The Act of Treachery by Gavin Scott

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Special Operations Executive agent Duncan Forrester has returned from the war and is back at his Oxford college as a junior Ancient History Fellow. But his peace is shattered when a much-disliked Fellow is found murdered in the quad. Forrester is not convinced of the principal suspect’s guilt and, on the hunt for the true killer, he finds himself plunged into a mystery involving lost Viking sagas, Satanic rituals and wartime espionage.

My Review:
The Act of Treachery is the first in a new trilogy of books. Duncan Forrester is a very likeable character who is convinced that his close friend is not responsible for a hated colleague’s death. His efforts to prove that he is innocent doesn’t impress the police, he realises that his opinions of people he has known for years change and he finds himself in danger.
Many famous people feature in the novel, some I familiar with but some I had to re-read their part because I hadn’t picked up on it straight away. I thought this worked quite well and it had me looking on the Internet in some cases so I could find out more about the ones I was less familiar with.
The way post war Europe was described was convincingly grim especially in Berlin and this was my favourite part of the novel. I could see everyday people struggling to rebuild their lives after the war and the conditions that they were living in.
I did work out fairly early on who the murderer was fairly early on but not the reason why so I still enjoyed the novel. I will be definitely interested in reading the second book that is due to be published in 2017.

Thanks to Titan Books for the copy received.

The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes by Michael Kurland

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Fine and Dandy chorine Lydia Laurent’s strangled, nude body, accompanied by two complete suits of clothing, has been found in Central Park, and now Two-Headed Mary and Billie Trask are missing too. Since the police are as helpless as they always are in 1935, it falls to New York World columnist Alexander Brass and his cheerfully wide-eyed sidekick Morgan DeWitt to dig up the truth

My thoughts:

The Girls in the High-Heeled Shoes is the second stand alone novel to feature Brass, Morgan and Gloria. I hadn’t read the first book or any of the series featuring Professor Moriarty but I plan to do so very soon.
Morgan is a trusted employee of Brass alongside Gloria and Garrett. He is a struggling novelist who relies on his tact and wit to stay in employment. He isn’t a New Yorker and doesn’t understand the Broadway slang. So he is initially very confused when the team are asked to look into the disappearance of ‘Two Headed Mary’ and whether it is linked to the disappearance of Billie Trask and the murder of Lydia Laurant. Luckily Brass understood, and offered to help. They found that people were more willing to talk to them rather than the police.
I loved the humour throughout the novel, there are some cracking one liners, mainly from Morgan when he is describing the people of New York. The names of the characters as well, ‘Pearly’ Gates is just one of many. It’s also very descriptive, I could imagine New York in the 1930s, recovering from the depression and prohibition. The theatre district and the bars/diners all feature strongly along with the people connected to both.
I loved this book, the author combines crime and humour very well.

I am very grateful to Titan Books for sending me this book to review, and for  the introduction to an author I had never read before.

The Secret of the Cathars by Michael Hillier

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Philips Sinclair’s grandmother has recently died. She leaves him the unusual legacy of the translated journal of his ancient ancestor, who was one of the four Cathar perfecti who escaped from the castle of Montségur with the ‘treasure of the Cathars’ strapped to his back – a treasure which has never been found. She also leaves him a sum of money with the request that he travels to the Pyrenean fastness of le Bézu where she believes the treasure still lies.

Meanwhile the famous young French archaeologist Jaqueline Blontard has arrived at le Bézu to start excavations as part of her new television series about the Albigensian Crusade. She believes her team will have the summer to uncover the secrets of the place before they are disturbed by the press and the authorities.

However the Roman Catholic Church already knows about their plans and has arranged for their agent to join the archaeologists. Also a secret but very influential body in Paris is sending their man to watch the excavations. Furthermore a criminal gang in Marseilles has become involved in the search for the treasure.

The archaeologists are suspicious of Philip but allow him to join them. As they start to uncover the secrets of le Bézu they find themselves in a race to make the information public before they are overwhelmed in a maelstrom of violence caused by the forces trying to stop them so that they can claim the treasures for their own illegal ends. (less)

My thoughts:
I’m interested in the history of the Cathars so was looking forward to reading this novel. It took a while for it to get going, there were a lot of characters that all appeared over a few chapters. I had to keep reading back to get an understanding of who each one was and what they wanted. I persevered though and quite enjoyed it. The actual story isn’t that strong but it was engaging.The part of the novel that featured Philip and his inheritance was the best and most interesting.It’s one that I would probably enjoy more on a second read.

With thanks to Authoright for the copy received.

The British Lion by Tony Schumacher

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In this crackling alternate history thriller set in the years after World War II—the riveting sequel to The Darkest Hour—London detective John Rossett joins forces with his Nazi boss to save the commander’s kidnapped daughter as the Germans race to make the first atomic bomb.

With the end of the war, the victorious Germans now occupy a defeated Great Britain. In London, decorated detective John Henry Rossett, now reporting to the Nazi victors, lies in a hospital bed recovering from gunshot wounds. Desperate to avoid blame over the events that led to the shooting, his boss, Ernst Koehler, covers up the incident. But when Koehler’s wife and daughter are kidnapped by American spies, the terrified German turns to the only man he trusts to help him—a shrewd cop who will do whatever is necessary to get the job done: John Rossett.

Surviving his brush with death, Rossett agrees to save his friend’s daughter. But in a chaotic new world ruled by treachery and betrayal, doing the right thing can get a man killed. Caught between the Nazi SS, the violent British resistance, and Americans with very uncertain loyalties, Rossett must secretly make his way out of London and find Ruth Hartz, a Jewish scientist working in Cambridge. Spared from death because of her intellect and expertise, she is forced to work on developing the atom bomb for Germany. Though she knows it could end any hope of freedom in Europe and maybe even the world, Ruth must finish the project—if she, too, wants to survive.

My Thoughts:

The British Lion is the second alternative history novel that I have read recently. By far the better one but I still found it a difficult book to read at times. I have to admit that this due partly to my lack of knowledge regarding the people who were in power at the time and the events in the first few years after WW2. But it is also a very dark novel, full of characters who all had no hesitation at using violence and there were only a couple of characters who had any loyalty to others.
The author was fantastic at describing the darkness of England at the time. The level of mistrust, the bad weather and bleakness everywhere was very convincing and just a little claustrophobic.
It is the sequel novel and I hadn’t read the first but it didn’t matter. There were a few hints but no great spoilers.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received for review.

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

imageHaving loved Anna Hope’s debut novel Wake I was really looking forward to reading her second novel The Ballroom.
It is set in 1911 at Sharston Asylum on the Yorkshire moors. Charles is a doctor who has an interest in music. He gets a position there and his wish is to improve the lives of the patients. He decides to play in an orchestra every Friday evening, patients are selected to attend so that they can have a dance. It is the only time that they get to meet patients who are the opposite sex.
John and Ella are just two of the patients there, and they meet on one of these evenings. John was very reluctant to attend. He is at the asylum after tragedy affects his personal life. Ella has been admitted after breaking a window at the asylum where she had worked since she was eight years old. She had only wanted to see the sky. Both of them have good friends in Dan and Clem. Dan is a bit of a rebel, a seaman who yearns for his freedom. Clem is happy with her books and is one of the few who has family visitors. John and Ella start to fall in love and try to make contact away from the dance. They are helped in this by Dan and Clem. At the same time Charles has become obsessed with John and is also following with great interest the debate in Parliament regarding eugenics.

A fascinating book to read. I thought that most of the blame when disaster struck was down to Charles. A man, very unhappy in his personal life who couldn’t be honest about his feelings. He feels under more pressure and gets vindictive with his decisions. I enjoyed the love story between John and Ella. Two people who shouldn’t have been there and trying their hardest to be together. But the most fascinating character for me was Clem. I thought her role in the novel was amazing, I don’t want to reveal why. To do so will be a spoiler but she will be the character who I will think about for a while. There also all the minor characters, some who remained nameless but all essential to the setting and they all felt real. I liked the way it ended, it was a bit of a surprise but it worked and was very fitting.
I knew that people were placed in asylums that shouldn’t have been, I was told stories throughout my teens about why people, especially women ended up there. Thankfully attitudes have changed.

With thanks to Alison Barrow for the copy received.