The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

the wicked cometh.jpgTitle: The Wicked Cometh

Author: Laura Carlin

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton, Hachette Australia

Published: 13th February, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 343

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Even in the darkest of times, you cannot bury the truth . . . A debut historical novel that will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and THE ESSEX SERPENT.

THE WICKED COMETH will take readers on a heart-racing journey through backstreets swathed with fog to richly curtained, brightly lit country houses; from the libraries and colleges of gentlemen, to sawdust-strewn gin palaces where ne’er-do-wells drink and scheme, all told through the eyes of a heroine with nothing to lose. 

The year is 1831.

Down murky alleyways and in filthy hovels, acts of unspeakable wickedness take place and vulnerable people begin to disappear from the streets. Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.

When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the mysterious Rebekah Brock. But both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations as whispers from Hester’s old life return to poison the present. Something is lurking in the black heart of their city, and it is more depraved than either of them could ever imagine . . .

~*~

Every city has its secrets, and so do the people who live in them. Hester White is run over by the cart of an aristocrat and injures her ankle. The gentleman, Calder Brock, insists on taking her back to his family home to heal, and she is soon turned into a project, for Calder’s mysterious sister Rebekah, whose indifference is off-putting, but the whispers about missing maids and girls are more concerning. Hester’s life in hovels and alleyways has changed now that she is in the Brock home, but the dangers that the maids and servants whisper about girls who have disappeared without a trace, and Hester knows she must find out what has happened, or potentially meet the same fate the others did. Initially afraid of Rebekah, Hester runs to save her life, only to discover the dark and dangerous truth about people she thought she could trust.

In her life, Hester, the narrator, has seen two Londons: the rich, opulent one of the Brocks, and the slums she lived in, the parsonage she grew up in. Through Hester’s eyes we see how her experiences being poor and rich affect her, and her ability to move between the two worlds is effective, especially as the novel is told in first person. When Hester is talking about Rebekah, there are hints that it is more than respect and friendship, but I felt that this grew and developed over the novel and complemented the mystery nicely. Hester’s father regaled her with stories about his travels. building up an ideal London in her young mind. Orphaned at eleven, Hester is living with an alcoholic Uncle Jacob, and her Aunt Meg, who encourages her to leave to save herself from the rage of Jacob.

When Calder takes her in to prove even those from the gutter can be educated, much like Henry Higgins tries to prove with Eliza in Pygmalion, Hester assumes a persona of ignorance, though she has been taught to read and write by her father. The mystery slowly unfolds, and towards the middle of the story, it starts to move faster than the beginning as Rebekah and Hester undertake their own investigations and try to stop the dark disappearances. The slow beginning acts as a deceptive set-up, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before slowly chipping away at this feeling through maid’s whispers and Hester’s doubts as she tells the story. This is used effectively to begin the mystery, which soon becomes the main story, and the relationships develop as the mystery goes on. I quite enjoyed the mystery, though it was quite dark, and disturbing, but highlighted the depravity that exists in society, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide this depravity and present a respectable front to society.

Hester’s narration allows the reader to see it all through her eyes, and experience her confusion, her guilt and the feelings she is unsure about that bubble to the surface when she is around Rebekah and thinking about her. It has elements of friendship and romance, and finding one’s own identity, and the development of this evolves with the mystery. It was nice to see a relationship develop over time and not be instantaneous, and get equal attention to a rather dark and intriguing mystery that took the characters through the shadows of London.

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The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

the war I finally won.jpgTitle: The War I Finally Won

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Children’s/YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 2nd October 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Like the classic heroines of literature, Ada wins our hearts as she continues her World War II adventures after the Newbery Honor–winning The War that Saved My Life.

When Ada’s clubfoot is surgically fixed at last, she knows for certain that she’s not what her mother said she was—crippled in her mind as well as in her body. But who is she, she wonders?

Ada and her brother, Jamie, are living with their guardian, Susan, in a cottage in the English countryside, on the estate of the formidable Lady Thorton and her daughter, Maggie, Ada’s dearest friend. Life in the crowded cottage is tense. Then Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany, moves in. A German? Everyone is horrified. Ada must decide—where do her loyalties lie?

The War I Finally Won is the marvellous conclusion to Ada’s powerful, uplifting story.

~*~

Ada’s life has changed since she ran away from home, where her mother kept her locked up and punished her for being born with a club-foot. Living as an evacuee with her brother, Jamie, and their guardian, Susan, Ada’s journey is not yet complete. Though she has had her foot fixed, and she now knows she is not what her mother said she was, she must find a way to discover who she is. As the war comes closer to British shores, Ada and Jamie’s lives alter significantly, and many changes uproot their lives. When Lady Thorton moves in with them because her home is commandeered for the war effort, Ada feels the safety and comfort she has begun to get used to feel threatened. Only Maggie’s presence and Susan’s understanding seems to calm her through times of turmoil and worrying about Jamie and feeling like she still has to take care of everyone. Soon, Ada becomes accustomed to having Maggie’s mother around, because it means Maggie gets to visit for school holidays. But when Ruth, a Jewish girl from Germany arrives, Ada is caught between loyalty to those she loves and fiercely protects and welcoming another young girl who has been forced out of her home and away from all she loves. Soon, Ada discovers a way to be who she is and help Ruth adjust. It is a war she must fight within herself, whilst another war rages on outside – discovering who she is and overcoming the horrors of her past to find peace.

In the wonderful and touching conclusion to Ada’s story, The War I Finally Won, has Ada still struggling with her mother’s words, but finding ways to cope with her anxiety around events she is unfamiliar with. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley has taken a devastating war and used it as the backdrop to personal wars – Ada, Mrs Thorton and Susan – and tenderly dealt with disability, both physical and mental, wars, death, love and loss, all through the eyes of an orphaned child during World War Two, and her brother, who can see and accept love for what it is – though Ada’s struggle to love easily is part of the story, and her vulnerability and confusion are ever-present.

Each character in the story is fighting a war. They are all involved and connected to World War Two – as evacuees, as hosts, as a mother and wife to a husband and son who are fighting in the war, a war of loss and of love, and identity wars, to find who they are in a new and frightening world. When the safety Ada is getting used to is threatened, she feels the war anew, and it is Lady Thorton who steps in to help her through it. Ada finds that in this new place in Kent, she has people who care about her: the Thortons, Maggie, Ruth, and Susan – she has always had Jamie, who does what he can to help his big sister throughout both books.

Like the first book, this one dealt with what are difficult themes in an eloquent and thoughtful way, approaching it so that readers of all ages can understand what is going on at their level and through their experiences. Through these characters, the personal and physical war is experienced in different ways, and learning to love and understand others is a key theme in the book.

With a satisfying yet realistic ending, The War I Finally Won is a great way to end Ada’s battle.

Booktopia

Olmec Obituary by L.J.M. Owen

OLMEC_B_SML.jpegTitle: Olmec Obituary

Author: L.J.M. Owen

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Echo

Published: August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 342

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Pimms thoroughly enjoys digging up old skeletons.

But when she is called home from Egypt after a family loss, she has to sacrifice her passions for the sake of those around her.

Attempting to settle into her new role as a librarian, while also missing her boyfriend, Elizabeth is distracted from her woes by a new mystery: a royal Olmec cemetery, discovered deep in the Mexican jungle, with a 3000-year-old ballplayer who just might be a woman.

She soon discovers there are more skeletons to deal with than those covered in dirt and dust.

Suitable for readers young and old, Olmec Obituary is the first novel in a delightful cosy crime series: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. Really cold cases.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseElizabeth is having the time of her life in Egypt, delving into tombs, uncovering new secrets, and searching for the women of antiquity amongst all the evidence of male rulers. When family tragedy strikes, Elizabeth is summoned home, and must give up her archaeology career for the stability of one in the National Library of Australia (referred to as the Mahony Griffin Library in the book) and support her family. In pain, and curious as to a fellow librarian’s behaviour towards her, Elizabeth finds herself volunteering to help uncover the secrets of a three-thousand-year-old Olmec cemetery. But all is not what it seems, and there are more than just bone-related secrets to uncover. What is the head of the project, Dr. Carl Schmidt up to, and why? Who is he covering for? And why does Mai hate her so much? Back at home, Elizabeth is grappling with younger siblings and grandparents who need her to work to support them, but also need her to help around the house and be there for them. Between work, and her family, Elizabeth hopes she can solve the mystery of the Olmec women, and prove to the university and library what has really been happening – and perhaps even why.

The first in what I am sure will be a wonderful new cosy crime series with cases so cold, nobody is left to speak for the dead but archaeologists and historians, Olmec Obituary brings a new sleuth to life, who deals in cases so cold, finding a witness would require a time machine. However, without one, Elizabeth settles on solving the crimes and mysteries of the past from the future, using her skills as an archaeologist, and with the help of Alice, a PhD candidate, and friends who study ancient languages, will make discoveries that will alter perceptions and cause Elizabeth to look to her family, and uncover more than just the skeletons at work. Olmec Obituary introduces us to a cast of characters who are unique and diverse, to a family with Welsh, Chinese and French heritage, with a female led cast of characters, with female-centric narratives driving the story, both the story of the Olmec burial and Elizabeth’s story, where she comes up against sexism in her voluntary position, and an unexpected altercation with a library employee she has never met – Mai – and who gives no indication as to why she has decided to hate Elizabeth – something I am intrigued by and look forward to finding out. I was just as surprised as Elizabeth at the instant hatred – it added another mystery to the story as I wondered what the hatred was about. It added a layer to the story and characters that contributed to the mystery.

Not only is the story-line compelling and interesting, Olmec Obituary’s diverse cast of characters, and female-led story brings a new voice to Australian literature in the last few years, offering up something meaty and intriguing for new readers who want their women doing new and interesting things, and seeking diversity. Combined, these work, and Elizabeth’s love life is present too, but already established and not at the forefront of the plot, which makes for exciting reading. As stubborn as she is, Elizabeth still has weaknesses and flaws that she tries to keep guarded and hidden, but it is these flaws that make her an intriguing character to read about.

The genre of cosy mystery, where the murder happens off page, without gratuitous violence and sex is becoming a favourite – and in this genre, all my current favourite authors are Australian women writers, with one being a British male – Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh Investigation series. My other favourites which are by Australian women are:

LJM Owen, Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth

Sulari Gentill, The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries – and the series that got me into this genre.

Kerry Greenwood, Phryne Fisher Mysteries

Janine Beacham – Rose Raventhorpe Investigates.

So, in my vast collection, Elizabeth is in good company, and she is an intriguing character, much like Rowly, Rose, Phryne and Inspector Chopra and his baby elephant. Where Rowly has his artist friends, and Phryne has trusty maid Dot, and Rose, the Silvercrest Butlers, and Chopra has a baby elephant, Elizabeth’s companions are her cats, named for Egyptian gods and goddesses, who are there when Elizabeth is working at home, always watching, and always faithful.

This is a great start to what I am sure will be an engaging and educational series. Elizabeth looks to be a character whose secrets will be revealed across the series and watching this happen will be intriguing. I liked the way Olmec Obituary ended with a touch of a mystery to come and be resolved, whilst wrapping up key aspects of the main plot and revealing characters for who they truly are not the facade that they put on for everyone else.

A great read, and I can’t wait to get stuck into book two.

Booktopia

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war saved life.jpgTitle: The War that Saved My Life

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s and YA

Publisher: Text Publishing

Published: 16th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: · Winner, Newbery Honor Book, United States, 2016 

  • Winner, Schneider Family Book Award, United States, 2016 
  • Shortlisted, West Australian Young Readers’ Book Award, 2017

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds, set during World War II.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room flat. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure for Ada, and for Miss Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take in the two children. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

~*~

For nine years, Ada has lived in a tiny, one room flat with her mother and younger brother, Jamie, in London. For years she has been confined in this dreary place because of a birth deformity – clubfoot. She receives little care and love from her mother, and all her affection comes from her younger brother, whom she has raised. When war is announced in 1939, all the children of London are evacuated to less populous areas to save them from being bombed by the Germans. For Ada, this is her chance to leave home for good, to escape the horrors of her young life and get out of the dim home she lives in. On her bad foot, she hobbles towards the school, receiving assistance from Stephen White, a neighbour also being evacuated. Unaware of what the outside world is like, both on the journey and arrival in Kent, where they are placed with Susan Smith, and their lives begin to change. Jamie gets to go to school, Ada learns to ride, and they learn what it is to be kept safe, though throughout, Ada feels that there will always be something that will take them away, that this cannot last. The war is present, though never at the forefront of the book, just a threat that lingers as Ada fights her own war against everything her mother has told her she is and breaking down her own barriers to let people in, to learn to read and to find her place in the world. But can Ada’s sanctuary last?

The War that Saved My Life is more than a story of survival in war, it is survival of who Ada is and who she can become, survival of spirit and the land. It is a unique experience of war told through the eyes of a disabled child, who has always been the carer, and never cared for, fearful of a mother who has never loved or wanted her and struggling with a disability that she has been told can never been helped. In this story, there is a harsh reality shown of disability and the way it is seen and treated – the unwillingness of Ada’s mother to help or care for her versus Susan’s desire to keep Ada safe, wanting to help her and wanting to care for her, and the repercussions of nine years of being treated poorly, of being abused, set against the backdrop of a war that killed millions and wounded many more.

Each character has layers that need to be peeled back slowly, and they are. Even though Ada’s PTSD isn’t explained explicitly, it is shown in a way that readers can understand, and that people can relate to, giving people a character that they can see themselves in and representation of what they might have gone through or be feeling. The War that Saved My Life is told in first person format, through Ada’s eyes. The reader can feel and experience what she goes through: feeling trapped, feeling unable to articulate what she is feeling or find the right words, and the way her mind gives her conflicting messages, that she feels she cannot unravel properly.

It is more than a story about World War Two, it a story about the war that Ada fights within herself every day, trying to trust someone who cares for her after all she has been through. It is touching and shows the reality of Ada’s life with her mother. It shows the strength of love between siblings and the love that another can have for someone they aren’t related to.

In a story where the protagonist feels at war with herself and those around her constantly, she copes in the only way she knows how – detaching from a situation and letting herself go into her own world. She learns that there are many ways to love and care for people, and that sometimes, a lie to protect someone is okay, but lying to hurt and humiliate is not. With Susan, Ada learns that there are no absolutes in life, and that she can be helped, that her club foot can be fixed so she can at walk. Ada’s constant disbelief is coloured by the way Mam treated her for so long. It is a war that Ada is determined to win.

A touching story that can be read by all ages, The War that Saved My Life is deserving of the awards it has won and been nominated for. It is a book that shows a different side to the war, and will hopefully become a much-loved classic in years to come.

Booktopia

Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn

eventual poppy day.jpgTitle: Eventual Poppy Day

Author: Libby Hathorn

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Angus&Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins

Published: 23rd February, 2015

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Shooting stars, kisses, grenades and the lumbering tanks. And the shrieking skies and the shaking comrades: ‘Up and over, lads!’ And I know it is time again to go into madness.

It is 1915 and eighteen-year-old Maurice Roche is serving in the Great War. A century later, Maurice’s great-great nephew, eighteen-year-old Oliver, is fighting his own war – against himself.

When Oliver is given Maurice’s war diary, he has little interest in its contents – except for Maurice’s sketches throughout, which are intriguing to Oliver who is also a talented artist.

As he reads more of the diary though, Oliver discovers that, despite living in different times, there are other similarities between them: doubts, heartbreak, loyalty, and the courage to face the darkest of times.

From award-winning children’s and YA author Libby Hathorn comes a moving, timely and very personal book examining the nature of valour, the power of family and the endurance of love.

This is a story we should never forget.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseLike most young men in 1914, Maurice de la Roche signs up to go to a faraway war in Europe that has not yet touched the shores of Australia, but that will soon become part of the history and national identity of the recently Federated nation. As his family reluctantly watches him and his brothers leave, they face an uncertainty about their son’s futures. One hundred years later, Maurice’s great-great-nephew, the great-grandson of his much younger sister, Dorothy, is struggling with life, with family, friends, school and finding his way in the world, wishing to take art classes in school. At home, he is trying to help his younger sister Poppy speak again after a devastating illness following the departure of their father. But it is the story of Maurice that makes up the bulk of the story, and the diary entries that Oliver is reading brought to life in flashbacks to various points in the war: Gallipoli, Poziéres, and other battlefields throughout France, and Maurice’s knack for art, so similar to Oliver’s, that make up the bulk of the narrative, with significant events in Oliver’s life occurring at the beginning, middle and end of the novel.

Eventual Poppy Day respectfully and emotively evokes the battlefields and events of World War One, or The Great War, and The War to End All Wars would culminate in what would become known as Remembrance Day, where poppies are worn and placed in the Honour Rolls that commemorate every Australian military member who has died in service to their country. In a heartbreaking story that draws on family history, and one of the first major wars that would come to shape our national identity and the Anzac legend, Libby Hathorn has created a story that reminds us that we are all human, all fallible and not immune to history or the dangers of the world.

Marketed as a Young Adult novel, I feel that Eventual Poppy Day can be read by anyone, and I did enjoy that Oliver’s love for his family, for his sister Poppy, was the most important love for him on his journey. It is always refreshing to read a book, whatever the target audience, where love of family and friends is part of the story, rather than romantic love. To me, it feels like it strengthens the story, and enhances the characters and their motivations, and shows that there are more ways to love and care for someone beyond romance and are kinds of love I feel are being written about more and this is a good thing to show the spectrum of love across a variety of books and genres, especially when woven throughout the plot.

Another stand-out theme was the patriotic way the ANZACS embrace their mateship in the trenches of Gallipoli and across the Western Front. The way Libby has written about these experiences is so well written, it is as though you are there, experiencing it with the characters, with Maurice and those he served with. In the author’s note, Libby says that this book was inspired by her own relative, also named Maurice, and further research done with the Australian War Memorial and other resources about the ANZACS and World War One. I felt this theme running throughout evoked a sense of what it must have been like being so far from home and caught up in a war that wasn’t ours, but that threatened Britain, a nation that at the time, most Australians still felt strong ties to.

Through reading Maurice’s diary, Oliver’s personal growth shines through in his chapters, and it is a journey he has to take, to find out what he really wants and to help his little sister, Poppy. It is the kind of novel that many will hopefully enjoy reading and that honours the soldiers of World War One, as seen through the eyes of a teenager, trying to find his place in an ever-changing world. I have adored Libby Hathorn since reading Thunderwith in year six, and I am glad to have stumbled upon this novel.

Booktopia

Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner

four respectable ladies.jpgTitle: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband
Author: Barbara Toner
Genre: Literary, Historical
Publisher: Penguin Random House/Bantam
Published: 29th January 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages:352
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: A charming and witty novel, set in a small country town in 1919.

‘When Adelaide Nightingale, Louisa Worthington, Maggie O’Connell and Pearl McCleary threw caution to the winds in the most brazen way imaginable, disgrace was bound to follow.’

It’s September 1919. The war is over, and everyone who was going to die from the flu has done so. But there’s a shortage of husbands and women in strife will flounder without a male to act on their behalf.
And in the southern New South Wales town of Prospect, four ladies bereft of men have problems that threaten to overwhelm them.
Beautiful Louisa Worthington, whose dashing husband died for King and Country, is being ruined by the debts he left behind.
Young Maggie O’Connell, who lost her mother in childbirth and her father to a redhead, is raising her two wayward brothers and fighting for land she can’t prove is hers.
Adelaide Nightingale has a husband, but he’s returned from the war in a rage and is refusing to tackle the thieving manager of their famous family store.

Pearl McCleary, Adelaide’s new housekeeper, must find her missing fiancé before it’s too late and someone dies.
Thank God these desperate ladies have a solution: a part-time husband who will rescue them all. To find him, they’ll advertise. To afford him, they’ll share . . .
~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1919, the world is emerging from the ravages of war and Spanish flu, scarred and in mourning. Returned soldiers struggle with physical wounds, and wounds of the mind as they return home, and retake the jobs they had to leave from the women they left behind. In the small town of Prospect in southern New South Wales, four women, each with very different circumstances and needs, are searching for help. Seventeen years after women have been granted the right to vote in Australia, they still fight to own property, and stand for government positions, and in some cases, to have their voices heard above others.

Louisa Worthington is a war widow, living on a property impoverished by the debts her husband has left her with in his death – and cannot see a way out. Nearby lives young Maggie O’Connell, who at nineteen, has been left alone by her father, who mysteriously disappeared three years prior, leaving her to raise twin brothers who would rather destroy things than go to school. In town, a few houses down from Louisa, lives Adelaide Nightingale, whose husband has returned, angry from the war, and unwilling to help his wife, take care of the manager of their store, stealing money from them and customers. With them, their maid, Pearl McCleary needs help finding her fiancé before tragedy strikes at the heart of their family.

These four women initially don’t get along – they have preconceived notions about each other, but it is only when they realise that they are in a similar position, where they need help – a husband who can see to all their issues and needs without forming emotional attachments, and see to it that the store manager is dealt with, that Maggie’s brothers and farm are helped, and try to help Pearl and Louisa with what they need. So they set out to search for such a man, a part-time husband, who will divide his time between them for the store, the boys, searching for a fiancé and dealing with money issues and blackmailers. Little do they know how close they will become through this venture, and what the outcomes will be – and what he will come to mean to each of them when tragedy threatens their community.
Australian authors have a unique way of telling a story, and combining genres and subtleties of genres to create a surprising story that is not always what it seems. There is a light-hearted feel to this book, especially at the beginning, yet as the story goes on, the complexities of the characters and their backstories begin to develop a gravitas to it, whilst still maintaining the Australian larrikin feel that weaves in and out of the story, and adds moments of light-heartedness when needed. Barbara Toner uses the four ladies and the part-time husband’s perspectives to tell the story, and seamlessly weaves in and out of each ne, and into the next, connecting them in scenes. Each character harbours secrets that are revealed slowly throughout the novel, and drop just when the reader and the rest of the characters need to know.

In defining a genre for this, I found it hard, because whilst there were hints of romance, it didn’t focus on romance. It had drama and humour in equal proportions, and hints at the war and what has happened in the previous years, slotting it into historical fiction, and literary. It is a character driven novel, with characters the reader gets to know and comes to care about.

It is a novel that can be enjoyed by many, and is one that I found interesting and enjoyed the way the four women took charge of their lives in the absence of the men who were meant to protect them. It showed that they didn’t necessarily need the part-time husband or men, but they could find a way to manage on their own, with each other’s help.

This book has marked off another square of my book bingo – square five in row four. I am aiming to post an update on this every two weeks, and will link to relevant posts when I do.

Booktopia

The Last Train by Sue Lawrence


the last train.jpgTitle: The Last Train

Author: Sue Lawrence

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 24th January 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Sue Lawrence serves up a brilliant historical mystery, meticulously researched and densely plotted, with plenty of twists and a gripping climax.

At 7 p.m. on 28 December 1879, a violent storm batters the newly built rail bridge across the River Tay, close to the city of Dundee. Ann Craig is waiting for her husband, the owner of a large local jute mill, to return home. From her window Ann sees a shocking sight as the bridge collapses, and the lights of the train in which he is travelling plough down into the freezing river waters.

As Ann manages the grief and expectations of family and friends amid a town mourning its loved ones, doubt is cast on whether Robert was on the train after all. If not, where is he? And who is the mysterious woman who is first to be washed ashore?

In 2015, Fiona Craig wakes to find that her partner Pete, an Australian restaurateur, has cleared the couple’s bank account before abandoning his car at the local airport and disappearing. When the police discover his car is stolen, Fiona conducts her own investigation into Pete’s background, slowly uncovering dark secrets and strange parallels with the events of 1879.

~*~

Three days after Christmas in 1879, the Tay Bridge is battered by a violent storm that destroys the bridge and takes all the passengers on the train down to a watery grave. At home with her children, James and Lizzie, Ann Craig is waiting for her husband Robert to return from visiting an elderly relative in Edinburgh. Ann sees the tragedy as it happens, convinced her husband is aboard and in a watery grave, never to be seen again. Living in a town of mourning, Ann’s doubt that her husband was aboard the train starts to grow, and after a young woman is washed ashore, a mystery surrounding her death, and Ann’s missing husband begins.

Over a century later in 2015, Fiona Craig awakens to find her partner, Pete missing, and all their savings gone. She and her son move in with her parents, Dorothy and Struan, whilst trying to rebuild their lives after Pete has disappeared. What Fiona discovers as she looks into Pete’s whereabouts and disappearance are strange parallels to the Tay Bridge disaster of 1879. What will the mysteries of time and space reveal to these two women, generations apart?

Based on the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879, The Last Train combines historical fiction elements with intrigue, and elements of mystery. Told in alternating third person perspectives in the days following the Tay Bridge disaster in late December 1879 and early January 1880 and in 2015, the stories mirror each other in some ways with subtle differences to the stories, and more than one mystery to be solved along the way. What connects Ann and Fiona is the desire to keep their children safe, and a desire to find out the truth of what has happened to the men they share their lives with, even if they go about it in rather different ways. Fiona’s interest in the local history pulls her into a job helping curate a memorial for the 1879 disaster, uncovering names and stories that bring light to those who perished, and will solve the questions of Fiona’s secretive father Struan as the novel’s climax brings it to a dramatic and satisfying close, that sews together all the strands that have been dangled.

An enticing historical fiction novel tinged with two mysteries that allow secrets to be revealed and families to become close. Scotland’s landscapes and history are as important as the characters of Ann and Fiona, and the nation itself, in particular Dundee, play an important role in the story and who the characters are. A well-rounded novel for fans of historical fiction and mysteries.