#BookReview A Three Dog Problem by S. J. Bennett @ZaffreBooks

A Three Dog ProblemAbout the Book

In the wake of a referendum which has divided the nation, the last thing the Queen needs is any more problems to worry about. But when an oil painting of the Royal Yacht Britannia – first given to the Queen in the 1960s – shows up unexpectedly in a Royal Navy exhibition, she begins to realise that something is up.

When a body is found in the Palace swimming pool, she finds herself once again in the middle of an investigation which has more twists and turns than she could ever have suspected. With her trusted secretary Rozie by her side, the Queen is determined to solve the case. But will she be able to do it before the murderer strikes again?

Format: Hardcover (388 pages)              Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 11th November 2021 Genre: Crime, Mystery

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My Review

A Three Dog Problem proved to be the perfect contrast to the run of rather serious books I’ve read lately. It’s a delightful, charming mystery in which Her Majesty proves herself to be just as astute and no-nonsense as we always imagined. As one of her staff observes, ‘She was a hell of a lot sharper than she looked. Mistakes were picked up on. Dry comments were made. Eyes were rolled.’

Ex-soldier Rozie, the Queen’s Assistant Private Secretary, is a great character and a force to be reckoned with. As she reminds herself, when the enquiries she has set in train take an unexpectedly risky turn, ‘her regimental specialism had been “find, strike, destroy, suppress”‘.

I loved the humorous elements in the book such as Prince Philip’s petname for his wife being Cabbage, the idea of the Queen googling herself on her iPad to find out where she was on a particular date, and that she spent some of her time at Balmoral binge-watching Murder She Wrote.

I also enjoyed the ‘behind the scenes’ look at life in a royal palace, an increasingly dilapidated one as it turns out in the case of Buckingham Palace. And, as Rozie observes, at night its character changes. ‘The majority of staff went home, the flood of tradesmen, craftsmen and daily visitors slowed to a trickle, and the place was reclaimed by those who lived there or habitually worked late. The buildings stopped trying to impress and their occupants got on with the task of working as efficiently as they could in a rabbit warren of corridors that ceased to make sense two hundred years ago.’

External events such as the fallout from the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential election provide a subtle backdrop to the main storyline. The Queen muses about women who have achieved things or may do so in the future, such as Hilary Clinton, whilst underplaying her own role in world affairs. And there is a moving scene in which the Queen attends the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph; it’s especially poignant as ill-health meant she was unable to attend the ceremony for only the seventh time in her long reign this year.

And, of course, at the heart of the book is an ingenious mystery involving amongst other things an unexplained death, poison pen letters, Renaissance art, and some murky goings-on in the bowels of Buckingham Palace.  Definitely a three dog problem.

I know many readers have fallen in love with this series, which commenced with The Windsor Knot in 2020, and I can now understand why. The good news is the author promises there’s another book on the way next year.

I received an a review copy courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First.

In three words: Engaging, witty, lively

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S J BennettAbout the Author

S. J. Bennett wrote several award-winning books for teenagers before turning to adult crime novels. She lives in London and has been a royal watcher for years, but is keen to stress that these are works of fiction: the Queen, to the best of her knowledge, does not secretly solve crimes. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

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#BookReview End of Summer by Anders de la Motte @ZaffreBooks

End of SummerAbout the Book

You can always go home. But you can never go back…

Summer 1983: Four-year-old Billy chases a rabbit in the fields behind his house. But when his mother goes to call him in, Billy has disappeared. Never to be seen again.

Today: Veronica is a bereavement counsellor. She’s never fully come to turns with her mother’s suicide after her brother Billy’s disappearance. When a young man walks into her group, he looks familiar and talks about the trauma of his friend’s disappearance in 1983. Could Billy still be alive after all this time?

Needing to know the truth, Veronica goes home – to the place where her life started to fall apart. But is she really prepared for the answers that wait for her there?

Format: Paperback (480 pages)        Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 19th August 2021 Genre: Crime, Mystery

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My Review

End of Summer was first published in Sweden in 2016 where it was shortlisted for Novel of the Year in the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Awards. Now available in English, it’s the second book in the ‘Seasons Quartet’ with Dead of Winter and Deeds of Autumn due out in January and October 2022 respectively, joining Rites of Spring which was published in April 2021, although each book is a standalone story.

End of Summer unfolds in alternating chapters, moving between past and present – the summer of 1983 and the present day. For me this structure really worked as I was constantly wondering what was going to happen next in the other timeline, although later in the book, one of the timelines predominates. Throughout the book the author’s  ability to deliver a teasing last line adds to the suspense, as does the occasional inclusion of a series of letters from an undisclosed correspondent, the significance of which only becomes evident in the closing chapters.

As the mystery of Billy Nilsson’s disappearance remains unresolved, the reader sees played out the disturbing effect it has on the family, the small community of Reftinge in which they live, and the police officer charged with investigating it, Chief of Police Månsson. Unfamiliar with investigating a crime of this magnitude, Månsson feels out of his depth but deeply conscious of his obligation to provide an answer for the Nilsson family. Månsson can’t help imagining what it would be like if it was one of his own sons who had gone missing. At one point he reflects, “I’m doing my best… I’m trying to be a good husband, a good father. A good police officer.” I found him a very empathetic character. The pressure on Månsson only increases when what evidence there is seems to point to a particular individual.

Moving to the present day, Billy’s sister, Vera, has reinvented herself as Veronica. The reasons for this remain tantalizingly unclear for much of the book; all the reader knows is that she seems to have experienced more than one traumatic event in her life. Ironically, Veronica is now working as a bereavement counsellor running grief therapy sessions at which those attending share the impact of their loss. The author shows a deft touch here, one phrase in particular sticking in my mind: the description of the tears shed by a member of the group as being ‘tiny, translucent pearls of grief’. An unxpected arrival at one of Veronica’s sessions triggers disturbing memories and sets in motion a chain of events which increasingly spirals out of control, triggering feelings of panic and paranoia.

When Veronica returns home to the family farm at the urging of her brother Mattias, Reftinge seen through her eyes is rather rundown. However, that feeling is soon replaced by the spine-tingling atmosphere the author creates as Veronica pursues her own investigation into the disappearance of her brother, heedless to the risks she runs in doing so. But how much of what she experiences is imagined, how much is real?

The author lays down plenty of false trails that certainly had me foxed. I developed several theories but the answer to the question ‘Where is Billy?’ when it is finally revealed definitely wrong-footed me. The solution was both more complex and more heartrending than anything I could have come up with.

End of Summer is a compelling mystery but also an absorbing and insightful picture of a family coping with the disappearance of a child: the unanswered questions, the dashed hopes, and the sense of absence. I found it absolutely gripping from start to finish and it’s a book I definitely won’t forget in a hurry.  I must also commend the translator, Neil Smith. If I hadn’t known, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed the book was originally written in Swedish.

My thanks to Clare Kelly at Zaffre for my proof copy of End of Summer. I shall certainly be looking out for future books in the series.

In three words: Gripping, moving, masterful

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Anders de la MotteAbout the Author

Anders de la Motte is the bestselling author of the ‘Seasons Quartet’; the first three of which – End of Summer, Deeds of Autumn and Dead of Winter – have all been number one bestsellers in Sweden and have been shortlisted for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Crime Novel of the Year. Anders, a former police officer, has already won a Swedish Academy of Crime Award for his debut, Game, in 2010 and his second standalone, The Silenced, in 2015.
To date, the first three books in the ‘Seasons Quartet’ have sold over half a million copies, with the fourth, Rites of Spring, publishing in Sweden in 2020. Set in Southern Sweden, all four books can be read as standalone novels.
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