#BookReview Molly & the Captain by Anthony Quinn

Molly & The CaptainAbout the Book

A celebrated artist of the Georgian era paints his two young daughters at the family home in Bath. The portrait, known as “Molly & the Captain”, becomes instantly famous, its fate destined to echo down the centuries, touching many lives.

In the summer of 1889 a young man sits painting a line of elms in Kensington Gardens. One day he glimpses a mother at play with her two daughters and decides to include them in his picture. From that moment he is haunted by dreams that seem to foreshadow his doom.

A century later, in Kentish Town, a painter and her grown-up daughters receive news of an ancestor linking them to the long-vanished double portrait of “Molly & the Captain”. Meanwhile friendship with a young musician stirs unexpected passions and threatens to tear the family apart.

Format: Hardback (432 pages)           Publisher: Abacus
Publication date: 27th October 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

Find Molly & the Captain on Goodreads

Pre-order/purchase links
Disclosure: If you buy a book via the above link, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops

Hive | Amazon UK
Links provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

The most impressive thing about the book is the way the author effortlessly evokes three different time periods. The clearest example is the first section set in the 1780s in which the story is related in the form of the journal of Laura (the ‘Captain’ of the book’s title), daughter of the famous but fictional painter, William Merrymount, and her letters to her cousin, Susan.  The prose has the idiosyncracies of style of that period, exemplified in this passage from the opening chapter. ‘Mr Lowther called at the house again. He stayed for an hour & behaved with a Civility I had thought beyond him…. Molly & I later prevail’d on him to accompany Ma on the piano forte.’  Moving between Bath and London we witness how Laura’s desire for recognition of her artistic talent is thwarted by circumstances and social conventions.

The second part of the book, set a hundred years later, was much my favourite section. I loved the character of Paul, a young artist whose disability places limits – sometimes self-imposed – on his achieving the success his talent deserves. His friend, the impoverished Philip Evenlode, is also a wonderfully sympathetic character. I really became engaged in Paul’s story and that of his sister, Maggie, frustrated in her ambition to pursue a university education because of the expectation she will care for their ailing mother. There are some particularly moving parts to the book and, for me, this section could have been a novel in its own right.

The final – and longest – section, set in 1983, is largely a story of strained family relationships. It was my least favourite part of the book not because it’s not well written but because it seemed the most tangential to the story of fate of the painting. I suspect it may be of most interest to those who, like me, have read the author’s earlier book, Eureka, because it features a key character from that book, actress Billie Cantrip. In fact, this section felt rather like a follow-up to Eureka. What Billie did next, if you like.  The final reveal of the solution to the mystery of the painting Molly & the Captain didn’t come as much of a revelation to me nor, I suspect, to other observant readers. However it did neatly bring the story full circle providing links between characters separated by centuries.

This is sounding like I didn’t enjoy the book; I did. It’s just I found myself actively seeking out connections between the three sections of the book rather than these emerging unbidden. Having said that, there were some neat touches such as the little ‘time tunnels’ that occasionally open giving brief glimpses of events or characters from earlier periods.  If there is a recurring theme to the book it’s the barriers placed in the way of individuals – particularly women – to realising their potential in life, expressing their creativity and being recognised for their talent.

If it didn’t completely succeed for me, Molly & the Captain is still a skilfully crafted novel, impressive in its scope with some wonderfully drawn characters.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Abacus via NetGalley.

In three words: Assured, insightful, engaging

Try something similar: The House of Birds by Morgan McCarthy

Anthony QuinnAbout the Author

Anthony Quinn was born in Liverpool in 1964. From 1998 to 2013 he was the film critic for the Independent. His novels include The Rescue Man, which won the 2009 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award; Half of the Human Race; The Streets, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Walter Scott Prize; Curtain Call, soon to be a feature film starring Ian McKellen and Gemma Arterton; Freya, Eureka, Our Friends in Berlin and London, Burning. He also wrote the recent Liverpool memoir Klopp. (Photo credit: RWC Literary Agency)


#BookReview The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz

The Twist of a KnifeAbout the Book

‘Our deal is over.’

That’s what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind. His new play, Mindgame, is about to open in London’s Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket.

On opening night, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it.

Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby’s murder, thrown into prison and interrogated. Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him.

But will Hawthorne take his call?

Format: Hardback (384 pages)          Publisher: Century
Publication date: 18th August 2022 Genre: Crime

Find out The Twist of a Knife on Goodreads

Purchase links
Disclosure: If you buy a book via the above link, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops

Hive | Amazon UK
Links provided for convenience only, not as part of an affiliate programme

My Review

Hmm, how to approach writing a review of a book in which a woman is murdered after writing a negative review? How to resist ‘the pleasure that comes with the twist of a knife’? Just tell the truth, of course.

The Twist of a Knife is the fourth in the author’s crime mystery series featuring ex-Detective Inspector Hawthorne and author Anthony Horowitz in the role of sidekick and, in this case, murder suspect. I really enjoyed the two previous books in the series I’ve read – The Word in Murder and A Line to Kill – and at some point I will get around to reading the second book, The Sentence is Death.

A Twist of the Knife has all the elements fans of the series have come to expect, including the author’s deadpan humour. ‘St John’s Gardens had originally been a cemetery but the dead bodies had all been removed (to Woking, which must have surprised them)’. And when he is arrested, he is sure sales of his children’s books will collapse but that it might help his crime fiction. There are plenty of references to the author’s work – his Alex Rider series, his TV drama Foyles War – and he admits, ‘If there’s a book of mine in a room, it’s always the first thing I’ll see’ but these are balanced by his self-deprecating observations.

Hawthorne is his same old self – taciturn, dismissive of his former colleagues, not afraid to tell a porkie or two to get access to a suspect or when questioning a witness, or to call on the skills of his neighbour Kevin. And Hawthorne’s remarkable observational and deductive skills are once again on display. The author teases us with some more details about Hawthorne’s childhood and private life, although tantalisingly his literary alter ego stops short of further probing even when given an unexpected opportunity. Hawthorne warns him, ‘I don’t want you talking about how and where I live. All right? And I definitely don’t want to read about it in your book’. Oops.

We also learn a few things about Anthony Horowitz, namely that he’s not averse to a bowl of Coco Pops and his library contains five hundred books. (I bet he has more than that really but I completely believe he possesses all the Bond novels and a signed copy of I, Claudius found in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye.)

The book has a colourful cast of characters, including those appearing in Horowitz’s comedy thriller, Mindgame, the play which attracts such a scathing review from feared theatre critic, Harriet Throsby. Just about everyone has the motive, means and opportunity to have committed the murder but none of them has so much evidence pointing to them as the culprit as Anthony Horowitz.  Did he do it or is someone out to get him?

The final act sees Hawthorne create a mise-en-scène reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel. Has he worked out whodunnit it? Of course he has. Will you have? I very much doubt it.

The Twist of a Knife is another highly entertaining murder mystery, full of wit and invention.

My thanks to Century for my digital review copy via NetGalley.

In three words: Clever, witty, entertaining

Try something similar: A Three Dog Problem by S.J. Bennett

AnthonyHorowitzAbout the Author

Bestselling author Anthony Horowitz has written two highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels, The House of Silk and Moriarty; three James Bond novels, Trigger MortisForever and a Day and With a Mind to Kill; the acclaimed bestselling mystery novels Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders and the Detective Hawthorne novels, The Word is MurderThe Sentence is DeathA Line To Kill, and the latest A Twist of Knife.

He is also the author of the teen spy Alex Rider series, and responsible for creating and writing some of the UK’s most loved and successful TV series, including Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. In January 2022 he was awarded a CBE for his services to literature.

Connect with Anthony
Website | Twitter

The Twist of a Knife Anthony Horowitzwitz