Day 1298: Hidden Depths

Cover for Hidden DepthsAfter a rare night out, Julie Armstrong returns home in the wee hours to find her son, Luke, dead in the bath. Her 14-year-old daughter, Laura, is sound asleep in her room.

Luke has been despondent since the death of his friend, Thomas Sharp, from drowning. Julie assumes he killed himself, but Vera Stanhope’s team assures her it was not a suicide. Luke was strangled, his bath filled with scented oil and flowers.

Felicity Calvert is surprised when she meets her son at the bus to find that her teacher has traveled out there to view their cottage with the idea of renting it. Felicity isn’t sure she wants to rent it again but is surprised when the young woman, Lily Marsh, leaves without asking the rate.

Vera’s attentions turn to the Sharps, a local criminal family, wondering if Davy Sharp blamed Luke for his son’s death. But Davy says it was a accident. Soon, another body is discovered in a tide pool by Felicity Calvert’s son. It is Lily Marsh, submerged in a pool surrounded by flowers. The Calverts are at the shore as part of Pete Calvert’s birthday celebration, accompanied by his three best friends, all bird watchers.

This is another clever mystery by Ann Cleeves. Her characters are convincing, and her plots complex without being overly complicated. I am enjoying both the Ann Cleeves series I’m reading.

And by the way, I wish everyone a safe New Year’s Eve and a happy  new year!

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Day 1264: Telling Tales

Cover for Telling TalesHere’s another book for the R.I.P challenge!

In addition, I have just read the Get Your Goth On Dare at Classics Club, so I have decided that I will take up that dare. During the month of October, I will read The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins for the dare. I picked it for obvious reasons.

* * *

Ten years ago, Abigail, a fifteen-year-old girl, was discovered dead by her best friend, Emma. Abigail’s father’s spurned lover, Jeanie Long, was found guilty of the murder. Police have now received belated testimony confirming Jeanie’s alibi. She was not guilty. It is too late for her, though. When her request for parole was turned down a few days earlier, she hung herself.

Vera Stanhope is called in to find out how the investigation could have gone so wrong. Right off the bat, she finds that Jeanie was convicted on no forensic evidence. Looking further, she finds indications of conflict of interest in the case.

On hearing the news about Jeanie, Emma’s younger brother Chris returns from university. He seems to be visibly upset and tells Emma he followed Abigail everywhere the summer she was killed. The next day, he is found murdered. Vera guesses that he must have witnessed something ten years ago that made him realize now who the murder was.

As the villagers’ secrets begin to come out, Vera finds several people to suspect of murder. This novel is truly suspenseful at times, and I never came near to a solution of the crime. This is proving to be a good series.

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Day 1246: The Crow Trap

Cover for The Crow TrapThe Crow Trap is Ann Cleeves’s first Vera Stanhope mystery, set in the North Pennines in Yorkshire. It is unusual in that Vera is barely a character until halfway through the novel.

The first half is narrated by three different women who are doing an environmental impact study for a proposed quarry. They are staying in a remote cottage called Baikie’s that is used by students doing research.

Rachel is the head of the project, and she arrives to discover the body of her friend, Bella, in the barn of the nearby Black Law Farm. Bell has apparently committed suicide and left her body in a place where it would be discovered by Rachel rather than by her invalid husband, Dougie. Rachel is disturbed by this suicide, because she can’t think of a reason for it.

Anne is at the cottage to survey plant life. But she is already involved in a way that may be a conflict of interest with Godfrey Waugh, the married man who will decide whether to excavate the quarry. She is irritated by both other women, especially with Grace.

Grace is there to survey wildlife and has been reporting an astonishing number of otters, to the point where Anne is suspicious of her numbers. Grace is very quiet, sharing almost nothing of herself with her work mates, sleeping little, and hardly eating. Then Grace is found murdered nearby the cottage.

Vera, an eccentric-looking woman, begins investigating the women and the quarry deal. But she views the two women still working in the cottage as a crow trap, a cage containing a crow that is there to attract another crow. She thinks the killer will strike again.

Although this mystery spends so much time on background that some may find it a little slow moving, that is one of the features that makes it stand out. There is some information about the killer that the reader can have no way of knowing, but there are hints enough that it is possible to guess the right person. In any case, I thought this was an excellent mystery, complex and interesting. The characters seem real. The Yorkshire setting that is so evocative in the TV series isn’t vividly evoked, nor are the accents, but that’s a slight fault.

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Day 890: Charlotte and Emily

Cover for Charlotte and EmilyI have read two of Jude Morgan’s literary biographical novels but never felt I was really seeing the true character of the subjects. However, with Charlotte and Emily, Morgan seems to have found his subject.

Charlotte and Emily covers most of the Brontës’ lives, from the time they were children until Charlotte marries Arthur Bell Nicholls. By that time, all the other Brontë siblings have died.

Charlotte is the main character of the novel, although it is occasionally told from the point of view of Anne. Emily remains distant from the reader, harder to know.

Much of the novel is concerned with the focus of the entire family on the future of brilliant Branwell, the only son. The girls are sent for schooling so that they can be teachers and earn money to help educate Branwell. Although Charlotte wonders if she can become a writer and even tries sending poetry to Southey, the poet laureate, she is discouraged by both Southey and her father.

Of course, Branwell never finds a vocation and instead becomes a wastrel. Charlotte and Anne work doggedly as teachers, although they hate it. Emily gets herself sent home both from school and work.

I have read biographies of the Brontës, but this novel is the first I’ve read that gave me a sense of what their lives may have been like. I found it completely absorbing. If you are a Brontë lover, this is a book for you.

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Day 866: Yuki Chan in Brontë Country

Cover for Yuki Chan in Bronte CountryYuki Chan is on a pilgrimage of sorts. Her mother died ten years ago when Yuki was 13, and just before that she made a trip to England. Yuki is trying to visit the places her mother visited, to feel closer to her and to try to figure out why she died. This pilgrimage has brought her to Haworth and a tour of the Brontë’s house.

Yuki thinks of herself as a psychic detective, but we also follow some of her other musings, most of them very peculiar. She is clearly an eccentric personality.

I wasn’t sure how much I related to Yuki as she performed her various experiments, for example, standing in the same place before the Haworth parsonage window where her mother appears in a photo. She has five photos that she uses to retrace her mother’s footsteps.

link to NetgalleyDuring her adventures, she befriends a teenage girl named Denny. Denny has a bit of a lawless demeanor that gets them into some adventures as she takes Yuki around the snowy landscape on her brother’s motorcycle.

Ultimately, this novel is touching, but it takes a while before we understand Yuki’s compulsions. I don’t think we get any insight to any of the characters except Yuki herself. I only moderately enjoyed this quirky novel.

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Day 300: The Land of Green Ginger

Cover for The Land of Green GingerJoanna Burton is a naive girl with a huge sense of adventure who has always wanted to travel the world in this most touching of Winifred Holtby’s books. Born in Africa but brought to England as a small child, Joanna has never felt like she quite fit in and has always wanted to return to the “land of green ginger.” During World War I she meets a young officer, Teddy Leigh, who tells her he is going to give her the world as a golden ball, and she believes him.

Several years later, however, she is living on a Yorkshire farm with two little girls and an ailing husband. Not only was Teddy gassed during the war, but he hid from her his history of tuberculosis.

As Joanna struggles to deal ineptly with the farm, her husband, and her children, a nearby landowner asks if they could take a Hungarian man in as a roomer. Joanna is so preoccupied with her troubles that she doesn’t notice her husband’s irrational jealousy or the rumors starting up in the village about her relationship with the Hungarian.

This novel is beautifully written and painful to read at times, as the readers see Joanna unconsciously make misstep after misstep and the neighborhood gossips become vicious indeed. Holtby only wrote a few books before she died at the age of 37, but she was a master at depicting life in the Yorkshire countryside and small towns.

Day 293: Before the Poison

Cover for Before the PoisonI never read anything by Peter Robinson before. I looked him up because of the TV series “DCI Banks,” as he is the author of the Inspector Banks series, but then I found that Before the Poison was already on my list of books to read. It is not an Inspector Banks novel, but I found it gripping from start to finish. Although it is not a mystery novel in the traditional sense, it involves an investigation of events in the past with revelations about the present and even the hint of a ghost story.

Chris Lowndes is a recent widower, a British composer of film scores who has been living in California for 35 years. He has purchased a large house in rural Yorkshire sight unseen with the intent of making his new home there and writing more serious music.

At the beginning of the novel, he arrives at his new home, which is beautiful and old but very isolated. He is puzzled to find some personal possessions left behind although the house has been leased for many years and asks his rental agent to find out who used to own it, as he bought it from a solicitor’s office.

Lowndes soon learns that his house was the scene of a notorious murder. Grace Elizabeth Fox, a nurse during World War II, was found guilty in 1952 of murdering her husband, the local doctor. Lowndes becomes interested in the murder and soon finds that the evidence against Grace was circumstantial and mostly based on the fact that she was having an affair with a much younger man. As he tracks down information and villagers who were alive at the time, Lowndes begins to wonder if there was a crime at all or if Doctor Fox died from natural causes.

Alone in the house most of the time, sometimes stranded by bad weather, Lowndes occasionally battles with depression, misses his wife, and is kept awake by strange noises in the house and thinks he glimpses a woman in the mirror of a wardrobe. He is also attracted to Heather, the realtor, who is having marital problems. And he keeps seeing a hooded figure out by the old lime kiln. Eventually he comes across a diary belonging to Grace, which relates her experiences as a nurse during the war.

This novel is atmospheric and very interesting. A few times I thought I knew where it was going, but it went somewhere else. I wasn’t really interested in the subplot involving Heather–I didn’t really like her–but otherwise I was totally engrossed by the novel.