#BookReview The Room of the Dead (Betty Church Mystery 2) by M.R.C. Kasasian @HoZ_Books

The Room of the DeadAbout the Book

December, 1939. Having solved the case of the Suffolk Vampire, Inspector Betty Church and her colleagues at Sackwater Police Station have settled back down to business. There’s the elderly Mr Fern who keeps losing his slippers, Sylvia Satin’s thirteenth birthday party to attend and the scintillating case of the missing bookmark to solve. Though peace and quiet are all well and good, Betty soon finds herself longing for some cold-blooded murder.

When a bomb is dropped on a residential street, both peace and quiet are broken and it seems the war has finally reached Sackwater. But Betty cannot stop the Hun, however hard she tries. So when the body of one of the bomb victims is found stretched out like an angel on Sackwater’s beach, Betty concentrates on finding the enemy much closer to home…

Format: Hardcover (432 pages)   Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 11th July 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

The Room of the Dead is the second in the author’s Betty Church Mystery series. True to form, I’m reading the series out of order, having read the first and third books – Betty Church And The Suffolk Vampire and The Ghost Tree – before this one. However, at least I can reassure readers new to the series that The Room of the Dead works perfectly well as a standalone. There are brief references to events in the first book, but nothing that would spoil your enjoyment of this one.

The book sees the return of the mostly hapless collection of individuals who constitute the Sackwater police force: Constable ‘Dodo’ Chivers (as barmy as her name suggests), Constable Box, Constable Bank-Anthony (‘Bantony’), Constable Rivers, identical twins Constables Lysander and Algernon Grinder-Snipes, Sergeant Briggs (‘Brigsy’) and the perpetual thorn in Betty’s side, Inspector Sharkey (referred to as ‘Old Scrapie’, although not within his hearing).

You’ll have deduced by now that the author has a penchant for giving his characters unusual names such as Simnal Cranditch and Garrison Orchard. And if you’ve read any of the author’s other books you’ll be prepared for the frequent puns, wordplay and quirky chapter titles. As a John Buchan fan, my favourite was ‘The Twenty-Nine Steps’, although where the other ten went I’ve no idea!

When it comes to solving cases, once again Betty demonstrates she has more brains in her little finger than all of her officers put together. And she’s going to need all that brain power as the investigation gets increasingly complex.  Fans of the author’s Gower Street Detective series, will be pleased to see March Middleton, Betty’s godmother, turn up to lend a hand and demonstrate the miraculous powers of observation and deduction she learned from the Gower Street detective himself, Sidney Grice.  I love Betty as a character and was delighted at – hold the front page – a hint of romance in the air… or among the sand dunes to be more precise.

The Room of the Dead is engagingly silly at times and some readers may tire of the frequent fun poked at the Suffolk accent, but it’s entertaining nonetheless and the solution to the mystery turns out to be slightly darker than you may have expected.

I received a review copy courtesy of Head of Zeus via NetGalley.

In three words: Engaging, humorous, ingenious

Try something similar: The Custard Corpses by M. J. Porter

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M R C KasasianAbout the Author

M.R.C. Kasasian was raised in Lancashire. He has had careers as varied as a factory hand, wine waiter, veterinary assistant, fairground worker and dentist. He is the author of the much loved Gower Street Detective series, five books featuring personal detective Sidney Grice and his ward March Middleton, as well as two other Betty Church mysteries, Betty Church and the Suffolk Vampire and The Room of the Dead. He lives with his wife, in Suffolk in the summer and in Malta in the winter.(Photo/bio: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview The Red Monarch by Bella Ellis @hodderbooks

The Red MonarchAbout the Book

The Brontë sisters’ first poetry collection has just been published, potentially marking an end to their careers as amateur detectors, when Anne receives a letter from her friend Lydia Robinson.

Lydia has eloped with a young actor, Harry Roxby, and following her disinheritance, the couple been living in poverty in London. Harry has become embroiled with a criminal gang and is in terrible danger after allegedly losing something very valuable that he was meant to deliver to their leader. The desperate and heavily pregnant Lydia has a week to return what her husband supposedly stole, or he will be killed. She knows there are few people who she can turn to in this time of need, but the sisters agree to help Lydia, beginning a race against time to save Harry’s life.

In doing so, our intrepid sisters come face to face with a terrifying adversary whom even the toughest of the slum-dwellers are afraid of…The Red Monarch.

Format: Hardcover (352 pages)             Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 18th November 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

In The Red Monarch the Brontë sisters, along with their brother Branwell, leave their beloved Yorkshire Moors for the much less salubrious streets of Victorian London. As well as viewing it as a mission of mercy there is also, they have to admit, the thrill of having a new case to investigate and the prospect of  ‘adventure aplenty and fiendishly difficult riddles to be solved’. Sounds good to me, and so it turns out.

Charlotte, as the last surviving sister, is once again given the role of custodian of the accounts of their hitherto unknown adventures as ‘lady detectorists’. There is a poignant moment in the book when Anne reassures Charlotte, ‘We shall always be at your side, irritating your every thought always, I swear it’ causing Charlotte to shudder ‘as if someone had just walked over her grave… an unwelcome message delivered from an uncertain future’.

As in the two previous books – The Vanished Bride and The Diabolical Bones – the individual characters of the siblings are carefully drawn. Indeed, the sisters themselves recognise one another’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to their role as investigators of crime. Anne’s gift, in Charlotte’s words, is ‘to intuit revelations that are invaluable’, whilst Anne praises Charlotte’s ‘bravery and cleverness’. Emily is the adventurer of the trio, as she soon proves. And Branwell? Well, he comes in useful as a protector when he’s able to lift himself from his current melancholy state, the result of an unsuccessful (real life) love affair.

The bond between the sisters is touching, Charlotte declaring at one point ‘we are never alone when we have one another’. Their other shared passion is, of course, writing although at this point in their lives they are yet to write the novels that will make them famous and are eagerly awaiting the first review of their volume of poetry. Every author knows what that’s like! In one memorable scene Charlotte encounters a famous (male) writer who is dismissive of her literary ambitions. Fortunately, she receives a more sympathetic and encouraging response from a female novelist quite famous in her day but now, I suspect, little known. The said lady novelist proves a useful ally as well.

I had fun spotting allusions to people or places in the Brontë sisters’ novels, including one which refers to a misreading of the title of one of the sister’s poems. Full disclosure: I had to Google that one and I’m sure there were others that I missed! Such references demonstrate the author’s extensive knowledge of, and obvious affection for, the Brontës and their works, as well as acting as little gifts for the observant reader.

Of course there is also an intriguing mystery to be solved that involves Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell exploring ‘the dark and undoubtedly dangerous underworld of the grimmest and most violent parts of the city’. I’ll say. What they uncover is a web of evil and depravity that reaches into the highest echelons of society.

The Red Monarch is another terrific instalment in what has become one of my favourite historical mystery series. It’s a book (and a series) I can highly recommended for fans of historical mysteries or of the Brontës.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley. You can read more reviews of The Red Monarch by following the book bloggers taking part in the blog tour, such as this review by Steph at Steph’s Book Blog or this one by Eva at Novel Deelights.

In three words: Intriguing, suspenseful, atmospheric

Try something similarThe House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

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Rowan ColemanAbout the Author

Rowan Coleman is the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of sixteen novels including the Richard and Judy pick The Memory Book and the Zoe Ball bookclub choice, The Summer of Impossible Things.

Rowan also writes the Brontë Mysteries under the name Bella Ellis, a series that imagines that before they were world renowned novelists the Bronte sisters were amateur sleuths. These include The Vanished Bride, The Diabolical Bones and The Red Monarch with more on the way in 2022.  (Photo: Goodreads/Bio: Author website)

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