Throwback Thursday: The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield


Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme originally created by Renee at It’s Book Talk.  It’s designed as an opportunity to share old favourites as well as books that we’ve finally got around to reading that were published over a year ago.

Today I’m revisiting a book published in March 2018 – The Magpie Tree by Katherine Stansfield.  It came to mind because I was browsing the forthcoming releases by a few of my favourite publishers – yes, I know I should be concentrating on reading the books I already have! – and saw that the next book in the author’s ‘Cornish Mysteries’ series, The Mermaid’s Call, is due to be published by Allison & Busby in September.  You won’t be surprised to learn it was quickly added to my wishlist!

The Magpie Tree CoverAbout the Book

Jamaica Inn, 1844: the talk is of witches. A boy has vanished in the woods of Trethevy on the North Cornish coast, and a reward is offered for his return.

Shilly has had enough of such dark doings, but her new companion, the woman who calls herself Anna Drake, insists they investigate. Anna wants to open a detective agency, and the reward would fund it. They soon learn of a mysterious pair of strangers who have likely taken the boy, and of Saint Nectan who, legend has it, kept safe the people of the woods. As Shilly and Anna seek the missing child, the case takes another turn – murder.

Something is stirring in the woods and old sins have come home to roost.

Format: Hardcover, paperback, ebook (320 pp.)   Publisher: Allison & Busby
Published: 22nd March 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery

Purchase Links*
Publisher |  ǀ  ǀ (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Magpie Tree on Goodreads

My Review

The book’s compelling opening line, ‘The day I went to Jamaica Inn was the day I saw a man hanged’, brought to mind Daphne du Maurier and the opening lines of her novel, My Cousin Rachel: ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.’    Indeed, in the first paragraphs of the book, the author inserts plenty of enticing nuggets of information and clues about what may have occurred in the previous book in the series, Falling Creatures.  As a reader, I was at once intrigued and curious to learn more about the characters I was meeting and what their experiences had been up until now.

And what interesting characters are our two protagonists: Shilly, and the woman who calls herself Anna.  There are hints of some sort of tragedy in Shilly’s past, which in part explains her weakness for alcohol to try to keep the demons at bay.  Shilly is sensitive to those forces that can’t be explained by science, seeing visions that at times provide valuable information.  Or perhaps they’re nothing more than the manifestations of over-indulgence.  Anna is the complete opposite – although they do say opposites attract, don’t they?  She’s practical, preferring factual explanations for seemingly strange events over belief in superstition or magic.  Shilly recognises this difference between them: ‘On the moor, in the woods, wherever we were in Cornwall, there were things she couldn’t make sense of.  Things she needed me for.’  However, just like Shilly, there are elements of Anna’s previous life that are a mystery also.  Together Anna and Shilly make an unconventional and engaging crime detecting partnership.  However, it’s a partnership in which Anna definitely wears the trousers (and often not just metaphorically).

Shilly and Anna learn of the reward being offered by landowner, Sir Vivian Orton for information about a missing local boy and, since they are in need of funds and Anna is keen to further her ambition of becoming a detective, they travel to Trethevy to begin their investigation.    Suspicion has fallen on two women new to the area, ‘furriners’ believed by the locals to be involved in witchcraft and to have spirited the boy away.  I’m not going to say anything more about the plot but leave you to discover it for yourself.  However, eventually Shilly and Anna do uncover the solution to the mystery but not before sins of the past have been revealed and a kind of retribution has taken place.

There is some gorgeously sensual writing and I also loved the inclusion of fragments of Cornish dialect.  The author injects an air of mystery and the supernatural into the story that provides an extra dimension.  For example, the spooky magpie tree of the title, considered by some of the locals to be sacred, that has shades of Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’.  There is also a sense of the forces of nature at work, such as the forest that seems to shift in order to help, hinder, confuse, hide or reveal.    The book also engages with the notion of difference, with the two women suspected of involvement in the disappearance being regarded with suspicion and becoming convenient scapegoats largely because they are ‘furriners’.

I loved The Magpie Tree.  It ticked all the boxes for me as a historical mystery: intriguing story line, interesting and engaging central characters, great period detail and atmospheric location.   Immediately I turned the final page, I added the previous book in the series, Falling Creatures, to my wish-list and I’ll be eagerly awaiting news of the next book in the series.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Allison & Busby.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

In three words: Atmospheric, intriguing, mysterious

Try something similar The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin (click here to read my review)


Katherine StansfieldAbout the Author

Katherine Stansfield is a novelist and poet whose debut novel, The Visitor, won the Holyer an Gof Fiction Award.  She grew up in the wilds of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall and lived on the west coast of Wales for many years. (Photo credit: Keith Morris) 

Connect with Katherine

Website  ǀ  Twitter  ǀ  Goodreads

Book Review: The Hidden Bones (Hills & Barbrook #1) by Nicola Ford


Today I’m revisiting my review of The Hidden Bones by Nicola Ford, the first in a crime mystery series featuring archaeologist Clare Hills which was published in hardback and ebook by Allison & Busby in June 2018. It’s also available in paperback and as an audiobook.

The Lost ShrineThe second book in the series, The Lost Shrine, will be published on 23rd May 2019 and is available to pre-order now.  I’m thrilled to have an advance copy of The Lost Shrine courtesy of the publishersso look out for my review towards the end of this month.

You can also read Nicola Ford’s guest post, ‘Wiltshire Noire’, here.

The Hidden Bones 2About the Book

Following the recent death of her husband, Clare Hills is listless and unsure of her place in the world. When her former university friend Dr David Barbrook asks her to help him sift through the effects of deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart, she sees this as a useful distraction from her grief.

During her search, Clare stumbles across the unpublished journals detailing Gerald’s most glittering dig. Hidden from view for decades and supposedly destroyed in an arson attack, she cannot believe her luck. Finding the Hungerbourne Barrows archive is every archaeologist’s dream. Determined to document Gerald’s career-defining find for the public, Clare and David delve into his meticulously kept records of the excavation.

But the dream suddenly becomes a nightmare as the pair unearth a disturbing discovery, putting them at the centre of a murder inquiry and in the path of a dangerous killer determined to bury the truth for ever.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (352 pp.)   Publisher: Allison and Busby
Published: 21st June 2018  Genre: Crime, Mystery

Purchase Links* ǀ Publisher ǀ (supporting UK bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

Find The Hidden Bones on Goodreads

My Review

Recently widowed, Clare is feeling rather lost at having to cope on her own after years of  happy marriage. The death of her husband was both sudden and unexpected. When her old university friend, David, contacts her about getting involved in his research project, it seems like the perfect distraction from her grief and also an opportunity to rekindle her love of archaeology.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I shared Clare and David’s excitement at the discovery of a missing artefact as they comb through the papers of deceased archaeologist, Gerald Hart, famed for his work on the Hungerbourne Barrow.   However, that all changed when the pair make a startling discovery about one of the finds in the collection. It brings to light revelations from the past that although historic definitely do not relate to the Bronze Age. I was now hooked.

History starts to repeat itself in other ways as the excavation team led by David and Clare are plagued by graffiti warning messages and accidents on site, just as occurred at the time of the original excavation. But are they actually just accidents, manifestations of an ancient curse or something more sinister but distinctly earthbound?  When events turn darker and more dangerous still, it becomes clear that there is someone who will stop at nothing to prevent the excavation continuing.

The author certainly kept me guessing about who the culprit was. One minute I was sure I knew who was responsible, the next minute I was convinced it was someone else. Eventually the perpetrator and their motive is revealed but not before lucky escapes for some members of the team and just the opposite for others.

It turns out archaeology has much in common with the investigation of a crime. They both involve gathering and piecing together evidence, investigating available source information, testing assumptions and coming to conclusions. A crime scene must be preserved in the same way as an archaeological excavation site. Because of the author’s background, the details about the excavation and the archaeological procedures felt completely authentic.  I also got the same sense about David’s tussles with his university head of department over the need to deliver research funding that appears to be such a feature of modern day academia.

What I particularly enjoyed about the book was the strong cast of female characters – Clare, obviously, but also Margaret and Jo. Along with David, the author has lined up an interesting team for future books in the series.   The Hidden Bones is an engrossing murder mystery with engaging characters that will appeal to lovers of crime fiction, fans of TV’s Time Team or those with an interest in history or archaeology.

I received an uncorrected proof copy courtesy of publishers, Allison and Busby, in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

In three words: Suspenseful, engrossing, mystery

Try something similar…Dark Sky Island by Lara Dearman (read my review here)

Nicola FordAbout the Author

Nicola Ford is the pen-name for archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Through her day-job and now her writing, she’s spent more than most people thinking about the dead. Her writing brings together the worlds of archaeology and crime, unravelling the tangled threads left behind by murder to reveal the stories of those who can no longer speak for themselves.

Connect with Nicola

Website ǀ Facebook ǀ Twitter ǀ Instagram ǀ Goodreads