Before the book crits however, I thought now might be a good time to state exactly what the Write Enough book review policy is.
Mostly I review books that I’ve bought because I wanted to read them for pleasure, enlightenment, or entertainment. But I also review books that I’ve been specifically asked to review by the author or publisher.
I’m keen to review other ‘indie’ authors (like myself) as well as traditionally published ones. I have eclectic tastes – ranging across the genres and including non-fiction, but literary fiction does tend to get my pretentiousness radar going into overdrive. Whatever the category, I always aim to be honest, constructive and never nasty. I will say if I disliked a book, but always with the proviso that in the end reviews come down to personal taste.
Sometimes I will also submit a review to Words with Jam, the bi-monthly writers’ magazine that I contribute to.
And so to this month’s brace of books. Both sent to me by the publishers - Polygon. The first one is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan – a writer I’ve reviewed here before. And the second is Time & Tide by Shirley McKay.
By Sara Sheridan
I have previously reviewed ‘The Secret Mandarin’ and ‘Secret of the Sands’ by bestselling author, Sara Sheridan. I very much enjoyed both novels so I was delighted to receive a review copy of Sheridan’s latest. ‘Brighton Belle’ is designated as The First Mirabelle Bevan Mystery and is published this month by Polygon in hardback and e-book. It will be available in paperback in July.
There’s always a slight worry when coming to read the latest book by an author you love. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? There was no need to worry in this case. ‘Brighton Belle’ is another very engaging read from this talented author.
Sara Sheridan can be relied on to be original in character, setting and plot. Her books push at the genre boundaries. ‘Brighton Belle’ is part (recent) historical, part crime and part thriller. I was hooked from the start.
Set in post-war Brighton, the story’s heroine, Mirabelle Bevan, works as a secretary in a debt collection agency. She wants a quiet life after her role in the Secret Service during the war and following the death of her lover. However, she’s soon overtaken by scary and mysterious events. She and her sidekick, the marvellous Vesta, have to turn detective to solve various possibly linked crimes of fraud, murder and kidnap. They are involved in an illegal exhumation, breaking and entering, and helping a killer flee the country – all in ultimately good cause. There’s darkness, suspense and surprises throughout. It’s gripping.
I love the originality – Mirabelle, a 1950s independent white woman and Vesta, a 1950s independent black woman – ‘doing it for themselves’ long before it was fashionable – and feminism wasn’t even a gleam in her mother’s eye. The descriptions of Brighton and of the post-war era are charming and hugely atmospheric and the pace is brisk.
And, at the end, the scene is well and truly set for further adventures for Mirabelle and Vesta. I also hope there’s more to come of DS MacGregor. There was a definite frisson between him and Mirabelle. I can’t wait for this trios next outing.
Time & Tide
As I don’t read much historical fiction, this probably isn’t a book I would have chosen for myself. But the nice people at Polygon sent me an unsolicited copy so the choice was made for me. I hadn’t heard of Shirley Mackay, the book’s author, before – but I saw from the book’s cover that ‘Time & Tide’ is – the third Hew Cullan mystery - so she’s obviously an established author. And speaking of the cover – it’s a Bruegelesque beauty. I judged by the cover and decided to give the tale a go.
As it turned out, the cover sets up the novel perfectly in its time and place.
It’s set in sixteenth century St Andrews. This further endeared it to me – as I got my MA at the university there – and I still love the place thirty-five years later –returning to visit whenever I can. So I was well set up for this ‘Morse of the sixteenth century’ crime-solving story
The hero is Hew Cullan, a lawyer, in the town who, somewhat reluctantly, teaches at the university. Following a shipwreck, the town’s bakers and millers are keen to get their hands on the windmill that was lashed to the deck of the stricken ship and survived the boat’s demise. The sole human survivor from the wreck dies before he can confirm who owns this technological innovation.
All sorts of intrigue, trickery and, even, murder ensue as vested interests seek to establish their right to the windmill. Hew is dispatched to Ghent, the survivors home town to try to sort out matters once and for all. This sort of mission is much more appealing to him than the life of an academic.
The resolution of the mystery is certainly surprising and that, along with the hint of a love interest for Hew at the close, all made for a thoroughly satisfying read.
Mackay’s period detail and her descriptions of the town of St Andrews are spot on. The plot is clever and the writing sharp. But it’s the characters that really stand out. All are vivid and credible. And for me it was the female characters that made the most impression. Hew’s sister, Meg, a healer, psychologist and therapist, despite not being eligible to study at her brother’s college due to being female, is a wonderful creation. She causes her brother to wonder at ‘the secret art of women’ on more than one occasion with what she knows or works out. As well as Meg, Maude the landlady of the inn, Beatrix the widow of the shipwrecked sailor and the nuns at the closed community of women in Ghent are all impressive and rounded characters.
So if you like a historical novel, a crime thriller and a mystery and you’re looking for something original and rather different within those genres then I can highly recommend ‘Time & Tide’.
The book is available in paperback and e-book format.