Book Review: On Track for Murder, by Stephen Childs

Publisher:  Clink Street Publishing  |  Date of publication: 1st September 2015  |  Edition: Paperback (Review Copy, provided by Authoright)

On track for murder My Review

On Track for Murder by Stephen Childs COVER ONLY

Well, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by this book. There’s much more to the plot than I’d originally thought. Events move pretty swiftly, not in an exhilarating way, you understand, but by confidently holding your attention throughout.

The unease begins with eighteen year old Abigail Sergeant’s perilous journey in 1897 aboard the SS Elderslie. The young woman is tasked with taking sole care of her brother, Bertrand, who presents with learning difficulties.  The ordeal of the voyage takes it toll on the young lad, as they hit menacing seas. This is the least of Abigale’s problems when they reach their final destination of Australia, as before they disembark they fall victim to an unsavoury crew member, Stanley Larkin.

They leave the vessel behind them with Larkin secured in the Brigg. All they look forward now is seeing their father for the first time since they left England and embracing the new way of life that lies ahead.  The reunion starts badly and quickly falls away, as there’s no one to greet them at the station, except a familiar face they thought they wouldn’t see again so soon. His malevolent presence is truly unnerving.

Any exciting prospects they envisaged are short lived, as what follows is a run in with their fanatically-religious step-mother, who could give Cruella DeVille a run for her money any day of the week.

The step-mom from hell dislikes how the ‘witch girl’ has been encouraged by their father to keep up to date with new technologies and read fiction from the likes of Jules Verne. And she really cannot come to terms with Bertrand and his unusual behaviour, which positively offends her. Before the children get chance to make themselves at home a brutal death occurs.

Convinced of the accused’s innocence the authorities grant Abigale five days to provide proof, or they will hang. How can a young woman alone in Australia investigate a murder without any leads to go on? This is where our dashing yet shy Constable Ridley appears. Eager to make a name for himself as a detective, Ridley accompanies Abigale to try and solve this crime riddle before it’s too late, but he’s left behind when his charge is often two steps ahead of him (not intentionally, I might add!).

Any impropriety is observed in strict 19th century fashion and the entire situation tests Abigale’s failing resolve. She has to dig deep and apply her ‘modern technical knowledge’ when faced with some pretty dire circumstances. Despite her best efforts it’s impossible to confirm the actual culprit until the end, as several names are thrown into the hat of shady people!

All-in-all an entertaining, historical murder mystery where the villains are obnoxious and brusque and an unlikely heroine must try to save the day in an unfamiliar territory. It might be a little tamer than my usual crime reads, but there’s still plenty to keep the little grey cells occupied without wearing them out.

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to Kate Appleton of Authoright for providing a paperback copy of this book for review.)

On track for murder Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Travelling from England to Australia in the late nineteenth century, Abigail Sergeant and her brother, Bertrand, are looking forward to their new life. Leaving behind the prejudices that would likely have seen Bertrand committed to an institution before he reached adulthood, Abigail hopes their new life will offer freedom and security. But what awaits them on the shores of the Swan River dashes any prospects of a blissful life. A murder is committed and Abigail’s family is thrown into turmoil. The evidence is damning. Only the guilty would be found standing over the body clutching the bloodied murder weapon.

But something is not right. Police are convinced they have their killer. Abigail is certain they are wrong. As their one potential witness is missing, Abigail persuades the detective to allow time for a search. But that time is limited. Chasing across Western Australia with a reluctant Constable Dunning as her chaperone, Abigail is determined to uncover the truth. If only she had an inkling of what that may be. Through deception, kidnap, sabotage and arson, Abigail finds a resolve she didn’t know she possessed. Her understanding of mechanical principles surprises everyone, as does her tenacity. She turns out to be a capable young woman. But is that enough to save an innocent from injustice?

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Stephen Childs was born in London, England in 1961. He is the eldest of four siblings. Stephen travelled to New Zealand with his parents in the early 1970s.

Completing his education in New Zealand, Stephen took up work as an audio engineer in the film and television business.

Although his career covered a wide range of activities, shooting historical drama series’ was one of his favourite roles. In 2013 he moved to Perth, Australia, with his wife and youngest son.

His time is taken swimming, reading and walking along some of the most fabulous coastal walkways in the world.

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Church of Marvels, by Leslie Parry

Publisher: John Murray Press / Two Roads | Published: 4th June 2015 | Edition: Kindle via NetGalley

Firstly, let’s be clear about something: I loved EVERYTHING about this book. The writing, the story, the character names and THAT cover – just how perfect can one book be?

Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry.jpg

Simply marvellous.

Inside this gorgeous cover spins an atmospheric world where the writing is sublime. As I strolled with wide-eyes throughout this book I could almost hear the echoing clop of hooves, whiff the lingering grime in the air and sense the occasional moan from an opium den.

It’s a vivid tale that will test the strongest resolve and prod the hardest of hearts.

And with phrases like this you can’t go wrong:

“Everything smelled like the damp of a ship, wet fur and raw potato.”

Apologies for the lengthy review – this book is very worthy of it!:

Twins, Belle and Odile, are the first threads woven into this late 19th century tapestry. The seventeen year old sisters who, despite their almost identical looks and crescent-shaped birth marks, perform individually the Church of Marvels, a theatre in Coney Island set up by her mother, Friendship Willingbird Church.

Belle is an expert contortionist and sword swallower – and Odile, who has suffered with a disfigured spine since birth, yet not at any real disadvantage, spins furiously on a wheel, as a muse in a daring knife throwing act. Other companions have grown up with the sisters and include a four legged girl and a half-girl/half-boy, who also perform in the show. They each have an understanding of each other, until tragedy strikes…

After a fire razes the Church of Marvels to the ground and their mother is found to have perished among the dead, Odile and the others find themselves appearing in a side show directed by their new director, the mocking Mr Guilfoyle.

Soon Belle disappears, but has written a letter to her sister to tell her that it is Odile’s that has been the stronger one. At first Odile believes her sister to be grief stricken after their mother’s passing, yet she can’t stop the gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach that something is amiss, and sets to work to try and find her twin. The only clue she has to her whereabouts is a vague address on the top of the letter, which leads her to an odd Apothecary shop. When everyone denies seeing Belle, Odile is more determined than ever to find her.

Yet another thread is introduced into the story when young Sylvan Threadgill makes a startling discovery whilst cleaning out the privies during his night shift. As a ‘night-soiler’ he gets to keep anything of value he finds, but that evening, Sylvan gets the shock of his life when he digs a limp baby girl out of the filth. Sylvan’s boss, Mr Everjohn, said he should put the child back where he found it, as if it were worthless. But the young man, an orphan himself, couldn’t discard the child and embarks on a journey to try and find where the baby came from, or at least ensure she has a good home.

The last stitch to close the story is Alphine. After earning her money in prostitution, she had settled down with an Italian undertaker. And yet she finds herself being transported to an institution with a throng of women who are suffering dreadfully. With no memory, Alphine tries to piece together the jigsaw of how she came to arrive at the Asylum.

She begs a nurse not to strip and bathe her in the cold water in exchange for her gold wedding band; Alphine conceals a secret, which she must keep hidden for fear of receiving worse even treatment (which would seem impossible after all she’s been through already). It is in the Asylum where she met Orchard Broom, a mysterious inmate, who can only be identified by a tattoo bearing a name she received on her arrival. Soon, when the determined mute girl mysteriously coughs up a pair of scissors, she and Alphine hatch a daring plan of escape to leave the insanity and cruelty behind them.

Snippets of Alphine’s memory returns in fleeting glimpses until the reasons for her confinement are finally revealed – and how dreadful it is, you think you’re safe and loved and how quickly things can change… Now the two of them must confront their past to enable them to mould their futures.

Like the points on a compass the paths of Belle, Odile, Alphine, Sylvan and his miraculous discovery of an abandoned child are magnetised in the same direction, until they all arrive at the same point in the story – and it’s so beautifully done.

You think with a title like the Church of Marvels that this will be a tale of curiosity for amusement. But it’s filled with grit, hardship and cruelty. Yet astonishingly, skulking in the shadows of unseemly pits of despair there is also a glimmer of hope.

Like Sylvan Threadgill, if you dig deep you will find it.

Rating: A no-messing, solid 5/5

(My thanks to the publisher for the copy I received via NetGalley.)


You can follow the author on Twitter: @leslie_parry