Summer is now well and truly upon us, and that means the return of festival season. One of the best things about life getting back to normal post covid is the return of physical crime fiction festivals. It’s been six years since my first novel was published and in that time, these festivals have become a cherished part of my annual calendar. In the first few years, I was invited mainly as a panellist, but more recently I’ve been invited as a panel chair. That means reading the works of the panellists so that I can ask meaningful questions.
This summer I’m chairing several panels, mainly on historical crime fiction, and so I’ve been reading quite a few books in that sub-genre. Here are some of them:
The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson
Life is good for Thomas Hawkins and Kitty Sparks in their home above the Cocked Pistol, Kitty’s wickedly disreputable bookshop. But when Tom is attacked by a street gang, he discovers there’s a price on his head.
Who wants him dead – and why?
For Tom and Kitty, the answer is only the beginning of the nightmare.
Antonia is one of the finest historical fiction writers in the UK, and The Silver Collar is a fitting next instalment in the wonderful Tom Hawkins series set mainly in the England of the early 1700s.
For me, the most powerful portion of this book is set in the Bahamas and follows the life and escape of a slave from a sugar plantation. Too often, we think of slavery as an American issue, whereas whilst abolished far earlier, the British too benefited from the inhumanities of slavery.
This is a wonderful book and a must read for those interested in the period.
The Darkest Sin by D V Bishop
Florence. Spring, 1537.
When Cesare Aldo investigates a report of intruders at a convent in the Renaissance city’s northern quarter, he enters a community divided by bitter rivalries and harbouring dark secrets.
His case becomes far more complicated when a man’s body is found deep inside the convent, stabbed more than two dozen times. Unthinkable as it seems, all the evidence suggests one of the nuns must be the killer.
Meanwhile, Constable Carlo Strocchi finds human remains pulled from the Arno that belong to an officer of the law missing since winter. The dead man had many enemies, but who would dare kill an official of the city’s most feared criminal court?
As Aldo and Strocchi close in on the truth, identifying the killers will prove more treacherous than either of them could ever have imagined . . .
The Darkest Sin is the second in the Cesare Aldo series by New Zealand born author (relocated to Scotland) D V Bishop.
Set in the Renaissance world of Florence, it follows Aldo, an officer of the courts as he aims to solve a murder in a nunnery. At the same time, one of Aldo’s peers is found murdered. Has his death got anything to do with a secret that Aldo keeps?
A great insight into Renaissance Florence. What I love about these books is the seemless weaving of factual history with a great story.
The Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass
July 1794, and the streets of London are filled with rumours of revolution. Laurence Jago – clerk to the Foreign Office – is ever more reliant on the Black Drop to ease his nightmares. A highly sensitive letter has been leaked to the press, and Laurence is a suspect. Then, he discovers the body of a fellow clerk, supposedly a suicide. Blame for the leak is shifted to the dead man, but Laurence is certain both of his friend’s innocence and that he was murdered. But at a time when even the slightest hint of treason can lead to the gallows, how can Laurence find the true culprit without incriminating himself?
Back to the 1700s, but the tail end of the century this time, and we’re in Downing Street and Whitehall, following the adventures of Laurence Jago, a foreign office clerk, investigating the suspicious death of a fellow clerk during tense negotiations between Britain and the nascent United States to try and avoid war.
A fascinating time and a real insight into the workings of the proto-modern British state.
The Clockwork Girl by Anna Mazzola
In the midst of an icy winter, as birds fall frozen from the sky, chambermaid Madeleine Chastel arrives at the home of the city’s celebrated clockmaker and his clever, unworldly daughter.
Madeleine is hiding a dark past, and a dangerous purpose: to discover the truth of the clockmaker’s experiments and record his every move, in exchange for her own chance of freedom.
For as children quietly vanish from the Parisian streets, rumours are swirling that the clockmaker’s intricate mechanical creations, bejewelled birds and silver spiders, are more than they seem.
And soon Madeleine fears that she has stumbled upon an even greater conspiracy. One which might reach to the very heart of Versailles…
A intoxicating story of obsession, illusion and the price of freedom.
What I say:
For a book to impress me these days requires a combination of fantastic plot, interesting subject matter and beautiful prose. I have to admit, I didn’t expect to like this book. Gothic Fiction set in 18th century France isn’t generally my cup of tea, but Mazzola’s writing, her wry humour and the intricacies of history and plot just came together and kept me reading in a way few books have. The last book I can remember which similarly impressed me was An Equal Music by Vikram Seth, a book set in the world of orchestral music and musicians, which has become one of my favourite books of all time. A Clockwork Girl might end up in that list too.
15 July 2022