Book Review: The Crime at Black Dudley, by Margery Allingham

Publisher:  Vintage

Publication date: This edition – 7th May 2015

(First published in 1929 )

THE CRIME AT THE BLACK DUDLEY - My Review

The Crime at Black Dudley by Margery AllinghamWhat could be better than a mixed bag of excitable party guests embarking on a game involving ritual dagger at the Black Dudley Mansion, who will continue to observe the impeccable manners expected from English society when things go a bit ‘Pete Tong’?

Aaah, welcome to the Golden Age of crime where sinister occurrences or the odd sudden death never prevent the timely bong of the dinner gong.

So then, this book is Albert Campion’s introduction as a party-goer-cum-inadvertent-sleuth. With a predisposition to convince everyone of his bumbling incompetence by mustering very little effort, Campion’s presence in his horn-rimmed spectacles complete with unnatural aloofness was unexpectedly comedic and intriguing.

He’s not typically masculine or heroic, speaks with a whine, performs occasional conjuring tricks, and has an odd way of getting to the point. In fact, he’s the most irritating person you could find yourself next to when the seating arrangements are being made. Still, for all his wacky train of thought, or apparent absence of it, he does provide invaluable assistance when least expected. I think that’s why I found Campion’s popularity flaw and eccentricity strangely refreshing.

I only wished he had more of a starring role as his investigative involvement throughout the evening’s proceedings was relatively insignificant. He was frequently overtaken by a more vocal and assertive guest in attendance, a Dr George Abbershaw. Although this is a ‘Campion Mystery’ it didn’t quite feel like he owned it.

Anyhow, if you will engage in extreme after dinner party games in an old property that bustles with secrets, where ‘peasants’ drop their aitches at a rate of a pantomime crook, you may find yourself prevented from making your polite excuses to saunter home as there are even more dark and dastardly deeds afoot than any dinner guest should be subjected to.

Oh, well. That peculiar Albert Campion knew it would all end in tears quite early on:

All this running about in the dark with daggers doesn’t seem to me healthy.

Quite so. But good Lord, even he doesn’t know the half of it…

I’ll admit this ‘trapped house’ murder mystery was waaay more engaging than I’d expected it to be. I now find myself wanting to devour more books featuring this particular sleuth to see how his character develops. And that’s a major bonus as the art work on the covers in this series are enticingly vintage looking too – and I like that, A LOT!

Rating:  4/5

(I am immensely grateful to have received a paperback copy of this book from the publisher in a Twitter giveaway they ran some time ago and thought it was about time I gave it a whirl – and I’m SO glad I did!)

THE CRIME AT THE BLACK DUDLEY - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

THE FIRST CAMPION MYSTERY

‘Margery Allingham stands out like a shining light’
Agatha Christie

A suspicious death and a haunted family heirloom were not advertised when Dr George Abbershaw and a group of London’s brightest young things accepted an invitation to the mansion of Black Dudley.

Skulduggery is most certainly afoot, and the party-goers soon realise that they’re trapped in the secluded house.

Amongst them is a stranger who promises to unravel the villainous plots behind their incarceration – but can George and his friends trust the peculiar young man who calls himself Albert Campion?

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THE CRIME AT THE BLACK DUDLEY - Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Margery Allingham was born in Ealing, London in 1904 to a family immersed in literature. Her first novel, Blackkerchief Dick, was published in 1923 when she was 19. Her first work of detective fiction was a serialized story published by the Daily Express in 1927. Entitled The White Cottage Mystery, it contained atypical themes for a woman writer of the era.

Her breakthrough occurred in 1929 with the publication of The Crime at Black Dudley. This introduced Albert Campion, albeit originally as a minor character. He returned in Mystery Mile, thanks in part to pressure from her American publishers, much taken with the character. Campion proved so successful that Allingham made him the centrepiece of another 17 novels and over 20 short stories, continuing into the 1960s.

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Book Review: Trust me I Lie, by Louise Marley

Publication date: 20th June 2016

Trust Me I Lie - My Review

Trust Me I Lie by Louise Marley - CoverFirst things first, that cover looks all lovely and innocent, doesn’t it? Well that’s the first deceit right there, as beneath it lies a twisty little bleeder of a plot that’s constantly trying to evade you! There are so many intricacies to it that are loosely based on what is perceived to be the truth, what is proven fact (ha! You think?!), and what you can only put down to a vague tingly gut feeling. How to keep up with the constant shifting sands when practically every character is hiding something is quite something!

In the present day and in the first few pages an unlikely detective, Ben (Benedict) Taylor, is off duty, bombing down the lane to his cottage and casually seething about his domestic situation, when he hits a pedestrian standing in the middle of the road.

The unlucky victim, who you would expect should be in a county air ambulance right now, gets up and gives him more grief than his ex-wife. Even on this first encounter he knows he’s being played. The lies are already pouring from this regular little Pinnochio who calls herself Milla Graham, yet he invites her back to his home to get cleaned up. He predicted she’d disappear during the night, but grows increasingly concerned when she starts unintentionally cropping up at various intervals during his line of work.

We soon discover that Milla is not who she claims to be. In fact, her identity has already been claimed by two people so far 1) by a child who perished in a blaze some eighteen years ago at the residence of the Grahams, a wealthy publishing family and 2) by a corpse that was recently found in one of the Graham’s derelict properties along with the personal effects of, you guessed it, Camila Graham. Considering the Graham family publish fairy tales it’s apt that this story just gets curiouser and curiouser…

Despite wearing their best stiff upper lip and living in their very own ‘Graham bubble’, the family feign a reluctant interest in this Milla character and soon their twisted history is unveiled, along with a few of their odd ball traits. All of them engage in some pretty devilish and sinister behaviour until I wasn’t sure which one of THEM was telling porkies either!

Milla keeps her agenda close to her chest. I seriously couldn’t work out the riddle of whether she telling the truth or if she was simply a delusional con-artist working the crowd gathering around her. Her random antics certainly keep you on your toes wondering whether anyone can be trusted. All I can say is that everyone has a motive for something, and nothing is quite what it seems!

Heck, even the police start to appear decidedly dodgy after a while. Despite leading a predictably quiet life Ben Taylor has a few secrets of his own that he’d rather forget relating to his own shady family background, and breathing down his neck are his colleagues who are either deliberately trying to trip him up, or find his new selective policing routine annoying, as Milla Graham is usually the cause of it. The difficulty is that he’s not doing himself any favours professionally.

There’s some cracking banter between ALL of the characters allowing their utterly wonderful and equally wacky personalities to shine through. Sometimes their affronted thought processes are written in italics right before they chose to share a politer verbal response in the dialogue.

Trust me I Lie invites you through a series of doors that are opened just a crack, only to be snatched shut before you can step inside. It creates the most expertly deceitful read where the truth may be a very dangerous thing. If you’re looking for something different on the suspense and twistiness scale, with a sprinkle of amusement in just the right places, then I’d seriously recommend giving this a download.

Rating: 4.5/5

(My thanks to the author for kindly providing a digital copy of her book in exchange for an unbiased review, with my sincere thanks.)

Trust Me I Lie - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Author)

When Milla Graham arrives in the picture-perfect village of Buckley she tells everyone she’s investigating the murder of her mother, who died eighteen years ago. But there’s already one Milla Graham buried in the churchyard and another about to be found dead in the derelict family mansion.

Obviously she’s lying.

Detective Inspector Ben Taylor has no life outside the police force. Even his own colleagues think he’s a boring stick-in-the-mud. But now he’s met Milla and his safe, comfortable life has been turned upside down. She’s crashed his car, emptied his wallet and is about to get him fired.

He knows she’s a liar because she cheerfully told him so.

Unless she’s lying about that too …

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Trust Me I Lie - Author Profile

(Courtesy of Author)

Louise Marley Author Photo

Louise Marley writes murder mysteries and romantic comedies. She lives in Wales, surrounded by fields of sheep, and has a beautiful view of Snowdon from her window.

Her first published novel was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which was a finalist in Poolbeg’s ‘Write a Bestseller’ competition. She has also written articles for the Irish press and short stories for UK women’s magazines such as Take a Break and My Weekly.

Her latest novel is Trust Me I Lie.

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Book Review: The Seeker (Damian Seeker 1) by S.G. MacLean

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date:  Paperback – 19th May 2016

The Seeker - My Review

The Seeker by S G Maclean - Kindle CoverPlotting, government censorship, covert surveillance – we’re wading deep into the territory of warily voicing your opinion against the current leadership skills of one Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, or face experiencing sheer terror at the hands of the law enforcement of the time, namely Cromwell’s agents and particularly one Damian Seeker, who shows little sympathy for others, as his only desire is to extract the truth.

These are desperately scary times. We’re talking 1654, where the locals gather in coffee shops to sample the proprietor’s wares and meet likeminded individuals to talk politics as freely as they dare, and hopefully not be arrested as a result. Putting the world to rights in a clandestine fashion the diehard Royalists continue to chip away at the Commonwealth, while Cromwell’s spies feed off fresh intelligence.

What’s abundantly clear is that we’re visiting a treacherous period in history. This not knowing who to trust business, not even your closest ally, is enough to drive anyone to insanity. People pray their name will not appear on a list that may fall into the infamous Seeker’s possession and be suspected of treason after someone pointed the finger in your direction. The Seeker’s reputation for sniffing out (and snuffing out) alleged traitors of Cromwell precedes him. If he’s not identified from his equally menacing horse, you’ll know he’s around as the atmosphere of a room alters drastically – when he asks you to start talking, you ask ‘yes, Mr Seeker, what would you like to know?’

Appropriately dressed in black, with a discreetly armoured hat (a wise choice given his line of work), his presence strikes fear into all civilians, as Seeker takes his orders very seriously. And yet there’s something about investigating the murder of one of Cromwell’s closest military figures that briefly hints toward another side to him and a past he’d rather forget.

How could someone have the audacity to slip passed the guards? Why would that person chance hanging about the still warm corpse just waiting to be arrested,  let alone a well-known lawyer renowned for having outspoken views? And why abandon years of hard work to commit murder right under Cromwell’s nose? Not only is it out of character for the accused, it’s neither subtle or cleverly plotted. Something smells off to The Seeker and he’s determined to discover why the main suspect fails to co-operate when he’s faced with impending torture, to be followed by a swift execution, if he’s lucky.

Strangely, as the days into the investigation of John Winter’s murder tick by we discover traitorous intent that will blur lines quicker than the wet ink can run on Seeker’s ever-growing list of suspects. Seriously, I was losing track of their loyalties and just about everyone made me twitchy.

As the air fills with coffee grounds, pipe smoke and suspicion, and the pounding hooves of Cromwell’s cronies threaten the peace rather than keep it, there are some wonderful character portrayals to help conjure up the trepidation of the period. John Winter’s widow is behaving consistently bizarrely, so are a few coffee drinkers conspiring over a cup or two. Kent’s Coffee Shop and its owner will fall under close scrutiny leaving a young woman in peril, while the accused’s sister fiercely maintains his innocence, her feisty nature catching The Seeker’s attention. He’s not used to being spoken to in such a forthright manner but he admires her daring, and his reaction under the circumstances is disturbingly endearing considering he’s such an intimidating loner.

The Seeker is an undeniable enigma. Intrigue radiates from him, just like the story itself. The paths are signposted, but the one leading to the truth is incredibly well disguised. All in all, it’s a terrific blend of history and mystery, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Rating: 4/5

(Huge thanks to Olivia Mead of Quercus Publications for organising a paperback copy of this title for review.)

The Seeker - Book Summary

‘The Seeker is Winner of the 2015 CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger’

London, 1654. Oliver Cromwell is at the height of his power and has declared himself Lord Protector. Yet he has many enemies, at home and abroad.

London is a teeming warren of spies and merchants, priests and soldiers, exiles and assassins. One of the web’s most fearsome spiders is Damian Seeker, agent of the Lord Protector. No one knows where Seeker comes from, who his family is, or even his real name. All that is known of him for certain is that he is utterly loyal to Cromwell, and that nothing can be long hidden from him.

In the city, coffee houses are springing up, fashionable places where men may meet to plot and gossip. Suddenly they are ringing with news of a murder. John Winter, hero of Cromwell’s all-powerful army, is dead, and the lawyer, Elias Ellingworth, found standing over the bleeding body, clutching a knife.

Yet despite the damning evidence, Seeker is not convinced of Ellingworth’s guilt. He will stop at nothing to bring the killer to justice: and Seeker knows better than any man where to search.

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The Seeker - Author Profile

S.G. MacLean was born in Inverness and brought up in the Scottish Highlands. She obtained an MA and PH.D. in History from Aberdeen University. She began to write fiction while bringing up her four children (and Labrador) on the Banffshire coast. She has now returned to live in the Highlands, where her husband is a head teacher. ‘The Redemption of Alexander Seaton’ was short-listed for both the Saltire first book award and the CWA Historical Dagger; ‘The Seeker’ was winner of the 2015 Historical Dagger.

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Book Review: A Poisonous Journey – A Lady Evelyn Mystery, by Malia Zaidi

Publication date: 27th August 2015  |  This edition: Kindle (Review Copy)

A Poisonous Journey My Review

A Poisonous Journey CoverLeaving only a note to state her intended whereabouts, young Lady Evelyn Carlisle hastily packs to escape the monotony of her life with Aunt Agnes, leaving a miserable, rain soaked England behind her. She sails toward adventure and into the open arms of hospitality offered by her cousin, Briony and her husband, Jeffrey.

Their gorgeous Cretan home nestled amidst spectacular scenery and the warming rays of sunlight are everything she dreamed of – yet the idyllic surroundings are riddled with deceit.

Shortly after her arrival, the discovery of a body of among the grounds disturbs the welcoming atmosphere and leaves everyone wondering if they’ve been dining with a potential murderer. Suspicions are raised, but everyone seems too lovely or well-respected to morph from friend to fiend during the course of an afternoon!

Before long, Evelyn politely pokes her little nose into other people’s affairs, discretely, of course, as only a true Lady would. In the process she uncovers all manner of unsavouriness while dicing with danger herself on occasion.

Still keeping up appearances, Evelyn hopes her amateurish meddling will assist the authorities, who have been slow to produce results. Although the police have several lines of enquiries, their investigation appears as easy going as Island life itself. The young sleuth also wonders if her clue solving could help Daniel, an intriguing house guest and longstanding friend of the deceased. And if a murderer lurking in the shadows wasn’t enough, a callous thief is on the loose, as there are missing artefacts to find from Jeffrey’s museum dig!

Just how well do these English settlers know the close knit community and even their own acquaintances? All will be revealed by peeling back the layers of a world where a War changed the people in it forever. We see how secrets can breed unhappiness, but the bond between the cousins remains unbroken and the little conversation snippets into their personal lives are truly wonderful.

Combine the food, the fashion decisions, and the community spirit and there’s a genuine sense of Cretan life and culture, topped with a classic English twist. The island setting lifts what could have been a run of the mill mystery and turns it into an rather interesting read. There are no major thrills or gasps of horror in store, just a well written murder mystery of the gentler paced variety to keep things bubbling along until the end.

Personally, I found the pace a little slower than I’m used to, but it was an enjoyable distraction nonetheless. If you’re partial to a traditional who-done-it with a relaxed pace and delicate hints of romance, then A Poisonous Journey will be right up your street.

Rating: 3.5/5

(My thanks to the author for providing a digital copy of this book for review purposes.)

A Poisonous Journey Book Summary

The year is 1925, a time that hovers between two catastrophic wars, a time of jazz and sparkle, and a time of peace and reflection. For Lady Evelyn, struggling to outrun the ghosts of her tragic past, it is a time of transformation. Left orphaned after a fire when she was only four, Lady Evelyn Carlisle was raised in London by her stern aunt and uncle.

Now, twenty years later she has grown restless and is keen to escape her chaperone’s grasp. A letter from her cousin, Briony, living with her husband on Crete, comes at just the right time. Packing what she can, Lady Evelyn makes off for foreign shores. Welcoming her are not only Briony and her husband, Jeffrey, but also his handsome and mysterious friends, Caspar Ballantine and Daniel Harper. Though the latter carries with him tragic memories of the Great War, Evelyn is glad to be in their company. With the sun warming her back and the dazzling sea in her sights, this fresh start seems destined for happy days ahead.

Little does she know . . . What starts off as a sunny holiday quickly turns into a sinister nightmare, when Evelyn stumbles across the corpse of one of her cousin’s houseguests. Drawn into the mystery surrounding the murder, Evelyn embarks on a mission to discover the truth, forcing her to face her own past as well as a cold-hearted killer. With the help of her cousin, the handsome local police detective, and the mysterious Daniel Harper, will she uncover the truth, before another life is claimed? A varied cast of characters, an engaging mystery at its core, an exotic setting, and a thoughtful, plucky heroine provide a story that will appeal to fans of many genres.

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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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Book Review: The Douglas Road Murders, by George Rigby

Publication date:  3rd July 2015  |  Edition: Review copy (courtesy of the author)

The Douglas Road Murders by George RigbyThe Douglas Road Murders is a methodical, old-school crime drama and has all the charm of Heartbeat, but with added grit.

Set in the 1960’s it follows the exploits of the police crew who work at an established police station in Birmingham.

For starters, there’s a spree of violent burglaries for them to investigate and a dangerous goings on at the local garage – the grace of the police authorities who deal with the local lowlife is effective, even if it’s somewhat questionable and certainly not following correct police procedure!

Mistakes are made in investigations and the motives of a newly appointed detective come under scrutiny. Good old-fashioned leg work may redeem him and find the identity of a double homicide that occurred in a rented property in Douglas Road.

In this era, there was no network of computer databases to assist, and not every house possessed a landline, so progress was made trusting gut instinct or knowledge of the criminal fraternity who resided around and about – sometimes, a lucky break and a bit of nous is all that’s required (plus a little in-custody manipulation!).

While the crime solving progresses at a steady pace, there’s a lovely glance into the home lives of the detectives and the effect their actions have on their families. Toward the end of the book when a fair few characters have been introduced into the story, personally I found I couldn’t always keep up with them in one go. But a quick recap set me straight, so it wasn’t too much of a hindrance.

All-in-all this is an easy paced, interesting and engaging book, which has captured the essence of the era perfectly. If you’re looking for a change from today’s police procedurals, which mostly rely on the assistance of modern-day tools of the trade, then I’d definitely recommend you give this a read.

Rating: 3.5/5

(Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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Douglas Road Book Summary

The year is 1964 and Frank Humphries, a young detective who has recently transferred from uniform to CID, is investigating a series of burglaries in the Yardley area of Birmingham. Things take a dark turn when an old woman is viciously attacked and then, early on Christmas morning, two bodies are discovered in a local lodging house.

As DI George Evans of the Birmingham City Police tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the two victims, Humphries finds himself at the centre of a scandal that threatens his career, his family and even his liberty.