#BlogTour Castle Shade (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes17) by Laurie R. King @AllisonandBusby

Castle Shade Blog Tour Twitter graphic

Welcome to the final stop on the blog tour for Castle Shade by Laurie R. King, the 17th book in the author’s Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series. My thanks to Christina Storey at Allison & Busby for inviting me to take part in the tour. You can read an extract from the book below and also listen to Laurie reading from the book here.

Laurie R King Giveaway CarouselIn addition, the publishers are currently running a giveaway (open to UK residents only) with the chance for one lucky person to win a set of paperbacks of the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series and a pot of beautiful honey. Three runners up will also receive copies of The Beekeepers Apprentice, the first book in the series, and some honey. You can enter via this link where you can also find terms and conditions.

Castle Shade Promo CarouselAnd If you’re tempted to treat yourself to a copy of Castle Shade, the publishers also have an exciting promotion running at the moment. Purchase a copy of Castle Shade for £15 and get an exclusive signed bookplate from Laurie herself. There are a limited amount of these so don’t delay. Use the code ‘share15’ at checkout. You’ll get free postage & packing as well.


Castle ShadeAbout the Book

A queen, a castle, a dark and ageless threat – all await Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in this chilling new adventure.

The queen is Marie of Roumania: the doubly royal granddaughter to Victoria, Empress of the British Empire, and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia. A famous beauty who was married at seventeen into Roumania’s young dynasty, Marie had beguiled the Paris Peace Conference into returning her adopted country’s long-lost provinces, single-handedly transforming Roumania from a backwater into a force.

The castle is Bran: a tall, quirky, ancient structure perched on high rocks overlooking the border between Roumania and its newly regained territory of Transylvania. The castle was a gift to Queen Marie, a thanks from her people, and she loves it as she loves her own children.

The threat is…now, that is less clear. Shadowy figures, vague whispers, the fears of girls, dangers that may only be accidents. But this is a land of long memory and hidden corners, a land that had known Vlad the Impaler, a land from whose churchyards the shades creep.

When Queen Marie calls, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are as dubious as they are reluctant. But a young girl is involved, and a beautiful queen. Surely it won’t take long to shine light on this unlikely case of what would seem to be strigoi?

Or, as they are known in the West…vampires.

Format: Hardcover (384 pages)   Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 8th June 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Find Castle Shade (Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #17) on Goodreads

Purchase links
Bookshop.org
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

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Extract from Castle Shade by Laurie R King

‘But sir, madam – you know, strange things are happening in Bran, in recent times,’ the butler admitted. ‘It is why you are here. No doubt there are explanations, but still, the ignorant talk. A cow dies in a family having troubles with a neighbour – that enemy must have done it. A man goes into the forest and does not come out, evil is thought, not accident. Strange marks appear on walls, girls walking home hear noises in the night, dogs bark at nothing – sir, madam, you are educated people. I do not need to tell you that the simple person’s imagination picks up the unknown and builds a mountain of it. And the talk feeds itself.’
‘What kind of talk?’ Holmes pressed.
The butler was practically squirming in his chair. ‘Wicked talk. Irresponsible talk.’
‘Saying what?’
‘Evil things! Things she would never permit to enter her mind! I have served her since the day she first came to Bran, five years ago. If anything … like that was entering this castle, I would know.’
I could feel Holmes settle, a reflection of my own thought: At last, we arrive at the core of the matter. ‘You are saying that gossip has started up around Queen Marie? Rumours of evil and corrupt doings, of her … taking advantage of the young women of the vicinity?’
‘Her Majesty is beautiful in her own person! She rides out for the joy of riding this countryside that she loves, she stops to talk to the people in their cottages because she cares for them, not because she …’ Again, his tongue froze rather than finish the sentence.
‘Because she is looking the place over with an eye to victims?’
Florescu looked ashamed, perhaps for having permitted the words to have been pronounced within this place.
‘Tell us about these “strange marks” on the walls,’ Holmes said.
‘I have only seen some. Most are scrubbed away quickly. By the fathers, you know? They fear they may be words their daughters should not see, and their sons should not learn.’
‘So these are obscenities?’
‘Some. When they started, in the spring, nobody knew – until a person who knew that word noticed and told the others. Now, when they appear, some may be bad, others not, but it is better to be safe and wash them away. They come at night, they are in simple chalk so a bucket of water deals with them, but they are disturbing. Some threaten girls – all girls, no names. “Girls here are not safe.” Which is very much not true. Others are not, er…’ His eyes flicked sideways at me, and he changed what he had been going to say. ‘They are not normal? Not the kind of words boys teach each other. They talk of pain, and power over the weak, using words many villagers have never heard. Words that are in no dictionary.’
‘And these words and threats are aimed at the queen?’
‘No. The other way. It is as if … as if she is the one saying them.’
‘What, you mean they’re signed with her name? Or, I suppose, title?’
‘That is not necessary. Not when they are written in her own tongue.’
‘Ah. They’re in English, then, these “strange marks.”’
‘Some of the marks are words, yes, and English. Others just marks.’
‘Obscene drawings?’
‘Some, I heard. The two I saw were symbols, of some kind. I took those down myself, as the villagers would not.’
He was clearly hiding something, and when Holmes spoke, his voice was crisp with irritation. ‘Mr Florescu, I would appreciate your help in this matter. I cannot work without cold, hard facts. I see that this causes you discomfort, but we are adults, and we both wish to present Her Majesty with a solution to her problem. Do we not?’
The man flushed, his very moustache quivering with indignation at the thought that he might not wish to serve his queen. He jerked open the top drawer of his desk and slapped a pad of paper down on the blotter, snatched up a pencil and threw a few lines on the page.
The first was a star inside a circle. The second was the overlapping W we had seen marked into the forest trees. ‘Those are just apotropaic – just marks meant to turn away witches,’ I said.
‘Yes. Superstition – pah! My village is small, but we are educated. The people here know better.’ His shame was palpable.
Holmes nodded thoughtfully. ‘So to be clear: the chalk marks that have been appearing are either rude words in English or obscene sketches. The residents take those down. But others are the marks meant to repel witches, and they sometimes leave those up. Is that right?’
‘I wash them, when I see,’ he declared.
‘Yes. Is it possible the villagers themselves are putting those up?’
He looked away. ‘Some are paint,’ he said, admission enough.
We had exhausted the question of the mysterious marks, I thought, and to rescue him from the embarrassment of his people’s gullibility, I returned to the question that had brought us here. ‘Before we go – Gabriela’s friend, the girl with the “active imagination”? What does she say happened to her?’
Before, Florescu had been uncomfortable, reluctant. Now his face shut down entirely. ‘Nothing happened.’
Holmes’ gaze snapped onto him. ‘That is not what we have heard, Mr Florescu.’
‘Nothing happened to the girl.’
Silence fell. We let it lie there.
After a moment, the moustache twitched. ‘The girl was walking home last night.’
‘From …?’
‘Here. She works in the kitchen – a new girl. Vera Dumitru. They finished cleaning later than usual.’
‘What time was it?’
‘Near to midnight.’
Not long before Holmes and I went out. I did not look at him, but I knew his expression would be as chagrined as my own.
‘Was she alone?
‘Three girls left together. Two live on the other side of the village, Vera on this. They stopped at the road – probably smoking a cigarette, if I know them – and then the two went left and Vera to the right.’
‘The road to Brașov?’
‘The small road, past the churchyard. She says she was passing the church and heard a voice call to her. She was surprised, but not afraid, or so she says. This is a quiet village, you understand? Things that happen in cities are not found here. And there are houses all around, to hear if a girl …’
‘Is being attacked,’ I supplied.
‘Exactly! So she looked to see who it was, thinking maybe one of her brother’s friends was teasing at her, and she kept her voice small so as not to wake those sleeping. She said, who was there.’ He paused, noticed the pad still sitting on the desk and returned it to the drawer. ‘Who is there? The voice says, “Andrei.” This is a common name, so she says, which Andrei? And the voice says, “The one killed near Fagaraș during the War.” This was a boy she knew, a boy we buried. His body came here.’ Florescu looked up, the moustache lifted in an awkward smile. ‘She ran. Down the road to her home.’
Holmes, clearly not as disturbed by what that smile had revealed as I was, asked him for the boy’s name, and whether the girl Vera was generally flighty, and I think some other question that went past me, and Holmes may have asked to speak with the girl and Florescu replied that he would ask her father, and then perhaps some other conversation happened but not much, because we were on our feet and out into what seemed to be a beautiful spring morning, and I turned to Holmes and hissed, low, so as not to be overheard.
‘Holmes, did you see that?’
‘I saw that the man was hiding something, yes.’
‘No – I mean his teeth. When he smiled? The queen’s butler has fangs!’


Laurie R KingAbout the Author

Laurie R King has has been writing crime fiction since 1987 and won many awards for her work in fiction including the prestigious John Creasey Dagger, the Edgar, the Nero and Macavity Awards. Her background includes such diverse interests as Old Testament theology and construction work, and she is the author of highly praised stand-alone suspense novels and a contemporary mystery series, as well as the Mary Russell & Sherlock Holmes series. She lives in North California.

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#BookReview Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford @AllisonandBusby

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford, the second book in the historical crime series featuring barrister, Arthur Skelton. My thanks to Christina at Allison & Busby for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy via NetGalley.


Skelton's Guide to Suitcase MurdersAbout the Book

A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase, and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?

Format: Hardcover (352 pages)      Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 22nd April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

Find Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders (Arthur Skelton #2) on Goodreads

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

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


My Review

It was an absolute pleasure to be reunited with barrister Arthur Skelton and his trusty clerk – and friend – Edgar Hobbes. I loved the scenes where Arthur and Edgar discuss the briefs that have been sent to him. By the way, if you want to discover the inspiration for the character of Arthur, read David’s blog post on how Arthur came to be. I should say at this point that it’s not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this second one.

Having said that, for fans of the series Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders sees the return of characters from the first book, including Arthur’s cousin, Alan, and his sister, Norah, who travel the country with their caravan spreading the word of God at meetings. Often they gather useful nuggets of information for Arthur’s cases along the way, relayed to him in Alan’s chatty letters.

Another returning characters is Rose Critchlow who helped Arthur with his previous case and is now working as an articled clerk in the solicitors who provide most of Arthur’s work. Once again, Rose makes a valuable contribution, one that leads to an important discovery and provides an insight into the emerging science of forensic entomology (the lifecycles of creepy crawlies) at the same time. Amongst her other attributes, the reader learns, are superb navigational skills. ‘Rose knew the way. Of course she did. Five minutes with a map and Rose would be able to take you straight to the green-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu or the lost kingdom of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.‘ I was particularly delighted to come across the latter reference having already decided on my ‘Try Something Similar’ suggestion below.

As in the first book, the reader gets an insight into Skelton’s domestic life with wife, Mila, and children, Lawrence and Elizabeth. I particularly enjoyed the episode in which Arthur is entrusted with the Christmas shopping list, including purchasing gifts for the children and hits the busy streets of London. ‘He’d been told by many people that, if you value your health and sanity, you should never venture into a toyshop at Christmas time. Climb the Matterhorn by all means, take the waters in Moscow during a cholera epidemic, but stay away from toyshops.’ Does Arthur return with exactly what was specified on the list? Come on, he’s a man isn’t he?

Arthur’s wife, Mila, is a wonderful character and definitely nothing like the ‘She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed’ of John Mortimer’s Rumpole series. Mila is an avid reader of the newspapers, teaches archery to local girls and has lately developed a rather grand ambition, keen to outdo her acquaintance, Cissy Pemberton.  Mila and Arthur have a touching relationship such that I found it hard to forgive the author for putting Arthur through the mill when there is a a sudden turn of events.

Alongside Arthur’s attempts to find the evidence needed to achieve the acquittal of his client, Doctor Aziz, are entertaining interludes where the reader witnesses Arthur’s court appearances in other cases in which he has been instructed. He frequently ponders on the small things that can turn a case and influence a jury.

The book is also enlivened by references to real life figures such as the renowned pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury. And I especially enjoyed Arthur and Edgar’s memorable encounter with a star of stage and screen in their favourite eating place, Kembles. By the way, it’s here that Edgar, seeking to reduce his portly stature for reasons he is initially reluctant to reveal, eschews the delights of veal and ham pie for an egg salad that Arthur describes as looking like ‘the sort of thing that Mr Gandhi might have eaten as a form of protest‘.

Do Arthur and Edgar get to the bottom of the (suit)case? What do you think…?

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is another delightful addition to the series. I loved its combination of period detail, ingenious mystery and amiable humour, and I’m already looking forward to Arthur’s next guide to dastardly deeds.

In three words: Engaging, lively, clever

Try something similar: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer

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David StaffordAbout the Author

David Stafford began his career in theatre. He has written countless dramas, comedies and documentaries including two TV films with Alexei Sayle, Dread Poets Society with Benjamin Zephaniah, and, with his wife, Caroline, a string of radio plays and comedies including The Brothers, The Day The Planes Came and The Year They Invented Sex as well as five biographies of musicians and showbusiness personalities. Fings Ain’t Wot They Use T’Be – The Life of Lionel Bart was chosen as Radio 4 Book of the Week and made into a BBC Four TV documentary.

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