical worlds. She has been awarded, the Swedish YLE Literature Prize and has twice won the Society of Swedish Literature Prize. She has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Maresi is the first book in the three-partRed Abbey Chronicles, all of which will be published by Pushkin Press. Maresi is being published in 8 languages and won the Finlandia Junior Prize.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona Maclean


The Redemption of Alexander Seaton is the first in a four part series by Scottish writer Shona /S.G. Maclean. Set in Banff in Scotland in 1626. Alexander is a failed minister now a schoolteacher of morose character. His two truest friends are the doctor and the music master.When a man is found dead in suspicious circumstances, murder is suspected and Alexander's friend the music teacher a rival in love to the murdered man is arrested. Tasked with helping the investigation Alexander is determined to prove his friend innocent.
This is a wonderfully written tale from a master storyteller. The setting and characters are so vivid and intense I felt utterly immersed and sad to leave them all behind. This is a series I will certainly continue and cherish.
If you like S J Deas, Robin Blake or Antonia Hodgson this book is for you.



Here is an interview the author did with Shots e-zine which will give you some insight into her research and an explanation for the mid series name change.



http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/interview_view.aspx?interview_id=237

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lawless and The Flowers of Sin Blog Tour




I am delighted to be hosting today's spot on William Sutton's Seven Sins blog tour. Lawless and the Flowers of Sin is the second book in the compelling Campbell Lawless Victorian Mystery series

From the press release

It is 1863, and as a reluctant Inspector of Vice, Campbell Lawless undertakes a reckoning of London’s houses of ill repute, a shadowy netherworld of frayed glamour and double standards; mesmerising and
unspeakable by turns. From the erotic booksellers of Holywell Street to the alleys of Haymarket, he discovers backstreet cast-offs and casualties of the society bordellos, and becomes fascinated by a
musician who has established a foundation for fallen women. But his inquiries draw the attention of powerful men, who can be merciless in defending their reputations. Lawless must unlock the heart of a clandestine network, before he too is silenced...
William Sutton comes from Dunblane, Scotland. He has written for The Times and the Fortean
Times, acted in the longest play in the world, and played cricket for Brazil. He writes for international magazines about language, music and futurology. His plays have been produced on radio and in
London fringe theatres. He has performed at events from the Edinburgh Festival to High Down Prison, often wielding a ukulele.

Today's sin that William has blogged about is Wrath; here's what he had to say.

Wrath Seven Sinful Blogs Hello, hello, I’m William Sutton, author of Lawless and the Flowers of Sin, due out in July with Titan Books. To celebrate, I’m delivering a series of Sinful Blogs.

Righteous Wrath: Dickensian London is still with us

Anger may be a sin. But aren’t there times it is right to be angry?
In my first book, Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square, I wrote about the poverty in London’s East End. “Rookeries”, the tiny streets piled with indigent workers, struggling in the cut-throat capital. Wealth rides roughshod over poverty. Ten thousand are made homeless to build the first underground train, in the name of progress, not profit (though they are not rehoused). The media whip up frenzies about crime, immigration, eco-disaster. To speak against the status quo is to be branded a danger to the nation.
1859. How unimaginably different from today...
Researching my second book, about a different kind of underworld, I expected to find that the Victorians were much worse than we are today. In terms of equality, in terms of prostitution, in terms of exploitation.
But strange things have happened while I’ve been writing it. As I was writing about press intrusion and manipulation of the news, up came the Leveson Enquiry, which shows that today’s papers are just as guilty of whipping up purposeful frenzy, careless of the individuals caught up in it.
As I was writing about police collusion with politicians and celebrities to cover up shameful proclivities, sinful habits, lies, coercions and abuses, out came the tales of Jimmy Savile. The Catholic Church. Babies buried at convents. Youths bought, sold and discarded.
A Tory whip, Tim Fortescue, boasted in the 1990s that, during Edward Heath’s time as PM, he could cover up “scandal involving small boys, or any kind of scandal which a member might be mixed up in. And if we could we did. ... If we could get a chap out of trouble, he’ll do as we ask forever more.” Fortescue, now dead, says this with no compunction. To him it is quite clear: the people do not need to know what goes on behind closed doors, whatever it may be, whoever may have been hurt.
That kind of attitude, we like to believe, is in the past. But the more that has come out about other predators in Operation Yew Tree, the more that seems doubtful.
Even in the Stanford rape case, we heard the accused’s father plea that, in a life of twenty years, it was just twenty minutes of wrongdoing. As if to say, the victim’s suffering is nothing; what matters is that important people don’t have their lives sullied by the odd error of judgement.
This is exactly the sort of thinking I found throughout the Victorian era, for example, in the mysterious Walter’s memoir, erotic epic My Secret Life. Walter forces himself on maids, cooks, cousins, prostitutes crossing the street, courtesans in fine lodgings, ladies in foreign hotels. His attitude is clear, that if they give in in the end, it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t claim that he is without fault. He just doesn’t care. And in Victorian times, once a woman is “ruined”, as we know, it’s a hard road back to decency. Though both
Walter and the social journalist Henry Mayhew write of women who pass through the netherworld of prostitution and emerge back to decency, running cafes, or as wives to lords and dukes.
The mysteries behind our doors fascinate us, as they did Wilkie Collins. The picturesque poverty of bygone days fills our TVs with period drama: Ripper Street, Jekyll & Hyde, An Inspector Calls. We pat ourselves on the back, lamenting past inequality, but confident we have risen beyond it.
We haven’t. “Give us back our country,” say some politicians. No need: Dickensian London is still with us.
Speaking of wrath, in such an unequal world, perhaps it isn’t surprising that disaffected youths turn to extremism, in their search for something to care about.

Thanks a million to William and to Titan Books. follow the rest of the blog tour this week, details below.