Review: The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson

The Detective’s Daughter is the first in a series by Lesley Thomson featuring Stella tddDarnell, a solitary forty-something who runs a cleaning company called Clean Slate. Her father, Terry Darnell, a career policeman, had always wanted her to join the force, but a messy divorce and Stella’s resentment that he’d always put his job before his daughter meant that she preferred to do her own thing. She likes things tidy, obsessively so, and being her own boss; Clean Slate is perfect – until Stella’s father dies.

Cleaning out her dad’s house, Stella comes across a file that fascinates her: the case Terry was working on when suddenly struck down by a heart attack. Even though he was retired, Terry couldn’t forget the murder of Kate Rokesmith, strangled in broad daylight while walking with her four-year-old son near the river at Hammersmith Bridge. Her husband Hugh carried the stigma of suspicion for the rest of his life, while little Jonathan was sent to a boarding school to be brought up by strangers.

So begins Stella’s slow determination to complete the case on Terry’s behalf. Although, as the story begins, she is battling toothache and being apparently stalked by her ex-boyfriend, Paul, who is as sinister as he is persistent. And then weirdo, Jack, turns up asking for work. She wouldn’t have taken him on except, being winter, half her staff seem to be ill and new customers, including her dentist, are demanding her services.
Jack is a meticulous cleaner but turns out to be strange in more ways than one. He has an uncanny ability to enter people’s houses and take up residence without their least suspicion. He has a thing about trains and he carries a battered London A-Z which has him on a weird project only he can explain. And then there’s his connection to the Rokesmith case.

Thomson creates lots of atmosphere, starting with the houses of her father and then the late Mrs Ramsay, the batty old woman customer who dies in strange circumstances; it’s amazing how creepy the houses of the dead can be. Stella is always looking over her shoulder, fearing Simon it seems. Add to the list of eerie settings the path under Hammersmith Bridge, and even Stella’s own antiseptic and oddly silent apartment building.

I read this as an ebook which strangely had no page numbering, only a daunting table of contents listing 71 chapters. It says a lot for Thomson’s ability to maintain suspense that I kept reading. This is in part due to the likability or at least the quirky individuality of the characters, particularly Jack and Stella, who team up to make an original crime-fighting duo.

There’s Stella’s connection to her father as well which tugs at the heartstrings, both wishing they’d had more time for each other. This is certainly an incentive for Stella to carry on with her detective work, which is good news for the reader as there are several more in the series so far.

Ripping Reads: Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee

9781911215158I love it when I discover a new series at its very beginning and enjoy it so much I read each book that follows as soon as it comes out. So it is with Abir Mukherjee’s mysteries set in Calcutta in the early 1920s. Featuring ex-pat British policeman, Capt. Sam Wyndham, the author throws you right into Calcutta during the British Raj era. Wyndham is still recovering (or not!) from his time in the trenches of WW1, and the loss of his much-loved wife during the flu epidemic,  self-medicating with opium. It’s just as well he’s so smart, energetic and won’t let the rules get in the way of his investigations or he’d never catch the perpetrators.

In Smoke and Ashes, Wyndam investigates a brutal killing which he discovers quite by chance when he has to make a hasty retreat from an evening visit to an opium den. Continue reading “Ripping Reads: Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee”

The Wonderful Wit of Wodehouse

jeevesOne of my all-time favourite authors (going back to my teenage years) is P G Wodehouse. It isn’t just the humour or the mad-cap plotlines, or the inevitability that Jeeves will get Bertie out of the soup at the last minute, rescue his chum and in doing so, win the reward of ousting from Bertie’s wardrobe a rather too loud jacket/hat/pair of plus-fours. Yes, of course, the story threads come together in a beautiful way and the scrapes Bertie, Lord Emsworth and Co. get into are hilariously inventive, even seventy plus years after they were first put down on the page. But what never fails to charm me is the wit in Wodehouse’s way of throwing words together.

Continue reading “The Wonderful Wit of Wodehouse”

Quick Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

museumA novel based on letters can be instantly engaging, especially when the writers start out as strangers and through writing, become friends. One of my favourites is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Shaffer, which is one of the most heart-warming books ever. And then there is 84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff, which isn’t a novel, but the actual correspondence between the author and the staff at a second-hand bookshop. You wouldn’t think that could be interesting, but thanks to the wonderful personality of the author, has become a classic, especially for book lovers.

Now we have Meet Me at the Museum, a novel in letters which begins when farmer’s wife, Tina Hopgood, writes to the museum housing The Tollund Man, in Denmark. She writes to the author of a book she discovered as a child and regrets in the fifty years since that she has never been able to make the pilgrimage to the museum to see The Tollund Man or meet the author, Professor Glob. Continue reading “Quick Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: Martha Grimes’s Inspector Jury Novels

Martha Grimes is an American author who writes a mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective, Richard Jury. She’s quite an old hand at it, has done her research, and each novel in this series (to date she’s up to No. 24) is named after a different English pub, while many feature a different part of England. They are a wonderful mix of cosy crime (English country life, quaint characters, charming locations) and grim murder. The crimes are varied and can be quite chilling – I’m not sure I would ever read The Lamorna Wink a second time – while the plots are inventive.

Here’s what I particularly like about the series: Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: Martha Grimes’s Inspector Jury Novels”

Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker

lbPride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of the most beloved of classics, and has been filmed and televised again and again. In Longbourn, Jo Baker takes the reader downstairs among the meal preparations, the endless laundry, boot-polishing and bell-answering by the hard-working servants, much of it shown from the point of view of Sarah, a maid in the Bennett household.

The events of the original book seem like the tip of the iceberg as far as physical activity is concerned – Mrs Bennett’s anxious hanky-wringing, Mr Bennett’s library brooding, Jane and Elizabeth’s thoughtful chats and needlework, while gentlemen call and invitations are answered.

It all drives such an effort in keeping up appearances, the work of which falls to the small staff of Mr and Mrs Hill and two maids, one of whom, Polly, is just a child. Their working day seems to stretch forever, and the reader feels the pain of Sarah’s chilblains and her yearning to see something of the world. Continue reading “Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker”

Quick Review: An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope

match.jpgTrollope’s latest novel begins where many stories end – with a proposal of marriage. Rose and Tyler have fallen in love in their sixties, and within a few short months recognise that in spite of previous marriages for both of them, they’ve never felt like this before. The problems begin when they tell their children they plan to marry.

Rose has an elder daughter, busy mum and doctor, Laura, who at first supports her mother’s decision – it’s her life, after all. But twins, Nat and Emmy are appalled. Their reaction is emotional and soon legal advice and prenups are being talked about. Then there’s Mallory, Tyler’s American actress daughter, who is enjoying having her father around for once, but now it looks like he’s going to abandon her again, to live in England. No wonder she finds it difficult to answer his calls. Continue reading “Quick Review: An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope”

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

clockFor those of you who, like me, have been reading Anne Tyler since the dawn of time, Clock Dance reads very true to form. It is the story of Willa Drake, a classic Tyler heroine – you probably know what I mean. She’s warm-hearted and smart but doesn’t get the chance to shine because of the people around her taking centre stage. Perhaps she’s avoiding being anything like her actress mother whose tempestuous moods made life difficult during her childhood.

Then there’s her marriage to business-school success story Derek, which interrupts Willa finishing her degree. He’s the alpha male type, so Willa settles into raising her two sons, who she loves desperately. She would love grandchildren, but they seem more and more unlikely – besides she hardly ever sees her sons. Continue reading “Clock Dance by Anne Tyler”

Quick Review: MI5 and Me – a memoir by Charlotte Bingham

9781408888148If it was in any way possible to cross a novel by John Le Carré with one by Nancy Mitford, it might turn out a bit like this. MI5 and Me is an account of the author’s time working in the typing pool in the British secret service during the 1950s.

Bingham’s father (also the inspiration for Le Carré’s Smiley) was a distant man who didn’t talk about his work at home. When his daughter shows no talent for making anything of her life, he finds her a job at MI5 where he holds a senior position. At the time, the bureau is mostly concerned with communism, spying on what seem to be perfectly harmless people, breaking into their homes and planting bugs in their telephones. As well as creating endless paperwork – hence the typing pool. Continue reading “Quick Review: MI5 and Me – a memoir by Charlotte Bingham”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Cazalet Chronicles

The Cazalet Chronicles is a kind of historical saga set in England around the years of World War Two. The great thing about it is that there is such a large cast of characters and multiple plot threads, that every time I read it there is more to discover. It follows the Cazalet family of three sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, and their families – particularly daughters Polly, Louise and Clary – who each take up a chunk of the narrative. There’s also the unmarried sister/aunt, Villy, as well as elderly parents which provide a link with the past.  Howard published the Chronicles in the 1990s and they were massively successful, with a follow-up book, All Change, in 2013 about the same characters some years later.

What I really like about it: Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Cazalet Chronicles”