Recent Reads: Mr Scarletti’s Ghost & Cliff House

A recent e-mail by new digital publisher, Sapere Books, alerted me to the fact they’re now publishing Linda Stratmann’s three books in the Mina Scarletti series. I had Mr Scarletti’s Ghost on my bookshelf and I rescued it this week to read. Spirit mediums are all the rage in 1871 Brighton, preying on the bereaved and vulnerable. A Miss Eustace claims to produce apparitions of the dead and ensnares Mina Scarletti’s widowed mother along with many of her friends, gaining financially from the seances. Mina is determined to expose Miss Eustace but comes up against devotees of the medium whose respectability in Brighton society is hard to break. Only by enlisting a band of family and friends can she expose the fraud.

Mr Scarletti’s Ghost is a clever and well written mystery with a wide-scale deception rather than murder at its heart. Particularly strong is the character of Mina Scarletti, disfigured by sclerosis of the spine but with a spirited character.  I’m sure she will carry the series through many books and I look forward to reading more by Stratmann. This new digital edition is out on the 5th February.

The other book I’ve read over the last week isn’t out until May but, if you enjoy a thriller with a  Cornish setting this one’s for you. Cliff House is Amanda Jenning’s fourth book and centres on a clifftop house which holds an enduring fascination for Tamsyn Tresize. She’s drawn to Edie, the daughter of the glamorous family who spend their time between London and the house, bringing a whiff of glamour and dissipation. Tamsyn’s mother, who cleans the house, warns against her getting too close to the family but both she and her brother, Jago are pulled into the destructive circle with tragic consequences.

Jennings cleverly sets most of the book in 1986, a time when bored teenagers drift into friendships just to while away the time. She touches on class divisions and local suspicion of outsiders along with destructive family forces. It’s atmospheric thriller which will delight her readers and if you haven’t read her books before, now’s the time.

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The Best of August’s Reading

Gladstone libraryAugust was quiet in relation to crime fiction events for me, with the exception of the excellent launch of Martin Edwards’s new book, The Frozen Shroud. However, my reading continued at a slower pace and all the books that I finished were of a high quality, mainly I suspect I only read what I really wanted to. Three of this month’s books were by ‘new to me writers’: Martin Edwards, Linda Stratmann and A D Garett. I hope to carry on reading all of these authors.

My book of the month is Jan Costin Wagner’s Light in a Dark House which is continuing a high quality series which is a must read for me, although the book wasn’t quite up to the standard of earlier ones.

The five books I read for Crimepieces were:

1. Everyone Lies by A D Garrett

2. Cold Hearts by Gunnar Staalesen

3. The Frozen Shroud by Martin Edwards

4. Light in a Dark House by Jan Costin Wagner

5. A Case of Doubtful Death by Linda Stratmann

I have some cracking books set for September, so fingers crossed….

Review: Linda Stratmann – A Case of Doubtful Death

Doubtful DeathCrime fiction, a genre I read a lot of, has occasionally the tendency to feel a little ‘samey’. And I don’t just mean the plots. At some point, the consensus has become that books need to be dialogue heavy. Descriptive prose is out. And yet, it is this style of writing outside of crime fiction that I love. Colm Toibin, for example, writes beautiful dialogue sparsely. So I was delighted when I picked up the new latest book by Linda Stratmann to see that it contained paragraphs of description that related to both the setting and the plot.

In West London, a doctor has set up a hospital for the dead in response to the concerns of Victorian society that they might accidentally be buried alive. In the hospital, bodies are kept until putrefaction has set in thereby reassuring relatives that the dead are truly gone. When Doctor Mackenzie dies, his young assistant mysteriously disappears and Frances Doughty, a young detective with a reputation for perseverance, joins the hunt for the missing Henry Palmer.

A Case of Doubtful Death contains a huge amount period detail. The author has written a number of non-fiction books on past murders around the UK and clearly knows the period well. There is also a significant amount of forensic detail provided which I found fascinating in a historical setting. Victorian London, of course, is a gift of a setting for a writer, but we do get a different view of the period in this book. The description of the mortuary in Kensal Green, for example, is satisfyingly morbid and gives readers a flavour of things to come.

The character of Frances Doughty has a feel of some of the women we see in the stories of Sherlock Holmes: principled and redoubtable, she is the main driving force of the book. She is also a foretaste of the later suffragettes that play an important role in London’s history as she clearly upsets the men she meets with her no-nonsense questioning.

I met the author by chance at a crime fiction event and it goes to show how meeting fellow enthusiasts can lead to discovery of new books to read. A Case of Doubtful Death is the third book in the Frances Doughty series and I now hope to start at the beginning and carry on my enjoyable journey into London’s unsavoury past.

Thanks to the publisher, The Mystery Press, for sending me a copy of the book.

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival #2

A second post on the crime writing festival that took place in Harrogate last week-end. I had been looking forward to the New Blood AL photopanel and I wasn’t disappointed. Moderated by Val McDermid, it featured the talented Anya Lispka along with other debut writers Derek B Miller, Colette McBeth and Malcolm Mackay. The writers gave a brief overview of their books and what had prompted them to write within the crime fiction genre. What was interesting was not all the writers set out to write a crime novel but were influenced by the conventions of the genre that allowed them to tell the story they wanted to write. The authors also shared with us their journey to publication and the ups and downs of a writer’s life. A fascinating panel and a must-see for me every year. Anya can be seen with her fellow panelists standing on the far left of the photo.

Much of the rest of the festival involved me catching up with friends I’ve met over the years who are too numerous to mention here and I run the risk of missing someone out. All I can say that it was great catching up with you all. Crime writers, readers, bloggers and reviewers are some of the friendliest people I know and I’ve made some great friends.

Saturday evening at Harrogate is marked by the crime fiction quiz. This year I was on the stellar team featuring writers Martin Edwards, Paul Johnston, Margaret Murphy, Linda Stratmann and Martin’s agent James Wills. With a team of such calibre you would expect a decent ranking. Well, we came second. Next year maybe….