#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 Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal @picadorbooks

The Doll FactoryAbout the Book

London. 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment – forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning.

When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love.

But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening . . .

Format: Hardcover (336 pages)   Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 2nd May 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Doll Factory, the author’s debut novel, is set in Victorian London and provides a vivid picture of life in the period.  Whilst those in the higher echelons of society throng the glittering halls of the Great Exhibition or the Royal Academy, the poor wander ‘narrow and fetid’ passages, dark alleys with ‘green slime on their walls’ and inhabit the crowded rookeries where poverty-stricken young men and women support themselves through petty crime or prostitution. Those lucky enough to find employment, like Iris and her sister Rose, work long hours in thrall to the whims of their employers.

It’s no wonder Iris longs to escape her current occupation painting the faces of dolls and fulfil her artistic potential. When the opportunity comes it seems to her ‘as if her life was charcoal before, and now it takes on the vividness of oil paint’.  However, Iris’s new found freedom comes with consequences and also a degree of trepidation. ‘Her life was a cell before but now the freedom terrifies her. There are times when she longs for the enclosed familiarity of her previous life, because this expansive liberty seems like it will engulf her.’  As it turns out, Iris will soon realise just how precious liberty is.

The Doll Factory is a story of obsession and desire in various forms. Artist Louis Frost, and the other members of the self-styled Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, have a desire to challenge current artistic conventions. Street urchin Albie wishes to free his sister from a life of prostitution, one in which, obscenely, dying girls are the most treasured by clients. Albie also has rather specific ambitions of his own.  Meanwhile Silas, the owner of a shop filled with curiosities of a rather gruesome nature, harbours an obsession of a more sinister nature. The more the reader learns about his past the more menacing and disturbing his actions become.

There are some melodramatic scenes as events move towards their climax with the book’s ending inviting the reader to reach their own conclusion about the fate of the main characters. Part mystery, part love story, The Doll Factory positively oozes period atmosphere and will appeal to readers who like a good helping of the Gothic in their historical fiction… or those who desire to make the aquaintance of a wombat called Guinevere.

In three words: Atmospheric, chilling, dark

Try something similar: Crimson & Bone by Marina Fiorato

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Elizabeth MacnealAbout the Author

Elizabeth Macneal was born in Edinburgh and now lives in East London. She is a writer and potter and works from a small studio at the bottom of her garden. She read English Literature at Oxford University, before working in the City for several years. In 2017, she completed the Creative Writing MA at UEA in 2017 where she was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury scholarship. The Doll Factory, Elizabeth’s debut novel, won the Caledonia Noel Award 2018. (Photo/bio: Goodreads)

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