Book Review: Death in the Shadows (A Father Gilbert Mystery, Book 2), by Paul McCusker

Publisher:  Lion Hudson

Publication date:  19th August 2016


death-in-the-shadows-by-paul-mccusker-coverOh we do like to be beside the seaside, don’t we? Englesea is no exception and this venue’s been particularly lively of late, or deadly if you’ve read the book summary.

There’s plenty to discover in the town, like the unique brand of graffiti desecrating St Sebastian’s, or the local ‘spa’ offering a very personal service to its visitors. And if that doesn’t occupy your time, you could try searching for someone’s missing daughter, get caught in the middle of a turf war featuring sex traffickers, and skirt dangerously close to the identity of a serial killer who is eluding police. This is without mentioning impromptu apparitions tipping you off that things are not as they seem. Not bad for a three day religious conference focussing on ‘issues facing the church’, eh?!

Father Louis Gilbert gets to endure all these traumas and more during his brief stay for the conference and is enticed into investigative matters, despite the Bishop indicating he should be paying more attention to preaching than policing. His previous experience left a lasting impression on his parish in book 1 (The Body Under the Bridge), so Gilbert debates whether to resist the forewarnings he’s experiencing once again. But it’s difficult for this ex-detective-turned-vicar to walk away when his intuition says it would be foolish to ignore the signs after what happened last time.

While reading the morning newspaper headlining the murder of a young woman he notices the detective in charge is none other than his old mentor from Scotland Yard. But when the young woman herself makes a rather grim appearance in the dining room as he’s contemplating his continental breakfast, Father Gilbert feels compelled to act and pops to the local police station to make ‘casual enquiries’. Gilbert and Gwynne provide excellent banter throughout, but a man of the cloth sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong leads him into all kinds of trouble!

For the most part he’s silently tormented and risks his integrity when the sinister undertones continue. Father Gilbert is aware that if his odd visions became public, it would leave him open to ridicule or of questionable mental health, and that’s not the best outcome professionally. His successes and failures are amplified by a watcher in the shadows, waiting to see how he performs. And no, it’s not the Bishop keeping a beady eye on him!

Although stepping on the toes of the criminal underworld and their sordid activities carries immense risk, he must have faith that his meddling will bring about change and can only hope that his intervention will free people from their hideous existence and not condemn them. But Father Gilbert is only human and he can’t save everyone’s soul. And that’s why I love his character, as he’s both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time: he also misjudges situations, has colourful family origins, and frequently ignores the ‘right thing’.

Death in the Shadows is a solidly layered mystery that keeps its feet firmly on the ground, despite the supernatural element. The contemporary themes and zero profanity combination make a refreshing change, yet it still has plenty of kick and I can’t wait to see what the author has in store for him next.

Rating: 4/5 (Could be read as a standalone, should you wish.)

(I received a paperback copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review, with my thanks.)


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

When Father Gilbert traded in his detective’s badge for an Anglican priest’s collar, he never expected he would be pulled into a different kind of mystery – the mystery of the spiritual world. Even attending a conference in a seaside town provides no escape as he has yet another supernatural encounter, this time with a murdered girl who worked at a local massage parlour. Details of the murder lead Father Gilbert to approach the police with clues in common with other cases, bringing him into contact with a detective from his days with Scotland Yard.

Meanwhile, a local monastery has been vandalized, with grotesque images and profane graffiti defacing the altar and walls. The head of the monastery, from whom Father Gilbert received spiritual direction a couple of years before, is distressed by the attack, accusing the local sex trade industry of retaliating against his outspoken stand against it. Then, one of the brothers at the monastery is found dead in the local red light district. All evidence points to his having been a regular at a massage parlour – the same one where the murdered girl had worked. Intertwined within this web is a young woman who sees the same apparitions that Father Gilbert thought only he could see, plus an obstinate runaway, a distraught father, and a deep corruption pervading the town. And, whether he likes it or not, Father Gilbert is at the centre of it all.



(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Paul McCusker is the creative content director for Focus on the Family. He has been a writer of fiction, nonfiction, and drama since 1979. His work includes over forty published novels, full-length plays, dramatic sketch collections, and song lyrics. For the Adventures in Odyssey series alone, he has written over 200 half-hour radio episodes, eighteen novels, and two screenplays for the best-selling animated videos. He has dramatized many classics for Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, including A Christmas Carol and Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford. He also wrote and directed the Peabody Award–winning Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom and created the highly acclaimed Father Gilbert Mysteries series.

Paul lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children.


Also Available, the first of the Father Gilbert Mysteries…

The Body Under The Bridge - Kindle Cover

Book Review: The Plague Charmer, by Karen Maitland

Publisher:   Headline Review

Publication date:   20th October 2016

The Plague Charmer My Review

The Plague CharmerThe players appearing in this medieval theatre in Portlock Weir are simple folk and have absolutely no concept of what horrors the script of The Plague Charmer has in store for them.

As the Great Pestilence returns for the second time to this costal village it holds its ailing residents hostage and won’t release them from its grip. That is until they pay the price that has been asked by a mysterious stranger rescued from the churning tide, although they began to regret their good deed almost immediately.

The arrival of the deadly infection coincides with a foreboding darkness in the form of an eclipse which signifies to some that the end of the world is nigh. This phenomenon creates the perfect conditions for a primitive survival mechanism to thrive. But barring your draughty door to your neighbour will not keep you safe from a vengeful conjuror who demands the impossible – one human life.

With a shortage of volunteers willing to throw their name in the ring to appease their unwelcome visitor, the gaggle of villagers and carefully selected supporting cast from outside Port Weir will immerse you in their layered, flailing world as they consider their options.

Depicted in a series of strikingly filthy and harrowing scenes as the sickness takes root, the alternating chapters are headed with the character’s name and are often accompanied by curious riddle. At first their stories appear disconnected, yet their individual challenges are united in one common cause – The Plague Charmer. Also stirred into the mix is malice, superstition, humiliation, vengeance, judgement, or far worse – becoming the focus of something inexplicable, or otherworldly.

Although this book has a higher than average page count to what I’m used to every one of them is worth savouring. And as an added bonus there’s an interesting glossary at the back of the book together with answers to the riddles posed in the chapter introductions. This is followed by a brief historical reference for some of the characters who step away from their place in ‘real’ world to make a guest appearance in The Plague Charmer.

The lyrical prose is impressive, yet feels so effortless. Without a doubt Karen Maitland is an author who spins the most wonderful words to create intricate historical tapestries for readers to feast their eyes upon.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review, with my thanks.)

The Plague Charmer Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The Plague Charmer, by Queen of the Dark Ages and bestselling author of Company of Liars, Karen Maitland, will chill and delight fans of Kate Mosse and C.J. Sansom in equal measure. ‘A compelling blend of historical grit and supernatural twists’ – Daily Mail

Riddle me this: I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.

1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man’s wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children. Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.

Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband – and then others – begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.

The price that I ask, from one willing to pay… A human life.


The Plague Charmer Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Karen Maitland travelled and worked in many parts of the United Kingdom before settling for many years in the beautiful medieval city of Lincoln, an inspiration for her writing. She is the author of The White Room, Company of Liars, The Owl Killers, The Gallows Curse, The Falcons of Fire and Ice, The Vanishing Witch and The Raven’s Head. She has recently relocated to a life of rural bliss in Devon.



Karen Maitland Short Stories

The Silk Factory, by Judith Allnatt

Publisher: The Borough Press  |  Publication date: 21st May 2015  |  Edition: Hardback (review copy)

The Silk Factory by Judith Allnatt

“Anyone who’s ever lost someone is haunted”. Two seamless timelines. One beautifully told story.

Brooding and atmospheric , The Silk Factory embraces two life stories set in dual periods of history. With the gentlest of touches, Judith Allnatt has spun her gorgeous threads with care, so they interweave seamlessly.

The divine prose, magnificent scene setting, and energy of the individual personalities that appear throughout, have truly brought this story to life.

Here’s an example of some of those wonderful words:

In the unheated workshop, the workers’ breath misted the rows of windows, as if their spirits were drawn out of them and pressed ghostly against the glass.

So, so perfect.  Anyway, a little about the story:

In the present day we arrive in the parish of Weedon Bec, at the door of a property inherited by Rosie. She’s had her fair share of trials recently; her mother has passed away, she’s not long separated from her husband, plus she has financial burdens to contend with.

Whilst coping with her two young children and the emotional upheaval of their new circumstances, her awkward ex-husband and his new partner, and an elderly Aunt residing in a care home, Rosie still finds herself very much alone. She’s spinning so many plates that most are crashing to the ground.

With all this stress, Rosie begins to believe her mind is playing cruel tricks. Shortly after moving in she experiences some subtly placed, yet disturbing phenomena. She attributes this to anxiety as a result of the bereavement and her current status, and desperately tries to ignore her ‘uninvited house guest’.

Soon she discovers a something that her family had previously laid to rest, something that would draw her back to a traumatic period in her own childhood. But piecing together the fragments of a mystery when your only living relative is stricken with dementia will not be an easy task for this young mum.

Nestling in between Rosie’s story, the location remains, but we take a step back to a time to the 1800’s where another young family are struggling to cope with the harshest of lives and making ends meet. The cruelty and the blatant spite and greed of their employer, the silk factory owner, are depicted to perfection, until the young family of Effie, Tobias and Beulah would never be the same again.

At the root of both timelines is ordinary life – warts and all: tragedy, endurance, and love, in all its many guises. Although it’s apparent that their paths will never cross directly, they are touched by the unravelling threads of The Silk Factory.

This is a story that should be savoured, not devoured. It’s one I felt quite at peace with when I closed the cover. Very nicely done.

Rating: 4/5

(My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending this beautiful hardback copy for review. It really is difficult to capture that fine detail on the cover – all credit to the designer for this one @fictionpubteam)

You can follow the author on Twitter: @JudithAllnatt  |  Publisher: @BoroughPress