Category Archives: Crime

The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

Allen & Unwin | 2020 (7 May) | 352p | Review copy (ebook) and bought audiobook | Buy the audiobook | Buy the treebook

It is a weekday morning and people have places to be, except for Neil, a former teacher who now sleeps rough on the streets beside his dog Buddy. He wakes up to discover money in his begging cup and so he takes it along to Tuckbox Cafe in Balham, London. Shots are fired and the cafe’s owner Robert is gunned down, dying in Neil’s arms. Most people escape, fleeing for their lives, but a few remain and they become the hostages of the shooter, a young man called Sam. Mutesi is a nurse, who fled Rwanda, and is now trapped with her grandson whom she was taking to school, Abi is a barrister on her way to defend a young woman accused of harming her children, and then there’s Neil, who has lost everything. All of them must try and reach Sam, to save themselves. Outside the cafe is negotiator DI Eliza McClean, whose job it is to get everyone out alive.

The Secrets of Strangers is my second audiobook ‘read’ and I found it an engrossing listen. I have heard some good things about this novel and so I was looking forward to it. It has a fantastic premise and I enjoy action thrillers that take place over just a few hours, almost as if events are taking place in real time. The start is excellent. I really enjoyed meeting Neil and was gripped by witnessing the shooting through his eyes. Chapters then move between each of the characters – hostages, shooter, negotiator – giving us a fully rounded portrayal of what goes on in a siege situation, practically and in the minds of those who must survive or work for the survival of others, including the killer.

It’s all very tense and I quickly grew invested in the characters, especially Matusi, Eliza and, unexpectedly, Sam. However, towards the middle of the book I realised that I knew exactly how this was going to go and found the time spent exploring the back histories of each of the characters dissipated the tension and left little room for surprises. I would have liked far more of Eliza, a character I really enjoyed, with enormous pressures on her shoulders. As the novel progresses we spend much more time in Sam’s head. I found his story extremely painful to read, too painful, actually. Credit must be given to an author who can trigger such a strong reaction in their reader but I was relieved when we were returned to the present day in the cafe.

The Secrets of Strangers is a powerful, disturbing read, that is more character-driven than I expected. The audiobook is quickly paced, the narrator rushes through it, distancing me more from the characters than I think I would have been if I’d have read the words on a page. Nevertheless, I was so keen to find out how it all ends and the final chapters of the novel are utterly engrossing.

The Split by Sharon Bolton

Trapeze | 2020 (28 May) | 400p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Felicity is as far from her home in Cambridge as she can be, studying the glaciers of South Georgia in Antarctica. But even here isn’t far enough. Felicity is terrified, constantly looking over her shoulder for her ex-husband Freddie who has now been released from prison. And then last ship of the season arrives and on it is Freddie. Felicity must hide. But what brought about this fear and terror? To find that out we must return to Cambridge and the events of nine months before when Felicity works with her therapist Joe to discover the reason for her bouts of amnesia. She must unlock the secrets hidden within her, while evading those people she knows are watching her.

Sharon Bolton is a genius when it comes to telling the twistiest, most gripping of tales, supported by fascinating, fully-realised characters. The Split is another stand alone psychological thriller and it demonstrates yet again that Sharon Bolton is a master of the genre. This is an immersive read as we try and find our way into Felicity’s thoughts, desperate to find out what is going on, now and in the past. It’s a pleasingly complex story with Felicity and Joe at its heart. Felicity is a fascinating character but so, too, is Joe. I loved his relationship with his mother, a detective. This adds another layer of mystery as well as menace because his mother has a crime to solve.

I loved the sections set in South Georgia most of all and I did wish that book of the book were set there. It’s described so beautifully, capturing the desolate wintry beauty of the place, reminding me of the author’s earlier novel Little Black Lies, which was set in the Falkland Islands. Sharon Bolton is superb in evoking a sense of place, connecting her characters to their setting so deeply. This is also evident here, including the sections set in Cambridge, a place that comes alive at night, when the homeless and the lost begin to stir.

These novels are never as one expects, they’re always original and often jaw-dropping. The Split is no different. The novel develops in astonishing ways. I can say absolutely no more than that! But if you’ve read one of Sharon Bolton’s novels before, as I would certainly recommend, then you will know that you have a treat in store.

Other reviews
Little Black Lies
Daisy in Chains
Dead Woman Walking
The Craftsman

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean

Quercus | 2020 (9 July) | 410p | Review copy | Buy the book

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLeanIt is 1658 and Cromwell’s England is no longer what it was. Cromwell himself, who lives in palaces as a king in all but name, is rumoured to be dangerously ill while his regime tortures and brutally executes minor royalists for little more than unwise gossip. People are leaving the country, sick at how events have played out. But, while disenchanted Puritans head to the Americas, royalists head eastwards to Bruges where the exiled King Charles II plots with his impoverished court to reclaim his throne. And that is where we find Damian Seeker, a secret agent of Cromwell’s spymaster John Thurloe. Seeker, undercover as a carpenter, has a spy among Charles’s circle and the royalists are determined to identify who it is. Seeker hears word that a woman is being sent to sniff them out. Seeker knows that his identity would also be revealed and his fate would be sealed. But in a city full of English refugees, with both a convent and a brothel a focus for new arrivals, where is this woman to be found? The race is on to be the first to discover her identity.

The enigmatic Damian Seeker is one of my favourite figures in historical fiction and I always look forward to these books. Sadly, The House of Lamentations, the fifth in the series, is the last. This novel brings together the men and women, spies and double agents of the previous books and so, while it is a self-contained story in many ways, I would definitely recommend that you read these five books in order. The fourth novel, The Bear Pit, especially influences events here.

Knowing that The House of Lamentations is the last in the series, I went into the novel with some trepidation. The enigmatic Damian Seeker is one of my favourite figures in historical fiction and I always look forward to these books. I will miss Seeker very much. But history tells us that Cromwell’s Commonwealth didn’t last and that 1658 was a turning point in its demise. This was a dangerous time, of tension, uncertainty and cruelty. All of this is brilliantly captured by S.G. MacLean. The opening chapter leaves us in no doubt as to the brutality and unhappiness of Cromwell’s London and England in 1658. It’s a shocking opening and it feels like a relief when we’re then taken to Bruges and the shabby court of the king in exile.

Bruges is a change of scene for these novels and I really enjoyed discovering the city as it would have been in the mid-17th century. Bruges is in the control of Spain, Jesuit priests walk its streets. The city’s institutions are brought to such vivid life here – its convent, its brothel and its prison, all of which influence events. Then there is the house containing four of Charles’s supporters, not all of whom are as they seem. One of them is someone we got to know well in The Bear Pit. The reader knows this can’t end well. But there are new people to meet here, too, including the extraordinary and resiliently mysterious Sister Janet, an Englishwoman who became a nun in Bruges over fifty years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters spent in her company. Nobody knows what she’s up to. The Seeker may have met his match. I’ve always liked Lady Anne in these books. There is conflict and chemistry in her relationship with Seeker and, once more, this is one of the highlights of The House of Lamentations.

There is much more to this novel than its tale of spies and plots. There is another story running through it of a young woman with a terribly scarred face. Seeker is driven to find her and learn her story, even though he knows this puts his mission in jeopardy. We, too, are desperate to know. The curious link between the convent and the brothel is also explored so brilliantly as we learn about the choices many women were forced to make. There is an undercurrent to this novel. This is a man’s world in so many ways but the novel draws on all life, male and female, and, with the exception of the tremendous Seeker, my favourite characters are its women.

The House of Lamentations is a fine finale to a superb series set during one of the most fascinating, exciting and dangerous periods in English history. I was fully immersed in its story and its setting, which is brought to life due to all of the historical detail, whether it describes town streets, buildings, clothes, furnishings or people. This is an excellent historical mystery, spy thriller and adventure which is, as always with this series, beautifully told. If you haven’t read these books then now, with the series complete, is the perfect time to do so. You will not be disappointed. I look forward to going wherever this wonderful author next takes us.

Other reviews
The Seeker
The Black Friar
Destroying Angel
The Bear Pit

The Curator by M.W. Craven

Constable | 2020 (4 June) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Curator by MW CravenSomebody is going around chopping off the fingers of men and women and leaving them in the most inappropriate places across Cumbria. Analysis shows that each victim, none yet found, has lost two fingers, one taken off before death and the other afterwards. Some fingers show signs of anaesthesia, others don’t. It’s a disturbing case, not just because it means that there are at least three murdered people to discover, but also because the crime seems inexplicable. DI Stephanie Flynn of the National Crime Agency is called in to investigate, along with her team of DS Washington Poe and analyst Tilly Bradshaw. As they begin to unravel a complex and baffling case, they get a call from an FBI agent in the US who warns them that they are dealing with a deadly killer, the Curator.

The Curator is the third novel in the brilliant Washington Poe series (aka the Poe and Tilly series). The book stands alone very well and so you don’t need to have read the others – The Puppet Show and Black Summer – but you really should anyway! Like so many other people, I adore Poe, Tilly and Flynn. The relationship between loner Poe (and Edgar his dog) and the socially-challenged and utterly adorable Tilly is one of the most irresistible in crime fiction. I couldn’t wait to read The Curator and spend time with them again. It came as no surprise to me that it is every bit as wonderful as the previous two books.

While Poe and Tilly are undoubtedly the main draw in this series – you must meet them if you haven’t already – they’re not the only one. The Cumbrian landscape is beautifully portrayed. The Curator is set in winter. The countryside and coast are stunning, impossible to leave for most people in the book, while they are also harsh and even dangerous. M.W. Craven writes so well and not just in creating fabulous characters. You can feel the cold and isolation in these pages and also the glory of it.

The Curator tells a very clever story. The premise is macabre and fascinating and the plot is intricate and complex. Poe and Tilly are the perfect team and it takes all of their combined skills to tackle this killer. There are moments of true horror in the book. There are difficult moments for Poe and Tilly, especially Poe, and there are some dark times when I could hardly bear to look. It’s traumatic, it’s compelling and it’s immersive. It’s also warm and gently humorous at times. We’re under no illusion of how far Poe will go to protect those he cares for. That’s more apparent than ever in The Curator but, as always, there is Tilly who keeps Poe grounded by caring for him in a way that Poe is now comfortable with. I have always had a soft spot for Flynn, perhaps even more so now. This is such a fantastic series. I cannot wait for the next.

PS, I particularly love the cover of this one.

Other reviews
The Puppet Show
Black Summer

The House Share by Kate Helm

Zaffre | 2020 (14 May) | 386p | Review copy | Buy the book

The House Share by Kate HelmImmi is desperate for a new place to live. She’s fallen out with her boyfriend and is now an unwelcome guest on the sofa of her best friend. The Dye Factory in a great part of London and seems the perfect opportunity. It’s a state of the art building, offering five floors of communal living, along with a roof terrace with an honesty bar, a gym, a gaming area and library and a housekeeper, and all for a very reasonable price. There are rooms for eight residents and right now there are two free. Immi will have to compete for one of them in a series of interviews with the other residents during a house party. Immi gets one of the rooms. At last she can get her life back on track. Her fellow residents seem pleasant enough and the rules don’t seem too onerous. It all seems too good to be true. There’s a reason for that. It is.

I loved the premise of The House Share. The house itself is a big star of the book and I loved how there’s a plan of the house at the beginning. And, as things turn strange, there’s that feel of an Agatha Christie about it, where all of the suspects are gathered under one roof and the only thing uniting them is that each has at least one skeleton in the cupboard. The move from paradise to hell is an appealing one in psychological fiction and it’s done very well here.

The novel moves week by week through Immi’s probation period in the house. Our narrator changes. Most of the time we’re with Immi but we also spend time with the other new resident in the Dye Factory, Dex. The two of them are drawn together as the newcomers but they’re also suspicious of one another and it’s fun to watch their developing relationship from both sides. Neither, you won’t be surprised to learn, is quite what they seem. But, in this book, who is?

The other residents are very intriguing and more than a little odd. When strange and disturbing events begin to happen and to escalate, the residents become even more curious and unhinged. But how does this relate to the house? Immi is determined to find out and we want to know just as much as she does.

I’ve heard The House Share described as bonkers and I actually think that’s pretty accurate! That doesn’t stop it, though, from being thoroughly entertaining and a lot of fun. It’s well-written, humorous, dark and curious as well as being very hard to put down. It is implausible, there’s no doubt about that. But I was perfectly happy to go along with it. Why anyone would want to move into this house is beyond me….

The Babysitter by Phoebe Morgan

HQ | 2020 (28 May) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Babysitter by Phoebe MorganCaroline Harvey is murdered in her home in Suffolk. She had been babysitting for her friend but, when her body is found, the baby is not. A frantic search for baby Eve begins, obsessing the media and the public, driving on the police. Caroline herself is almost forgotten. But a couple of days later, police arrive at a luxurious villa in France and arrest Callum Dillon for murder. He had been on holiday with his wife Siobhan and their daughter Emma, visiting Siobhan’s sister Maria. And now he is escorted back to England in handcuffs, leaving his bewildered family to scramble back home after him. Siobhan’s life is torn apart as she tries to understand her husband’s connection to Caroline. Who was Caroline? Why would anyone want to murder her? And where is Eve? The world watches.

I absolutely loved Phoebe Morgan’s The Girl Next Door and I couldn’t wait to read The Babysitter, and it was every bit as good. Once more we’re given the treat of a stand alone psychological thriller, which tells a good story involving people you want to read about.

I love the structure of The Babysitter. The novel moves between the present and the past and focuses on Siobhan Dillon and the murdered woman, Caroline, whose life we watch in its final days leading to that fateful night. There’s a poignancy in getting to know a woman while being only too aware that her hours are limited. Siobhan is especially interesting as we try and discover just how much she knows about Caroline and her husband. She has to deal with the fallout of her husband’s arrest as it tears her family apart. It’s hard not to empathise with this woman facing such a crisis.

There are two other central figures to the novel – the innocent baby, Eve, and the not so innocent, philandering and vain husband, Callum. But just because he’s unfaithful, does that make him a killer? That’s the quandary faced by the detectives on the case who also have chapters devoted to them and their investigations. There are so many questions to be answered and this, along with the really appealing structure and the fantastic writing of such a fine author, helps to make The Babysitter a stand out thriller.

I doubt there’s a psychological thriller out there that doesn’t proclaim that you won’t see the twist coming. In the case of The Babysitter the claim is true. It’s extremely hard to put down, it kept me guessing and it’s very well-written to boot!

Without a Trace by Mari Hannah

Orion | 2020 (19 March) | 400p | Gifted copy | Buy the book

Without a Trace by Mari HannahWhen flight 0113 falls from the sky over the Atlantic on its way from London to New York, DCI Kate Daniels’ world crashes around her. The love of her life, Jo Soulsby, was booked on that flight as fall out after a crisis in their relationship. Kate can’t leave her work behind her, it’s always top of her mind, and now Kate is learning the cost of that. She rushes to London with her DS, Hank Gormley, a man who is as fond of Jo as he is of Kate, and manages to talk her way into the investigation, soon working alongside the FBI to solve the mystery of what happened aboard the plane and why. Meanwhile, back in Northumberland, a gangster has been found murdered. It’s a critical case and Kate knows she should be in charge of it, as does her boss, but she has only one thing on her mind, something she has to do, and that is to discover what happened to Jo.

I am a huge fan of Mari Hannah and Kate Daniels and I’m sure I’m not alone in being thrilled that Kate has at last returned! It’s been four years since the excellent Gallows Drop but it’s as if Kate hasn’t been away. Without a Trace is part of a series but this is a stand alone story and so you could happily enjoy it without having read the others. But if you have followed these books, then you’ll know about the yo-yo relationship between Kate and Jo and about the closeness between Kate, Hank, her boss and with the rest of her team. They are tight, very tight, and this has helped to make these wonderful books so special and so emotionally charged.

Emotions can’t run higher than they do in Without a Trace. Kate Daniels can be prickly, defiant and stubborn but she also feels intensely, with so many of those guilt feelings that many of us have to deal with, I’m sure. She is a fantastic creation. She feels very real to me. Her relationships with people can be difficult but her loyalty is never in doubt and the people she works with love her. I am so fond of Hank, her second in command. He’d risk everything to see Kate through this and he never leaves her side. We also see here Kate interacting with her team’s partners. This is a family.

The story in Without a Trace is great with it really reaching its unputdownable crescendo in the second half. There is a lot of detail about planes and airports in the first half, which adds authenticity and tension (and is very impressive!) but in the second half it’s none stop action and it is exhilarating. It’s powerful stuff, very much so. You’ll have to read it to find out why.

Without a Trace was such a joy to read. It’s comforting to be back with one of my favourite detectives and my namesake. Mari Hannah is a superb storyteller as we’ve seen from this series and from the others (the Ryan books and the Stone and Oliver series). She can do no wrong and we have been given a treat with Without a Trace. I hope we see Kate again soon.

Other reviews
Gallows Drop
The Silent Room (Ryan 1)
The Death Messenger (Ryan 2)
The Lost (Stone and Oliver 1)
The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)
The Scandal (Stone and Oliver 3)

Three Perfect Liars by Heidi Perks

Century | 2020 (30 April) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

Three Perfect Liars by Heidi PerksLaura is a director in an advertising agency and she lives for her work and her clients. That all changed when she had a baby. She had thought that six months’ maternity leave would be enough but when the time comes for her to go back to her job she discovers it wasn’t nearly long enough. But her husband has given up his lesser paid job to be a stay at home dad and now they need her income. So she goes back to the office only to discover that Mia, her maternity cover, has more than got her foot under the door. She cannot be budged and suddenly Laura feels far from secure. But why won’t Mia leave when she had insisted that she had to move on at the end of the six months? And why does something feel not quite right about her? Is it just envy and hurt making Laura feel this way? Mia isn’t alone in not wanting Laura to return. Janie, the wife of Harry the boss, who gave up her high powered courtroom career to support her husband, doesn’t trust Laura and trusts Harry even less. And she has a secret that she wants none of them to discover.

Two months after Laura’s return, a fire devastates the office buildings. All three women are the police’s chief suspects and each is questioned along with their colleagues. DC Emily Marlow knows that they’re all lying to her. But which of them started the fire?

Three Perfect Liars is a stand alone psychological thriller that I could not put down. This isn’t often the case for me, especially at the moment, but I was so easily able to lose myself in this story. I had thought before beginning that the fact that the committed crime is arson might not be enough to hold my attention but this was totally unfounded. The crime is an intriguing one and sets the frame for the story but the heart of this book is not about the fire itself but about the relationship between these three women, Laura, Mia and Janie. And I found all three of them so beautifully drawn by Heidi Perks and I was invested in all three.

Laura is a fantastic creation and it’s so easy to feel for her situation. I’ve been on the other side, covering maternity leave twice and there are elements of this that can be quite difficult, and it’s impossible not to sympathise with Laura who feels that the ground has been swept from under her feet while, on the other hand, she longs to do nothing more than spend time with her son and husband. The situation threatens both her sanity and her marriage. But Mia isn’t the baddie of the piece. She has her own story to tell and the more we get to know her the more we feel for her, too. The same with Janie. The secrets that each hides are deeply involving for the reader, exploring the burdens that some people must bear and hide.

Harry is at the centre of these women’s lives, for good and bad, and everything revolves around him. He is nothing like the women. He is weak, vain and seemingly intentionally obtuse. His life is the contrast to those of the women, including his wife. He surrounds himself by men. Laura was the only female director on the company’s board. There is a culture in his firm that isn’t good.

The novel moves between Laura, Mia and Janie and regularly through the pages are the typescripts of Marlow’s interviews with Harry’s employees. This is brilliantly done and really upped the intrigue and the pace. Everything moves forward, compellingly, until the night of the fire.

I’ve enjoyed Heido Perks’ novels before. She writes very well and creates wonderful characters. Without a doubt, though, Three Perfect Liars is her best to date and I can thoroughly recommend it.

Other review
Now You See Her

Burnt Island by Kate Rhodes

Simon & Schuster | 2019 (Hb), Pb 2020 (19 March) | 376p | Review copy | Buy the book

Burnt Island by Kate RhodesIt is Bonfire Night and the tiny community of St Agnes, one of the smaller islands of the Scilly Isles, gathers together to celebrate. It is also DI Ben Kitto’s birthday but he’ll be spending it on duty, supervising the bonfire and fireworks. But the party comes to a sudden and horrible halt when the remains of a person, burnt to death, are found on the appropriately-named adjoining and even tinier Burnt Island. Next to the body is a message scratched in stone, written in Cornish, warning intruders that they will die. There are clues at the scene that link the murder to Jimmy Curwen, a silent, strange and isolated man, known as the Birdman, but others on the island aren’t so sure. And when threats start appearing, also written in Cornish, Ben suspects that the killer wants to rid the island of newcomers. Then he, too, receives a message, and there are more fires.

I am such a huge fan of the Ben Kitto series and was so pleased to read Burnt Island, the third. Each of the books stands alone well and so you can easily enjoy the novel without having read the others but I have really enjoyed following Ben’s story as it develops through the stories. Ben was born in the Scilly Isles but he left to be a detective in London. He returned to the islands to be the Deputy Chief of police there and is now rediscovering his sense of place, working out his relationship with friends and family on the islands, as well as with the community, which doesn’t quite know how to regard him. Ben’s relationships with his deputy, Eddie (now a sergeant!) and his superior, the prickly DCI Alan Madron, are such a highlight of the novels. I love Eddie and his conscientious and cheerful character is such a contrast to Ben’s.

Ben Kitto is our narrator and so we see the islands and their people through his eyes. This is particularly effective because he is both an insider and an outsider and, like everyone else, has to deal with how to get along with a small number of people in a remote place that, at times, can be even more cut off due to the weather, as is the situation in Burnt Island. Families don’t always get along and friendships and relationships can be complicated. Ben feels all of that keenly. He is such an interesting man but, even more than I like Ben, I love his dog! Shadow plays his part in the novel perfectly.

The story is such an enjoyable one, made more so because we know that there is a limited pool of suspects and each one of them is quirky and secretive. Most people keep themselves to themselves. It all makes the job of detection that much harder for Ben and Eddie. But what makes these novels so wonderful to read is the location. Kate Rhodes writes so beautifully and evocatively about the Isles of Scilly. In each of the novels we move around the Isles, visiting different and lovely islands. This time we’re on St Agnes and it sounds absolutely fascinating and I am so keen to visit it as a result of reading Burnt Island.

If you’re searching for an escapist read that is really hard to put down and is full of such colour and interest, then I can heartily recommend Burnt Island. I can’t wait to spend more time with Ben and Eddie, and Shadow, of course.

Other reviews
River of Souls
Hell Bay
Ruin Beach

The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey Davis

Hodder & Stoughton | 2020 (2 April) | 399p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Grove of the Caesars by Lindsey DavisThe Groves of the Caesars is the eighth novel in Lindsey Davis’s now well-established Roman crime fiction series featuring Flavia Albia, the daughter of Marcus Didius Falco who, I’m sure, needs no introduction! Flavia took over the family trade of private detection once Falco retired (to focus on his auction business). The lack of status accorded to women in Rome means that Flavia might have trouble getting cases but she gets by very well indeed, partly because of her father’s reputation, partly because her husband is an official (who should really be investigating these cases himself but prefers to concentrate on his building company, especially since he was struck by lightning on his wedding day) and partly because Albia just seems to attract trouble. Each of these novels stands alone very well indeed although it is a great pleasure to read them all as they come out each year and long may they continue to do so!

Albia’s husband Tiberius has had to leave Rome to see his sister who is believed to be on her deathbed. It’s a terrible time for the whole family. Albia stays behind to look after the business but her mind is with her husband. Distraction comes from one of the building sites. The old grotto in the Grove of the Caesars, a park bequeathed to the city by Caesar and now rundown and home to the shifty and the criminal, is being turned into a grand nymphaeum or holy grotto as part of a plan to hopefully rejuvenate the place. The workmen dig up a large number of scroll fragments, each covered in, it transpires, scribbles from some long forgotten philosophers, just the sort of thing that might do well at auction.

But very shortly Albia is distracted from her distraction by something horrendous. A powerful man celebrated a big birthday in the grove and during it his wife went off for a peaceful walk. She didn’t return. She was horribly murdered. The same night two boys in Albia’s service who should have been at the grotto, also disappear. This makes the case Albia’s business and, in her husband’s absence, she works with local officials to solve a murder that soon appears to be the work of a monster who has been slaying women in the grove for years. How can Albia possibly stop The Pest?

I am such a fan of the Flavia Albia books, just as I am of the Falco books, and I look forward to each addition to the series. The Grove of the Caesars is excellent. Once more Lindsey Davis uses her considerable skill as a writer and as someone who knows an awful lot about the city of Rome during the 1st century AD to bring the place to life at this time – in its appearance and in its society. Albia always walks a great deal around the city. Through her eyes we see the streets, monuments, parks and river crossings vividly brought to life. It is such a wonderful way of immersing the reader in the past.

Albia is an excellent character in her own right, especially now that she has fully emerged from her father’s shadow. The story is told from her perspective and her narration is witty, warm and sharp. Listening to her, you would think that she cares about nothing but if you really listen to her you would see that she cares enormously and her detective work is one way in which she can escape the worry she feels for her husband and for others, in this case, the two children gifted to her family as some sort of joke by Domitian following the Emperor’s Black Banquet. This feast was a deadly affair and, although Albia discusses it humorously, it’s perfectly clear how horrific this event was and how fortunate her husband and her uncles survived it. What they’ve been left with are these two poor boys and their story is a powerfully upsetting one. Lindsey Davis is so good at this – using humour to disperse the horror and then throwing in something truly upsetting and disturbing.

One of the main crimes of the novel, that of the woman in the grove, is appalling and I did question if its horror is too extreme for the book, too incongruous. I’m still in two minds about that one but there is no doubt that there is a monster loose in Caesar’s grove. The novel’s story is a particularly strong one in the series and it develops in some interesting ways as we get to know the men who work in the gardens. Lindsey Davis is so good at filling her novels with the ordinary men and women of Rome, especially workmen, bar owners, musicians, prostitutes and so on. In this case we have gardeners. And book collectors! The story of the scrolls does provide such a welcome and frequent tonic to the darker side of the novel.

Talking of darkness, it shouldn’t be forgotten why Albia’s husband is absent – because his sister is expected to die in childbirth. Once more, Lindsey Davis reminds us that the people of Rome faced more dangers than those posed by their mad emperor. Married women died every day having children.

The Grove of the Caesars is undoubtedly one of the very best in this excellent series that both entertains and informs. Lindsey Davis is a marvellous writer – the dialogue is always such a joy to read. The Falco books are classics but in Flavia Albia Falco may well have met his match. He would be very proud, I think. And then he would try and stop her ever leaving the house again.

Other reviews
Enemies at Home
Deadly Election
The Graveyard of the Hesperides
The Third Nero
Pandora’s Boy
Vesuvius by Night
A Capitol Death