Rose by Martin Cruz Smith

RoseMartin Cruz Smith is probably best known for his stunning series of novels featuring Russian investigator, Arkady Renko. The series began with the award-winning Gorky Park set in the Brezhnev era and has continued over the years authentically capturing the atmosphere within Russia during and after the break-up of the Soviet Union. World-weary Renko doggedly pursues the truth despite the barriers put in his way by corrupt officials.
‘Rose’ isn’t a novel in the Renko series. In some ways it could hardly be more different, but there are similarities. The main difference is obvious – rather than being set in modern-day Russia, this is set in Wigan in 1872. Once again MCS has clearly done his research and the reader is carried back convincingly to the heavily industrial Victorian scene where most of the population work in appalling conditions in the coal mines or cotton mills – except, of course, for the rich owners of the mines and mills.
The central character is Jonathan Blair; born in Wigan, father unknown. His mother and her toddler son boarded a ship for America. During the crossing she either jumped, or fell, to her death in the ocean, so young Jonathan arrived in his new country as an orphan. After an unusual upbringing he became a mining engineer and has spent recent years in Africa where his close relationship with the native population made him unpopular with his colonial masters.
He arrives in Wigan suffering with malaria and desperate to return to Africa, for reasons that become clear. He needs the help of Lord Hannay, who is also a bishop and head of one of the most powerful families in England with extensive mining interests in Africa and Wigan. That help comes at a price. Hannay will only help if Blair finds John Maypole, a young cleric engaged to Hannay’s daughter, who has disappeared without trace.
Blair finds himself having to act as a reluctant detective – and this where the similarity with the Renko novels lies. Blair acts just like a Victorian version of Renko, showing the same persistence to discover the truth. He is treated with suspicion and hostility by everyone, even Hannay’s daughter. Everyone that is, except for the mysterious Rose, one of the controversial pit girls who shock society by wearing trousers and doing men’s work sorting coal. They are accepted by the pit owners because they work for less pay than men.
Even without the intriguing story line and the strong characterisation, this book would be worth reading because of the vivid capturing of working life below ground with the constant threat of explosion and roof fall, and of the injustice of the class system.
Another gem from Martin Cruz Smith. It is available from Amazon in hardback (secondhand), paperback, Kindle and audio formats.

Deep Water, Thin Ice by Kathy Shuker

Deep Water, Thin IceThis is the second book I’ve read by this author and I really enjoyed it: so much so that I was sorry to reach the end. I’m not at all surprised that other reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads have reacted similarly. I see that one described it as a love story, and so it is – but it’s also so much more.

We begin with an apparent suicide, but the description creates a lingering doubt that stays with us as we move into what follows. The cast of convincing characters, led by a vulnerable young widow, are beset by a psychopath with diminishing self-control. Stirred into the pot we have the unravelling of an unsavoury family history, social injustice, sexual deviancy and a haunting. All this is cleverly set against the contrasting background of a peaceful Devon village and the nurturing of a new nature reserve. This very well written, and satisfyingly long, book is highly recommended. It’s available from Amazon in both paperback and ebook for Kindle format.

Strictly Murder by Lynda Wilcox

Cover image Strictly MurderThis is the first in a series of books featuring Verity Long. The first thing that strikes me about the books is the very attractive covers. Verity is the young personal assistant to a famous crime writer and somehow finds herself embroiled in muder. I enjoyed this book. Despite the sprinkling of murders, a hit-and-run death and a missing teenager, it’s written with a pacy jauntiness that makes it a fun read. In Verity Long we have a more perky Poirot, a thoroughly modern Miss Marple.

She shares with the Christie characters a determination to force her way into criminal investigations and do the work of the police, but this is a young Miss Marple with an appetite for men and merlot.

I thought it a well-written, well-produced book. If you like your crime to be entertaining and served up with a good slice of humour, then this is one for you.

I bought the book for Kindle from Amazon. Strictly Murder: Volume 1 (The Verity Long Mysteries)

To the Grave by Steve Robinson

Cover image of To the GraveThis is the second in what looks like becoming a series of books with genealogy researcher Jefferson Tayte as the central character who was introduced to us in In the Blood.

We have the same basic format of the researcher running into danger, but this is more complex. The action moves between two time periods. In one we follow Tayte as he fulfils his research contract; in the other we have moved back in time to discover the human story behind the cold facts.

Those past events may sound hard to believe, but the truth about the Magdalene Laundries has finally emerged and the Irish Government is paying out millions of euros as compensation to the victims.

The book is well written and thought-provoking, as well as being entertaining.

I bought it for Kindle from Amazon, but print copies are also available. The Last Queen of England (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)

In the Blood by Steve Robinson

Cover image of In the BloodI’m not usually a fan of the crime genre; books are often formulaic and predictable. This one is different. The genealogy theme allows the tale to cover events and individuals spread over a long timescale. I found both the plot and the characters engaging. It also helps that it is set in a beautiful and atmospheric part of the country. Some reviewers on Amazon have commented on buying it because of the low price – of the Kindle edition, presumably, as the print edition is a standard £7.99. It was £1.99 when I bought it and that seems to me to be a fair price to pay for an eBook, although it does seem cheap when compared to the grossly over-priced output of the mainstream publishers. It’s a rapidly developing marketplace and I suspect that we will eventually see it stabilise with quality eBooks selling in the £1.99 to £2.99 range. However, commenting on the price of an ebook is probably a waste of time. Authors/publishers can change the price with a few mouse clicks – and they frequently do.
I’m suspicious of indie-books that immediately receive a lot of 5* ratings. I can’t help thinking that it’s friends and connections rallying around, but I recognised quite a few of these reviewers from their postings on book forums and I respect their opinions. On that basis I was happy to give this book a go – and I’m glad I did. Making the central character a genealogist whose researches drag him into danger is an original approach. Jefferson Tayte is a strong enough character to reappear in more books of the same genre.

I bought it for Kindle at Amazon where it is also available in print format. There are several different editions. In the Blood (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)