Throwback Thursday: No Ordinary Killing by Jeff Dawson


Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme 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 I reviewed in March 2017 – No Ordinary Killing by Jeff Dawson.  Originally published by Endeavour Press in March 2017, it was reissued by Canelo in May 2018 with a new cover.

I really enjoyed No Ordinary Killing, as you will see from my review below.  I wasn’t the only one impressed either.  Sarah Ward, author of A Patient Fury, said: ‘Dawson has produced a strong thriller with something to say… An intriguing mix of John Buchan style adventuring and well researched period detail, full of superstition, mistrust and political intrigue… A very strong debut.’  Regular followers of this blog will know of my passion for John Buchan so any comparison to his adventure novels is high praise indeed in my book.

The Cold North SeaYou’ll also understand my excitement when I saw that Jeff has written a sequel, The Cold North Sea, (due to be published by Canelo on 3rd December) and my delight when I was approved for an advance reader copy on NetGalley.

The Cold North Sea is available to pre-order from Amazon UK.

No Ordinary Killing NewAbout No Ordinary Killing

The Empire has a deadly secret…

1899, South Africa: As the Boer War rages, Captain Ingo Finch of the Royal Army Medical Corps pieces together casualties at the front. Then, recovering in Cape Town, he is woken by local police. A British officer has been murdered, and an RAMC signature is required for the post-mortem.

Shocked by the identity of the victim, the bizarre nature of the crime and what appears a too-convenient resolution, Finch turns detective. He is soon thrust into a perilous maze of espionage and murder.

Along with an Australian nurse, Annie, and an escaped diamond miner, Mbutu, Finch finds he has stumbled on a terrifying secret, one that will shake the Empire to its core…

Format: ebook (401 pp.)    Publisher: Canelo
Published: 28th May 2018     Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime, Mystery

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My Review

This is an impressive debut with a convincing period setting and a strong narrative full of twists and turns as the plot unfolds against the background of the Boer War.  The “no ordinary killing” of the title refers to the death of an army colleague of the protagonist, Captain Ingo Finch.

The story is told both from his point of view and from the point of view of Mbutu Kefaleze, a native runner (and to a lesser extent, Annie Jones, a volunteer nurse).   I found the story line involving Mbutu was particularly well told and engaging.   Although she plays an important part in events in the latter half of the book, I would have liked the character of Annie Jones to have been developed further with the reader given more from her point of view.

The different strands of the story run in parallel with the reader left to guess at the connection between them until the point the author chooses to reveal it.   The mystery is skilfully sustained right to the end of the book with plenty of action, intrigue, red herrings, secrets, murder, lies and “who can you really trust?” moments along the way.

The plot positively zips along helped by the alternating points of view and relatively short chapters usually ending with an element of suspense.  I particularly liked the walk-on part for the creator of a famous detective.    This is a very enjoyable historical mystery with an interesting period setting.

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In three words: Well-researched, action-packed, mystery

Try something similar…The Price of Compassion by A. B. Michaels (read my review here)

Jeff Dawson CaneloAbout the Author

Jeff Dawson is a journalist, author and screenwriter. He has been the US Editor of Empire magazine and a long-time feature writer for The Sunday Times’ Culture section. His non-fiction books include an approved biography of Quentin Tarantino; the football history Back Home (“Truly outstanding” — The Times), and WW2 shipwreck tale, Dead Reckoning, nominated for the Mountbatten Maritime Prize. No Ordinary Killing is his first novel. (Photo credit: Canelo author page)

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Throwback Thursday: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


Throwback Thursday is a weekly meme 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 reviewing The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  Published to critical acclaim in 2006 and described as ‘a love letter to reading’, The Thirteenth Tale was Diane’s first novel.  It spent three weeks at number one in The New York Times hardback fiction list.

The Thirteenth TaleAbout the Book

All children mythologize their birth… So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter’s collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself – all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and wilful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida’s storytelling but remains suspicious of the author’s sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

Format: ebook (418 pp.)    Publisher: Orion
Published: 8th December 2011 [September 2006] Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

I was part way through The Thirteenth Tale when I was lucky enough to hear Diane Setterfield speak at this year’s Henley Literary Festival about her approach to writing and, in particular, about her forthcoming book, Once Upon A River. You can read my full review of the event here.  (Oh, and look out for my review of Once Upon A River as part of the blog tour starting in December.)

I was struck by Diane’s thoughts on storytelling as an important theme in her books.  Admitting she’d always had an interest – and not just a professional interest – in storytelling, Diane observed that we all organise information, gossip, and so on into stories about ourselves.  Diane described humans as intrinsically ‘storytelling animals’.  To quote from The Thirteenth Tale, “Everybody has a story.”

The book epitomises that emphasis on storytelling because, not only is its main character, Vida Winter, an author but she is a notably reclusive one who has carefully guarded the true facts of her life, spreading misinformation in its place.  Furthermore, the plot centres on the mystery of a ‘missing’ thirteenth tale from her most famous collection of stories.  What could be more enticing than the prospect of tracking down and reading a missing story?

Having heard Diane’s thoughts made me return to the book with renewed interest and with an increased awareness of the way in which storytelling permeates the book.  Many of the characters are in search of or trying to make sense of the story of their life; others are facing up to the need to finally reveal it.  In some cases, uncovering the true nature of their story does not bring them the clarity or satisfaction they hoped for.  As Aurelius Love observes, “Perhaps it’s better not to have a story at all, rather than have one that keep changing.  I have spent my whole life chasing after my story, and never quite catching it.”

There is also a sense in the book of the story of Vida’s life having an existence of its own; that it is fighting to make itself heard.  At one point she comments: “Silence is not a natural environment for stories.  They need words.  Without them they grow pale, sicken and die.”

I found The Thirteenth Tale an engrossing read; full of atmosphere and with a series of intriguing mysteries at its heart helped by some fine writing. ‘From the day I was born grief was always present.  It settled like dust upon the household.  It covered everything; it invaded us with every breath we took.  It shrouded us in our own separate mysteries.’  The settings have a real sense of the Gothic.  I’m now excited to start reading Once Upon A River very shortly.

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In three words: Suspenseful, Gothic, mystery

Try something similar…The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (read my spoiler free review here)

Diane SetterfieldAbout the Author

Diane Setterfield’s bestselling novel, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) was published in 38 countries worldwide and has sold more than three million copies. Her second novel, Bellman & Black (2013) was a genre-defying tale of rooks and Victorian retail.  January 2019 sees the publication of her new title, Once Upon a River, which has been called ‘bewitching’ and ‘enchanting’.

Born in Englefield, Berkshire in 1964, Diane spent most of her childhood in the nearby village of Theale.  Diane studied French Literature at the University of Bristol.  She taught English at the Institut Universitaire de Technologie and the Ecole nationale supérieure de Chimie, both in Mulhouse, France, and later lectured in French at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK. She left academia in the late 1990s to pursue writing.  Diane now lives in Oxford. When not writing she reads widely, and when not actually reading she is usually talking or thinking about reading.

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