Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder by TA Willberg is entertaining although highly derivative – think of a 1950’s Harry Potter inspired detective.

Marion Lane is an apprentice in a very secretive private detective agency, Miss Brickett’s, that aims to right the wrongs that the police cannot solve. The agency hidden beneath the streets of 1950’s London is full of technology and tricks that feel like they were inspired by HG Wells or Jules Verne.

Marion gets called upon by her mentor to solve a murder within the agency of which he is accused. In the process she uncovers a terrorist plot and the dark origins of Miss Brickett’s.

This is complete tosh, moderately enjoyable but I got to the end and breathed a sigh of relief. I won’t be reading the next in the series.

2.5/5

The Manningtree Witches

The Manningtree Witches by AK Blakemore is one of those rare historical fictions where you cannot spot the lines between fiction and fact.

It’s 1643, the English Civil War is raging and the puritans are in the ascendancy. Rebecca West hates the menial drudgery that fills her days and chasm that separates her from the comfortable middle classes of Manningtree. When Matthew Hopkins arrives in Manningtree things take a dark turn for the marginalised working class women of the village. This is a tale of alleged witchcraft, mass hysteria, lies and vengeance and Rebecca is at the centre of the madness that follows.

The Manningtree Witches weaves historical fact, Matthew Hopkins was the Witchfinder General who instigated the Essex witch trials of this time, Rebecca West is described in the records of the trials, with an imagined narrative of the period. It is a compelling read.

4.5/5

Dangerous Women

Set in 1841, The Rajah sales for Tasmania with nearly 200 female convicts and their children, a new life beckons. Kezia Hayter joins the voyage to guide some of the women to make a special quilt as a way of occupying their tome aboard and learning a craft that will help them in the new world. Early in the voyage one of the women is murdered, the murderer is either one of the convicts or one of the crew. Kezia helps the captain and senior officers to seek the killer.

Hope Adams has constructed a compelling story based on some real events (the voyage and the quilt). The narrative slips between different characters weaving their histories together and delivers a very satisfying surprise at the end. I wasn’t sure about this at the beginning but I am glad that I read it.

3.5/5

The City of Tears

Kate Mosse does historical fiction really well, she sets her novels in an interesting period, the religious wars in France and the earlier Albigensian Crusade, and populates them with engaging characters and page turning plots.

The city of Tears is the second in the Burning Chambers trilogy based around the religious wars of the 16th century Reformation. The plot switches between France and Amsterdam, the City of Tears from 1572 until 1594 and spans the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the overthrow of Catholic leadership in Amsterdam and the coronation of Henri 4th.

This is great history, we all need to understand more about how the Reformation shaped Europe as it is today and a compelling story of family intrigue, religious fanaticism and the enduring power of relationships. Read it after you have read the Burning Chambers.

4.5/5

The Devil and the Dark Water

The Devil and the Dark Water is Stuart Turton’s second novel, it follows the widely acclaimed The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. Turton really does have a different take on historical crime fiction, combining gothic and fantasy in an intriguing fashion.

The Devil and the Dark water is set aboard a cargo ship in the 17th century travelling from the Batavia (Jakarta) to Amsterdam. Think Conan Doyle meets Agatha Christie. The hero, Arent, is a Watson-like character while his Holmes is locked in the belly of the ship, an apparently dead leper (not a rock band) is roaming the ship, murdering people and terrorising the passengers and crew. The heroine, Sara, has of course fallen for Arent but how will she escape from her bullying husband? It’s a complex crime mystery, none of the characters are what they appear to be and every time you think you can see where it is going there is another elegant twist.

I enjoyed this very much, Stuart Turton has now written two very original novels and has definitely got me hooked. More please.

4/5

V2

I like Robert Harris’ historical novels, they are well researched, bring the characters to life and are an easy read. V2 is set at the end of WW2 as the SS step up the launches of V2 rockets at London in a last endeavour to turn the tide of the war.

Rudi Graf is a rocket scientist and engineer working at the missile launch site in occupied Holland. The narrative flashes back to his youth and his friendship with Wernher von Braun and their shared passion for rockets and space travel.

Kay Caton-Walsh is a WAAF officer posted to Belgium as part of desperate attempt to find the launch sites and destroy them by reverse calculating the path of the V2s as they launch and subsequently land in London.

While Graf is increasingly doubting the morality and sanity of his masters, the British realise that their operation in Belgium may be compromised.

V2 is not Harris’ best novel (my favourites are the Cicero trilogy) but if you like the minutiae of WW2 military stuff then you will enjoy this.

3/5