#BookReview The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis @HodderBooks @brontemysteries

cover171547-mediumAbout the Book

Yorkshire, 1845. A young wife and mother has gone missing from her home, leaving behind two small children and a large pool of blood. Just a few miles away, a humble parson’s daughters – the Brontë sisters – learn of the crime. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are horrified and intrigued by the mysterious disappearance.

These three creative, energetic, and resourceful women quickly realize that they have all the skills required to make for excellent “lady detectors.” Not yet published novelists, they have well-honed imaginations and are expert readers. And, as Charlotte remarks, “detecting is reading between the lines – it’s seeing what is not there”.

As they investigate, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne are confronted with a society that believes a woman’s place is in the home, not scouring the countryside looking for clues. But nothing will stop the sisters from discovering what happened to the vanished bride, even as they find their own lives are in great peril…

Format: ebook (352 pp.)                             Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 12th September 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

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My Review

It’s 1851 and the prologue to the book sees Charlotte, now the last surviving member of the Brontë family, looking back on her and her sisters’ lives before they became famous authors.  It underlines how tragically short their lives were, Emily having died in 1848 and Anne in 1849.  Charlotte herself was to die in 1855.

The book’s very engaging premise is that the sisters were enterprising ‘detectors’ before they were novelists and The Vanished Bride represents their first case undertaken in 1845 (before, for example, the publication of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in 1847).  In a clever nod to the fact that the Brontë sisters’ novels and poems were initially published under pseudonyms (Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell) in order to disguise their gender, the author has adopted Bella Ellis as her pen-name for this new series of historical mysteries. That’s only one of very many clever nods to the works of the Brontë sisters that feature in The Vanished Bride and readers who are familiar with any of the novels of the Brontës will have great fun in spotting the allusions.  I know I did but I probably missed just as many more.   (There is also at least one allusion to another famous fictional detective in the reference to what might be described as a ‘curious incident’.)

The book also makes references to events in the lives of the sisters.  There is one especially poignant scene where Charlotte and Anne visit Scarborough as part of their  investigation and Anne remarks that, apart from Haworth, Scarborough is ‘the only other place in the world that she ever wished to be…standing on the clifftops, marvelling at the boundless magnitude of the sea, and wondering at what might lie beyond it’.

The sisters take it in turns to relate the story and, as well as making engaging narrators, it allows the reader to appreciate their different strengths when it comes to the art of ‘detecting’, neatly mirroring what you might imagine were their characters in real-life.  For example, Emily is all action, emotional and instinct, whereas Anne is methodical and thoughtful, and Charlotte is in her element when dealing with people and eliciting information.  Collectively, the sisters find their gender is a positive advantage on a number of occasions, something very different from the position they find themselves in as members of society.   Fans of Branwell Brontë will be pleased to know that he also features, although very much in an assisting role.

I wouldn’t want what I’ve said so far to put off readers who are unfamiliar with the lives or works of the Brontë sisters because The Vanished Bride works perfectly well as an engaging historical mystery even without such knowledge (although, I suspect readers may be tempted to pick up one of the sisters’ novels afterwards).  The sisters’ investigation involves everything you’d expect from a mystery: examining the scene of the crime, looking for evidence, interviewing suspects, even a bit of undercover work and an early outing for what we’d probably recognise today as psychological profiling.  Those with good powers of observation may pick up clues along the way but you definitely won’t know if they were significant or ‘red herrings’ until the final chapters.

The Vanished Bride is an accomplished, entertaining historical mystery that is also great fun for Brontë fans.  I shall certainly be looking out for future books in the series.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley

In three words: Clever, engaging, mystery

Try something similar: Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen (read my review here)

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Rowan ColemanAbout the Author

Bella Ellis is the Brontë-esque pseudonym of Rowan Coleman, an acclaimed author of numerous novels for adults and children. She first visited the former home of the Brontë sisters when she was ten years old. From the moment she stepped over the threshold she was hooked, and embarked on a lifelong love affair with Charlotte, Emily, and Anne; their life; their literature; and their remarkable legacy. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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#BookReview The Mermaid’s Call by Katherine Stansfield @allisonandbusby @K_Stansfield

The Mermaid's CallAbout the Book

Cornwall, 1845. Shilly has always felt a connection to happenings that are not of this world, a talent that has proved invaluable when investigating dark deeds with master of disguise, Anna Drake. The women opened a detective agency with help from their newest member and investor, Mathilda, but six long months have passed without a single case to solve and tensions are growing.

It is almost a relief when a man is found dead along the Morwenstow coast and the agency is sought out to investigate. There are suspicions that wreckers plague the shores, luring ships to their ruin with false lights – though nothing has ever been proved. Yet with the local talk of sirens calling victims to the sea to meet their end, could something other-worldly be responsible for the man’s death?

Format: ebook, hardcover (288 pp.)         Publisher: Allison & Busby
Publication date: 19th September 2019  Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Mermaid’s Call is the third book in Katherine Stansfield’s ‘Cornish Mystery’ series, following on from Falling Creatures (which I’ve still to read) and The Magpie Tree, my review of which you can read here.   The Mermaid’s Call can definitely be enjoyed as a standalone, although it does contain brief references to events in the earlier two books.  However, there are still plenty of secrets to be learned – especially about Anna Drake – and even the book’s narrator, Shilly, doesn’t know everything about Anna’s past meaning the reader doesn’t feel at a disadvantage or, even if they do, it’s a position they share with Shilly!  Personally, I love that there are hints of things still to be discovered about both characters – I hope in future books in the series.   Incidentally, in her guest post on my blog last year, Katherine Stansfield addressed the challenge of a writing a sequel and whether they should look back or forward.

I mentioned that Shilly is the book’s narrator and she fulfils this duty in her own distinctive style. Shilly has experienced traumatic events in her life and battled demons of her own but Anna is the real woman of mystery with secrets not only in her past but also, it appears, in the present.    Shilly and Anna make an unconventional detective partnership to which each bring their own strengths, although Anna is very much in charge.

Anna’s approach is all about collecting facts and evidence, establishing alibis and questioning suspects, helped by her expertise at adopting disguises in which she invariably poses as a man, an opportunity she seems to relish. As Shilly notes, ‘Men’s clothes gave her something else.  Something I wished I could give her’.  What Shilly describes as her ability to ‘look askance’ means her approach is more founded on impressions, instinct and even visions bordering on the supernatural.  The relationship between Anna and Shilly goes beyond just a partnership in detecting crime though – at least, that’s definitely what Shilly desires.  And, for both of them, the detective agency is also a way, as women, to exert their independence and identity in a world controlled by men.

The case they are engaged to investigate takes them to Morwenstow and the curious household of Parson Hawker which is not only filled with cats and dogs and a rampaging pig but also a secret locked room – surely a requirement of any mystery novel! I was delighted to learn from the author’s historical note that the Parson Hawker in the book is based on a real life character which certainly goes to support the statement that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’.

In my review of The Magpie Tree I wrote that the book ‘ticked all the boxes for me as a historical mystery: intriguing story line, interesting and engaging central characters, great period detail and atmospheric location’.  I had the same feeling on turning the last page of The Mermaid’s Call.   A story of love, secrets, betrayal and revenge, sprinkled with a hint of the supernatural and full of twists and turns, The Mermaid’s Call (and indeed the whole ‘Cornish Mystery’ series) is highly recommended for fans of historical crime mysteries.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Allison & Busby via NetGalley.

In three words: Compelling, atmospheric, mystery

Try something similar: Wrecker by Noel O’Reilly

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Katherine Stansfield 2About the Author

Katherine Stansfield is a multi-genre novelist and poet who grew up on Bodmin Moor and now lives in Cardiff.  Her ‘Cornish Mysteries’ crime series is set in the 1840s and features unorthodox detective duo Anna Drake and Shilly Williams. The pair investigate crimes based on real events in Cornish history and involve a good dash of local folklore. Think ‘Sherlock Holmes meets the X Files meets Daphne du Maurier’.

Katherine is also one half of the writing partnership DK Fields, with her partner David Towsey. Head of Zeus will publish their political fantasy novel Widow’s Welcome, the first in ‘The Tales of Fenest’ trilogy, in August 2019. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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