#BlogTour #BookReview Crow Court by Andy Charman @RandomTTours @unbounders

Crow Court PB BT PosterWelcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Crow Court by Andy Charman. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Unbound for my digital review copy. Do check out the posts by my tour buddies for today, Peter at Peter Turns The Pages and Lizzie at chapmanschaptersandpages.

Crow CourtAbout the Book

Spring, 1840. In the Dorset market town of Wimborne Minster, a young choirboy drowns himself. Soon after, the choirmaster – a belligerent man with a vicious reputation – is found murdered, in a discovery tainted as much by relief as it is by suspicion. The gaze of the magistrates falls on four local men, whose decisions will reverberate through the community for years to come.

So begins the chronicle of Crow Court, unravelling over fourteen delicately interwoven episodes, the town of Wimborne their backdrop: a young gentleman and his groom run off to join the army; a sleepwalking cordwainer wakes on his wife’s grave; desperate farmhands emigrate. We meet the composer with writer’s block; the smuggler; a troupe of actors down from London; and old Art Pugh, whose impoverished life has made him hard to amuse.

Meanwhile, justice waits…

Format: Paperback (336 pages)         Publisher: Unbound
Publication date: 3rd February 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

A cross between a historical crime novel and a collection of short stories, Crow Court is inventive in structure and style. If, like me, you don’t get on with the first chapter which is written in the present tense using short, clipped sentences, do stick with it because, with a few exceptions, subsequent chapters are more conventional in style.

Set in the small Dorset town of Wimborne, the story unfolds over 20 years starting in 1840 with the murder of a choirmaster. If you’re looking for a conventional whodunnit, you won’t find it here. Crow Court is less about finding the solution to the murder of Matthew Ellis, Wimborne’s choirmaster, than the consequences of the event over the months and years that follow. In fact, although the reader knows that a murder has occurred, the rest of the locals don’t. They just know the choirmaster has disappeared. Since he was known locally as ‘Buggermaster’ and was thought to have caused the suicide of a choir boy, not many people are that bothered by his disappearance. However rumours are the currency of a small village and because of their actions or their connection to the choirmaster, four men come under suspicion.

What follows is a kind of 6 Degrees of Separation as various characters appear in a series of interlinked stories. Some of the connections are quite tenuous – they know someone who knew someone else who got their boots made by the village cordwainer – whilst others are more direct. It was fun spotting names that sounded familiar and then thinking, ‘Ah, I remember, he’s the brother of so-and-so’s friend’. Along the way, we learn quite a lot about Dorset life in the 1840s and 1850s, as well as about the local landscape.

One of the interesting features of the book is the way the author plays with different narrative styles. A good example is in the chapter, ‘The Third Person’. Divided into three parts, the first is written in the second person, the second in the first person and the final part – you guessed it – in the third person. And some of the stories, such as ‘Art’s Last Laugh’, feature Dorset dialect. (There’s a helpful glossary at the end of the book for those who don’t know a gawk hammer from a doughbeaked cowheart.)

Some of the stories border on digressions and could easily be read as standalone short stories. ‘The Voice O’ Strangers’ which describes the experience of a ferocious storm in the South Atlantic is one example. However there’s (just) enough of the mystery threaded through each of them, or connections with key characters, to maintain the reader’s interest and they are all carefully crafted. When the culprit is revealed I suspect I won’t be the only reader to go back and read the opening chapters again.

In three words: Inventive, engaging, characterful

Try something similar: The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

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Andy Charman Author PicAbout the Author

Andy Charman was born in Dorset and grew up near Wimborne Minster, where Crow Court is set. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies and magazines, including Pangea and Cadenza. Crow Court is his first novel, which he worked on at the Arvon course at The Hurst in Shropshire in 2018. Andy lives in Surrey and is available for interview, comment and events.

Connect with Andy

#TopTenTuesday Dynamic Detective Duos

Top Ten Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl.

The rules are simple:

  • Each Tuesday, Jana assigns a new topic. Create your own Top Ten list that fits that topic – putting your unique spin on it if you want.
  • Everyone is welcome to join but please link back to That Artsy Reader Girl in your own Top Ten Tuesday post.
  • Add your name to the Linky widget on that day’s post so that everyone can check out other bloggers’ lists.
  • Or if you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment.

This week’s topic is Dynamic Duos. I decided to concentrate on some detective duos who feature in one of my favourite genres – historical crime fiction. Links from the titles will take you to my review.

  1. Physician Nicholas Shelby and tavern owner Bianca Merton in S.W Perry’s series set in Elizabethan London published by Corvus – The Angel’s Mark, The Serpent’s Mark, The Saracen’s Mark and The Heretic’s Mark
  2. Doctor Will Raven and housemaid Sarah Fisher in Ambrose Parry’s series set in 19th century Edinburgh published by Canongate – The Way of All Flesh, The Art of Dying and A Corruption of Blood
  3. Undersheriff Hugh Bradecote and Sergeant Catchpoll in Sarah Hawkswood’s series set in 12th century Worcestershire published by Allison & Busby – Servant of Death, Ordeal by Fire, Marked to Die, Hostage to Fortune, Vale of Tears, Faithful Unto Death, River of Sins, Blood Runs Thicker and Wolf at the Door
  4. Barrister Arthur Skelton and his clerk Edgar Hobbes in David Stafford’s series published by Allison & Busby – Skelton’s Guide to Domestic Poisons and Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders
  5. Amateur detectives Anna Drake and Shilly in Katharine Stansfield’s series set in 1840s Cornwall published by Allison & Busby – Falling Creatures, The Magpie Tree and The Mermaid’s Call
  6. Clerk to the King’s Justices Aelred Barling and his messenger Hugo Stanton in E.M. Powell’s series set in 12th century England published by Thomas & Mercer – The King’s Justice, The Monastery Murders and The Canterbury Murders
  7. Personal detective Sidney Grice and his ward March Middleton in M.R.C. Kasasian’s series set in 19th century London published by Head of Zeus – The Mangle Street Murders, The Curse of the House of Foskett, Death Descends on Saturn Villa, The Secrets of Gaslight Lane and Dark Dawn over Steep House
  8. Lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak in C.J. Sansom’s series set in Tudor England published by  – Dissolution, Dark Fire, Sovereign, Revelation, Heartstone, Lamentation and Tombland
  9. Cambridge historian Ernest Drabble and newspaper reporter Sir Percival Harris in Alec Marsh’s series set in the 1930s published by Headline – Rule Britannia, Enemy of the Raj, Ghosts of the West
  10. Slightly cheating because they’re a trio, lady ‘detectors’ Emily, Anne and Charlotte Brontë in Bella Ellis’s series set in 1840s Yorkshire – The Vanished Bride, The Diabolical Bones and The Red Monarch