Tag Archives: Crime

The Night Hawks by Elly Griffiths

Quercus | 2021 (4 February) | 368p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

A club of metal detectorists, night hawks, are out combing the beaches of north Norfolk for treasures when they come across the body of a young man, washed ashore. DI Nelson suspects he might be an asylum seeker but he soon learns that he was a local boy, recently released from prison. But close to this discovery another is made, a Bronze Age hoard with an ancient body, and it is that which brings forensic anthropologist Dr Ruth Galloway to the scene. Once more, Nelson and Ruth begin to work together. And then there are more deaths. The night hawks call in the police when they hear gun shots at Black Dog Farm – a man has killed his wife and then himself. Nelson suspects there is more to it, as do the locals, as rumours spread that the dead had seen the mysterious harbinger of death, the Black Shuck, a black dog, before they died.

I adore this series, just as I love everything that Elly Griffiths writes (I’ve recently finished her stand alone novel The Postscript Murders and can heartily recommend that as well). Ruth Galloway is one of my favourite people. She doesn’t feel like a fictional character to me. I’m so pleased every time she returns. The Night Hawks is the thirteenth novel in the series and, while you can certainly enjoy it as a stand alone novel, I would really recommend that you read at least one or two (or all!) of the earlier book first. The reason is that the true riches of these novels can be found not in their murder mysteries, although these are certainly enjoyable to unravel, but in their characters – Ruth, Nelson, Ruth’s daughter Kate, Cathbad, Jo, Nelson’s family, Ruth’s University colleagues. Their lives are entwined and complicated and I love them all (except for Ruth’s new colleague David, of course).

The relationship between Ruth and Nelson is one of the very best in any series being written today. We have been put through it as we watch their (not very) merry dance. The tension is great but the reasons against their relationship are just as great. It’s fabulous! And I love Kate. I rarely like children in fiction but I love this one. And I need a Cathbad in my life. He embodies the spirit of ancient wisdom that fills these novels. There is a huge sense of history and the past and, as a former archaeologist of many years, this really speaks to me – the pull of our past and its remains, the significance of the landscape, that tidal zone which mirrors the boundary between life and death.

Which brings me to another reason for this series’ huge appeal – the Norfolk coastal setting. It is glorious! The Night Hawks is set in one of my most favourite areas – Cley next the Sea and Blakeney, places I intend to return to as soon as You Know What lets me. Everything I love about these places is captured in The Night Hawks with an extra helping of something ominous, fearful and frightening. I love the mix of beauty and evil that fills these books.

The Night Hawks is, quite possibly, a cosy crime novel and I love it all the more for it, especially in these days. Everything that I want from a Ruth Galloway novel I found in The Night Hawks. I loved it. And what about Ruth’s new colleague David? Where is that going to go?! I could rave about these books all day and night. You could not find a warmer, kinder series of novels. Instead, I’ll urge you to read them and fall for Ruth, Kate and Nelson and their friends, just as I have.

Other reviews
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway 9)
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10)

The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway 11)
The Lantern Men (Ruth Galloway 12)
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens and Mephisto 1)
The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto 4)

The Stranger Diaries
Now You See Them (Stephens and Mephisto 5)

Daughters of Night by Laura-Shepherd Robinson

Mantle | 2021 (18 February) | 592p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

It is 1782 in London and Caroline (Caro) Corsham desperately waits for her husband Captain Harry Corsham to return from France where he has been for too many weeks. Caro amuses herself in the meantime by visits to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens and it is there that she horrifyingly comes across a friend, Lady Lucia, an Italian aristocrat, who has been attacked and dies in Caro’s arms. There are more shocks to come. Caro discovers that Lucia wasn’t Italian or an aristocrat, she was a prostitute known as Lucy Loveless. The police have no interest in hunting for the killer of such a woman and so Caro takes it upon herself to avenge this young woman, hiring thief taker Peregrine Child to lead the investigation. But what a world it is that Caro and Child discover as they become immersed in a London society that values paintings and classical sculptures far more than it does the women it craves.

Daughters of Night is one of my most anticipated novels on 2021 and how could it not be when it follows the superb debut Blood & Sugar? My impatience hasn’t been helped by the repeated delays in publication date due to You Know What. But now it is here and it is every bit as marvellous, and as clever, as its predecessor. There is a link – Caro is the wife of our previous main character Harry (who is largely in the wings for this novel) – but otherwise Daughters of Night stands alone very well. But I also think that the two novels complement each other brilliantly.

In Blood & Sugar Laura Shepherd-Robinson tackled the monster that is Slavery, focusing on the men and women, free and enslaved, of Deptford. In Daughters of Night, the author turns to the place of women in a Georgian society that believes itself cultured, refined and well-educated, largely thanks to its immersion in the classical past and its looted works of art. Caro is an unusual woman (you’ll have to read the novel to find out exactly why) and is largely at the mercy of her brothers while her husband is absent. She seems independent but we see how untrue that is as the novel continues. But while Caro is the main character she isn’t the only woman who matters very much in Daughters of Night. We follow the story of Pamela, a young girl who falls into prostitution and has her real name taken from her. Pamela’s very interesting. She regards prostitution as an escape from her previous life and she grabs what chances she can. She’s not always likable, far from it, but we care for her. And then there’s the powerful story of Lucy Loveless. We also meet wives and daughters and lovers of other men. There are so many secrets, so many lies and, for some, so little love.

Daughters of Night is a complex novel in some ways, while being always accessible and engrossing. It has many layers and it’s Caro and Child who unravel them. I loved the role of art in the book, how a famous artist would use a prostitute as his model for a goddess. These women are both muse and prey. There is so much artifice and hypocrisy. We see the men in the studio, in their clubs, in brothels, in their drawing rooms, with their creditors and in their hunting fields. It is through the character of Child that we’re given deeper access into this world.

It’s an involving story with a wealth of characters moving through the pages. I listened to the audiobook, which is marvellously narrated by Lucy Scott (well known for her depiction of Charlotte Lucas in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice) who brings these people to life, both female and male. But, whatever the format you choose (and it is a gorgeous hardback!), it’s engrossing and full of historical details that place the reader firmly in Georgian London, a place both gorgeous and squalid, with its (male) predilection for classical culture, for collecting women and for controlling them, even owning them.

Laura Shepherd-Robinson writes so beautifully and her characters are astonishingly varied and real. It’s a long book and I’m glad of it. I can’t wait for more. An early contender for my top book of 2021.

Other review
Blood & Sugar

Cut to the Bone by Roz Watkins

HQ | 2020 (25 June), Pb 2021 (1 April) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

When social media star Violet Armstrong, a glamorous advocate of eating meat, vanishes it is strongly suspected that she died in the abattoir in the Derbyshire Peak District town of Gritton, a place where she worked. No trace of her can be found but then there are pigs, hungry pigs. The suspicion of such a gruesome and terrible crime casts a shadow over the community, tinged with a superstitious fear of the circumstances of Violet’s possible death – there are rumours of a strange figure, the Pale Child, the sighting of whom means death and it is believed that Violet saw her just before she disappeared.

Emotions are high as vigilante groups join the fray, threatening to execute animals if the puzzle behind Violet’s disappearance isn’t solved. DI Meg Dalton is caught in the middle of an angry and upset community as she faces the question that perhaps Violet isn’t even dead at all and maybe there is something to be discovered in the dark past of Violet’s own family.

Cut to the Bone is the third novel in Roz Watkins’ fine series featuring Detective Inspector Meg Dalton. I love these books, which all stand alone brilliantly, especially because they so richly evoke their setting in the Peak District, a place that means so much to me, and also because of Meg. Meg is wonderful! There’s no darkness to her, she’s kind, witty and well-liked, with such a good team working beside her. Despite the disturbing crimes she must investigate, it’s always a pleasure to spend time with Meg in this atmospheric place. This novel is set during a hot summer and so there is a different feel to it as everyone must struggle in the heat. And once again it was wonderful to hear those names of familiar places.

This case is a little different because Meg, and us, don’t even know if there’s a body. There is so little to go on and what there is is focused on an abattoir, a place of misery (I’m a vegetarian so I am possibly biased!). Also perhaps because I’m a veggie, I did find the character of Violet quite difficult to like but she is quite a force to be reckoned with and there is much to admire in such a young woman. But it’s the parallel story from the past, of Violet’s parents and family, that I found especially engrossing. Roz Watkins is a fantastic writer and she is so good at fleshing out her characters with mood and feelings. It is a dark tale but it is a beautifully written one.

As usual with this series, it’s the figure of Meg who counteracts the darkness of the crimes and their perpetrators. She reminds us why this is such a special place. Meg doesn’t jump to conclusions. She’s methodical and yet trusts her instincts. We know that right is on her side and that, although the journey might be troubled, she will get there in the end. She’s tested to her limit in Cut to the Bone, tension is high and it’s visceral. You can imagine the squeals of the animals in their last moments, the blood and the violence, which isn’t just against animals. Because of the theme, I did find Cut to the Bone quite disturbing at times but, as always, it’s the Peaks and Meg that drew me in. I can’t wait for Meg’s return.

You can always tell when I love a series. I don’t only have the review book of this, I also have the smart hardback and the audiobook! I listened to the audiobook and it was brilliantly read by Caro Clarke.

Other reviews
The Devil’s Dice
Dead Man’s Daughter

The Stranger Times by CK McDonnell

Bantam Press | 2021 (14 January) | 415p | Review copy | Buy the book

Hannah Willis has got all sorts of problems since leaving her husband, home and privileged life behind – not that she regrets it – and now, for the first time in her life, she needs to find a job. Apparently her qualifications, of which she has none, are perfect for The Stranger Times and, after a particularly peculiar interview, finds herself appointed as the assistant editor of this Manchester paper. Of course, this means she has to work for Vincent Bancroft, the Editor, one of the most obnoxious and unstable people you could meet, who has fallen on bad times and would like to take it out on anyone he meets and especially those he employs.

But this is no ordinary paper. Its unusual band of reporters are on the look out for the strange and unexplainable – whether it’s a haunted toilet or a dog that was eaten by homework. But even they aren’t ready for Moretti, a very short American who has just arrived in Manchester, who leaves behind him a trail of deaths, murder, misery and pure evil. Sometimes the monsters are real.

The Stranger Times has such a great premise – as well as being a really attractive hardback – and I couldn’t wait to read it. CK McDonnell is such a witty writer. He’s also a good observer of people and it’s the people that really give this novel its colour and shine. The focus is largely on the paper’s employees. I particularly liked Reggie, a well-mannered rather posh gentle man, who, on the rare occasions when he’s riled, comes out as the Scouser he presumably once once. But each of the characters has a story that makes reading about them entertaining, and also rather touching. Stella, the office girl or lost waif, is so well drawn. Hannah is the main character and carries the story well as she looks on with bemusement while being very ready to roll up her sleeves and get on with it.

Manchester is such a fantastic location and is a character in all its own right. I spent my teenage years near the place (in the glory days of the Hacienda) and I loved the reminder of familiar names and places. It’s a great city and I think that’s captured. It’s full of life but there’s also an undercurrent, a potential mythology to it, every bit as much as there is to London, and it’s good to see the novel is set away from the capitol.

The Stranger Times is undoubtedly a very entertaining read. I loved the extracts from the newspaper’s pages that can be found scattered throughout. I laughed a great deal. I must admit, though, that the urban fantasy, and the horror, at the heart of the novel doesn’t feel particularly innovative or new. My main issue, though, is the character of Vincent Bancroft. A reviewer on the back of the book mentions Mick Herron and I did find that Bancroft was just too similar to Jackson Lamb. I’m a huge fan of Lamb and so I did have trouble getting past this. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the laughs that The Stranger Times gave me and I became very fond of Hannah and Stella. And I loved spending time in Manchester again.

Shiver by Allie Reynolds

Headline | 2020 (21 January) | 432p | Review copy | Buy the book

Shiver by Allie ReynoldsFive old friends arrive in the remote French ski resort of Le Rocher for a reunion. Their past together had been a glorious one – they were professional snowboarders from more than one country, competing against one another in the exhilarating and dangerous Half Pipe competition. But that was ten years ago and it had ended in tragedy in this very place. Millie had been in two minds about whether to come, but the invitation had come from Curtis, a man she had always had feelings for, even though she had had a relationship with another of the five. And she knows that the reunion must have particular meaning for Curtis. His sister Saskia had died here all those years ago, her body never found, lost within the glacier. But Curtis, Millie learns, is there because of her. His invitation had come from Millie. And now they all find themselves in an isolated, empty resort and that’s when the games begin.

I absolutely adored Shiver! There has been a run recently of mysteries set in chalets and ski resorts and I cannot get enough of them. Shiver is the latest and it is fabulous. I’m a huge fan of ski sports, including the Half Pipe (from the warmth and comfort of my chair), and I am amazed by the skill and bravery of the athletes. It is an absolutely terrifying sport and this book gives real insight into the character of extreme sports and those who do it. All five are larger than life personalities. They have to be to do this thing. And this means that their relationships are intense, immediate and alive. I can’t say that I liked all of these people but I was mesmerised by them.

The location is fantastic. The action takes place off-season but Le Rocher is one of those places where ski sports can take place at any time due to the glacier, but what a dangerous place that is with its deep, hidden crevices. This means that the hotel is empty. The friends find no staff. It’s a frightening place, even before it all sets off. But Millie, Curtis, Brent, Dale and Heather still find themselves come alive in this place, reminded of those days ten years ago. Their lives are nothing like that now and they can reclaim some of that excitement from the past. I loved that sense of adventure and resilience and mourned with them the passing of the years and their youth. But then there is a real shift as they realise the danger they are in. It’s hugely exciting and a real pageturner.

This is another of those ‘locked room’ mysteries. They work so well in remote wintry settings and it’s very effective here. It’s dangerous outside but perhaps even more so inside. The tension and sense of danger builds further with the parallel story of the tragic events from ten years ago, which are told from Millie’s perspective. Millie is struggling to reach the snowboarding levels of Brent, Curtis and Saskia and there is a very real rivalry between Saskia and Millie as they compete for places in the British snowboarding team. Their rivalry becomes a monster but it is also complicated by some intense and complicated feelings. I love how Allie Reynolds brings the young Millie to life. She feels very real. And then there’s Saskia.

Allie Reynolds clearly knows a great deal about the snowboarding world and this fills the novel, giving it a satisfying air of authenticity and insight. The danger of this sport! I knew it was dangerous but I had no idea. That’s one side of the very real appeal of this novel. The other is the fantastic building of tension, rivalry, and danger matched by the eerie location and the sinister mood. And yet there’s a beauty here – the landscape, the glorious jumps of the snowboarders in the half pipe and the pure exuberance of youth, a time that is destroyed. What perfect reading this is for these cold winter nights.

There are some absolutely gorgeous hardback editions of this on the way so do look out for one of those.

The Coffinmaker’s Garden by Stuart MacBride

HarperCollins | 2021 (7 January) | 496p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Coffinmaker's Garden by Stuart MacBrideA massive storm batters the Scottish coast, leaving the home of Gordon Smith on the edge of collapse, its garden and cellar collapsing over the cliff – revealing bones, lots and lots of bones. Ex-DI Ash Henderson, now working for the Lateral Investigative Review Unit (LIRU) alongside Police Scotland, enters the building and manages to grab some evidence before he only just manages to escape with his life as the storm claims the building. But he has saved photos of men, women and children, decades of victims, tortured to death in this house by a man who is now on the run.

This isn’t the only crime facing the city of Oldcastle. Young children are being stolen and murdered. Another boy has just gone missing. DI ‘Mother’ Malcolmson knows that time is running out if she is to find the child alive. Ash and forensic psychologist Dr Alice McDonald, move between the two cases, slowly moving from within the confines of the law to beyond it, especially when Ash discovers that Gordon Smith’s killing spree has not been stopped by the storm. Ash will be helped by a succession of women and men to try and bring these killers down.

Stuart MacBride is back. My favourite crime writer and I can think of no better way to kick off my 2021 reading habit. I adore all of his books, whether they feature Logan McRae, Roberta Steel, Callum McGregor, Mother Malcolmson or Ash Henderson. Every book is a triumph (A Dark So Deadly is my favourite crime novel of all time, followed by Now We Are Dead) and The Coffinmaker’s Garden is no different. It’s been a while since we’ve spent time with Ash and Alice. It’s good to see them back. Ash is battered and bruised, physically and emotionally. He has suffered. But he’s like a dog gnawing on a bone. His grip is total, his resilience incredible – he keeps getting up again, supported by Alice, a verbose, kind alcoholic, his best friend ageing detective Shifty and Henry, the dog that keeps on giving. I don’t think it matters a jot if you haven’t read the previous two novels. All is made clear here and we’re off and running from page one.

The plot is every bit as deliciously complex as you could wish for. You’ll get no details of that from me. The story lines weave around one another, pulling in a host of extra characters who are all three-dimensional and all populate this curious city of Oldcastle (a sort of Aberdeen but greyer, bleaker, wetter and far more dangerous – although Logan McRae might have something to say about that), which is a character in its own right. I loved meeting Rosalind Franklin (I think only Ash could win her over, or Henry) and Helen MacNeil, a tour de force. Other characters are so intensely villainous, they’re a joy to read, even if you have can only look with one eye squinting.

This is a gory and violent book in places (although not as gory and violent as it could have been) but it is also brilliantly written and so fantastically witty. I don’t know what it is about Stuart MacBride’s writing but he always manages to set me off with a turn of phrase. It is shocking, there is no doubt of that. These are brutal crimes. I sometimes think that it might be easier for Ash if he just put himself in an olive press and had done with it, get all of the bruises and crushings out of the way in one go.

I could sing the praises of this fabulous novel all day. Nobody does it like Start MacBride. Long may he reign.

Other reviews
Logan McRae series
In the Cold Dark Ground
A Dark So Deadly
Now We Are Dead
The Blood Road

All That’s Dead

The Stasi Game by David Young

Zaffre | 2020 (31 December) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Stasi Game by David YoungThe Stasi Game is the sixth and very possibly final novel in David Young’s superb series featuring DDR detective Karin Müller and her assistant Werner Tilsner. While you could certainly enjoy this novel as a stand alone read, I heartily recommend that you read the others first. Karin’s story, and Werner’s, is a compelling one and this is in many ways its conclusion, making it all the more powerful if, like me, you have become so fond of Karin over the years.

East Germany, 1982. Three years have passed since the events of Stasi Winter. Karin Müller and Werner Tilner are in disgrace, demoted and re-housed. Karin might work for the People’s Police but she’s been left in no doubt that it’s the Stasi who are controlling her career and her life. And now they choose to send her and Werner to Dresden where the body of a man has been found encased in concrete. The Stasi are taking a keen interest in the case and Karin becomes increasingly suspicious about why that might be so.

In a parallel story beginning in the 1930s, an English boy Arnold Southwick meets Lotti Rolf in Dresden while on holiday. The two become pen pals as both experience the horrors of war in the bombed cities of Hull and Dresden. Through Lottie’s eyes, we’re taken back to the fire storm that was Dresden in February 1945.

I am a huge fan of this series. Its setting in Communist East Germany is fascinating and brilliantly evoked by David Young, who clearly knows his stuff and puts it across so well. In The Stasi Game, as with others in the series, we’re also reminded of the legacy of World War Two on the DDR. I enjoyed the movement between the two eras and the surprising and engrossing development of the story. The scenes depicting the bombing of Dresden are truly powerful and shocking. With chapters set before, during and after the bombing, Dresden becomes a significant character in the novel in its own right.

The plot of The Stasi Game is fantastic, possibly my favourite of the series, and there are some changes in the relationships between Karin, Werner and with Jäger of the Stasi. I have always enjoyed the character of Jäger, the way that he hovers between good and evil, and he’s particularly good in this one. There is a strong sense that each has reached their limit, that something has to give, and that gives an irresistible tension to the book. We know how strongly Karin believed in the DDR and its values. Karin’s faith is challenged here stronger than ever. She knows now better than anyone what the Stasi are capable of. And we’ve reached the early 80s so time is running out for the regime.

All good things must come to an end but it’s always a shame when they do. I will miss my annual immersion in this world and with these characters but, if this is the end, it ends perfectly, it really does. If you haven’t yet read these books then now is the time.

Other reviews
Stasi Child
Stasi Wolf
A Darker State

Stasi 77
Guest post on the historical background of Stasi 77
Stasi Winter

One by One by Ruth Ware

Harvill Secker | 2020 (12 November) | 384p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

One by One by Ruth WareA luxury chalet high in the French Alps would seem the perfect place for a get together of business colleagues. Work presentations and meetings can be combined with forays onto the ski slopes, followed by après ski delights, all taken care of by excellent chalet staff. It’s just such a pity that the guests aren’t so much colleagues as bitter rivals prepared to put everything at stake. And then the avalanche hits. The chalet barely survives. It is completely cut off from the outside world, with no power and little food or heat. Murder follows.

I am thoroughly enjoying the avalanche of winter chiller mysteries that are being published during these dark months and One by One is brilliant fun. It is a true homage to classic Agatha Christie – a remote, cut-off location (ideally glamorous), a limited number of suspects (growing ever more limited as the murders increase), the revelation of secrets, puzzles. It’s irresistible and it works perfectly in a chalet cut off by an avalanche, a terrifying event in itself and yet about to be outdone.

This is one of those books that you really don’t want to know much about other than that fantastic premise. I loved how much of the story is given from the perspective of Erin, the chalet girl, who can barely believe the nature of the guests she has to look after. It’s almost as if she has to try and hold them all together. There are clues along the way, which are enjoyable to pick up on. I must admit that I did work it out but that didn’t matter. One by One is such an entertaining pageturner and in my opinion shows Ruth Ware at her best, following the tradition of The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs Westaway. It’s an ideal Christmas read.

Other reviews
The Woman in Cabin 10
The Lying Game
The Death of Mrs Westaway

The Turn of the Key

The Chalet by Catherine Cooper

HarperCollins | 2020 (12 November) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Chalet by Catherine CooperIn 1998, two brothers, Will and Adam, insist on skiing down a mountain in the French Alps during a blizzard. One isn’t as confident on skis as the other but both are competitive and neither one will back down, despite their guide’s efforts to make them see sense. One reaches the bottom, the other does not.

Twenty years later, Hugo and Ria rent a luxurious chalet in the Alps, looked after by the infinitely patient and organised Millie. They are joined by another couple, Simon and Cass with their small child and nanny. The intention is to tempt Simon to invest in Hugo’s business. But what should be a luxury holiday turns into a misery of unhappy relationships and that’s even before they discover the body of the long-dead brother on the slopes. When they are joined by a bereaved brother, the ski rep Matt and the chalet manager Cameron, that misery turns into a nightmare of secrets, vengeance and murder.

As we descend into Winter there is something hugely enjoyable about chilly, snowy murder mysteries and The Chalet is a fine example. It has that classic Agatha Christie appeal – a murder and a small group of suspects, confined together in an evocative setting, each suspecting the other. Here we have a group of not very likeable people, removed from their usual habitat, their personalities strained by circumstances and by each other, while being waited on hand and foot. Their manners only exist on the surface, the veneer of being civilised on holiday together soon brushes off, all observed by the chalet staff. Catherine Cooper is an excellent observer of behaviour and it’s all extremely entertaining.

The novel moves between the events of the present day and those of 1998, when Will and Adam bring their girlfriends to the resort for a holiday. The past and present mirror each other in many ways but I found the past story much darker and even a little shocking. But from that comes the nightmare of the present.

The Chalet is an excellent puzzler. I didn’t work any of it out and I enjoyed where it took us. And I loved the setting in the Alps! It even made me want to go skiing again (which is quite incredible as when I went skiing years ago my instructor broke her leg – definitely off putting). It’s a very entertaining, exciting and well-written pageturner. I read The Chalet in three greedy gulps – unusual for me in these times. It is undoubtedly a very good read for these long, dark evenings.

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