Category Archives: Books

#FamilyHistory #Mystery ‘The Blood Detective’ by Dan Waddell @danwaddell

I raced through The Blood Detective by Dan Waddell, a hybrid mixture of crime and genealogy mystery. Waddell is also a journalist and genealogist, having written Who Do You Think You Are?: The Genealogy Handbook accompanying the Who Do You Think You Are? television series. So, he knows his stuff and it shows. Usually a crime novel features a lead detective and team, here we have two lead characters: Detective Chief Inspector Grant Foster, and genealogist Nigel Barnes.

Dan Waddell

Waddell’s plotting is ingenious. The past really does come back to haunt the present. There is a serial killer in West London who leaves a clue carved into the skin of his victims. This clue prompts DCI Foster to call on the specialist help of researcher Barnes. The murder hunt takes parallel paths: Foster chases living suspects, Barnes searches the archives for the true 1879 story of a serial killer, his victims and their descendants. What is the link? The final chapters are a thrilling race against time.

I really enjoyed this. The linking of historical and present-day crime was clever, and the characterization was convincing and not of the stereotypical detective form. An enjoyable mixture of fast-moving crime novel with genealogical research and historical gems about this particular part of London, its transformation from Victorian times to the 21stcentury, and its dark history of crime. There is a second novel featuring the same characters, Blood Atonement.
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#Adoption #Mystery ‘The Storm Sister’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley

Second in ‘The Seven Sisters’ series of adoption identity mysteries by Lucinda Riley, The Storm Sister is the story of the second oldest d’Aplièse sister, Ally. Very different from the first novel of the series which was set in hot and steamy Brazil, this book encompasses professional yacht racing, classical music and Norway.

Lucinda Riley Like Maia’s story in The Seven Sisters, Ally’s tale starts with the death of their father Pa Salt. Ally reads his letter and ponders two clues. A small ornamental frog and a book from his library ‘by a man long dead named Jens Halvorsen’ lead her to Norway. This is an ambitious timeline, skipping back 132 years to 1875 and the fascinating story of Jens Halvorsen and Anna Landvik. What follows is a lovely tale of Anna being plucked from her mountain farm to sing the soprano’s part in the premiere of Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, ghost-singing for an actress with an inferior voice. This performance kickstarts Anna’s career, and she settles into a new life in Christiania [modern-day Oslo] and falls in love. Of course, true love never runs smoothly and Anna continues to long for the hills of her homeland rather than the city streets. The Norwegian settings are wonderful and I wanted to stay with Anna’s life, Riley invests so much in this section it almost feels like a book-within-a-book. But The Storm Sister is an adoption mystery about Ally’s parentage, so despite loving the Anna storyline I started to wonder why Riley takes us so far back in time to the nineteenth century and the story of who in terms of age are Ally’s great-great-grandparents. When is she going to tell us about Ally’s parents and her adoption by Pa Salt?

Riley excels at the immersive detail of both sailing and singing. The inclusion of Grieg’s music and the story of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’ – which offers parallels of Peer with Jens – made me listen to the music. But three quarters of the way through the book, I started to lose interest. That surprised me; I haven’t felt that way with Riley’s other books. The mystery is thinly strung and additional storylines and characters added in the last quarter feel hurried and shoehorned in. I found myself worrying I’d missed something and started flicking back through the pages. It picks up again at the end of Ally’s story, finishing at a pace before the final chapter acts as a preview to the next book, the next sister’s story.

A doorstop of a book, The Storm Sister comes in at 720 pages. Darker than the first of the series, there are love affairs and betrayals, grief, tragedy and the depths of despair and cruelty. Each novel is the standalone story of one sister, but reading them order brings the cumulative benefits of understanding the six sisters who were raised together at Atlantis. Next in the series is The Shadow Sister, the story of Star.
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Read my review of The Seven Sisters, first in the series.

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#Adoption #Mystery ‘Relative Strangers’ by Hunter Davies

The sub-title of Relative Strangers by Hunter Davies is ‘A history of adoption and a tale of triplets’ and it is a fascinating read if you are at all interested in family history and adoption. Yes, there is some history, but Davies keeps you turning the pages by telling in parallel the story of three babies, triplets, separated at their birth in 1932.

Hunter Davies

May 18, 1932. Kate Hodder gives birth to triplets – rare in those pre-IVF days – and dies the next day. Her husband, jobbing gardener Wills, is left with the three babies plus six older children. He cannot cope. Two go to live with grandparents, and four go to Barnardo’s. The triplets are adopted separately, with seemingly no effort made to keep them together. They live their lives, until finally reunited in 2001. The process of their lives, the changes to adoption law, and the roles of real people such as Thomas Barnardo and Pam Hodgkins, founder of adoption counselling service NORCAP, is told seamlessly by Davies.

Florence was the first to be adopted. Aged eight months, she went to live in Devon. Adopted by Emily Davy, a single mother who ran a guest house, Florence’s name was changed to Gill. She had a happy, secure childhood. She found out she was adopted aged 13, told in the playground at school.

May was adopted aged two, and her name changed to Helena Mary. Adopted by a clergyman and his wife, along with another adopted girl Pam. From the beginning, Helena knew she was adopted, knew she was one of triplets. But information was minimal.

John William was adopted last of the three, at the age of three and a half, by a grocer in Beverley, Yorkshire. His name was changed to David, he was not told by his parents that he was adopted.

This is an easy read about a fascinating subject, Hunter Davies handles the complicated storyline with ease.
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#Adoption #Mystery ‘The Seven Sisters’ by Lucinda Riley @lucindariley

In its scope, The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley reminds me of Eighties family mega-stories, paperbacks as thick as doorstops. This is the first in a series; the first five are already published. I recommend suspending your ‘instinct for the literal’ and throwing yourself into the world of the book. Some of the story set-up seems unrealistic – unbelievable wealth, mysterious father, beautiful adopted sisters – this is not a normal world. But I quickly became caught up in the historical story.

Lucinda Riley
 

Pa Salt has died suddenly; he is the fabulously wealthy, secretive, reclusive adoptive father to six sisters whose origins are a mystery. Only when he has gone do they realise they should have asked him for information. Each of the sisters is given a clue and a letter. Also in the envelope is a triangular-shaped tile. The Seven Sisters is the story of the eldest D’Aplièse sister. Maia’s clue is a map reference that takes her to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil where she meets an enigmatic elderly woman. 

The book came alive for me with the story, eighty years earlier, of Izabela Rosa Bonifacio. Izabela, daughter of a nouveau riche coffee merchant in Rio, is facing an arranged marriage. Desperate to see more of the world before she settles down to a stifling life of marriage to a husband she doesn’t love, she persuades her father and fiancé to allow her to travel to Paris with her friend, Maria Elisa, daughter of architect Heitor da Silva Costa. This section of the novel enthralled me; the design and sculpting of the Cristo sculpture for the top of the Corvocado mountain, all based on historical fact. 

I connected with Izabela in a way I didn’t with Maia. Maia uncovers the story of Izabela with the help of Brazilian author Floriano Quintelas, whose latest novel Maia has translated into French. In the course of her research, Maia must face the shadows of her own past, her regrets and shame, in order to move on. I enjoyed Izabela’s story but at the back of my mind I queried its relevance to Maia; Izabela was too old be her mother. I missed a direct connection to Maia and this frequently took me out of the world of the story.

That connection does come but as the story finished I was left with almost as many questions as at the beginning. The last chapter is devoted to the second sister, Ally, with new mysteries for the second book in the series.

 

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