Review 1508: The Gallows Pole

In a remote Yorkshire valley in 1767, David Hartley and his brothers call together all the clippers in the area. Clippers have for centuries been debasing the coin of the realm by clipping edges off to make counterfeit coin. Hartley is already known as King David in the region for his control of the valley that his home lies above on the moor, but now he declares that they will all become rich by becoming systematic. All the people in the area will send him coins, and in return they will all get a portion of the proceeds. To make more money, he brings in a man called the Alchemist, who will make more convincing coins. Any man who refuses to participate is brought into line.

Within two years, this gang has caused enough disturbance in the local economy that an exciseman, William Deighton, is brought in to try to bring the Hartleys and their gang to law. James Broadbent, a member of the gang who thinks he hasn’t been rewarded enough, decides to turn informant.

On the one hand, this novel is at times lyrical, especially in evoking the landscape, and it is based on true events. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the subject or the brutality. There is a lot of fascination in our society with people who are essentially gangsters that I don’t share. Although Myers tells most of the story in a fair-handed way, he does seem to come down a bit on the side of the thieves, even as he recounts some crimes against innocent men. This book won the Walter Scott Historical Fiction Prize for 2018, but I’m not sure it’s the one I would have picked.

Related Posts

Hodd

Harvest

Ulverton

Review 1505: Cold Earth

Jimmy Perez is attending the funeral of Magnus, an old man who was a recluse for years, when the hillside above the cemetery collapses in a landslide, taking out a cottage further down the hill. Jimmy thinks the cottage is unoccupied, but he goes to check. There he finds the body of a woman, apparently killed in the slide.

While Jimmy’s team struggles to identify the woman, the coroner lets them know that the woman was already dead inside the cottage. She was strangled. Jimmy must call in his boss, Willow Reeves, from the mainland. He finds he’s thinking of her more and more.

When the team thinks they’ve identified the woman as the American owner of the cottage, they have another setback. She is at work in New York and has no idea who might be using her cottage. In any case, the dead woman was using her name when she crossed over to the island.

As usual with Cleeves, this was an interesting but difficult puzzle. I have to say that there was so little apparent connection between the victim and the murderer that it was almost cheating. Also, the novel seemed to conclude a little too quickly after the build-up at the end. Still, I enjoyed reading it.

Related Posts

Thin Air

Blue Lightning

White Nights

Review 1483: Sun Storm

Stockholm attorney Rebecka Martinsson is called home to Kirina by her ex-housemate and girlfriend, Sanna Strandgård. Sanna’s brother, Viktor, was found viciously slaughtered in the Source of All Strength church, which he helped build. Sanna discovered the body, and she wants Rebecka with her when she is questioned by the police.

The atmosphere of Kirina, the freezing northernmost town in Sweden, is strong in this book. Rebecka is not eager to return to Kirina, because years ago she was a member of the church, and she was ousted under shameful conditions. Now, as she looks into the church, finding the members are all stonewalling the investigators instead of helping them, she begins to believe the truth lies within the church itself.

Meanwhile, Inspector Anna-Maria Mella, supposedly on desk duty while she is hugely pregnant, has been helping her colleague Sven-Erik Stålnacke. They not only are getting nowhere with the church members but are being hindered in their work by Prosecutor Carl Von Post, who is throwing his weight around.

I found this mystery interesting as it examines the psyches of religious zealots and corrupt leaders. The killer is revealed before the end of the book, but that adds to the suspense.

Related Posts

The Preacher

Death Angels

Betrayal

Review 1469: The Long Call

The Long Call is the first book in Ann Cleeves’s new mystery series set in North Devon. It features Matthew Venn, a detective who differs from Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez in that he is gay, married, and immaculately dressed, also unsure of himself.

The body of a man is discovered out on Crow Point near Matthew’s house. He has been stabbed, and he has no identification, so it takes a while for Matthew’s team to figure out who he is.

He turns out to be Simon Walden, a recently homeless man with alcohol abuse issues who volunteered at the Woodyard, a warehouse that was converted to a center offering studios for local artists, classes to the community, and a day center for mentally disabled adults. Matthew’s husband is the director of that center, so he wonders if he should take himself off the job.

link to NetgalleyIn investigating Simon, the police find more connections to the Woodyard. One of his roommates was Gaby, an artist who teaches there and disliked him. Also, a Downs Syndrome woman named Lucy who uses the center reports that he was her friend, he rode the bus with her out to Lovacott every day in the past few weeks. The police can’t figure out what he was doing there. Soon, the connections become even stronger when a Downs Syndrome woman named Chrissie goes missing from the Woodyard. Something tells Matthew that the events are related.

As usual, Cleeves presents us with a difficult mystery. I found Matthew somewhat unknowable with less of a persona than her other detectives, Vera and Jimmy, but that may be because I discovered both of those series through the television programs. I am more than willing to read another Matthew Venn book.

Related Posts

Thin Air

The Glass Room

Silent Voices

Review 1415: The Poison Bed

In 1615 London, a glittering couple was imprisoned in the Tower for murder. They were Robert Carr, long a favorite of King James, and his wife Frances of the powerful Howard family. The victim was Thomas Overbury, a friend of Robert’s who was poisoned while imprisoned in the Tower.

The narration of this novel is split between Frances in the third person and Robert in the first person. It tells the story of their meeting, when Frances was married to the Earl of Essex, and their subsequent struggles to be married, which resulted, almost as collateral damage, in Overbury’s death. One of these narrators is undoubtedly unreliable, however.

This novel was based on a scandal in Jacobean England, and Freemantle proposes a theory of its solution, although the truth is still not understood. A few reviewers have criticized it as being historically inaccurate. Based on my very little research, I can’t speak to that, but I can say that, considering the subject was interesting to me, the novel dragged curiously at times. Perhaps this was a result of the he said, she said format. It got a little more interesting when the truth about one narrator came out, but then it dragged again.

Related Posts

Viper Wine

Merivel: A Man of His Time

The Journal of Mrs. Pepys

Review 1337: Silent Voices

Cover of Silent VoicesVera Stanhope has taken her doctor’s advice and is swimming regularly at a health club. One morning, she finds the body of a middle-aged woman in the steam room. She has been strangled.

The victim is Jenny Lister, a social worker. She seems not to have any enemies, although she was the supervisor of Connie Masters, a social worker who was recently vilified when a boy under her care was murdered by his mother. Jenny’s daughter, Hannah, is devastated, and Hannah’s boyfriend, Simon Eliot, is very protective of her.

At the health club there has been a series of petty thefts, and Jenny’s handbag is missing. The thefts started when Danny Shaw became a cleaner, but are the thefts connected to the murder? Jenny might have been writing a book that she kept in the handbag.

As the investigation goes in several directions, Vera’s team soon feels as if it has too much to handle. Then Danny Shaw’s body is discovered.

This is another of Ann Cleeves’s complex but engrossing mysteries, set in Northern England. I think that Cleeves really has a talent for characterization and complex plots. I am enjoying this series.

Related Posts

Hidden Depths

Telling Tales

The Crow Trap

 

Review 1324: All Done by Kindness

Cover for All Done by KindnessMy friend Deb recommended that I read All Done by Kindness based on a post she read by Furrowed Middlebrow. Such is the power of the web, though, that by the time I looked for it, the few copies available were expensive. I had to borrow hers.

Caper books and movies were popular in the 1950’s and 60’s, and All Done by Kindness fits the description, telling the story of a crime committed with worthy motives, a light-hearted caper with a dash of romance. It begins with a visit by Dr. Sandilands to an elderly patient, Mrs. Hovenden. Mrs. Hovenden’s family has been wealthy, but since the war, Mrs. Hovenden has fallen into hard times. She tells the doctor she is badly in debt for the first time in her life.

Dr. Sandilands offers to lend her the money, even though he can hardly afford it, but Mrs. Hovenden is too proud to take it. Instead, she offers to sell him some boxes of clothes and linen from her attic, including a box of pictures. When the Sandilands family opens the boxes, the results provide Beatrix Sandilands, the doctor’s sharp-tongued daughter, with a great deal to say, for everything is either worthless to begin with or is mouldering away. About the pictures, however, daughter Linda suggests that they consult her knowledgeable fellow librarian, Stephanie du Plessis.

Stephanie thinks that the paintings might be quite valuable, even Old Masters. She does some research that indicates they may have been removed from an Italian villa. Beatrix thinks they are worthless and wants them out of her house. Finally, the family agrees to consult Sir Harry Maximer, an art expert who has the reputation for integrity.

Here, the plot thickens, for Sir Harry recognizes the paintings as Old Masters, but he tells Dr. Sandilands they are only good copies. Why? Because he intends to have them in his own collection.

This is a charming little novel, a delightful book for when you want to read something light.

Related Posts

Death Among Friends

Seven Keys to Baldpate

Money to Burn