#BookReview The Cornish Captive by Nicola Pryce @ReadersFirst1 @CorvusBooks

The Cornish CaptiveAbout the Book

Cornwall, 1800. Imprisoned on false pretences, Madeleine Pelligrew, former mistress of Pendenning Hall, has spent the last 14 years shuttled between increasingly destitute and decrepit mad houses. When a strange man appears out of the blue to release her, she can’t quite believe that her freedom comes without a price. Hiding her identity, Madeleine determines to discover the truth about what happened all those years ago.

Unsure who to trust and alone in the world, Madeleine strikes a tentative friendship with a French prisoner on parole, Captain Pierre de la Croix. But as she learns more about the reasons behind her imprisonment, and about those who schemed to hide her away for so long, she starts to wonder if Pierre is in fact the man he says he is. As Madeleine’s past collides with her present, can she find the strength to follow her heart, no matter the personal cost?

Format: Paperback (464 pages)       Publisher: Corvus
Publication date: 6th January 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Cornish Captive is the sixth novel in the author’s Cornish Saga series. I have only read one previous book in the series – The Cornish Lady – but although some characters feature in more than one book it’s not essential to have read all the earlier books in order to enjoy this one. Don’t be put off by the list of characters at the beginning of the book either as some appear only briefly or are not key to the plot. However the family trees are very useful, especially as a few of the surnames are similar.

The book’s focus is Madeleine’s attempts to bring to justice the person she believes to be responsible for her false imprisonment. However the backdrop is the French Revolution. (Cleverly, the book is divided into three parts – Liberté, Équalité and Fraternité.) As a member of an aristocratic French family, Madeleine’s sympathies are Royalist but Pierre de la Croix, the French captain she meets is a Republican, a prisoner of the British and someone who should be a sworn enemy. However, who can blame Madeleine for being drawn to the handsome Pierre, especially when he has the knack of being conveniently on hand whenever Madeleine’s safety is threatened. But given her previous experience of men and her conviction that ‘All men lied’, can she learn to trust again?

The author captures with insight Madeleine’s feelings following her release from imprisonment. Yes, she is relieved to be free but she finds herself overwhelmed by the physical sensations of open skies and fresh air after so long in darkness and confinement. ‘To be free… The air was so fresh it almost hurt to breathe, yet I gulped lungfuls of the salty air, laughing, crying, blinded by the brilliance of the sun’s reflection.’ She also bears the physical and emotional scars of her ill treatment.

With Britain at war with France, Madeleine finds herself drawn into the world of spies and secret agents. I’ll be honest I got a bit confused about who was spying for which side and their various aliases. However, it all gets wrapped up neatly at the end of the book.

A heart-warming side story is that of Rowan, the young girl who was the only person to show Madeleine any kindness during her time in the mad house and who accompanies Madeleine to Fosse after she makes her escape. A nice touch later in the book is how the community of Fosse come together to support a character who, because of their nationality and political allegiance, should provoke hostility. Instead kind acts and generosity of spirit overcome the prejudice that might have been expected. A lesson there for us all.

Having visited Cornwall on many occasions, I’m always drawn to books set in that lovely county. The author skilfully conveys the rugged beauty of the Cornish landscape with descriptions of coastal meadows covered in wildflowers. I enjoyed the scenes of the bustling quayside of Fosse which reminded me of Fowey, with Polruan only a ferry ride away.

Combine a beautiful location with a romantic storyline, add spies, subterfuge, a secret diary, some close escapes, the reunion of long lost family members and an engaging, feisty heroine and you have all the ingredients you need for an enjoyable historical novel.

In three words: Romantic, well-crafted, absorbing

Try something similarScandalous Alchemy by Katy Moran

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Nicola PryceAbout the Author

Nicola Pryce trained as a nurse at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. She has always loved literature and completed an Open University degree in Humanities. She is a qualified adult literacy support volunteer and lives with her husband in the Blackdown Hills in Somerset. Together they sail the south coast of Cornwall in search of adventure. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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#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

Try something similar: The Vanishing Bride by Bella Ellis

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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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