Tag Archives: Crime

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

Magpie Lane by Lucy Atkins

Quercus | 2020 (2 April) | 354p | Review copy | Buy the book

Magpie Lane by Lucy AtkinsDee becomes a person of interest to the police when 8-year-old Felicity disappears from her Oxford home. Dee is Felicity’s nanny and Felicity is no ordinary child. She is the daughter of Nick, the new high-profile Master of one of Oxford’s colleges, and the stepdaughter of Nick’s glamorous and pregnant Danish wife, Mariah. Felicity is selectively mute. She hardly ever speaks and, when she does, it’s only to her father and never to Mariah. But now she speaks to Dee, the Scottish nanny who feels drawn to this strange child, who collects bones and other creepy things, arranging them in enigmatic patterns on her bedroom floor, to keep her safe from the ghosts she believes haunts her home, an old college building with a past. Dee joins forces with a curious and eccentric house historian, Linklater, to try and help Felicity understand what secrets the house hides. This is Dee’s side of the story and when Felicity vanishes what are the police to think?

I was so excited to read Magpie Lane and for two very good reasons. I loved Lucy Atkins’ previous novel The Night Visitor, with its gorgeously told creepy tale of the relationship between a writer and the housekeeper of a manor house. Secondly, Magpie Lane is set in my hometown of Oxford. I know well the lane, with its infamous history, that names the novel and I love where this book takes us – into the old colleges, the back lanes and alleys, the hidden churchyards, as well as into its stuffy and old traditions. This can be a claustrophobic place, especially if you’re not used to it and are unfamiliar with Oxford’s ‘town and gown’ divisions. For all its faults, this is the Oxford I know and love and, although it’s stifling at times, it is also so beautiful and so full of history.

This Oxford is exactly what Lucy Atkins captures in Magpie Lane. Dee is an outsider, just like Nick and Mariah, and they resist its charm. Mariah removes all of the portraits of men’s heads from their lodgings. Nick is a television figure and an unpopular Master. He isn’t one to cope with the restrictions of his college’s Governing Body. He and Mariah see their stay in Oxford to be transitory, and so, too, does Dee. She’s reluctant to take the job at all. But then she falls for Felicity and Linklater comes along, a man who couldn’t be more steeped in Oxford tradition and history if he tried. He is almost part of its buildings, forgotten and neglected by the city that he has felt unable to escape. The descriptions of Oxford and its hidden places are so gorgeously done. I especially enjoyed the pages we spend exploring the quiet and secret churchyards, where so many familiar and significant figures rest unnoticed.

Felicity is a part of this world. Although this is on one level a missing child crime novel, that’s not really what Magpie Lane is about. This is the story of Dee, Felicity and Linklater, as told by Dee. There is a strong supernatural feel to it. There are moments that are genuinely disturbing. Felicity herself is the novel’s haunted child, while her home makes for a perfect haunted house. Linklater is almost the exorcist. Dee herself is a mystery. Glimpses of her past are revealed throughout and this is complemented by the questioning from the police, one of whom is intriguingly named Faraday (Dee really does seem to be inside a Faraday cage at times), which makes the reader also ask questions about the truth of what Dee has told us. Each chapter begins and ends with more of the interrogation, again told by Dee to us. In between the questions, Dee reveals more about her relationship with Felicity, Linklater and Felicity’s parents. It is utterly engrossing and not a little creepy.

Linklater is my favourite character of the novel. What a wonderful creation he is! He is completely eccentric, almost humorously so, but he also feels like a tragic character to me. He, too, is stuck in a cage, like Dee and like Felicity. I enjoyed his presence in the novel very much indeed.

Magpie Lane is such a delight. It’s clever, always beautifully written and its characters are all enormously involving, even Nick and especially Mariah, his wife who slowly unravels before our eyes. It’s a puzzle to work out as we try and understand Dee while we fall deeply for the troubled Felicity, just as Dee does. And all the time we’re reminded of the past forcing its way into the present. The past surrounds and fills this house. Lucy Atkins captures the atmosphere and chills of this perfectly, making Magpie Lane an irresistible and always entertaining read.

Other review
The Night Visitor

The Cutting Place by Jane Casey

HarperCollins | 2020 (16 April) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Cutting PlaceWhen a severed hand is pulled out of the Thames, a case begins for DS Maeve Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent that will strike at the heart of London’s establishment. Further remains are discovered and they’re identified as young journalist Paige Hargreaves. Paige had been working on a story involving the Chiron Club, a private society for some of the richest men in London, men who are so privileged that they need something extra in their lives, something criminal and very dark indeed. This is a world in which its members all have secrets and are prepared to lie, even kill, to protect their own and Maeve and Josh know that they are going to have to solve this the hard way, at great risk to themselves, as the net around them begins to close.

The Cutting Place is the eighth novel in Jane Casey’s superb Kerrigan and Derwent series and I think it represents a landmark book in a series that has excelled from the beginning. You could read it on its own quite easily and enjoy it for the superb crime thriller it is but, if you’ve been a fan, like me, of these two detectives for quite some time, then this book will make your jaw drop. And I don’t say that lightly because that sort of thing is often claimed for a book and it doesn’t always deliver, leading to disappointment. But there’s none of that here. I love Maeve and Josh. I love their unusual relationship, which is often not easy, it’s certainly complicated, and it can be agonising. I love their personalities. Both can be frustrating and irritating but Maeve in particular is as tough as nails and yet as vulnerable as one could be. Josh knows this. His protection of her is intense. Their relationship is platonic, which might surprise some of their colleagues, but it’s certainly very real.

In The Cutting Place, the stunning mystery shares centre stage with events in the lives of both Maeve and Josh as things happen that make them both change their attitude to what they see around them. It makes things more tetchy, more difficult and heartrending. And then something happens that knocks the ground out from under our feet and we want to hold these two very real people close, especially one of them. I’m not going to talk here about any of that as you need to go into it on your own. These are dark issues and Jane Casey, the most fantastic of writers, deals with it beautifully and with such heart.

With no doubt at all, and like others have said, The Cutting Place is the best in a series that is very fine indeed. This is an extraordinary achievement! To better something that is nigh on perfect in itself. The writing is beautiful, the tension is tight, the characters are fascinating and complex. We’re taken into some difficult places and we see some of the worst and best of behaviour. It’s gripping throughout and utterly engrossing. If you haven’t read this series before, do give it a go. Maeve and Josh are people you will want in your literary lives. The crime shelf is a crowded place but The Cutting Place most definitely stands out.

Other reviews
After the Fire
Let the Dead Speak
Cruel Acts

The Last Protector by Andrew Taylor

HarperCollins | 2020 (2 April) | 417p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last Protector by Andrew TaylorThe Last Protector is the fourth novel in Andrew Taylor’s fine series that portrays the intrigue, decadence and fragility of Charles II’s Restoration court in the years beginning with and following the Great Fire of London. This is most definitely a series and so, although you could read it on its own and enjoy it, you really need to read these books in order, to follow the course of events and to understand the relationship between government agent and lawyer James Marwood and Cat Lovett, the daughter of a regicide. This review assumes you’ve done just that.

It is 1668 and the honeymoon period following the restoration of Charles II and the monarchy is most definitely over. The King’s court is a hotbed for dissent, rivalry, licentiousness, cuckoldry and rebellion. Unfortunately for James Marwood, son of a traitor and now a lawyer and government agent, he’s once more thrown into the deadly heart of it. He is sent to spy on a duel between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Shrewsbury and, unluckily, Marwood is spotted by Buckingham’s men. The duel was ostensibly due to Buckingham having an affair with Lady Shrewsbury but Marwood, and his boss Lord Arlington, the Secretary of State, knows that it goes far deeper than that. Buckingham is plotting against the King.

Events grow ever more dangerous when Cat, now uneasily married to her elderly employer architect Mr Hakesby, is greeted by an old acquaintance. Elizabeth Cromwell, the granddaughter of none other than Oliver Cromwell is in town and with her is her father, Richard Cromwell, the last Protector. He is a man with a price on his head and someone that Buckingham wants in his power. Both Marwood and Cat are caught in a web of treachery and sedition and the stakes couldn’t be higher, or their lives more expendable.

I do enjoy this series. There are plenty of reasons for this but, as I read The Last Protector, I was reminded once more at just how skilfully Andrew Taylor can evoke the past. Just the right amount of detail is used to bring 17th-century London to life, with its busy river, its Tudor warren of alleys, apartments, brothels, inns and palaces, where the poor and the rich seem almost to live on top of one another, except for those oases of grand houses and gardens on the Strand. This book is full of the colour, smells, stench, misery and grandeur of London life at this time. As in previous novels, we’re reminded of how the most vulnerable suffer. In The Last Protector it’s the turn of the young prostitutes and the strange man who scrapes clean the royal sewers.

The characters are always interesting and I do enjoy the glimpses we’re given of Charles II. He’s devious and decadent and he’s also entertaining – as we see here with his little spaniels – but he is more canny of what’s going on than some might think. In this novel we meet the Cromwells and it’s an intriguing portrait of Richard Cromwell, the man who grew up in a palace and now must live abroad, secretly and quietly.

The heart of the novel rests with Marwood and Cat. The paths of the two don’t cross quite as much as in previous novels but, when they are together, the tension is as strong as ever, with the added complication of Mr Hakesby. We’ve seen the relationship of Mr Hakesby and Cat change over the years and now we see the old man in yet another light. What really stands out in this novel are the portrayals of the put upon and the abused, the prostitutes and Ferrus, the mazer-scourer’s labourer, the poor, damaged man who clears out the court’s excrement. As you can imagine, there is an awful lot of it.

The Last Protector tells an excellent story. It’s thrilling and also clever. There are moments when I was on the edge of my seat. Most of all, though, I just thoroughly enjoyed being transported to this other time and place where there is so much to see around every corner. This is an excellent series, now fully established, and I look forward to the next.

Other reviews
The Ashes of London
The Fire Court
The King’s Evil