#BlogBlitz #PublicationDay A Taste for Killing by Sarah Hawkswood @AllisonandBusby

Today is publication day of A Taste for Killing, the latest book in Sarah Hawkswood’s Bradecote and Catchpoll historical crime series. To celebrate I’m joining other book bloggers in sharing my review of this the tenth book in the series. My thanks to Christina at Allison & Busby for inviting me to take part in today’s blitz and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

A Taste for KillingAbout the Book

Godfrey Bowyer, the best but least likeable bow maker in Worcester, dies of poisoning, though his wife Blanche survives.

The number of people who could have administered the poison should mean a very short investigation for Bradecote and Catchpoll, but perhaps some was pulling the strings, and that widens the net considerably.

Could it be the cast-out younger brother or perhaps Orderic the Bailiff, whose wife has been pressured into a relationship with Godfrey?

Could it even be the wife herself? With Bradecote eager to return to his manor and worried about his wife’s impending confinement, and Walkelin trying to get his mother to accept his choice of bride, there are distractions aplenty, though Serjeant Catchpoll will not let them get in the way of solving this case.

Format: Hardback (320 pages)     Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 12th May 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

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My Review

I first came across Bradcote and Catchpoll when I read River of Sins, the seventh book in the author’s historical crime series set in 12th century Worcester. That was back in December 2020 and since then I’ve devoured both the subsequent books in the series – Blood Runs Thicker and Wolf at the Door.

A Taste for Killing takes up directly from events at the end of the previous book with Undersheriff Hugh Bradecote and his wife anxiously awaiting the birth of their second child.  Mindful of Bradecote’s situation, Serjeant Catchpoll initially takes on the investigation into the murder of wealthy burgess, Godfrey Bowyer, with only the assistance of recently promoted Underserjeant Walkelin. Although it appears there are only a few individuals who would have had the opportunity to administer the poison, the murdered man had no shortage of enemies in the city.

The author gives us a real taste of what it must have been like to live in 12th century Worcester, conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells, as well as a sense of the local dialect (although Bradecote being a lord of the manor speaks Norman to his peers, or ‘Foreign’ as the locals call it).

Over the course of the series, the duo of Bradecote and Catchpoll has evolved into a trio with the addition of Walkelin who has grown from eager apprentice to becoming an integral part of the team, honing his ‘serjeanting senses’ along the way. He’s observant, has a good sense of intuition and can mingle with servants and traders. Even after all this time, Catchpoll still casts a proprietorial, sometimes approving, eye over Bradecote’s interrogation techniques whilst recognising that Bradecote’s rank can open doors that would otherwise be closed to him. Not so much good cop, bad cop as toff cop, common cop. What all three share is tenacity. As Walkelin observes, ‘Oft times we are called the lord Sheriff’s law hounds, and like a hound, we cannot leave a scent uninvestigated, a warm trail to go cold without us sniffin’ at it.’

The domestic side is not ignored either. Bradcote’s concern for his wife is endearing and Catchpoll has a caring wife always ready with a cup of warmed cider or advice to wrap up warm. Walkelin’s hopes of matrimony rest on his persuasive skills but it’s surprising what a way with preparing the ever-present pottage can do to change minds.

The unravelling of the mystery is nicely managed with a few red herrings along the way and a plethora of possible motives. As is often the case, Catchpoll’s local knowledge of family relationships and past grievances, as well as his ability to have his ear to the ground for gossip, are important in solving the mystery. His reputation as ‘a wily old bastard’ helps too. But young Walkelin plays his part as well, uncovering the nugget of information that proves someone is not what they profess to be.

If you’re looking for a enjoyable mystery with a well-constructed plot, colourful characters and interesting  historical detail then I can heartily recommend A Taste of Killing.  Or if you really want to indulge yourself, why not go back and read the whole series from the beginning (as I hope to do one day).

In three words: Engaging, intriguing, absorbing

Try something similar: The Monastery Murders by E. M. Powell

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Sarah HawkswoodAbout the Author

Sarah Hawkswood describes herself as a ‘wordsmith’ who is only really happy when writing. She read Modern History at Oxford and first published a non-fiction book on the Royal Marines in the First World War before moving on to medieval mysteries set in Worcestershire.

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#BookReview The Porcelain Doll by Kristen Loesch @AllisonandBusby

The Porcelain DollI’m delighted to be celebrating publication day of The Porcelain Doll by Kristen Loesch by sharing my review of this captivating historical novel. My thanks to Christina at Allison & Busby for my review copy.

The Porcelain DollAbout the Book

‘She was called Kukolka,’ he says. Little doll. It’s an unwelcome reminder of Mum’s porcelain prisoners back in London. Of all the things we could have brought with us from Russia – and we weren’t able to bring very much – she chose them.

Rosie’s only inheritance from her reclusive mother is a book of Russian fairy tales. But there is another story lurking between the lines.

Not so long ago, Rosie lived peacefully in Moscow and her mother told fairy tales at bedtime. But one summer night, all that came abruptly to an end when her father and sister were gunned down. Years later, Rosie is a doctoral student at Oxford, with a fiancé who knows nothing of her former life and an ailing, alcoholic mother lost to a notebook full of eerie, handwritten little stories.

Desperate for answers to the questions that have tormented her, Rosie returns to her homeland and uncovers a devastating family history which spans the 1917 Revolution, the siege of Leningrad, Stalin’s purges and beyond. At the heart of those answers stands a young noblewoman, Tonya, as pretty as a porcelain doll, whose actions reverberate across the century.

Format: Hardcover (384 pages)           Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 17th February 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

Find The Porcelain Doll on Goodreads

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My Review

I often find that in novels with a dual time structure one of the timelines – usually the earlier one – is more engaging than the other. This was definitely not the case in The Porcelain Doll because the author has managed to create two equally compelling storylines that blend past and present in a deliciously satisfying way.  The structure works because the connections between the two stories are so strong that  one never seems secondary to the other. Indeed, it feels that one could not exist without the other.

Starting in Russia in 1915, Tonya’s story spans decades encompassing the Revolution of October 1917, the Russian Civil War, the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, the siege of Leningrad during World War 2 and beyond. All of these events impact on Tonya and those close to her in dramatic ways, forcing her to make almost impossible choices to protect herself and those she cares for. As she observes at one point, ‘the choice in this country is not between right and wrong. It is between life and death’. Hers is a powerful, often harrowing, story of betrayal, loss, sacrifice and the sheer will to survive, often against seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s also a heart-breaking love story that brought to mind elements of Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

Rosie’s story takes place in 1991, an equally pivotal time in Russian history. It’s the era of perestroika and glasnost that would ultimately result in the collapse of the Soviet Union. But a new regime does not mean that old wounds can be forgotten. Far from it. The turbulent events in the country of Rosie’s birth reflect that in her own life. She continues to be haunted by memories of events earlier in her life, events that have left her with unanswered questions and a kind of survivor’s guilt. At one point Rosie is warned, ‘There is no enlightenment to be found in the past. No healing. No solace. Whatever we are looking for will not be there’. However, that warning doesn’t stop Rosie trying to find out more about her family history and to decode the answers she believes lie hidden in her mother’s stories.  What she discovers will change everything she thinks she knows and thought she wanted.

As the two storylines interweave, nothing is quite what it seems – and often no-one is quite what they seem either. The way the author has crafted the multi-layered plot is akin to a Rubik’s Cube where you think you’ve just about arrived at the solution only to find there’s a piece out of place. There are some moments of breathtaking revelation and twists that I certainly didn’t see coming.

Storytelling is an underlying theme of the book whether that’s stories created to entertain, to pass on cultural myths and legends, to record for posterity life experiences, to act as propaganda or set out a vision for the future.  Storytelling itself may even be a means of survival. And sometimes stories are the only way traumatic events can be processed and communicated.

I absolutely loved The Porcelain Doll. It kept me enthralled until the very last page.

In three words: Dramatic, emotional, captivating

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Kristen LoeschAbout the Author

Kristen Loesch grew up in San Francisco. She holds a BA in History, as well as a Master’s degree in Slavonic Studies from the University of Cambridge. Her debut historical novel, The Porcelain Doll, was shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award and longlisted for the Bath Novel Award. After a decade living in Europe, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children.

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