The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

Head of Zeus | 2018 (9 August) | 371p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate MascarenhasIt is 1967 and four very different women are revelling in the glory of having invented a time travel machine. But in this moment of celebration, in full view of the media, one of the scientists, Barbara, suffers a very public mental breakdown and is removed from the programme. Her former colleague and the leader of the group, Margaret, makes sure that she can never return. The programme cannot be stigmatised in any way. Half a century later, in 2018, Odette discovers the dead body of an elderly woman in a locked room in a toy museum. The reason for the woman’s death is uncertain but Odette becomes obsessed and is determined to discover the truth. She isn’t the only one. Psychologist Ruby is Barbara’s granddaughter and, at last, Barbara is ready to talk about what happened just over fifty years before. But when, in 2017, a message arrives from the near future, Ruby becomes very afraid for her Granny Bee. Something terrible is going to happen. It will be extraordinary.

And so begins one of the most incredible novels I’ve read this year – for several years – and it’s all the more remarkable when you think that this wonderful book is Kate Mascarenhas’ debut. It’s an enormous achievement. The Psychology of Time is an immensely rewarding novel that is also very cleverly complex and so you do need to pay close attention. It’s certainly worth it. It is mesmerising.

The narrative jumps and skips backwards and forwards throughout, following the lives of a group of women over fifty years or so, but mostly focusing on events in 2017 and 2018, moving to and fro between the years and between the women during different stages of their lives. And making it even more complex and absolutely riveting is that sometimes we meet a character in the ‘wrong time’, when she is time travelling. There is none of that directive that we’re used to that two versions of the same person can’t co-exist in the same time – here you can have as many of yourselves as you like. You can revisit key times in your life and share those times with a limitless number of yourselves. You can even dance with yourself, if you fancy it. I love this element of the novel, and that’s partly because these are the most fantastic characters you could hope to meet and seeing them in different phases of their lives is enthralling.

There are so many characters to love here but my favourite is Grace, one of the original four scientists and also an intriguing artist. She has such a delightful nature and the relationship she forms in the novel is captivating and brings with it moments of pure poignancy and tenderness. I’m not going to say more about the characters because you must discover them and fall in love with them for yourself. There are several potential favourites for you to choose from. I also loved how they are all women in various stages of their rich lives, and the fact that the vast majority of the novel’s characters are women isn’t laboured. It feels natural and they’re treated with such affection. Although not all of them are good.

The distant future is only glimpsed and it’s worrisome. We hear a little of its draconian laws, and learn that its reintroduction of a kind of medieval trial by combat – except here it’s trial by fate – is brought back into the present day for time travellers who do wrong. The science behind time travel is just touched upon but the main focus of the novel is on how it affects those who do it, as well as their families and those who love them. And here we spend time with people seeking to understand it, especially Ruby and Odette.

The mystery at the heart of The Psychology of Time Travel is such a good one and every bit as quirky and curious as the rest of the novel. But its enormous appeal lies mostly in these wonderful, wonderful people and the wit and warmth with which they’re described as they flit and dance through each other’s lives – and their own. Sometimes they can bring misfortune, even death, but mostly they bring love and such a depth of feeling.

There is so much to love about this glorious, beautifully crafted novel which treats time travel in such an original and enthralling way. It’s not possible to do The Psychology of Time justice, at least for me, and so I urge you to treat yourself and discover its wonders for yourself.

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Night Flight to Paris by David Gilman

Head of Zeus | 2018 (9 August) | 486p | Review copy | Buy the book

Night Flight to Paris by David GilmanIt is February 1943 and the German Occupation of France has Paris in its grip. The city’s Resistance cell is on the run, the Nazis on its tail. Men and women will be captured, they will be tortured for information, there will be deaths. Allied intelligence has no choice. They must send someone to Paris to pick up the pieces, to form another cell, and to complete the vanquished cell’s unfinished business – to find a man hunted by Germans and allies alike. He has information that could change the course of the war. The man to be sent to Paris is Harry Mitchell. He’s perfect for the job. He’s a mathematician and codebreaker at Bletchley Park but he also used to live in Paris before he had to flee in 1941 leaving his wife and daughter behind. And now they’re in the hands of the Gestapo. Mitchell is determined to get them back.

Occupied Paris is a city at war with itself. The Nazis are not the only enemy. Informers, spies, collaborators, and competing Resistance factions have made Paris even more lethal. The leaders of the SS and the Gestapo, also fighting amongst themselves for dominance, are infiltrating Parisian society, enjoying the cultural perks of the French capital, Parisian mistresses on their arm and in their bed, before descending into the city’s most frightening spaces to torture members of the Resistance. Harry Mitchell has no illusions about how dangerous Paris will be. He knows he will probably be killed and nastily. But first he has to get to Paris and his night flight will test his endurance to the limit.

David Gilman is well known for his Master of War series – a series I love – set during the Hundred Years War of the 14th century. In this standalone novel, David Gilman moves forward 600 years to another conflict and the result, Night Flight to Paris, is every bit as good, if not even better, than his medieval series. This is a very clever novel, its complex, tense plot beautifully crafted and gripping throughout. It starts off running and the pace doesn’t slacken once.

Harry Mitchell is a fascinating, likeable, courageous and potentially ruthless protagonist. For much of the time he is almost literally in the dark, forming his cell of Resistance fighters out of strangers, aware that any one of them could be a traitor, and yet camaraderie draws them together. Ultimately, Mitchell is a spy, his whole life in France and Paris is built on secrets and lies and he holds it all together with his cunning and genius. And not a little luck. There are others here that we grow attached to, even though we’re not quite sure if they can be trusted, and they are wonderfully portrayed by David Gilman, each a character in their own right, men and women, young and old, especially a radio operator whose courage is extraordinary.

I urge you to read this novel and meet these fantastic characters. To feel the tension of following them through the danger of missions and just in daily life, which can be every bit as terrifying, waiting for a car to screech to a halt outside the door, for the sound of boots running up the stairs, the bang on the door, the guns in the face.

Night Flight to Paris is a magnificent war spy thriller. I couldn’t read it fast enough. Clever, complex, gripping, emotionally engaging, terrifying. And so much more. A stand out novel of the year for me and one that kept me reading late into the summer night.

I must also mention that this is another of those gorgeous Head of Zeus hadbacks, complete with a ribbon! I do love a ribbon…

Other reviews
Master of War
Defiant Unto Death (Master of War 2)
Gate of the Dead (Master of War 3) – review and interview
Guest post – War in The Last Horseman
Viper’s Blood (Master of War 4)
Extract from Vipers Blood
Scourge of Wolves (Master of War 5)

All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (9 August) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

All the Hidden Truths by Claire AskewWhen 20-year-old Ryan Summers walks into his college in Edinburgh and shoots dead thirteen female students before using the last bullet on himself, the shocked community is changed forever. All the Hidden Truths strips this horrendous crime bare, searching for the reasons behind it, its devastating repercussions, by focusing on three of the women most affected – Moira, the mother of the killer; Ishbel, the mother of Abigail, one of the victims; DI Helen Birch, the newly promoted officer in charge of the case and also one of the first on scene.

All the Hidden Truths is one of the most intense novels I’ve read in quite a while. It’s one of those books that makes you miss bus stops, makes you not hear when people speak to you (I can vouch for both of these), and its beginning is utterly gripping. We know that this horrendous mass shooting is on the way and it’s all the more powerfully presented as it’s revealed bit by bit, through the experiences of people who were there, the ones who survived. The chapters move between these women (two of them traumatised, the other troubled) and scattered throughout are newspaper reports because this is also a novel about the role of the media at a time such as this. And here they are, the vultures with one foot on the victim’s lawn, or wedged in the doorway.

Each of the women has a fascinating tale to reveal, bit by bit. Moira and Ishbel are almost destroyed by their grief and confusion. But is Moira really a victim? Did she know what Ryan intended to do? Is she to blame? It isn’t any easier for Ishbel as her dead daughter’s character is scrutinised and everything in Ishbel’s life falls apart.

This is all deeply intense and the mood is actually eased a little by the sections which focus on Helen Birch and her efforts to hold her investigation together when she is faced by difficulties from every side. I particularly found these chapters interesting for what they reveal about the role of family liaison officers in situations such as these. Some are new to the job, others have years of experience, but all of them are out of their depth here.

I found All the Hidden Truths a compelling read but I also found it a distressing one. Its mood is sustained throughout and I couldn’t read it all in one go. Instead I read it in three sittings with two other books fitted into the gaps. The novel is superbly written by Claire Askew and she has certainly done her research. So the fact that I found it too intense to read in one go is actually a compliment. It all feels horrifically real, Ryan Summers feels like a young man you can meet on the street, Abigail could so easily be a friend, child or sister. The agonising questions of Why which follow a mass shooting are so hard to answer. Claire Askew here treats those questions with insight and great feeling and care. All the Hidden Truths is an extraordinary and powerful debut.

Court of Wolves by Robyn Young

Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (9 August) | 404p | Review copy | Buy the book

Court of Wolves by Robyn YoungCourt of Wolves follows directly on from Sons of the Blood, the first novel in Robyn Young’s New World Rising series, set during the 1480s. Do read Sons of the Blood first. This review assumes you’ve done that.

It is 1485 and Henry Tudor is king at last, having vanquished Richard III in battle and married Elizabeth of York, the niece of the defeated king. Now that he has power, Henry wants more of it and he is tantalised by a map that has newly come into his possession. It hints of undiscovered lands far to the west of Europe and possibly a new route to the riches of the East, now so difficult to reach due to the Turk. Henry believes that Isabella and Ferdinand, the warrior monarchs of Spain, may get there first, thanks to Isabella’s interest in a sailor named Christopher Columbus. This must not happen. Henry dispatches Harry Vaughan to Andalusia to serve as his representative in Isabella’s court. And there Harry finds himself caught up in Isabella and Ferdinand’s brutal and bloody crusade against the Moors. But even faced with all of this danger, Harry is still driven by his own quest – to find and kill his half-brother James Wynter who stole their executed father’s favour from him.

James Wynter is banished from England. The map his father had entrusted to him has caused nothing but misery and death and now it is in the hands of King Henry Tudor. James, known as Jack, has turned to Florence and the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent, a lord he believes will help him discover the truth about his father. But Lorenzo faces troubles of his own – his power is threatened by the court of wolves, a secret society of important men. He charges Jack with finding out who these men are. Only then will Lorenzo help Jack.

Court of Wolves covers such a fascinating period in European history, with the rise of a new dynasty in England, the domination of Isabella and Ferdinand in Spain, and the glorious power that was Florence. Robyn Young pulls it all together with such skill to show how this age was both golden and also bitterly violent, vengeful and cruel. The previous novel charted the end of the Wars of the Roses in England – the end of the Middle Ages in so many ways. Now we’re at the beginnings of the modern world, one that will be changed forever when Christopher Columbus sets sail. In this novel we’re at the very edge of these times as monarchs and rulers shift in their thrones, ready to progress, while continuing to smash their enemies.

Jack and Harry are caught up in the middle of it and the chapters move between them. Harry is the baddie. We’ve known that from the very beginning but that doesn’t mean that we feel nothing for him. He’s a petty fool, undoubtedly, and he’s completely out of his death in Andalusia. Particularly because he has a secret, a deadly secret, and it’s in danger of being uncovered. These sections of the novel place us squarely in the war against the Moors in Spain as we move across Andalusia, from castle to castle, sword in hand. It’s so well portrayed.

Jack is our hero, yet he too is floundering and at the whim of the powerful. I really enjoyed the descriptions of Medici Florence. I know the city very well and so loved seeing the transformation of familiar churches, palaces, streets, bridges and squares into their 15th-century form. There are so many little details about daily life in Florence. You can almost smell the stench of the Ponte Vecchio and the river, while marvelling at the statues that can still be seen there today. The political vendettas of the Medici court (and the papacy) dominate these sections of the book, but there’s still a sensuality about many of the people we meet. It is an intoxicating place. The sooner Jack can leave it the better.

Robyn Young always writes so beautifully and with great empathy. Her prose is thoughtful and elegant. The novel moves at a slow and luxurious pace – there is so much to take in as we get to know these very different worlds of Spain and Florence. Arguably, Court of Wolves does have the feel of a middle book about it. The previous novel had the tumultuous Wars of the Roses, and the story of the princes in the Tower, to drive it on, while this novel sets up the powers of Europe for Columbus’s great voyage, which I’m hoping will follow in the third novel (Amazon currently describes Court of Wolves as book 2 of 2, but that, I think, is either a mistake or extremely unlikely). I’m looking forward to finding out what’s next for Jack and Harry. One suspects that only one of them will prevail. The lovely hardback also includes a useful list of characters at the back.

Other reviews
Sons of the Blood
Insurrection II: Renegade
Insurrection III: Kingdom

A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott

Bantam Press | 2018 (9 August) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

A Treachery of Spies by Manda ScottA very old woman, Sophie Destivelle, is found murdered in a car in Orléans. She’s been shot three times in what has all of the hallmarks of a professional assassination. Her tongue is cut out, a terrible reminder of the punishment dealt out to French collaborators during the German occupation of France during the Second World War. Police inspector Capitaine Inés Picaut finds on her person a card belonging to a filmmaker who, it turns out, is currently making a documentary about the local Maquis, the French Resistance. As Picaut searches for the reasons behind why such an old woman, in her 90s, met such a fate, she learns that there have been other deaths. The survivors of the war did not leave the past far enough behind. It’s caught up with them.

A Treachery of Spies is an outstanding novel that deserves all of the superlatives I can throw at it. Manda Scott is the finest of writers, her books always significant and she is able to turn her hand to any historical period, any genre. She has written some of my very favourite novels. Manda Scott manages to engage both the head and the heart of the reader, leaving one in awe of the cleverness of the book’s plotting and structure while feeling every moment of the novel’s tension and drama, often weeping tears for its men and women. These books are also so exciting! A Treachery of Spies is no different.

Into the Fire introduced us to Capitaine Inés Picaut in a superb and memorable novel that combined a murder investigation in the present with the 15th-century life of Joan of Arc. A Treachery of Spies also combines stories from the past and present but this time it’s the period of the German Occupation and its aftermath, years remembered by some of the people in the novel. The result is one of the most powerful and evocative fictional account of the French Resistance that I’ve read. The danger of these years, the absolute peril that these heroic men and women put themselves through every single day, the torture they risked and endured when caught, the psychological stress they lived with, the loss of comrades whom they grieved for – all of this and much, much more is given to us in this tense, compelling and brilliant thriller.

Picaut uncovers a web of lies and secrets that goes back decades – chapters set in the past show us how this web took shape as we follow the members of the local Maquis in their daily fight against the Germans, most notably Kramme, the most despicable of them all. It is absolutely engrossing and even more so because we grow so close to these characters, watching their relationships form and intensify over many, many years. It is astonishing some of the sacrifices that are made for the cause. There are so many details that capture the imagination and add to the novel’s authenticity. I don’t want to give you any details about the story itself and the people you’ll love and hate within these pages – you must discover them for yourselves. But Sophie Destivelle is a character that you really need to meet.

Manda Scott’s skill in bringing to life such complicated relationships and emotions is staggering. It’s a complex book but that’s part of its joy. I ached for these people and I hated the evil. Good and evil battle it out here, the fight that never ends. We witnessed it in Into the Fire and it continues here, although sometimes both can be hidden. It’s like the end of the world to see such heroism and courage slaughtered while we must praise the valour of people like Picaut and others in this novel who live to fight the enemy. A Treachery of Spies is a fantastic spy thriller, it’s also a brilliant crime novel, but there’s so much more to it than that. A contender for novel of the year for sure. How I long for Picaut to return.

Other reviews
Rome: The Emperor’s Spy
Rome: The Coming of the King
Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth
Rome: The Art of War
Into the Fire
An interview with Manda Scott, author of Into the Fire

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony Quinn

Jonathan Cape | 2018 (12 July) | 288p | Review copy | Buy the book

Our Friends in Berlin by Anthony QuinnIt is March 1941 and London is enduring the nightly torment of the Blitz. Jack Hoste is an Air Raid Warden and he spends more nights than not searching the ruins for life. Not even his own home is safe from the bombs. But this is only one side of Hoste’s life. He has worked to gather a group of Fifth Columnists, Nazi sympathisers who want nothing more than to welcome Hitler and his troops to British shores. Hoste collects their information. He is their Gestapo master with a direct line to Hitler’s headquarters. Through him, they can shape the outcome of the war. Or so they think. Hoste has his on target in mind – to find Marita Pardoe, the most dangerous spy on British soil.

Amy Strallen has a most curious job. She works at a marriage bureau and her role is to matchmake. Amy had thought that business would fall off after the outbreak of war but, on the contrary, men and women seem keener than ever to find their partner for life. The fear of death – either on the battlefield or in the Blitz – has done that. One day a new potential client arrives at the Bureau’s door, Jack Hoste. He has reason to believe that Amy Strallen may be the only person who can lead him to Marita Pardoe. Amy’s life it about to be transformed and so, too, is Jack Hoste’s.

Our Friends in Berlin is the first novel by Anthony Quinn that I’ve read but it certainly won’t be the last – I loved this novel. It presents the perfect blend – wartime spy story, with all of the tension and secrets that you’d wish for, and a deeply affecting love story that seems all of the more fragile because of the times in which it is set. London during the Blitz is terrifyingly brought to life as ordinary people grow used to constant sirens, sleeping in shelters, the noise, death and chaos all around them. I can’t think of another novel I’ve read that made it feel as horrific and yet also so extraordinarily mundane – this is what life has become and people dealt with it. True courage is shown in these pages alongside the fear and worry. I was immediately caught up in it all. And that’s even more I got to know the novel’s wonderful characters.

Both Jack and Amy are thoroughly fascinating and fully developed individuals. They are so different from one another but each as interesting. Jack’s secrets have made him the man he is. We only learn very slowly more about who that man is. Amy is as much in the dark as we are, even more so. Their stories couldn’t be more rewarding to read about.

Our Friends in Berlin moves to and fro between the years, taking us to 1930s’ Germany as well as to later in the war. I was hooked throughout. More than anything, the novel has such a strong plot and it is supported by an unexpected emotional side. War, particularly the First World War, has cast a deep shadow over many of the novel’s characters. Loss is commonplace but always terrible just the same. It’s not surprising that so many people are searching for love, especially as many have already experienced it and had it violently torn from them. The Nazi threat is also extremely real and very, very close. The work of the Fifth Columnists, including the enigmatic and curiously fascinating Marita Pardoe, is a genuine threat.

Our Friends in Berlin is such an involving and at times emotional tale of spies, love, menace and courage during the Blitz and its aftermath. It is superb. I can’t recommend it enough.

The House of Shadows by Kate Williams

Orion | 2018 (26 July) | 425p | Review copy | Buy the book

The House of Shadows by Kate WilliamsThe House of Shadows is the final novel in Kate Williams’ De Witt trilogy, which follows the fortunes of a half-German and half-English family during the early years of the 20th century, through war, loss, love and scandal. As with most trilogies, you really wouldn’t want to start at the end so do read The Storms of War and The Edge of the Fall first. The review below assumes you’ve done that.

It is January 1929 and Celia De Witt and her brother Arthur have left their family country home in England and arrived in New York, a city of riches where fortunes are there for the taking. Celia has plans that could help save her family’s business – a range of convenience foods for a new class of person: independent, busy women. But Celia has more than business on her mind. She has learned that the son she thought was dead is actually alive and well in New York and the man she once loved is also in the city. Finally, Celia has the chance to put things right but there is so much at risk. So much that can go wrong. And then the Wall Street Crash happens.

I do love a good saga, particularly one set during these Downton Abbey years, and The Storms of War was a big favourite of mine in 2014. The Edge of the Fall, in my opinion, suffered because it was missing the great event that dominated the first novel, the First World War. Of course, it’s also missing here but the calamitous repercussions of that war continue to overshadow events in The House of Shadows, especially as the years pass towards World War II. The half-German heritage of the De Witts continues to mar their fortunes while also giving them a fascinating heritage. The main event of this third novel is the Wall Street Crash, which is covered really well here, but Celia is now making her way in the world, making her own choices for her future, and so she remains relatively unaffected by events. But others in her family are not so fortunate.

I have always found Celia a difficult character to warm to. Her treatment of the men who love her makes me grimace while her support for Arthur, one of the most loathsome people I can think of in fiction, is irritating, to say the least. Celia has a great deal of growing up to do but, as she tries to build bridges with her young son, it’s not clear that she’s learned her lessons. The novel’s new generation of children, Lily and Michael, are just as bad as the last one. Lily is given interludes through the novel but these can be quickly passed over.

I really enjoyed the sections set in New York City, particularly the scenes in which we meet the city’s homeless children who live in the streets and move across the city’s roofs. Celia makes a genuine connection with one of them and this relationship is my favourite of the novel. The aftermath of the Crash is also dealt with well. This is such an interesting period of history. The second half of the novel moves through the 1930s, years that present new difficulties and challenges for the De Witt family. Knowing that another war is on the way heightens the tension.

Kate Williams is a fine historian and the novel is full of historical details as we move from America to a Europe preparing for war. I love the sweep of it, the real sense that we’re witnessing history. There’s a dominating romance element to The House of Shadows which isn’t really for me (my fault and not the book’s), but Kate Williams writes delightful prose. It dances along, pausing briefly throughout to provide valued historical insight.

Other reviews
The Storms of War
The Edge of the Fall