Book Reviews

“That’s Not Right” by Alex Manners

2019-08-07 09.40.17
As a teacher of children and young people on the autistic spectrum for many years I was intrigued by how things have progressed over the years since my retirement. Unfortunately, nothing much seems to have changed. Alex tells vividly what it is like to be a child on the spectrum living and learning among the neuro typical. Parents still have to fight for the appropriate resources for their child and the children themselves labour to be understood in a world where hidden differences are not always acknowledged.
Well done, Alex and family for persevering. Of course, they had help. Not all of his education was a struggle but if a person on the spectrum has the right type of intervention there is no telling where it can lead. Alex has taken life by the horns and is making it a success. His book is a must read for any parent or young person with autism concerned about the future.

The Narrows by James Brogden

Have you ever wondered where narrow, dark alleyways in your hometown might lead? James Brogden follows them in his novel ‘The Narrows’. The blurb on the back cover tells us that Andy Sumner lives a perfectly conventional life until a chance encounter with a wounded and pursued Bex, one of a society of misfits who live in the Narrows, leads him into another world. In this world the laws of time and space are malleable.The Narrows are closing and it’s up to Andy and Bex to find out why. I’m saying no more for fear of spoiling the book. If you want to know what happens then read it. Its twists and turns are fast paced and will grip you to the end. For a first novel this is well crafted with believable characters. A sort of grounded fantasy, if you will.

Well worth five smiley faces.

Winter Downs by Jan Edwards

by Jan Edwards

Published by Penkhull Press

Set in Sussex in January 1940, the beginning of the war in Europe, this murder mystery is beautifully researched and urges the reader to continue well into the night to discover the truth behind the crime.

With the family seat commissioned by the army Bunch (Rose) Courtney is left making do at the Dower House. Despite having enough to do running the estate while her father is heavily engaged in war work she finds the time to investigate the death of an old friend whose body was found on the family land while the police are busy following their own enquiries.

Not wishing to add spoilers the result is somewhat of a surprise.

Jan takes us into the world of the landed gentry during the time of great upheaval and sacrifice. The book is well researched, something I have a bit of a thing about, and you can well imagine that you are there among the cold, wet snow and warm, steaming horses.

We may not be used to the hierarchy that existed in the day, but Jan reminds us that everyone had a place and knew what was expected of them. That was the way the world turned in 1940.

Winter Downs is well written and easy to read but not lightweight keeping you guessing until the very end. It is the first of a series of books with Bunch Courtney helping Chief Inspector Wright to reach the right conclusion about a case regardless of how he feels about it.  

I shall definitely be reading the next adventure.

In Her Defence by Jan Edwards

I enjoyed Jan Edward’s Bunch Courtney’s first adventure so much that I decided to read the second book next.

In Her Defence begins six months after the end of Winter Downs. The so-called phoney war is becoming a thing of the past, rationing is biting and the black-out is causing a few problems despite the onset of summer and the lighter nights.

Another issue to raise its ugly head is xenophobia. Anyone with a foreign sounding name or accent is a target for the frightened locals. The German army is marching relentlessly through Europe and soon there is only the Channel between the Sussex inhabitants and the enemy.

Starting explosively with the death of a young Dutch woman in a crowded pub in which Bunch just happens the be having lunch, she is then contacted by an old school chum whose father has just been poisoned leaving her homeless and penniless. The two had been working in Germany for some time and are now under suspicion by others. Bunch takes her in but soon finds her friend’s behaviour suspicious and disquieting.

In the meantime life goes on and Bunch has issues with the new CO living in her family home. He and the men under his command are taking liberties and abusing the property, Chamberlain stands down and Churchill takes over and advocates internment camps for all foreign nationals exacerbating the mistrust of anyone with a foreign background and the number of attempts on life and those resulting in deaths mounts up.

Neither Bunch nor the detective on the cases, Chief Inspector Wright believe in co-incidences and end up working together to find out who is behind the dreadful deeds. 

The book is a ripping yarn delicately interlaced with historical fact and beautifully written. And a neat twist – but no spoilers!

Listed Dead by Jan Edwards

Listed Dead By Jan Edwards. Pub: Penkhull Press

Having read Jan’s first two Bunch Courtney books I decided to finish the short series and read the third before starting other authors.  What I find particularly interesting are the historical facts which are neatly woven into the story.

We are all complaining about the limitations put on us by covid, but people had all manner of limitations due to the war. Food was in short supply; travel was difficult due to fuel shortages and entertainment was curtailed because of the bombing.

The Battle of Britain had just ended at the beginning of the book and the Blitz was reaching its height. People were being forced out of their homes and everything was shrouded in secrecy. Some worked hard to get through the difficulties, but others found it difficult and shut out the obvious.

Into this mix add a fatal accident on the edge of the Perringham Estate. On closer examination it appears that it is not what it seems. Could the driver have already been dead before the car crashed? When a second body connections with the first is discovered clutching a hand-written list of names Bunch joins forces with Chief Inspector Wright to try and discover what is going on and find out who is next on the list.

 If you are a fan of well-researched historical novels with a dash of intrigue and a healthy dollop of crime this is the book for you. Well written and an absolute page turner.

Where Silent Screams are Loudest by John Pye

By John Pye (Kindle ed.)

Teenager Poppy Hunt disappeared on her way home from school in the summer of 2008 and detectives were left baffled, as she seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Missing Persons cases are never closed, but after several months with no new leads the enquiry team was disbanded, and the file made its way down to the lower levels and became another cold case.

Eleven years later, a young face in the midst of Poppy’s best friend Annie Shepherd’s new pupils causes her to report her suspicions. Private genealogy specialist and self-professed DNA detective, Madeleine Scott, doesn’t want to step on detectives’ toes, but knows she’s hit on a clue to the girl’s disappearance. Detective Sergeant Eve Brenan’s scepticism about Scott turns into jaw-dropping incredulity as the pieces of a terrifying jigsaw slot into place. The Poppy Hunt case is given centre-stage once again and it’s soon clear that there’s more than one awful puzzle to investigate.

The world of family tree research joins forces with high-tech forensics and good old-fashioned detective work in an investigation which becomes more chilling with each passing day. True to life characters from different walks of life act out their parts as edge of the seat action combines with humour and even the possibility of a romance. Eventually an accumulation of appalling facts bring the story to an action packed and disturbing conclusion.

The old police station’s deep basement holds many secrets. Ghosts lurk among the cold case files down there – victims whose stories have never reached their ending – silent screams waiting to penetrate the mind of a lone visitor and invade the imagination.

John Pye is an ex-policeman living in the Stoke-on-Trent area so it’s no wonder he uses his knowledge of policework and the area as a setting for his compelling crime novel. His attention to detail is awe-inspiring but doesn’t detract from the story which had me reading into the night. While I was anxious to discover the outcome I was also sorry to say good-bye to the characters I had come to bond with.

Where the Silent Screams are Loudest is an excellent, well-written story. John has written other novels and after enjoying this one I am definitely going to look them out and indulge my enjoyment of crime.

Belvedere Crescent

By Misha Herwin     pub: Penkhull Press

Sadie and Thea were abandoned as babies and were brought up by Great-Aunt Jane. When Jane dies they inherit her house in Belvedere Crescent, the only home they have ever known. It is a place where time slips and slides, and what once might have seemed safe is revealed to be full of dark secrets and hidden dangers.

As twins they are both incredibly close but also very different with Sadie an actress with hidden abilities and Thea a lawyer wishing her sister didn’t keep secret them secret from her.

When Sadie meets with an accident Thea struggles to retain a grip on reality. Her fiancé, William takes over, but his actions are smothering and Thea finally manages to escape his care and return to the home of her childhood feeling ready to continue with the clearance at her own pace. But all is not what it seems. Thea is drawn deeper and deeper into the house as time slips and flutters straining relationships.

I have no intention of including spoilers. Suffice it to say this beautifully crafted book is well worth a read. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will looking to read other books by this talented author.

House of Shadows

House of Shadows by Misha Herwin

The house at Kingsfield that stands above the estate at Western Ridge, hides a violent history. Built by a slave owner for his beloved wife, it is a place of lost children, where time fractures and two lonely girls from different centuries cut their fingers and swear to be best friends for ever.

When Jo returns as an adult, long buried memories of her childhood begin to surface. As she slips in and out of time, she realises that she has to face the consequences of her actions, and a friendship forged in blood two hundred years ago will force her to make to a heart-breaking choice.

Jo’s mind is in turmoil following a miscarriage and she decides to retreat to the house she has bought as a studio in order to work. This is a converted barn on the Kingsfield estate overlooking the Weston Ridge council estate where she had grown up.

On arriving she decides to throw herself into her work but instead of the eighteenth-century elegance of the house set against the brutal architecture of the factories she found she had drawn a figure, a girl in a blue dress with her arms stretched out as if pleading for help.

When buying furniture for the Granary Jo befriends Mother and daughter Helene and Cecile who, when they heard where she was living, reminded her of the Satan Stones that stood at the end of the west drive.

Jo is not religious, nor does she believe in the supernatural but her beliefs are put to the test by the unexplained happenings. The house has a disturbed history and its ghosts are set on revenge. When Jo’s step-daughter arrives, the fact she is heavily pregnant brings things to a dramatic finale for a child has been lost and its mother want a replacement and will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

This well-crafted book will have you turning pages long after you should have turned out the light. In fact you may well not want to turn out any lights until you have checked the dark corners of your house. A riveting read from start to finish.

The Persolus Race

The Persolus Race Vol One. Ed. Alex O’Neill with Rachel Shipp & M.M. Dixon

The Persolus Race is an interesting concept in that it is an anthology of collected science fiction stories written by different people from different countries but all embracing the same theme which is “Are we alone?”

The stories explore the concept of “Rare Earth” and why complex life is likely to be uncommon in the universe.

The stories have a common setting in that the human race has been around for a very long time; time enough to realise that intelligent life is so rare that it is confined to humankind.

So, no aliens? Not quite. Humankind has evolved in different ways; science has made sure of that. Cybernetics have enhanced human existence and not always to our advantage. (The Snake in Eden.) Meddling in genetics has had severe consequences for those caught up in it. (Oisettio.)

The concepts explored are thought provoking. Teleportation always works in the films but have you ever considered the science? Not so much fun in this story. (The Man in the Mountain.)

The science may have moved on in this fictional future and other planets explored but humankind still has to battle with wear and tear, worn out machinery and the need to survive.

As a collection the book reminds me of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, and I applaud everyone involved for getting together so diverse a group in the midst of the pandemic and publishing such a well thought out anthology.

I have deliberately not included spoilers. If you want to know more then buy the book. If you, like me, enjoy old-school science fiction you won’t regret it.

Cathedral of Lies

Cathedral of Lies by John Pye

The action starts in Exeter Crown Court in 1986 during a multimillion pound drugs trial. The blast from a powerful handgun brings a halt to proceedings as the defendant makes his escape taking his barrister with him as hostage.
Three days and two hundred miles away a mutilated and burnt corpse is found in a Staffordshire beauty spot – there seems to be no connection between the two but diligent and lengthy police work alongside pathology establish a link. Detective inspector Doug Taylor is a determined man – the body found in Staffordshire belonged to an Exeter man and didn’t the defendant in the drugs trail originate from Staffordshire? And then the barrister from Exeter is found dead in a burnt-out jaguar on Cannock Chase.

The two police forces work together and uncover rape, murder and corruption at a high level.
Matters become all the more curious when a bizarre secret held by a cathedral and a church appear central to the affair – it is a secret surrounded by lies, a secret which stretches back decades and one which the main players will go to any lengths to obtain and regardless of who they are prepared to hurt or kill in the process.

If you like a well-written, fast-paced crime thriller that has more twists and turns than the Corkscrew at Alton Towers then you’ll love this book.

I can’t wait to start the second book in the Doug Taylor series.

There Goes Pretty

There Goes Pretty by CC Adams

I read a short story, Curious, If Anything, by CC Adams which was included in an anthology of horror stories and was so very impressed that I’ve looked out other work by him and found this little gem. It is a novella and as with all the best ghost/horror stories the length means that the action is tight, the drama being developed slowly but not overly drawn out.

Denny and Olivia are looking forward to life together after their lavish wedding in Olivia’s dream setting followed by a belated but beautiful honeymoon. Like all relationships, theirs is one that needs working at along with love and trust but these qualities are slowly and surely tested, when insidious forces get to work, forces that have a devastating effect on the pair.

CC has a wonderful knack of building tension. You hear every creak, follow every step and expect to see something pretty nasty around every corner. The uneasiness builds around the reader understanding what is likely to occur given a situation but not the when as well as the unexpected as the shocks come when you least expect them.

This this a beautifully crafted book designed to keep you on edge as to what will happen next. If you like a good fright and are partial to a ghost story then I would recommend you try this.   

Field of Lies

Field of Lies by John Pye

Field of Lies is the second book involving DI Doug Taylor. Having enjoyed the first I was looking forward to reading this. I was not disappointed. This book has everything a crime novel needs to keep the pages turning. Some pretty nasty personalities sneak from the woodwork as the story unfolds and get to play their part in a twisted tale of greed, ego, violence, sex and murder as well as puzzling links to an age-old secret and to a missing girl. DC Deakin, who has an instinct about the case is taken out of the game before he uncovers a fraction of the grisly facts. Deakin’s friend and former boss, DI Doug Taylor, in his usual impetuous form, bulldozes straight in, eager to unravel a growing mystery and an awful tragedy. His hot-headed actions soon land him in dangerous trouble but together with girlfriend WDC Kim Harding he turns a planned winter break into an illegal search for answers. The truth is far more sickening than anyone would have thought. Humorous episodes break up the tension when power crazed senior officers put their ego in front of common sense and good police work. We are introduced to rookie police constable, Sid Beddows who just wants to be a copper, but his efforts to solve a minor crime upset the apple cart of the top brass completely. When his secret skills are discovered he gets to become a major player in crimes of international importance.

If you enjoy a fast-paced crime novel then I would highly recommend this book.

Portal to Murder

Portal to Murder by Alison Lingwood

Angela is a bored, middle-aged spinster, unattractive, friendless and in a mundane job. She is approached on the internet by someone who tells her he is an ex schoolfriend called Kevin and is doing well in Canada. Concerned that her boring existence will not hold his interest, she weaves a fabric of lies, becoming more and more obsessed with her fantasy life.

Unfortunately Kevin is not who he says he is. He is using Angela for his own nefarious ends and the relationship between the two of them has dire consequences for those around them.

Portal to Murder is an intricately woven story linking a series of crimes in one particular neighbourhood. I became wholly wrapped up in Angela’s lust for a better life. Unfortunately she goes about this in an entirely inappropriate way and the fact that she becomes linked, albeit unknowingly, with local criminals means that all does not end well.

This is the first of a series of books involving DI Christopher Timothy and subsequently his family. I read this after reading a book by a well-known crime writer and have to say I preferred Alison’s story telling. I felt it moved at a faster pace and drew you into the story creating an empathy with the characters and a need to keep turning the pages long after lights-out. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the next.

If you enjoy character-led crime fiction then I would wholly recommend this book.

The Bridport Dagger

The Bridport Dagger by Alison Lingwood

I couldn’t wait to start reading the second novel to feature DI Christopher Timothy so picked it up as soon as I’d finished the first book. It is now 2 years on and DI Timothy is now married Pippa who he met in A Portal to Murder.

Chris and his wife Pippa arrive in Dorset for a well-earned holiday, but find it interrupted by two deaths which occur in separate parts of the country. DI Timothy is drawn into the investigation and works alongside an unknown team to investigate the local death. However he soon finds he has to delve back over forty years, and expose a further tragedy, in order to make sense of the mysterious events that link all 3.

This is another character-led page-turner fuelled by twists and turns in the investigation. It ends in a neat twist which I didn’t see coming.

I like the thread involving the Timothy family interspersed with the action. It gives the characters depth and shows their human qualities amid the sordid technicalities of the crimes they seek to untangle.

A Wild Kind of Justice

A Wild Kind of Justice by Alison Lingwood

A survey conducted on a building site over a defunct coal mine in north Staffordshire reveals part of a human body.
Christopher Timothy, now a Detective Chief Inspector, is put in charge of the investigation, but things take a tragic turn for him, his family and an old acquaintance.

Not everyone is who they seem to be in this twisty tale of rape, murder and attempted murder. While even Pippa is regarded with suspicion at first the culprit is much closer than anyone realises putting the whole Timothy family in danger.

Different story threads are woven together to form a complex whole with a frightening twist. This book is an absolute page turner and I’m afraid I put the light out rather late in the night – or should I say early in the morning!

Stains of Suspicion

Stains of Suspicion by Alison Lingwood


DCI Christopher Timothy is back at work part-time after an attack left him unconscious for months. Unfortunately this brings him into conflict with his partner as he tries to make sense of his new place within the team. On top of this murder doesn’t stop to allow him to sort himself out and a body is found in a car park covered in a tarpaulin. While cause of death appear to be natural, the circumstances of its resting place muddies the waters quite a lot. To add to the mystery the man who thought he was identifying his sister found that she wasn’t!

The family involved has many diverse characters that made me angry, irritated, sad, concerned, sorry – all the emotions good characters should do as you read their stories. I seriously could have smacked one or two of them! Brilliant.

If you like a character led intriguing story then this is for you.

Echoes of Home

Echoes of Home by Matt Rayner

I bought this book for a number of reasons. I do love a good ghost story, I live near to and know Stoke-on-Trent, my daughter loves camping in the wilds of Scotland and finally, Matt had bought one of my books so I thought I’d return the compliment. I’m glad I did.

Life was in the doldrums for Leslie Wills a young man from Stoke-on-Trent so when a generous offer comes along through his brother he accepts. He eagerly begins his long-distance journey to the Scottish Highlands of Elphin, a settled village that sits huddled amongst the dominating mountains. Its people are welcoming, and the beauty of the land is great. However all is not what it seems, and Leslie begins to discover another reality, one from the troubled past full of secrets and suspicions until a harrowing experience uncovers the truth from that time. I appreciate that the Scottish people had reason to hate the behaviour of the English throughout history and this is highlighted in this novel in the overbearing and cruel nature of the landowner and his friends during the famine in the eighteenth century.

This is a complex narrative giving a different slant to the modern ghost story. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was as stunned by the final revelations as was Leslie. 

After thought; I’m not sure I relish the thought of wild camping in Scotland after reading it! Scary.

The Calibre of Murder

The Calibre of Death by Alison Lingwood

Tempers run hot when Staffordshire villagers, concerned at the development of the HS2 rail link, attend a protest meeting. Unfortunately only the next day one of their opponents is shot dead having cancelled an important meeting due to her car breaking down after being tampered with. DCI Timothy heads up the case, while struggling with added pressure at home when his young sister-in-law comes to stay due to problems within her immediate family and Pippa and Harriet are struggling with a fashion show and a fast-growing business. There are many strands to this story which knit together to form a perfect twist. An excellent read which will keep the pages turning long after you should have put the lights out.

The Fourth Corona Book of Horror Stories

The Fourth Corona Book of Horror Stories ed. Lewis Williams

After a long hiatus due to the powers-that-be naming a virus after them, Corona Books are back with a fabulous new selection of horror stories designed to emulate the great Pan Books of Horror. This anthology is a selection of different styles and tropes; something for everyone. You may find that not every story is to your taste, but all are well written and deserve a read.

I have to admit to having a story in this anthology, but this review is about those I am privileged to sit alongside. Most of the authors have impressive lists of credits to their names and it shows in the calibre of the stories included here.

My favourite is Here, Piggy, Piggy by Florence Ann Marlowe. Every horror book needs a witch and this one is a very modern lady who gives out a punishment to fit the crime. This is followed closely by There is a Man in Edith’s Home by Sam Rebelein, and Darla and the Clown by MM Scheier but then I love a psychological horror.

The Best Weapons in the World by Wondra Vanian is a wonderful new spin on an old trope as is The True and Short Life of a Werewolf by Augustus Stephens. If I say any more I’ll spoil the endings. You must read them for yourself.

A Stopover in Burden by Adena Graham may have been done before but I was touched by the feeling of desolation she managed to convey in the story. I felt as if I was there with Saul.

This is a modern anthology with new writers deserving of their place in the literary world. If you are looking for entrenched tropes and huge names you will not find them. If you are looking for fresh ideas and new names to follow then step right in and read, read, read.

There are others in the series, check them out while you’re at it.

Freecycling for Beginners

Freecycling for Beginners by Misha Herwin

You know you’ve read a good book when you wake up the morning after you’ve finished it, and your first thought is what are the characters in that book doing. That is exactly what I did after reading Freecycling for Beginners by Misha Herwin. I became so involved in their lives, loves and problems that I want to know more.

Freecycle is a scheme which allows people to pass their no longer needed possessions on to those who are looking for that exact thing. However, it does more than that in this book. It enhances relationships, creates new ones and shows what can be done through community support. I don’t want to include spoilers. The reader needs to follow the twists and turns without preconceived ideas.

Freecycling for Beginners is a beautifully written book which draws you into the action and holds you there long after you should have turned out the light and gone to sleep.

In Cases of Murder

In Cases of Murder by Jan Edwards

When the body of a young socialite is discovered crammed inside a steamer trunk and dumped on a railway station platform, her wealthy industrialist family begin shouting for answers, but their reluctance to co-operate with the investigation arouses suspicion. It’s not long before a second body is discovered in similar circumstances. What links these two to the private gentlemen’s parties held in a country house on the edge of a sleepy village, and what is the family so desperate to conceal?

My favourite detectives DCI William Wright and his indomitable companion Bunch Courtney find themselves racing along a convoluted trail through munitions factories and London clubs to a final shocking end.

What I love about this book, and the previous Bunch Courtney books, is the well-researched peep into a way of life that existed back in the early forties. From the language of the day to the exquisite rules of etiquette pertinent to the different classes and the British attitude to the war raging across Europe this book lays out a perfect setting for the riveting story of murder and mayhem.

If you enjoy history as well as crime novels then the Bunch Courtney books are a must.

Immersed in Murder

Immersed in Murder by Alison Lingwood

In this sixth DCI Chris Timothy novel, the detective works with his old colleague Pete Talbot across two policing areas to solve some rather bizarre puzzles.

A family return from holiday to find a body of a woman unknown to them in their home. Who is the mystery woman? Where are her clothes and personal effects? Why has she been left in the home of a family apparently unknown to her?

A wonderfully complex story that runs alongside the private lives of DCI Chris Timothy, his family and colleagues.

If you enjoy a good crime story then this is a must. Beautifully written with pace and a myriad of  twists and turns.