The Queen’s Fool – Philippa Gregory

I have to say that, of all the Philippa Gregory books I have read, this one is my favourite. Set in Tudor times, but instead of focussing on the kings and queens, tells the story of a young Jewish girl, Hannah, who has recently escaped the Spanish Inquisition with her printer father. Living as protestants they set up a printing and book shop in London which, in itself a dangerous endeavour, as in that unstable period in history many books are deemed to be heretical. A visit to the shop by the powerful Sir Robert Dudley, during which Hannah has a vision of an angel, changes her life forever when Dudley begs her for a fool to the king. The reigning monarch is the sickly son of the recently deceased King Henry VIII, and his time on the throne is inevitably short lived. Upon his death, Hannah is passed to Queen Mary and the much more impressive Princess Elizabeth. She then spends her time between these two powerful women but, also answering to her Lord Dudley with whom she falls in love. Hannah is tasked with spying on each of her providers in turn by the other two and has a hard job managing to survive as well as trying to avoid becoming ensnared by men involved in experiments in alchemy as well as plots against those in power. Among her other difficulties she has to deal with those she serves setting great store on Hannah being able to use her gift of the ‘sight’ in their battle for power. She also has a commitment to a young man her father has chosen for her to marry which brings more ups and downs in her life as he tries to persuade her to leave court so they can be married. During all of her time, in and out of court life, Hannah is haunted by the cruel execution of her mother making her greatest fear to be that of her origins and inherited faith being discovered. I found this book really enthralling – it brought me to tears, trepidation, laughter and every emotion in between during the many turns in the tale of Hannah’s life. If you have never read any of this author’s books try this one as I’m sure many other readers will enjoy it as much as I did!

No Dominion – Louise Welsh

I didn’t realise that this is the third book in a trilogy but, it was the only one available to get signed at the Bloody Scotland event. However, even though you don’t know the back story it is quite readable as a standalone. The story takes place seven years after an epidemic of ‘the sweats’ has hit the UK wiping out most of the population. Some of the survivors have set up a community in the Orkneys and are doing quite well with Stevie and Magnus in positions of authority running things. That is until some strangers arrive and children start to disappear along with the newcomers. Stevie and Magnus set off across country trying to trace where their charges and their kidnappers have gone running into some dangerous situations along the way. They find that numerous communities have sprung up across Britain some of which definitely do not welcome interlopers and sadly find some of their missing community have met a sad end. Our two heroes end up in a post apocalyptic London where packs of wild dogs rule the street and power crazed humans rule everything else! However, they manage to rescue at least some of the children with the help of a few folk who take their side and even manage to return to Orkney almost in one piece. I found this a fascinating tale with characters and events so well described by the author that you were able to picture what a country would be like if ever such events overtook a population. Sadly, as we know, these things have actually happened in some countries and we can only hope that, if we ever find ourselves in such a situation, we will also find some heroes to lead us!

Just as an extra comment I would like to say that I loved the format of this book in paperback. The pages were thinner than usual and made the book much easier to handle!

The Lost Man – Jane Harper

I found this book in my local library and had heard many good things about it so I decided to give it a go despite the many books I already have in my TBR pile! I was glad I did as it was so intriguing that I finished it in two days – mostly on a crowded bus to Inverness and back! The story tells of Cameron, one of three brothers, who dies a terrible death of heat and dehydration in a lonely spot in the Australian outback by a mysterious monument – The Stockman’s Grave. As Cameron’s car is found just over nine kilometers away it is a complete mystery as to how he got to where he died and why. As the tale unfolds many theories are put forward by the police, the family as well as other ‘interested’ parties. Affairs, jealousies and a possible rape all give rise to speculation as to why Cameron died. However, the actual cause of his death in this dreadful, lonely place is quite unexpected and makes for a surprising twist. Although the title character is ‘The lost man’ my feeling was that most of the male characters were lost in their own way! The author really gives the reader a feeling for the difficult conditions and way of life in the heat and a terrain full of dangers which surrounds the characters. All in all a terrific read not to be missed!

The Dollmaker – Nina Allan

I loved this book from the first page and had high hopes for it as I was sent it to review for an award. The two main characters Andrew, a dwarf who is a dollmaker, and a young woman Bramber, who is in an institution, were so beautifully described that I could visualise them as well as empathise with their problems. I really enjoyed the insertion of the short stories, ostensibly by another dollmaker, which seemed to reflect on the happenings in the main characters lives. Andrew and Bramber become penpals so their story unfolds in a series of revealing letters between the two. At this point the story is quite magical but, once Andrew decides to make a journey in order to turn up unannounced at Bramber’s door I started to shout in my head to Andrew that this was the last thing he ought to do. His journey, which takes many days, increases the tension in the story as the author tells of the places he found himself in and the characters he met. On the way he stops to visit an exhibition of dolls which features one which Andrew has held in great esteem for many years. He spots an opportunity to steal this rather menacing creature as a gift for the ill fated Bramber giving the reader another reason to feel that everything he’s doing is wrong on so many levels. However, sadly for me, the eventual meeting of these two did not live up to my expectations so I felt it was a bit of a let down and could have been made much more of! Before the last few pages I had loved everything about the book – the characters, the writing and the way the story unfolded so was left with a rather empty feeling as I finished the last page.

The Vanishing Point – Val McDermid

This is one of Val’s standalones which features a ghost writer, Steph, working with a reality TV star. The story starts with a kidnapping of a child in Steph’s keeping at O’Hare airport who we discover is the son of the reality star. We are told the child’s mother, Scarlet, has passed away so Steph, who seemed to have become great pals with her, has been entrusted with the child, Jimmy. At first the tale is written with an American slant involving the FBI who are investigating the case but, soon describes the back story of how all this came about as Steph worked with Scarlet on her biography. Steph has an ex boyfriend who has become a bit of a stalker so he comes under suspicion – especially as he is working in a recording studio in Detroit at the time of the kidnapping. However, the case is not that simple so follows a series if unexpected twists leading to the sort of surprising outcome that we have come to expect from this author! A well recommended read that I found very hard to put down.

The Water’s Lovely – Ruth Rendell

There are two murders in this book one of which happens a good few years before the story begins and becomes the basis for one of Rendell’s great psychological thrillers. This murder is of two sister’s stepfather and one sister is always under suspicion of being the culprit but, it is a great family secret never spoken about. As with all of this author’s tales there are quite a few characters, all described to perfection, whose tales are connected and finally intertwine. I always feel that the characters are based on the type of person we all know at one point in our lives! I found it very difficult to put this book down as all the way through I was willing one or another person in the story not to tell or do something as catastrophe was sure to follow. There is Marion who fancies herself as a bit of blackmailer as well as preying upon elderly folk who she attempts to become a beneficiary of once she has finished them off. The tale also includes a controlling boyfriend, a hypochondriac mother as well as other fairly imbalanced players in this game of who has done what to whom! You will need to read the book to see how many are found out or have narrow escapes. If you like Ruth Rendell you won’t be disappointed!

Sleepyhead -Mark Billingham

I have several of Mark’s books, including his latest which I purchased at Bloody Scotland but, decided to read this one as it is the first in the Tom Thorne series. I liked Thorne as he’s a believable detective – human with real feelings as well as failings and not attempting to be a superhero. The story features a serial killer with a difference in that the perpetrator doesn’t actually want to kill his victims but leave them in a coma suffering from locked- in syndrome. This is only achieved once meaning that the ones who die are failures! The killer does this by using a delicate procedure placing his hands on the victims carotid artery in the neck to induce a stroke. Of course, the killer is taking a risk as there is always a chance that a survivor may eventually be able to point the police in the right direction. I thought the idea was well researched and didn’t guess who the killer actually was until the revelation at the end of the book. Thorne had a prevailing idea of a suspect all through the book which hooks you in, but, keeps you guessing at the same time. The series is based in London so I recognised many of the locations from my cabbing days in the city. I found this book to be an enjoyable page turner so am looking forward to reading more in the series.

Fatal Promise – Angela Marsons

Sadly, although I have read other books in this series, I had not read the one immediately before this! However, even though this is a continuation of the case before, I still enjoyed it immensely as a stand alone. The story relates to the feelings and struggles of each of the Kim Stones’ team members due to the loss of one of their own so you can understand most of the events in the previous case. When a doctor involved in the last case is found murdered it makes their loss even more difficult to deal with. Add to this an unpopular replacement in the team and even more difficult dimensions become apparent. D I Kim Stone is her usual independent, engaging self always getting a result no matter what life happens to throw in her way. Stacy comes into her own going off on a limb to solve the mystery of a missing girl and even strikes up an understanding with the newest member of the team. This author’s books are always fascinating for me as they are set in an area where ancestors of mine lived so I have done quite a bit of family history research in the places mentioned but, even without that I would still absolutely love this series.

Broken Ground – Val McDermid

Living in the Highlands I found this tale very intriguing as I didn’t realise that they were a no go area during World War II. I love the main character, Karen Pirie, and the way she works with little regard to authority to get results. Perhaps because she reminds me of myself and the scrapes I used to get into as a fraud investigator! The main plot involves Karen’s search, together with her sidekick, Murray ‘The Mint’, for the reason a body was buried alongside a pair of motorbikes in the peaty ground of a remote hillside. The sub plots are also really interesting as Karen heads up an Historic Case Unit which attempts to get closure for the families involved in crimes from the past. This along with a certain gentleman’s attempts to woo Karen, which went way off the mark at times, and the atmospheric descriptions of place make the story move along at a really good pace. As usual, I found Val’s characters extremely well rounded and easy to picture in my imagination. Altogether another triumph for our ‘Queen of Crime’!

After He Died – Michael J Malone

This is a fantastic book with so many twists and turns none of which were beyond belief. The narrative was very well written – especially as it was from a female’s point of view depicted by a male author! After Paula’s husband dies she is tipped off by a girl at his funeral that maybe he wasn’t all that he seemed. Of course Paula is intrigued even though at first she doesn’t believe this can possibly be true. The two women get together and embark on what turns out to be a dangerous journey involving others who are not what they first appear to be. In order to get to the truth they have to decide exactly who they can trust which is far from straightforward. I found this to be a real page turner involving two heroines who, at first, make an unlikely pair fighting a cause with very little police intervention or help.