The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson

Hodder & Stoughton | 2020 (6 August) | 352p | Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the audiobook

It is 1728 and all is good at last for Thomas ‘Half-Hanged’ Hawkins, the one time minor aristocrat, and Kitty Sparks, the owner of the rather disreputable The Cocked Pistol bookshop. But they are not to be left in peace. Kitty is forced to give up the bookshop while Thomas is attacked in the street and discovers that there is a price on his head. Neither of them can understand the reason why but it’s not long before they begin to associate events with the arrival in London of the enigmatic, cunning Lady Vanhook, who has returned from Antigua with her favourite slave girl, Affie, by her side, a silver collar clasped around the girl’s neck.

The Silver Collar is the fourth novel in Antonia Hodgson’s wonderful Tom Hawkins series, set in Georgian London and beyond. It’s been a few years now since the last novel and so I was really excited to read this. You don’t need to have read the earlier books. We’re soon reminded of what’s happened before, but I do recommend them. The Silver Collar is my favourite of the four. I love Tom and Kitty. These are witty books and the relationship between the two main characters is so alive and vigorous (in more ways than one), partly due to the author’s sparkling dialogue. Tom and Kitty make me laugh but, in this novel especially, they made me cry, too. I have missed them!

The Silver Collar tells a fantastic story – it’s an intense, action-packed drama and it is driven by sinister and actually pretty terrifying Lady Vanhook. It’s hard for me to remember another fictional villain that I have hated quite as much as this one. But she’s also a scene stealer. Through her we learn much more about our heroine Kitty and so the reader is drawn to her even more.

These books are full of brilliant characters. I love Sam, the young boy from a family of gangsters who has sort of adopted Tom as a surrogate father. His mother, the gang leader, is hysterical (and especially entertaining in the audiobook). But there are new characters in The Silver Collar who leave a long and lasting expression – the young slave girl Affie and her father Jeremiah Patience whose story is utterly horrific. Slavery adds another dimension to the novel, a warning that there was far more to Georgian England than wigs, debauchery and gangs. The role of women in this society is also considered. Kitty, herself, is extremely vulnerable no matter how tough she thinks it is.

Parts of The Silver Collar are upsetting to read, especially, but not only, the sections in which Jeremiah recounts his story. But it is well worth the emotion of reading it and I must say that the ending is fantastic. This is a very good novel indeed, by an author who writes beautifully and with such empathy for her characters and this period, but who is also very witty and always entertaining. It is also a pageturner! I was engrossed in the audiobook, which is read so well by Joseph Kloska. And, as I mentioned earlier, if you haven’t read the earlier books, you really must! The first is The Devil in the Marshalsea (I don’t have a review up for this as I read it as part of judging for an HWA award, for which is was shortlisted).

Other reviews
The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins
A Death at Fountains Abbey

The Mitford Trial by Jessica Fellowes

Sphere | 2020 (5 November) | 360p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Mitford Trial by Jessica FellowesIt is 1933 and, with the rise of Hitler in Germany, fascism is beginning to become fashionable among British high society. Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists is on the ascendancy and his most ardent admirer is Diana Guinness, formerly Diana Mitford, who is not going to let her marriage, or his own dalliances, get in the way of attaching herself to him permanently. Diana’s younger sister, Unity, on the other hand, has a schoolgirl’s obsession with Adolf Hitler.

As if to clear their heads, their despairing mother plans to take her daughters on a luxury cruise to Italy. She needs somebody reliable to keep an eye on them. Louisa Cannon, the Mitfords’ former maid and companion is the obvious choice. Even though she has just married DI Guy Sullivan, Louisa feels she has no choice, especially when a strange man approaches her and suggests it would be in the interests of her country if she should spy on the Mitfords and any Germans that they might have contact with onboard. It all sounds deeply mysterious and intriguing but, when one of the passengers is found dead in his cabin, it also becomes extremely dangerous.

I am a huge fan of this series, of Louisa, of the mysteries that she solves, and of the intrigue, glamour and danger that surrounds the Mitford sisters, all brought to life in these novels. I live very close to where the sisters grew up and have been to events in their home, eaten in their local pub and visited their graves. They are fascinating, not necessarily always in a good way, and they reveal so much about the nature of the times in which they lived – in society but also on its fringes, where scandal can be found. Louisa is a bridge between normality and these unusual women. She is the one who can get to the heart of the matter, with or without the help of her rather bumbling detective friend and now husband, Guy Sullivan.

The Mitford Trial is the fourth in the series and you can certainly read it without having read the others. I read the first novel, The Mitford Murders, not that long ago and, as a result, immediately devoured the following two books. The stories stand alone with each of the books generally focusing on a sister. In The Mitford Trial it’s now the time to learn more about Unity, possibly the most notorious of them all (which is saying something when you consider the story of Diana). And so, if you’ve read them all, you’ll have more of a feel for their relationships and also for that between Louisa and Guy. I must admit, though, that this is possibly of less interest to me. I have still to be convinced that Guy actually knows what he’s doing.

This latest novel is different in that it is mostly set away from London and Oxfordshire. Most of the drama is set aboard the Princess Alice, a ship that carries such a strange bunch of crew and passengers to Italy. There is intrigue of every kind just as there is also the shadow of something sinister – there are spies at work, on every side. And while Diana and Unity see only glamour and excitement in the appearance of Nazis on the ship, many others don’t.

The Mitford Trial is an entertaining tale of glamour, spies and murder. It has that Agatha Christie type feel to it as our murder suspects are few in number and confined within the ship. The historical detail is marvellous and so too is its mood as we enter that dark period of 20th century history. I can’t wait to see where Jessica Fellowes takes us next as Diana and Unity become even more deeply involved with fascism, Germany and with Hitler himself.

Other reviews
The Mitford Murders catch up (The Mitford Murders and Bright Young Dead, now renamed The Mitford Affair)
The Mitford Scandal

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini

Tor | 2020 (15 October) | 880p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Kira Navárez is a Xenobiologist – her job is to explore alien life on other worlds and she loves it but she dreams of making that once in a lifetime discovery that would change the way in which people look at the universe. Unfortunately, when she discovers an alien relic on the uncolonised planet of Adrasteia, she does just that. The black dust surrounding the relic begins to move and it will have devastating consequences for Kira, for her crew and for the Galaxy.

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a mighty volume – at about 900 pages – and it tells Kira’s story in her own words. It’s an epic tale, full of tension, conflict, mystery and self-exploration as Kira learns to understand what it means to be a human when she is so intricately and intimately connected with another being. It’s fascinating watching her relationship with this new part of herself develop, just as it’s thrilling to witness the interactions of Kira and her crew aboard the Wallfish with two alien species – the Jellies and the Nightmares. These species are wonderfully described, especially the mysterious and curious Jellies.

I loved the Wallfish crew, especially Trig, but my favourite character, possibly in the whole book, is the ship’s mind Gregorovich who, its fair to say, is quite possibly insane and has an interesting turn of phrase.

I’m in two minds about To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. I love Kira – we get to know her so well and she is vividly and fully portrayed by the author. I also love the crew of the Wallfish and loved spending time with them. But this book is far too long, which dilutes everything that is so good about it. Too much time is spent on interludes that seem to offer little except to give Kira the chance to self-reflect. I enjoyed the development of Kira’s relationship with the Wallfish captain but there are some painfully slow scenes between them. But what kept me with it, quite apart from Kira, was the outstanding audiobook narration (all 32 hours of it) by Jennifer Hale. What a superb narrator! She brought Kira (and Gregorovitch) alive for me. I also really admire the author’s ambition and commitment to his characters. This book is clearly a labour of love and that shines throughout.

Pulpit Rock by Kate Rhodes

Simon & Schuster | 2020 (15 October) | 392p | Review copy | Buy the book

DI Ben Kitto and his team of friends, neighbours and colleagues are swimming around the coastline of the small Scilly Island of St Mary’s, in training for the annual summer Swimathon, when they make a terrible discovery. Hanging from Pulpit Rock is the body of a young woman and she is dressed as a bride. Sabine had left her home in Latvia to spend some months on the island, to improve her English, and now she has been brutally murdered. With his boss on holiday, it’s up to Ben to take charge. He locks down the island, he moves into the hotel where Sabine had worked, and he begins the hunt for the killer that he knows must still be on the island. And then another young woman goes missing.

There are some series that not only entertain and thrill but also comfort and Kate Rhodes’ Ben Kitto series is definitely one of them. I adore these books and always look forward to immersing myself in the beautiful, remote and somehow menacing small world of these islands, guarded by Ben Kitto and his dog Shadow. Although the islands are small, it seems as if all of life can be found on them, which does lead, unfortunately and hopefully fictionally!, to regular murders. And often the killers are islanders. The result is a fabulous series of novels which have the feel of classic crime about them – murder in a confined or remote setting, a limited number of suspects, the fear that anyone might be next and that the person next to you at the town hall meeting to discuss the murders might actually be the killer. But what gives these novels an extra edge is its detective Ben.

Ben is a fantastic character. He has a past in London, but it doesn’t intrude too much. That’s a world he left behind when he returned to the Scilly Islands where he was born. He’s in an odd position. He’s an islander who has known many people on the islands for his whole life but he’s also an outsider, having spent so many years away. His relationships are complicated, made even more so by his job, but they’re fascinating to watch. And I love Shadow, Ben’s dog, who guards the islands every bit as much as Ben.

Pulpit Rock is the fourth book in the series and, just like the others, stands alone very well. Its story is self-contained and such a good one. But I would urge you to read the other three, just so you can fall in love with Ben and Shadow as I have. The cast of characters is fabulous in Pulpit Rock, some we’ve met before and others we haven’t.

I love the way Kate Rhodes writes. This is such an evocative book. The islands play a vital part in the novels, which move between them. Places are beautifully described and there is such a strong sense of history and tradition surrounding them. Likewise the sea and the elements play their role. The communities are dependent on the sea for so much, not least as an escape for the mainland, and sometimes it turns against them. This time, though, we are there in the heat of the summer.

This series can do no wrong in my eyes and Pulpit Rock is completely fabulous.

Other reviews
River of Souls
Ben Kitto series:
Hell Bay
Ruin Beach
Burnt Island

Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard

Headline | 2020 (20 August) | 416p | Review copy and Bought copy | Listen to the book | Buy the book

It is 1868 and Jack Lark – The Captain – has returned to England from the American Civil War, a conflict in which he served on both sides, experiencing the very worst of it. He’s now resumed business in the rough part of London, fleecing the rich and foolish who are after a ‘good time’. To be fair, they usually get it but it doesn’t always go to plan. When one venture fails spectacularly, Jack has no choice but to flee the country. In what is perfect timing, an old friend and fellow ex-officer, Macgregor offers Jack a place on his treasure-hunting expedition to Abyssinia, along with Macgregor’s academic friend, Watson. The British Army is about to take on Abyssnia’s mad and terrifying emperor Tewodros and attack his stronghold of Magdala. And while they’re doing that, there will be plenty of chance for Jack, Macgregor and Watson to help themselves to Tewodros’ loot. If only it would prove to be that simple. Jack Lark is about to enter a hell on earth and he will have to fight for his life to escape it.

Fugitive is the ninth novel in Paul Fraser Collard’s Jack Lark series and it’s great to see Jack again. It has been a pleasure watching Jack’s rather roguish career develop over a fair few years. The man has been changed by his battles and adventures across Victoria’s empire and further beyond. These are books that you can pick up and enjoy as stand alone novels, so you don’t need to have read all or some of the earlier books first. I’m not much of a reader of American Civil War fiction and so I missed the last novel and now I’m delighted to see Jack back on his old turf and then in Abyssinia. Jack really suits places such as this – it’s unfamiliar, exotic, hot and dusty, horrendously hard and he faces a truly horrific villain.

This is exciting stuff and Jack Lark soon finds himself in the midst of it. The opening chapters of the novel are set in London’s East End but, far from being just a prelude, this section is absolutely brilliant! I love how the author writes and he really brings Whitechapel of the 1860s to life and it is most certainly every bit as unpleasant, violent and fetid as you’d hope. This is so well done. And when the action moves to Abyssinia the pace and compelling action continues. This is no sentimental tale. When people die, they stay dead and we know it could happen to anyone. Jack knows that, too. The descriptions of battle are exhilarating, thrilling and knowledgeable.

Jack strictly controls how much of himself he gives away. He has always hidden behind a disguise of some sort or another. He’s just the same here. Occasionally, though, it will slip as it increasingly does here with the intriguing Watson. So there’s a depth of character – we know Jack so well now – but there are also a host of other characters to enjoy, albeit more fleetingly, such as Jack’s sidekick Cooper. The mad Emperor is also a scene stealer and not necessarily for the best of reasons. What a nasty bit of work.

I listened to the audiobook read by Dudley Hinton. The narrator does a brilliant job of immersing the listener in this world, making the danger and tension even more real. Possibly it was a little too gory for me in places and there was a bit too much cussing for my sensitive nature (this is particularly in your face in the audiobook, probably less so in the treebook). But, nevertheless, I thought the audiobook was excellent and added a whole new level of drama and immersion to the experience of reading a Jack Lark adventure.

Jack Lark is one of my very favourite characters in fiction and it’s a pleasure to spend time with him again in what is one of the very best of the series. If you haven’t read any of the others, you will find so much to enjoy in Fugitive, not least Paul Fraser Collard’s wonderful writing and a character in Jack Lark who deserves it. And what a stunning cover!

Other reviews and features
The Scarlet Thief
The Maharajah’s General
The Devil’s Assassin
The Lone Warrior
The Last Legionnaire
The True Soldier
The Rebel Killer
Guest post: ‘I am a writer with a plan’
Guest post – ‘Commute writing’

Before the Crown by Flora Harding

One More Chapter | 2020 (ebook and audiobook: 17 September, Pb: 10 December) | c.300p | Review copy and Bought audiobook | Listen to the book | Buy the book

Before the Crown by Flora HardingIt is 1943 in Windsor Castle when the young Princess Elizabeth meets dashing Royal Navy officer Philip, a near penniless prince of the exiled Greek royal family. Elizabeth falls in love at first sight and, as the years and the war pass, Elizabeth and Philip must prove to her parents, the King and Queen, that they will make a suitable match despite the obstacles. And there are plenty of those, not least of which are Philip’s sisters with their Nazi husbands. Philip himself faces other hurdles. As a man about town, does he really want to tie himself down at such a young age and to a woman who would always be his superior and who, to be honest to himself, he hardly knows? And how far is Elizabeth prepared to go against her beloved father’s wishes and against her overriding motivation – her sense of duty?

I’m such a massive fan of The Crown, especially the first series, and so I couldn’t resist Before the Crown by Flora Harding. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a very familiar story but, even so, it’s well worth the re-telling and I like the way that the author does it. The narrative moves between Philip and Elizabeth’s perspective and so we see both sides of the story throughout the courtship, which does not run smoothly.

Elizabeth is not an easy person to know and through this structure we can see how Philip struggles to understand her. Is this a marriage of convenience or one for love? Philip really has no idea. The same is true of Elizabeth. She doesn’t know what Philip feels about her and she can barely understand her own feelings. This is an age of innocence, despite the bombs falling, in which people like Elizabeth and Philip can barely talk about these things, let alone share a kiss. It’s a dance, watched over by a very judgmental King and Queen, and it’s very entertaining to read about.

There are some moments that really made me laugh, especially a very long-suffering Philip’s time at Balmoral, being dragged up and down mountains by the King’s gillie. It all sounds absolutely horrendous. I must admit to preferring Philip’s sections of the book. The scenes with his sisters in Germany are wonderful as are the times he spends with his mother. Philip’s family history is fascinating and that is captured very well in the novel.

I listed to the audiobook of Before the Crown. It’s very good, not least because there are two excellent narrators for Philip and Elizabeth: Edward Killingback and Imogen Wilde. They do a brilliant job.

I think my only issue with Before the Crown is its sudden ending. I wish it had taken us right up to the altar. Nevertheless, it is a very entertaining romantic tale and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Saints of Salvation by Peter F Hamilton

Macmillan | 2020 (29 October) | 528p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Saints of Salvation by Peter F HamiltonIt’s always a special day when a new novel by the Space Opera Master, Peter F Hamilton, arrives on the shelves and yesterday Macmillan published The Saints of Salvation, the final novel in the excellent Salvation sequence. I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour. I rarely do blog tours these days but an exception had to be made for a novel by one of my very favourite authors, whose Pandora Star remains my all-time top science fiction novel. The Saints of Salvation completes the journey begun in Salvation and continued in Salvation Lost. You wouldn’t really want to start a trilogy with its conclusion so I do recommend you read the first two books beforehand. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

Time has passed – in the near future and the far distant future – and the Olyix plot to cocoon all of humanity to offer up every human soul to their god at the end of times is revealed. The astonishing plan by the saints to foil this plot is now underway and the two timelines are coming together as they converge on the Olyix. This is thoroughly exciting stuff especially as the few remaining cities of Earth are on their knees, their shields failing, sabotaged by Olyix agents. No longer can people step through a portal to new worlds and safety, now they are stuck where they are, separated from their families, while, in the skies above, fighter ships must make terrible decisions about whether to destroy enemy vessels, crammed full with human hostages. Stakes have never been higher.

The Saints of Salvation is, arguably, the most exciting of the three novels as events reach their climax. Less time is spent on character interaction. We know who these people are now and we know how driven they are. It’s good to see them again. I particularly enjoy the far future thread with Dellian and Yirella and this contrasts well with the continued tale of Ollie who is scrambling to stay alive in what remains of London in the near future.

The story widens even further in The Saints of Salvation. We emerge into a universe that is even bigger than before, a time scale that is even more immense, and plans and conspiracies that stretch beyond the understanding of our characters, our heroes, and our saints.

Peter F Hamilton is a genius in creating jawdropping concepts, strange beings and astonishing worlds and ships. He shows this yet again and the result is another all-consuming and involving story. Each of the novels is different, the scope widening with each, the sinister menace, insanity even, of the Olyix increasing. This is a novel of apocalypse and salvation and it could not be more engrossing or thrilling. I can’t wait to see where we’re taken next.

Other reviews
Pandora’s Star
Judas Unchained
Great North Road
The Reality Dysfunction (Night’s Dawn 1)
The Neutronium Alchemist (Night’s Dawn 2)
The Naked God (Night’s Dawn 3)
The Dreaming Void (Void Trilogy 1)
The Abyss Beyond Dreams (Chronicle of the Fallers 1)
Night Without Stars (Chronicle of the Fallers 2)

Salvation
Salvation Lost

For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.

The Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Century | 2020 (20 August) | 608p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Moonflower Murders by Anthony HorowitzRetired publisher and editor Susan Ryeland runs a small hotel on Crete with her long-term boyfriend Andreas Patakis. It should be the good life but Susan is feeling restless, missing London, her old job, something to test her. The timing is fortuitous, then, when she is approached by Lawrence and Pauline Trehearne, who run their own exclusive hotel, Branlow Hotel, in Suffolk. Their daughter Cecily has disappeared and her parents believe it is connected to a murder that took place eight years before in the hotel on Cecily’s wedding day. Hotel handyman and ex-offender Stefan Codrescu is now in prison for the murder. But just before her disappearance, Cecily had phoned her parents to say that there had been a miscarriage of justice, that she knew the real identity of the murder. Apparently, she had worked it out while reading Atticus Pund Takes the Case, a detective novel written by Alan Conway, the reprehensible and deceased author, known most of all for The Magpie Murders. If anyone can work out what it was that Cecily found in those pages, it is Susan Ryeland, Conway’s publisher.

The Moonflower Murders sees the return of the unusual sleuth Susan Ryeland, whom we first met in The Magpie Murders, which is such an ingenious novel – a novel within a novel and a mystery within a mystery. The recipe is repeated here and to such brilliant effect. Once more Susan must play detective, while feeling that she is completely out of her depth and, actually, in considerable personal danger, trying to second guess Alan Conway, following the clues in his novel while questioning her own set of reluctant witnesses, the family and colleagues of Cecily, all within the claustrophobic confines of Branlow Hotel. It is so clever! Resolution seems far off but it becomes increasingly vital as Cecily remains unfound and Susan begins to understand that she has stirred up a deadly hornets’ nest.

It isn’t necessary to have read The Magpie Murders first but it would help to understand the back history of Susan and Alan and also to appreciate the fabulous creation of Atticus Pund, Conway’s fictional German detective and refugee who solved cases in the UK just after the Second World War. Conway himself, although missing from the novel, is a vital presence, as the author of Atticus Pund Takes the Case and also as one of Susan’s many suspects for the murder in the hotel eight years before.

It’s all deliciously complex and twisty with more red herrings than a fish market. It is an intellectual exercise in many ways and so it’s difficult to become too emotionally involved in events or people but the reader is certainly engaged with it all, appreciating the wit and humour, and the games. To some extent, the reader is also a sleuth – there are plenty of clues to hunt for and it’s a delight to discover them when they’re explained, making a re-read desirable.

When all is said and done, The Moonflower Murders is a thoroughly enjoyable and very well-written classic whodunnit (in the style of Hercule Poirot, to my mind), that might play with the genre but also displays it in full glory with all of the elements you might want. Anthony Horowitz is such an entertaining and clever writer. I can’t wait for more.

Other reviews
Magpie Murders
The Word is Murder
The Sentence is Death

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

Raven Books | 2020 (1 October) | 576p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the audiobook

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart TurtonIt is 1634 when the East India merchant ship Saardam sets sail from Batavia (Indonesia) to its home port of Amsterdam. In its dark and diseased depths it carries Sammy Pipps, a renowned and famous detective who is now a prisoner, being taken to his execution. He is accompanied by Lieutenant Arent Hayes, his bodyguard and close companion, who is determined to discover why Pipps is to die. And to do that he must play a careful game with the Governor-General of Batavia, the cruel and powerful Jan Haan, who is also aboard the Saardam, with his wife, daughter, and his mistress.

It is clear even before the ship sets sail that this will be a tormented voyage. A tongueless leper curses the Saardam from the docks, foretelling three terrible miracles. And when the ship sets sail, horrible sightings are seen, sinister whispers are heard and people begin to die. Arent fears that the ship will never reach its destination for how can it when the devil himself, Old Tom, is aboard? The only hope is Sammy Pipps.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a glorious, ingenious masterpiece – it is hard to imagine a debut novel that is more difficult to follow. But Stuart Turton has done a fine job with The Devil and the Dark Water. It is very different from its predecessor and so stands on its own terms very well. It is a more traditional novel of historical fiction, its tale is linear and it is steeped in its time of the first half of the 17th century. But it is still another clever novel. The action takes place almost entirely aboard the Saardam and on the high seas. This means heightened claustrophobia, sickness, danger but added to this is the element of something strange and supernatural haunting the ship, terrifying its crew and passengers, driving them to violence, to madness.

You can almost feel the spray of the sea on your face and the movement of the waves when you read this novel. You can strongly imagine the stench below decks, the misery of the unhappy passengers trapped below, the undercurrent of violence that menaces the women in particular, and the evil malignancy of the Governor-General. Stuart Turton is a fabulous writer and he uses his skills to great effect as we voyage across the high seas on a damned and cursed ship.

The Saardam is arguably the most central character of the novel but she has a rival in the extraordinary Arent. The author has mentioned in an interview (it follows the audiobook) that there are echoes of Holmes and Watson in the relationship between Pipps and Arent but what is interesting is that the relationship is turned on its head. Here we have the soldier, the helper, dominate, while the famous detective is forced into inaction. I’m not a fan of Sherlock Holmes (I know, I’m sorry about that) and so I’m pleased to say that the similarities didn’t influence my reading. Arent is a marvellous character and, as his past is slowly revealed to us, he fascinates more and more. His relationship with the Governor-General is truly intriguing.

My favourite character of the novel is, undoubtedly, Sara Wessel, the Governor-General’s beaten and badly-treated wife. She has heroic strength, loving and protecting her daughter Lia, determined to do what is right for those who need help even if it will result in another beating. Her courage and goodness are the light in this novel. As the Governor-General cowers and hides from the dark, Sara thrives.

Menace and foreboding shadow the voyage, and the novel, throughout. It’s a deliciously atmospheric tale. It’s dramatic and pacey, the crew is horrifying and compelling almost to a man, and it is all so beautifully described. I didn’t find it frightening but I did find it very disturbing. I listened to the audiobook, which was masterfully narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt, and I can thoroughly recommend it. Having said that, there are some gorgeous hardback special editions to be found! I settled for both.

Stuart Turton is most definitely an author to watch. I love the way in which he plays games with historical fiction. I can’t wait to see where and when he takes us next.

Other review
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The Second Marriage by Gill Paul

Avon | 2020 (17 September) | 464p | Review copy and bought copy | Listen to the book | Buy the book

The Second Marriage by Gill PaulIt is the late 1950s and Maria Callas is the most adored and magnificent diva of the century when she captures the eye of Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Both Maria and Ari are married when they embark on their glamorous affair, mostly aboard the stunning yacht Christina and also around Europe where Maria performs on the greatest stages. This is a life of riches and champagne and Maria successfully hides behind it. Her reputation of being demanding is a mask for the reality of insecurity, a commitment to training and maintaining her peerless voice, a deep desire to have a child. Across the Atlantic, Jackie Kennedy would also seem to have it all. Married to the charismatic Jack Kennedy, a member of America’s most glamorous political family, elegant and beautiful, and on the path to the White House. But Jackie, too, is insecure, not loved as she should be, and destined for tragedies. When she needs support, it is Aristotle Onassis, a man drawn to beautiful and influential women, who provides it.

I love Gill Paul’s writing and I love the way that she invests so much feeling in her characters, bringing to life people that we may know well from history but bringing so much more to their portrayal. I knew a little of the love triangle of Maria, Ari and Jackie but I hadn’t thought about the real people behind it, just suspecting the motives of Jackie for marrying one of the richest men in the world. But in The Second Marriage, Maria, Ari and Jackie are vividly real and complex, displaying the author’s incredible insight into their natures and motivations.

Jackie is just as I imagine her but more intensely so, while Ari is charismatic, powerful and attentive. He is seen through the eyes of Maria and Jackie. We see how duplicitous he is, how much he hides from each but also how protective he is, how much he gives, emotionally as well as materially. We also wonder about his actions behind the scenes, what he might be doing that Maria and Jackie might not be aware of.

But the triumph of this outstanding novel is Maria Callas who, appropriately enough, dominates its stage. She is a tour de force of a character and personality, extremely complicated, full of intense feeling, dramatic, capable of such love. I absolutely adored her. Her relationship with Ari is intense and fiery. Her devotion to her craft is staggering and so fascinating to learn about. Maria’s relationship with her voice is a central theme of the novel. She is a glorious star, and we witness that side of her, but we also see her off stage and she is fabulous.

The novel moves between Maria and Jackie over a period of many years. We witness the big events of their lives, some well-known, others less so, and it is mesmerising as well as dramatic. It is also at times extremely sad and I cried and cried over bits of this novel. When I finished it, I felt bereft, that I’d been part of a great story with astonishing people and I was so loath to leave them behind.

I listened to the audiobook. I am in awe of its narrator Lisa Flanagan. The voices of Maria and Jackie are incredible and made me feel even closer to these women.

The Second Marriage is most definitely a contender for my top book of 2020.

Other reviews and features
Guest post: Gill Paul, author of No Place for a Lady, ‘on feminism, bereavement and squeamishness’
The Secret Wife
Another Woman’s Husband
Guest post: ‘Historical Sources for Another Woman’s Husband
The Lost Daughter