Book Review – Finding Suzy by @DavidVidecette Published by Videcette Limited

“Absence from whom we love is worse than death, and frustrates hope severer than despair.” ―William Cowper

My first book review for the New Year is Finding Suzy by writer, investigator, and former Scotland Yard detective, David Videcette. As well as having a wealth of investigative experience behind him, including several high-profile cases like the July 2005 London bombings, David is also the author of the fictional DI Jake Flannagan crime thriller series. However, it is this, the author’s own private investigation into the real-life missing person case of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, that really piqued my interest.

Suzy Lamplugh went missing in July 1986 and has never been seen since. Her mother, Diana Lamplugh, said, “There has not been a single trace of her. Nothing. Just as though she had been erased by a rubber”. It was (and still is) a case that drew a lot of media attention, but the generally accepted narrative is that Suzy left the Fulham office she worked at, showing a house by appointment to a “Mr Kipper” who it’s then believed, abducted, and killed her. However, her body has never been found and 16 years later, following a second investigation, John Cannan, jailed for abducting, and killing Shirley Banks, is believed to be the illusive “Mr Kipper”. However, as David’s thorough investigation shows, any links made to Cannan and this case are dubious to say the least. So, the author did what any good investigator would and he began the investigation again, from scratch.

Easy to read, thought provoking and compelling, Finding Suzy is a gripping read that shines a light on how missed opportunities, politics, and even the grief of Suzy’s family have perhaps hindered the discovery of her whereabouts. David makes a good argument about where she might be and surely, if only to give her family some closure, the police owe it to them to follow this up.

To get your copy of Finding Suzy click here.

Book Review – Coming Home by @pbadixon published by @bloodhoundbook

“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”–George Santayana

I absolutely adored this book. Set in the present day with flashbacks to the past, Coming Home is a beautifully written festive family drama full of secrets and lies, intrigue and deceit, but above all else, love and hope. The story opens on Christmas Eve 1969, where we meet six-year-old Carmen Appleton.

“A child is seated at the kitchen table, that’s me. My mother, Sylvia, with her blonde beehive and candy-pink lipstick is opposite. She’s beautiful… A sound distracts me… Dad. He’s home… my wonderful most perfect dad… All I have to do is close my eyes and go to sleep and it will be Christmas morning, the Christmas it should have been before the knock on the door that ruin[ed] everything.”

Fast-forward to the present day, 2021, and we meet Carmen as she is now, a mother, grandmother, and successful businesswoman and owner of Appleton Farm. Christmas is always a bittersweet time for Carmen, not least because of that fateful night during her childhood, but she loves her family and has always done her best to make it a special time. This year, though, everyone is coming home for Christmas and Carmen is determined to make it the best one ever, plus, she has an announcement to make, a secret to share. However, little does Carmen know, her three adult daughters, Rosina, Violetta, and Leonora, are all harbouring their own secrets. Secrets that are weighing them down but are too afraid to share for fear of ruining their beloved mother’s merry plans.

The characters of this festive tale are well-rounded, wonderfully human individuals with Granny Sylvia, in particular, providing some delightful moments of comic relief. Written with humour, pathos, and depth, Coming Home has all the ‘feels’ of a typical Christmas story with all the ‘chills’ of a compelling family drama.

A well deserved 5 stars from me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

To grab your copy of this wonderful festive read click here

Book Review – Killing Time in Cambridge by Philip Cumberland

“AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”­­––Stephen Hawking

This month I interviewed local author (to me) Philip Cumberland (see here), who is also one of the coordinators and founding members of a local U3A Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths. As well as a contributing author of several anthologies written by the group, Philip has also recently published his debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, and this is my review.

The story opens with an axe wielding knight of old, dressed in full body armour, clanking down the corridor of a software company, who then hacks down the office door of the managing director, demanding to know who the ‘master’ is. The poor MD then has a heart attack, the knight disappears, and a short time later the building is besieged by medieval catapults. At this juncture, we are introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Lane, better known to everyone as Arnold, a self-effacing individual who likes his food and has a keen, pragmatic approach to his work. It’s Arnold’s job, and that of his colleagues, to figure out what is going on. However, as the story unravels and the plot thickens, it quickly becomes apparent that time travel plays a huge role in this quirky tale, which also includes several eccentric secondary characters including the quick-witted Sylvia, who provides some fine moments of comic relief, not to mention Marvin, the mind reading AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Set in the present day (with glimpses through time) in the beautiful historic city of Cambridge and the surrounding fens (including Ely, Hunstanton, Heacham, and Ramsey) Killing Time in Cambridge is a good old whodunnit (think Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, and Inspector George Gently) featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour and, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer Philip Cumberland.

This month I’m chatting to local author Philip Cumberland. As one of the founding members of a local writing group, Phil reached out to me several years ago to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing a book the group had put together called Where the Wild Winds Blow: an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems, and memoirs, contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Honoured, I said I’d love to. Since then, Philip has released his own debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, which was also my choice for this month’s book review.

Welcome Phil, thanks for being my guest. Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

Thank you for inviting me, Eva.

I grew up in Huntingdon and have lived in Cambridgeshire all my life, the last thirty-five years in Whittlesey. 

I was originally a motor mechanic, then an engine tester. During the thirty years before I retired, I was a metalworker, with my own business.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, and if so, what writers have inspired you?

I suppose off and on I have always wanted to write but couldn’t find the time until I retired.

I read sporadically. After leaving school at fifteen I finished reading the recommended books for O level English, of them, Catcher in the Rye made the biggest impression. My reading is mainly crime fiction and espionage thrillers. I read some science fiction and of course humour.

Favourite authors include Peter Lovesey, Isaac Asimov, P D James, John le Carre, Len Deighton, and Douglas Adams. I also enjoy some more local authors among them Alison Bruce, Tony Forder, and yourself.

My favourite author of all is Raymond Chandler, he paints wonderful pictures with his words, capturing perfectly for me the time, place and characters that inhabit the pages of his books. Chandler’s dialogue is brilliant, it is said Billy Wilder had him write the dialogue for Double Indemnity, he thought there was no one better for the job.

Your debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, is, I would argue, a good old whodunnit featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour, and includes, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI. When did the idea for this story come to you and how important was it to keep the setting real and local?

I am pleased you liked it, Eva. As you know, if people enjoy your writing that is a real joy.

I started writing Killing Time in Cambridge in 2010, while still working full time, its original title was Bernard the Twelvicator. The pressure of work forced me to put the book on hold until I retired in 2016.

I used to drive a lot and part of my mind would go walkabout while driving, designing new products for the business and on this one occasion thinking about computer processors. Before I knew and I suspect most people knew of Quantum processors a processor could only be in two states, on or off. I speculated that if a processor was able to be in twelve different states at the same time, it could be capable of things beyond our imagination.

I enjoy Cambridge and the fens. Fenland sunrises and sunsets painted over the vast canvass of a 360-degree sky have always filled me with awe, I think I am digressing, not many people know I do that.

It was important to me that I kept the story local it gave me the excuse to wander around Cambridge for research, sometimes my brother-in-law would accompany me travelling on the guided bus from St Ives, other times I went alone.

I feel comfortable in the territory of my book and have a great affection for the area it inhabits. I had worked in Ely and used the area known to me in the story. Heacham and Hunstanton are for most of us living locally familiar holiday destinations, myself included.

And finally, my favourite question! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

Just write.

If you have a story to tell and imagination or see the world differently, share it, other people may like the things you see. Remember you are your first reader, if your writing captivates you, entertains you and makes you laugh or cry it will do the same for other people. Not everyone but those who enjoy the same things you do, and that is a lot of people.

If you need support, encouragement, and help, join a writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths have helped me enormously.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Book Review – The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton By Edith Wharton Published by Wordsworth Editions

“One can remain alive … if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity interested in big things and happy in small ways” ––Edith Wharton

The nights are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air and with Halloween just around the corner, it feels like the perfect time to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good ghost story or two. So, this month I’m reviewing The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton; a collection of well-paced, atmospheric, spooky short stories.

Wharton (1862–1937), Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel The Age of Innocence, claimed she didn’t believe in ghosts whilst paradoxically admitting she was frightened of them. Her interest in the paranormal began during her childhood and continued into her adult life with writers like M. R. James and Walter de la Mare some of her favourite authors in the field.  The writing style of this beautifully written compilation is comparable to Henry James including the speech and dialect that is very much of its time, which some readers may find a little dated but I feel only adds to the intrigue and suspense of each brilliantly crafted story. With fifteen separate stories in total, set in or around the period they were penned, the reader is also given a window into the social history of the time, which, although not that long ago, almost feels other worldly itself. Be warned though, if you’re looking for horror stories, or out-and-out tales of terror, this is not the book for you. 

Wharton’s style of writing is both subtle and sublime, weaving a sense of foreboding, menace, and mystery into her stories rather than outright revelation, cleverly building a sense of dread before leaving the reader hauntingly intrigued. And, with fifteen tales to choose from, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton is the perfect ghostly companion for those whose reading time is limited.

Book Review—Why I Write by George Orwell Published by Penguin; 1st edition (2 Sept. 2004)

“Literature is doomed if liberty of thought perishes” –George Orwell

This month’s book review may interest all the writers and would be writers out there. Written by Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, Why I Write is part of Penguin’s Great Ideas series. Pocket-sized works of, largely, non-fiction inspired by pioneers, radicals, and visionaries, including subject matters such as philosophy, science, politics, and war.

Orwell, born in 1903, is most famous for his fictional works including the political satire Animal Farm, published in 1945, and the dystopian nightmare vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which, first published in 1949, is a sci-fi story centred around a country known as Oceania (in 1984), controlled by an overbearing, paranoid government insistent on manipulating every aspect of its citizens’ lives. A place where information is suppressed, history re-written, and propaganda reigns supreme. It is also, one could argue, as a work of fiction written over 70 years ago, a story that feels eerily remarkably current.

Considered one of England’s most accomplished authors and social commentators, this collection includes four of Orwell’s essays. However, the title is deceiving, with only the first, brief essay dedicated to writing. The other three examine Orwell’s views on society, politics, and the economy during WW2, which I found equally fascinating. “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me” he wrote in one.

At only 100 pages long, Why I Write is short enough to read in one sitting and littered with humorous nuggets of writing advice. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites which, if you’re a writer, you’ll completely understand. If not, and it’s a profession you’re thinking of taking up, all I can say is, be warned!  

“Writing is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

Book Review – Foyles Philavery by Christopher Foyle Published by Chambers; Reprint edition (27 July 2007)

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine” –Emily Dickinson

This month, I thought I’d choose something a little different to review. A book that has been in my possession for a number of years and is the perfect companion for all writers and budding writers alike. Scrabble players too, would love this. Anyone, in fact, that like me, has a fascination with words.

Foyle’s Philavery (pronounced fil-a-vuh-ri), a word invented to describe the book, is, according to the introduction, “an idiosyncratic collection of uncommon and pleasing words”. Written by Christopher Foyle; businessman, philanthropist and writer, who took over the running Foyles, the eponymous family bookshop in 1999, first began making a note of unusual words in 1990. This was around the time of the first Gulf War when US commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, described information he deemed of no value as, ‘bovine scatology’. Not familiar with the latter word, I quickly thumbed the relevant page for its meaning, which immediately saw me laughing out loud. Simply put, bovine scatology is another, more sophisticated way of saying, stupid crap!

Some of my favourite words include, samizdat, which (in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe) means “the clandestine copying and distribution of writings banned by the government”. Then there’s scriptorium, which is “a room set apart for writing”. And finally, kakistocracy, which, feeling particularly relevant at this present time, stands for, “a system of government in which the rulers are the least competent, least qualified or most unprincipled citizens”.

This treasury of unusual, quirky and obscure words is a pure delight. It’s not the kind of book you’ll read in one sitting, but rather one you’ll be drawn to time and again. A must have for all word lovers.

Eva Jordan reviews… Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister‏

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Cleverly written, Anything You Do Say is the first Gillian McAllister book I’ve read, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Described as a Sliding Doors psychological thriller, the story starts with Joanna, the main protagonist, committing a criminal offense, albeit accidentally, at which point the story splits into two; one called Reveal, the other, Conceal.

Set during the present day, both stories, told in the first person, centre on Joanna Oliva, a young woman living in London with her husband, Reuben. The story begins with Joanna on a night out with best friend Laura. They are in a bar and leave when a man, who has been harassing Joanna, unsettles them. Once outside, and away from the bar, Joanna and Laura call it a night, say their respective goodbyes and head home in different directions. Joanna hears someone walking behind her. Too afraid to look she is convinced she is being followed. She spots a flash of red at the top of a set of stairs on a towpath, which confirms her suspicions. Her pursuer is wearing the same red trainers worn by the man who earlier, in the bar, had been harassing her. In her panic, Joanna spins round and pushes “his body, firmly, squarely, the hardest I’ve ever pushed anything in my life” down the concrete stairs, and this is where the story splits.

We then follow Joanna’s journey where in one story she reveals what has happened, and in the other, she conceals what she has done. As expected, both choices have huge ramifications, which impact on both her life and that of friends and loved ones. Joanna is one of life’s procrastinators, who, unlike her husband Reuben, prefers to avoid her problems—“He’s (Reuben) never done denial. Not like I have… He confronts issues head on… Calmly, not hysterically, not the way I eventually tackle things I’ve been avoiding for years.” However, due to her actions, Joanne is forced to face up to herself and what she has done—in both stories.

Gripping, pacy, and well written, Anything You Do Say glides easily between the two parallel timeframes with no awkward repetition. I was totally invested in the characters and particularly enjoyed the exploration of the ‘what ifs ’ in each story, as well as the diverse responses and differing attitudes to Joanna’s behaviour by those closest to her. Well worth a read, and one I really recommend.  

Eva Jordan reviews… The Silent Christmas by M.J. Lee

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Thanks to a cousin who has been researching our family tree, I recently discovered I had a Great-Great uncle who served in the trenches during WWl. He joined at the start of the war as a volunteer in 1914, and just one year later, aged twenty-one, he was dead, killed in action, his body never recovered but is commemorated on the Menin Wall in Ypres, Belgium. How apt then, I should stumble upon Martin Lee’s recently released novella, The Silent Christmas, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, which can also be read as a stand-alone.

Set in both the present day and the WWI trenches, the story centres on the informal football match believed to have taken place between the English and German soldiers during a brief truce on Christmas Day 1914. The first chapter takes us straight to the trenches on December 21st in Belgium, capturing the conditions and possible mindset of some soldiers, ‘He lay on his back on the hard ground and dreamt of England; picnicking on the grass in front of the bandstand, straw hat tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun… A shadow crossed his face and he felt a tap against his foot. ‘Time to get up, Tom, we’re moving forward… The men began packing up… As they did so, a solitary shell from a German whizz-bang whistled overhead, landing one hundred yards past the farm. None of the men moved or even ducked; each one carried on preparing to move forward as if nothing had happened.’ We then move forward to the present day and discover Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, asked, just days before Christmas, if she can help shed light on the mystery of several items, namely a label, a silver button and a lump of leather, found in a chest in the attic of her client. Ms Sinclair, who says, ‘Our role as genealogists is to use our research to bring these lost people, the vanished people of our family, back to life,’ agrees, and the mystery begins to unravel.

Written in the third person throughout, The Silent Christmas is a fictional tale exploring the actual events that took place during December 1914, later called the ‘Christmas Truce.’ A real “feel good” story handled with great care and respect, full of hope and love, that is both well written and researched. And, as 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice it is also particularly poignant.

You can find The Silent Christmas on Amazon 

Writer Martin Lee

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Eva Jordan reviews… Corrupted by Simon Michael

 

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Corrupted, the latest book by fellow Urbane published author Simon Michael, is the fourth in a series of noir gangster crime thrillers concerning criminal barrister Charles Holborne. However, although part of a series there is just enough back-story for it to read perfectly well as a standalone. Set in London’s swinging sixties, the author mixes historical fact with fiction, making Corruption a story that sees its fictional barrister, Charles Holborne QC, drawn into the real-life investigation of a sex ring scandal that involved the Kray twins and some very powerful but corrupt politicians. The author’s note reads, ‘This is not a true crime novel, but the historical facts upon which it is based did actually occur.’

Written in close third person, Charles, the flawed main protagonist, narrates throughout and the story itself unfolds during several crucial months of 1964, namely Friday 26th June–Monday 24th August. Charles, a Jewish East Ender doing well for himself, building his reputation as a brilliant murder trial lawyer, is living with his partner Sally. On the surface all looks well, however, Charles is clearly at odds with himself. ‘An East Ender, born and bred on the wrong side of town, the wrong side of the track and the wrong side of the law, Charles has muscled his way into the Establishment by becoming a war hero, barrister… His acquaintances include Oxbridge graduates with country seats, titles and racehorses; they also include boxers, burglars and con artists. He no longer quite fits in anywhere, and everywhere feels like the wrong place.’

Charles is asked to help a young lad called Teddy who has been arrested and accused of murder. Charles agrees to take the case on and in doing so takes the reader on a magical mystery tour of 1960s London including the music, fashion and haircuts of the time. The author also gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of Fleet Street during the sixties, sprinkled with sporadic but fascinating historical facts like the time Charles takes a run past Jack Straw’s Castle–the pub and reputed favourite haunt of Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker. However, at the heart of this story is a dark, uncomfortable tale about power, corruption and sexual abuse. Pacey, but often sombre and heartbreaking, it also includes great dialogue and some extremely well-written courtroom drama. A thrilling page-turner and one I highly recommend.