Book Review: A Greater God by Brian Stoddart

Brian Stoddart

About A Greater God (Superintendent Le Fanu Mysteries Book 4)

Muslims are being murdered and communal tensions escalating
as Superintendent Chris Le Fanu returns, reluctantly, to 1920s
Madras from the Straits Settlements. He comes under fire, literally
and figuratively, as more Muslims and policemen are killed by
revolutionaries in clashes fomented by his boss, Inspector-General
Arthur ‘The Jockey’ Jepson.

As the riots spread, Le Fanu’s trusted assistants – Mohammad
Habibullah and Jackson Caldicott – disagree on both the origins
and the handling of this new crisis. Le Fanu becomes further
isolated as his only government allies, the Governor and the Chief
Secretary, are being transferred away from Madras.

Even more pressure bears in on him when former housekeeper
and lover, Ro McPhedren, falls critically ill in Hyderabad, and
Jenlin Koh, his new love, is listed among those aboard a ship
missing en route to India.

Le Fanu’s entire professional and personal future is at risk as
he confronts these challenges while Britain’s grip on India wavers.

My Thoughts

I am new to this series; entering Book 4 might have left me floundering but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in the world of Le Fanu and India of the early 20th century and brought deftly up to speed. Catch ups are kept brief and to a minimum, just enough to make the reader want to read Books 1-3.

 A Greater God is set primarily in Madras, a colourful, heaving, vibrant and exotic city –  in many ways another character in the book. The story focussed on a time of considerable political unrest in India with racial tensions mounting between Hindus and Muslims alongside a pervasive resentment towards the British Raj. Stoddart clearly knows his subjectthe historical detail peppered throughout the novel demonstrating considerable insight.

The author weaves vivid descriptions of setting and  the complexities of the historical backdrop into the narrative, binding a sense of place and the theme of cultural unrest cleverly with the plot. The result makes for a gripping read. Stoddart’s pacing is excellent and there are some satisfying twists along the way. The narrative moves along at quite a clip and never labours despite the historical content. This is quite an achievement and is a credit to the author. The dialogue flows well, too, and I especially enjoyed the witty banter.

Stoddart’s characters are well-crafted and he has a sharp eye for cultural sensitivity. The protagonist, Le Fanu, is well-rounded, likeable and suitably conflicted. He has some major decisions to make while he fends off antagonisms from various quarters. Prejudice is portrayed through the despicable inspector, Jensen, and the Muslim perspective is provided in a personal way through Le Fanu’s colleague, Habi, and his growing concern for his community.

A Greater God will appeal to those who enjoy great historical crime mysteries that are both well-written and intelligent.

 

 

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Book review: Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Esme's Wish review

About Esme’s Wish

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about Ariane, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

My Thoughts   

Before starting this book, the reader is shown a charming map of a mysterious place named Esperance, capital of Aeolia, a map that hints at what’s to come. The story opens in our world, on the wedding of Esme’s father and her new stepmother, Penelope. Esme isn’t happy and she is unable to disguise it. She’s missing her mother, Ariane, who was lost at sea presumed dead. Esme is a lonely child, little liked by the villagers of Picton Island where her father is lighthouse keeper. An outsider, she wants nothing more than to find out what happened to her mum.

When Penelope’s sister, the despicable Mavis, moves in to mind Esme while her father has his honeymoon, Esme experiences strange headaches and dizzy spells. She has a vision of her mum and dad and is puzzled by it. Her anguish over her mother intensifies and she decides to take off to Spindrift Island where Ariane disappeared many years before. As her quest unfolds, Esme is swept unexpectedly into another world, the world of Esperance, where she makes new friends and continues her search.

What unfolds is a series of adventures large and small, of dragons and other mythical creatures, and of special magical gifts. To say more would spoil the enchantment.

Foster has a fluid, engaging narrative style. The writing is simply exquisite. The pacing, plot twists and characterisation are just perfect. Depictions of the city of Esperance are conveyed in vivid and captivating detail. The various threads and elements of the story are woven together beautifully, culminating in an ending filled with wonder and surprises.

This is a story of loss and searching, of ancient Greek myths, of the artistic temperament and supposed insanity, of minds capable of accessing the inner realms the rational mind cannot reach. Absorbing, enchanting, whimsical, Esme’s Wish is a story to lose yourself in. I would recommend this book to readers one and all. Thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Book review – The Blood Red Experiment: A Neo-Giallo Anthology

Giallo fiction

About The Blood Red Experiment

Inspired by the genius of Hitchcock and his films, latin luminaries such as Argento and Bava directed macabre murder-mystery thrillers, that combined the suspense with scenes of outrageous violence, stylish cinematography, and groovy soundtracks. This genre became known in their native Italy as giallo.

Giallo is Italian for yellow, inspired by the lurid covers of thrillers, in the way that pulp fiction was derived from the cheap wood pulp paper of the crime stories, or Film Noir came from the chiaroscuro of the German Expressionistic lighting.

Craig Douglas and Jason Michel bring gialli-inspired stories together from some of the best crime writers on the scene today to a wider audience, giving birth to a new literary movement in crime writing, NeoGiallo, and drag this much maligned genre screaming and slashing its way into the 21st Century.

My thoughts on The Blood Red Experiment

The six stories contained in this anthology are exemplars of the sub-genre of giallo. The pages ooze sensuality, the writing is slick and the horror stylised and graphic. After a useful introduction to the terrain by Richard Godwin, the anthology opens with K. A. Laity’s ‘Madonna of the Wasps’, a gruesome tale of ritual killings in a Bohemian Parisian world, enacted to sate the hunger of a bloodthirsty dominatrix. Like all the authors in this anthology, Laity’s writing is poised and masterful. The author provides an interesting and diverse cast of characters and the protagonist, Mira, an artist with a fantastical imagination, is especially well-rounded. ‘Madonna of the Wasps’ is a fast-paced tale with some unexpected and shocking twists. Ultimately satisfying and provocative, this story is a terrific opening not just to the anthology, but to the sub-genre of neo-giallo.

For the uninitiated, Mark Cooper’s ‘Quaenum In Illis’ is the most accessible read in the anthology. Here, a former scholar of linguistics is invited by a mysterious woman to translate the pages of an ancient text. Cooper draws the reader straight into the intrigue in true thriller style, saving the blood for later. Moody, dark and fascinating, the mystery and tension unfold from shifting perspectives.

‘Canvas of Flesh’ by Jack Bates will bring out the voyeur in the best of us as artist Preston completes his art exhibition using a particular portion of the body of Jessica. Sensuality and horror blend beautifully in this tale, the reader enchanted and disturbed all at once, compelled to turn the pages. As the story unfolds the initial wonder soon shades into revulsion, as Bates confronts the reader with a portrait of obsession.

Urban, noir and mysterious, Jim Shaffer’s ‘Blood of the Lamb’ is a superb example of where giallo takes a crime-thriller. The story opens in a church then follows the observer to a shabby hotel, then back out on the streets, for the kill. The story switches to Frank, a feature writer quick with his camera. What unfolds will be read in one sitting, the eyes never leaving the page.

‘The Impermanence of Art’ by Kevin Berg is probably best not read while eating. Graphic horror is rendered sensual, the storytelling intense and unrelenting until the final twist as an art student is seduced by some illicit videos streamed on her phone by a maverick art instructor. Berg’s offering is at the extreme end of the sub-genre and not for the faint of heart, yet it is a gripping tale told with imagination and wit.

Bookending the anthology is Richard Godwin’s ‘Machine Factory’, an exposé of a deranged psychiatrist. In taut, rhythmic and urgent prose, Godwin thrusts his readers inside the mind of a serial killer. The extent of the protagonist’s insanity is boundless, his fanciful and quasi-intellectual rants alarming and all too real. The story is brutal, confronting and disturbing. There is no redemption here.

Find The Blood Red Experiment on Amazon

Book review: A Very Mersey Murder by Brian L. Porter

I am delighted to share my review of A Very Mersey Murder (Mersey Murder Mysteries Book 5) by Brian L. Porter

Brian L. Porter

About A Very Mersey Murder

1966. England wins the soccer World Cup. Same night, the body of a barmaid is discovered close to an abandoned lighthouse. Two more murders follow; all remain unsolved.

2005. D.I. Andy Ross is called in when a disturbingly similar series of murders begins in the same location.

If their estimates are correct, Ross and his team have one week to solve the case before the next Lighthouse Murder takes place.

In A Very Mersey Murder, D.I. Ross and Sergeant Izzie Drake return in a race against time, as they seek to identify and apprehend the vicious killer who seems to leave no clues, and no evidence.

The price of failure is death.

This is a standalone novel, and can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read other books in the series.

My thoughts

It can be a tricky task reviewing Book Five in a series, but I am new to Brian L. Porter’s writing and dived straight into his latest release. A Very Mersey Murder really is a stand alone, the author providing a useful catch up which is brief enough not to drag on the present story, while giving plenty of context. A tricky task for any author and Porter does it well, although I now feel compelled to start back at Book One!

The novel opens with a chilling scene of a murder that took place back in 1966. What unfolds is a gripping murder mystery set in the present as D.I. Andy Ross and his team try to prevent the murder of one of their own, which, if their predictions are correct, will take place in just one week. It is a set up that cannot fail to hit the mark for crime fiction fans!

Porter’s plotting and pacing are excellent. There are plenty of twists and turns. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you are thrown back into doubt. The author knows when to hold back and when to dish it when it comes to the gory details and he evokes a strong setting that puts the reader in amongst the action.

All of Porter’s characters are well-rounded and believable. A Very Mersey Murder has plenty of texture, too, as the various relationships between the police team play out, as well as the stories of the lives of those affected by the murders. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of excerpts from the killer’s own journal.

All good crime tackles pithy social issues, and Porter is no exception. In A Very Mersey Murder, the reader will confront themes of illegitimate children and adoption, and gender identity, alongside tensions in friendships and a dash of romantic love.

Porter keeps his readers guessing right to the very end, in what amounts to a complex, intense and highly intriguing whodunnit. I suspect this whole series would make for good television, something to rival Vera!

 

Book review: Graveyard Girls edited by Gerri R Gray

Graveyard Girls is a gripping anthology of short stories edited by Gerry R Gray

Graveyard Girls

About Graveyard Girls

A delicious collection of horrific tales and darkest poetry in one big, fat horror anthology from the cream of the crop; all lovingly compiled by the incomparable Gerri R. Gray! Nestling between the covers of this formidable tome are twenty-five of the very best lady authors writing on the horror scene today!

These tales of terror are guaranteed to chill your very soul and awaken you in the dead of the night with fear-sweat clinging to your every pore and your heart pounding hard and heavy in your labored breast…

Featuring stories from: Xtina Marie, MW Brown, Rebecca Kolodziej, Anya Lee, Barbara Jacobson, Gerri R. Gray, Christina Bergling, Julia Benally, Olga Werby, Kelly Glover, Lee Franklin, Linda M. Crate, Vanessa Hawkins, P. Alanna Roethle, J. Snow, Evelyn Eve, Serena Daniels, S.E. Davis, Sam Hill, J.C. Raye, Donna J.W. Munro, R.J. Murray, C. Bailey-Bacchus, Varonica Chaney and Marian Finch.

 

My thoughts:

Graveyard Girls opens with lusciously dark poetry from Xtina Marie, which serves as an apt point of entry into this collection of diverse and horrifying reads. The anthology then kicks off with ‘Deadlines’ by M.W. Brown, and I couldn’t help sympathising with the tough yet lovable Esther “Polar Bear” Jones who has a intruder and finds herself negotiating with this assassin. Brown has penned a thriller of a tale that never misses a beat, with satisfying and unexpected twists. ‘Demons Opus’ by Rebecca Kolodziej is well-crafted and original with good characterisation and a haunting musical theme. Then there’s the gritty ‘Hong’ by Anya Lee, featuring  fourteen-year-old Victoria, a girl with quite an attitude, vulnerable, rebellious, troubled; and the horror she is forced to endure all too real. But she is no victim…

Later there’s Gerri R Gray’s ‘Of Black Butterflies she Dreamt’ which opens with exquisite prose and does not disappoint. Breathtaking!

The arresting Christina Bergling’s ‘After the Screaming’ is also worth a mention, not only for the masterful writing. The story is an intense, in-depth study of the mental torture of early motherhood. Bergling puts the reader right inside the main character. Only a woman could have written this story!

There are so many excellent stories here, too many to mention. The anthology ends on the blood curdling selection of poems by Marian Finch, the perfect way to round off the horror.

Graveyard Girls is a chilling and vivid read, and the writing is top notch. Suspenseful, confronting, imaginative and at times innovative, Graveyard Girls is a terrific example of the talent and vision of women writers of horror, writers who explore taboos and experiment with tropes.

You can find Graveyard Girls on Amazon 

Book review: The Hangman’s Hitch by Donna Maria McCarthy

I am delighted to share my review of The Hangman’s Hitch by Donna Maria McCarthy, a dark and brooding gothic novel from the mistress of 18th century horror. 

The Hangman's Hitch

About The Hangman’s Hitch

If on some cold dark despairing eve, you found yourself far from hope and far from salvation – would you take the hand of the Devil if he offered it?
Would you know it was his?
Frederick Abbotsby Feltsham has just this quandary, yet the path he chooses is one of depravity, devilment and debauchery
Will he survive the immutable Joseph Black?
Or will he find himself despairing, like so many of his past conquests did ?
One heaven, one Hell – each as judgemental as the other
You must choose…

My thoughts

After reading Biddy Trott I have come to anticipate a certain style and wit from Donna Maria McCarthy and I was not disappointed. The Hangman’s Hitch is as dark and ribald and gruesome a novel there ever was.

Meet Freddy, or Frederick Abbotsby Feltsham, a fool, an ignoramus and a coward through and through, whose verbosity and quite ridiculous idiocy is a source of much of the humour in this novel. The antagonist, Joseph, is as despicable as they come, and enjoys nothing more than to apportion scorn and derision upon the sycophantic Freddy, luring him, tricking him, grooming him. Feeling he has no choice but to side with Joseph after being banished from the word of normalcy for his impropriety and cowardice, Freddy condones Joseph’s incessant jibes.

There is no morality at The Hangman’s Hitch. Patrons of this obscure hostelry hang their scruples on a hook outside. Inside, it is no holds barred as Joseph and his cronies enact one brutal scam after another. Just when you think the depravity cannot get any worse, it does.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s cutting wit, her characters exuding sarcasm in every utterance. The Hangman’s Hitch is written in old-school prose in keeping with the era, prose that is dense and heavy in dialogue, but don’t be put off! A dialogue-driven composition is not easy to pull off, but McCarthy has, and she has done so with aplomb. I thoroughly recommend this read to those after something different, a story that delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche, one that tests the sympathies of even the most hardened reader.

Book review: The Villagers by A.J. Griffiths-Jones

I’m delighted to share my review of A. J. Griffith-Jone’s The Villagers.

The Villagers A.J. Griffiths-Jones

About The Villagers

Olive & Geoffrey are happier than ever. After moving to the countryside to bring up their three young children, they are welcomed with open arms by the friendly and helpful residents of the chocolate box village.

But beyond the veil of rhododendrons and net curtains, there is something more. Just as Olive is settling in and starting to integrate with the community, she finds out that all is not as it first seemed.

As her discoveries become more and more sinister, Olive begins to fear for her own sanity. With her husband doubting her, Olive is faced with choices that will decide the fate of her family.

The Villagers paints an intriguing picture of a 1950s English country village, where not everyone is who they first appear to be.

My thoughts

What a treat it is to pick up a novel and be catapulted back to a time when fiction was fiction and didn’t have to bow to the dictates of genre. The Villagers is, as the title suggests, a portrait of a small village, or rather a series of portraits of the characters in it.

The novel opens on a feel-good scene as out-of-towners Olive and Geoff and their three young children settle into their new home in a quaint village in Shropshire. But there will be no doubt in the reader’s mind that all is not as it seems as Olive is introduced to all those smiling, welcoming faces. Everyone, she soon discovers, has a secret. What unfolds, chapter by chapter, are the true stories of a set of characters in 1950s rural England.

Initially The Villagers is highly descriptive with echoes of old-fashioned, almost childhood storytelling, but that should by no means put off those used to modern prose, for here we have something charming and intriguing, drawing us back to a bygone era both in the story and the manner in which it is told.

Each chapter is a character study and what colourful and quirky characters the villagers all turn out to be! The plotting and pacing are good. Griffiths-Jones peppers her prose with humour, yet she remains sympathetic to all of her creations.

Well-written with subtle and gentle irony, reminiscent of the very era she writes, Griffiths-Jones has penned a novel that will warm the hearts of her readers. The Villagers is based on true testimony, too, which makes it all the more delicious to read.