Monogram Murders

Please let no one open their mouths and find the gold cufflinks with the initials PIJ.

Poirot returns with a bang in The Monogram Murders set in 1929 amongst the sumptuous art nouveau backdrop of the fictional Bloxham Hotel. Agatha Christie’s mantle is taken up by Sophie Hannah, a contemporary crime writer with a substantial following. Anyone taking over from the Queen of Crime is facing a daunting task. And any lover of Christie’s work will inevitably read the novel with a fine tooth comb.

However, Hannah does Christie proud. Her Poirot is faithful, perhaps more to David Suchet’s portrayal, but when you start reading The Monogram Murders you feel you are falling comfortably back into familiar territory. His sidekick is Edward Catchpool, a young and inexperienced Inspector of Scotland Yard who is alternately frustrated and in awe of Poirot.

The mystery begins at Pleasant’s Coffee House, where Poirot takes his daily evening coffee, when a terrified woman known only as Jennie rushes in seeking refuge. Before she vanishes into the night, she leaves Poirot with the mysterious

Once I am dead, justice will be done, finally.

which sets him off on his new quest.

Poirot is recently retired and is taking a staycation at Mrs. Unsworth’s lodging house where Catchpool also resides. When he returns that evening, he witnesses Catchpool coming to terms with three murders he is investigating at the posh Bloxham Hotel. All three victims died at around the same time in different rooms but laid out in the same way and with a monogrammed cufflink in their mouths.

Poirot feels there is a connection with the mysterious Jennie but Catchpool is doubtful. And so the pair embark on their first investigation together as they uncover a wrong that was done 16 years ago and what looks like revenge finally being enacted in the present day.

Although I began the book with some trepidation, once the mystery gets going, I began to feel Hannah’s rendition of Poirot and the mystery approaching Christie’s hallmark darkness and complexity. Re-reading Christie, whom I’ve been reading since I was nine, I am always astonished by the real darkness and deftness with which she layers her novels. And I am glad to say Hannah’s version does not disappoint.

Poirot is a national institution and staying faithful to who he is may risk stereotyping him but deviating would be disastrous. All the elements are here in The Monogram Murders, the young lovers, a free artistic spirit, the vicar, the doctor and the maid.

I really enjoyed getting back into Christie’s world and I do hope Hannah will continue in this vein.

Theft of Life

Imogen Robertson’s fifth volume in her historical mysteries featuring Mrs. Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther is probably her darkest yet. Theft of Life begins with the transplanting of Harriet and her children to Berkeley Square where their friends, Owen Graves and his wards, the Earl of Sussex, Jonathan, his sister Susan and their half-brother Eustache, are currently residing due to the children’s education. Crowther is also in London to present his new work on anatomy and Harriet has followed him to avoid her sister’s attempts at finding a suitable second husband for her.

No sooner are they settled in when Harriet’s senior footman, William, is witness to a body found near St. Paul’s, tied, stretched out and wearing a metal mask only a former slave would recognise. Shaken, William is reluctant to admit to the authorities the identity of the dead man, a notorious slave owner from the West Indies. And so Harriet and Crowther are called to examine the corpse, identified by William as a Mr. Trimnell, and are drawn into the dark, violent world of slavery that has bolstered and financed British trade, especially that of sugar.

Stories of slavery run by the British are few and far between. We are more familiar with films and books built on testaments of American slaves and I admire Robertson for tackling such a difficult subject head on. She reserves no punches and does not wallow in sentimentality. It’s brutal, horrific and tragic and she has drawn on historical sources to craft a story that is a vivid reminder of the hypocrisy of respectability. Set before the abolition of slavery in Britain, Robertson uses the testaments and stories of the free slaves, who have managed to carve out an independent life in England but who still retain the fear and nightmares from their past, and those who endeavoured to help them.

As Crowther and Harriet begin their investigation into Trimnell’s death which at first points to a former slave intent on revenge, Eustache is caught stealing a book and is sent to work off his punishment at Hinckley’s Bookshop run by Francis Glass, a free black man. When Francis’ beloved, Eliza Smith, dies in a suspicious fire in her bookshop one night, he is convinced that there was foul play. He had seen a wound in her eye and her body was cold to the touch before he was dragged away by the local constable and the shop collapsed. The social world which the rich and powerful inhabit in London is a small one and those with connections to the slave trade will at one time or another all congregate at the Jamaica Coffee House. And soon the two disparate events collide as Crowther, Harriet and Francis Glass begin to realise that what they are up against is a group of powerful people who will do anything to keep the status quo and, more importantly, their past evils buried and forgotten.

In Theft of Life, Robertson has once again crafted a gripping historical thriller, dark, pacey and heartbreaking. One of the things I like about Crowther and Harriet’s partnership is that it is based on mutual understanding and respect which has, gradually over time, turned into a deep friendship. The lack of sentimentality and easy romance which can be prevalent in this genre, and one which I admit I sometimes hanker after, is refreshingly missing here. I cannot wait for the next one in the series.

Previous novels in the series:
Instruments of Darkness
Anatomy of Murder
Island of Bones
Circle of Shadows

I read this as part of R.I.P. IX.

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Servant of the Underworld

Aliette de Bodard is a writer I’ve been aware of for a number of years but whom I’ve only started reading this year and I’m furious with myself that I’ve left it this long to find such an incredible writer. I’ve read a number of her short stories set in her Xuya universe, science fiction set in an alternate universe exploring her Vietnamese roots, and also some featuring her Aztec priest who investigates suspicious deaths. And so I couldn’t wait to read her debut novel, Servant of the Underworld, featuring Acatl, Head Priest of the Temple of Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, the God of Death and his consort, who rule over Mictlan, the Underworld. Like many, I know almost nothing about the Mexica Empire save for the tales of the Spanish conquistadors who brought down the once glorious empire with violence and disease and took away chocolate and gold. What de Bodard does here is not only entice us with ancient history but weaves together aspects of magic and religion which were so thoroughly integrated in Aztec society. And she does this with aplomb.

Set in the Aztec city state of Tenochtitlan in 1480 when the Revered Speaker Axayacatl, Emperor of the Mexica, lies dying, Acatl’s life is turned upside when his elder brother Neutemoc, a Jaguar Knight, is arrested for abducting the priestess Eleuia from her blood-soaked bedroom. Acatl has never been on easy terms with his successful brother, a warrior, husband and father and the pride of his parents, not since he chose to become a priest thus sealing his cowardice in his family’s eyes. But nevertheless, he feels compelled to help Neutemoc, not least because the status and honour of their family is in danger. Eleuia wasn’t well liked by the teachers or students in her House of Tears, where she was employed, because of her ambition and allure. What was Neutemoc, a respectable, married warrior doing in Eleuia’s room? And what magic lies at the root of her disappearance? As Acatl tries to save his brother, he must confront and finally stand up to his worst fears. In his quest, he is aided and impeded by Ceyaxochitl, Guardian of the Sacred Precinct and agent of the Duality, who has simultaneously championed and forced Acatl onto his career path as High Priest of Mictlantecuhtli, and her slave Yaotl. Acatl’s sister Mihmatini who has recently returned to live with Neutemoc and his family surprises him with her calm acumen and skill with spells and tries to keep her brothers’ bond secure. And then there is Huei, Neutemoc’s wife, heartbroken and furious.

As well as the mystery of Eleuia’s disappearance, someone or something with great magical powers is determined to see that Neutemoc is executed for a crime he may or may not have committed. For Acatl, who is unhappy in his position both at work and at home, this is a testing time. He must win the loyalty of the priests in his Temple as well as the ears of the Court. And the only person who is there to help him is Teomitl, a young warrior sent to him by the Guardian, still a student, strong-willed and wild. Acatl must swallow his complaints and start looking for the answers before something worse that the execution of his brother is set in motion as it soon becomes clear that Eleuia’s abduction is only the tip of a war between gods.

Aliette de Bodard has managed to make a complicated mystery into an alluring journey into a past with which most of us are probably unfamiliar. But she does it seamlessly, merging historical figures with her fictional creation, placing us firmly in a land in which magic and ritual are alive and part and parcel of daily life. There are spells, sacrifice and lots of blood. But the blood is necessary for protection and spells and we don’t question it. It’s a mark of an accomplished writer indeed when you don’t recoil in horror as the main character cuts himself frequently to obtain the blood necessary for his rituals.

One of the interesting aspects of this novel is Acatl’s inner transformation. A conflicted soul, trying his best to carry on in his chosen path, yet burdened with the disappointment of his family. He is solitary, unable to participate in court politics because of his disgust with humanity’s baser instincts, and is only redeemed through his fight with evil and in the process, discovering social bonds he had though he had lost and never possessed.

Servant of the Underworld , the first in a trilogy, brings to light Aztec society in it’s full and frightening glory. The strict hierarchical social structure of priests, warriors and slaves, the rituals and strong belief in deities with powers to end the world, the absolute power of the Revered Speaker to keep the darkness at bay and the sun in the sky. And also the beauty of Aztec culture. Imagine going to a school called the House of Tears where the children of the wealthy are educated. And the binary nature of the gods with the male and female forms with names such as the Southern Hummingbird (God of War and of the Sun), the Jade Skirt (Goddess of Lakes and Streams) and the Quetzal Flower (Goddess of Beauty and Love). In amongst the harshness of life in Mexica, there is a fragile and painful beauty.

I can only imagine the amount of research that has gone into producing such a detailed and complex tale and yet de Boddard wears her research lightly. And in doing so, she has created a wonderfully complex world pulsing with emotion and colour.

You can be sure I will follow Acatl’s adventures in the sequels, Harbinger of the Storm and Master of the House of Darts.

I read this as part of Diversiverse, R.I.P. IX and #ReadWomen2014.

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R.I.P. IX is here!

5 September, 2014

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The only thing that makes the end of summer OK, is Carl’s wonderful R(eaders). I(imbibing). P(eril) Challenge which is celebrating it’s 9th year. It’s one of the first reading challenges in which I participated and I look forward to it every year. And although I may not post a wrap-up post each year, I love every minute of choosing and reading my list of books which are mainly from my shelves as well as seeing what others are dipping into. And how gorgeous is the artwork for this year’s challenge?

As usual, I’m hoping to read at least four books in the following categories: mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, gothic, horror and supernatural which, to be honest, are my favourite genres. So bring it on!

My pool of books from which I plan to read four (or more!) are:

The Fire by Katherine Neville – I loved The Eight which I read years ago.
The Abomination by Jonathan Holt – murder in Venice.
Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard – completely blown away by her short stories so I need more – an Aztec mystery!
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – just because it’s JKR!
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray – the nights are drawing in and I’m in need of something spookay.
Faithful Place by Tana French – I really need to get back into French’s writing.
The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin – it’s just been shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger!
She Lover of Death by Boris Akunin – Erast Fandorin in the house!
A Vengeful Longing by R.N. Morris – the third mystery in a series featuring Porfiry Petrovich from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis – time travel and the Black Death!

Of course I’ll be adding and subtracting from this list, but who’s counting, right?

So will you be joining us? And, more importantly, what will YOU be reading?

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Enemies at Home

Welcome back Flavia Albia, just when I was really beginning to miss you. Falco’s determined adopted daughter, Flavia Albia is back with her second case in Enemies at Home. Although Falco doesn’t pop up in this novel, his presence is everywhere and we also do get a glimpse of his lovely wife, Helena Justina. Fans of Lindsey Davis’ 20 Roman mysteries featuring Marcus Didius Falco will miss him, but Albia is quickly beginning to fill his shoes, not only career-wise, but also with her street-smart, wise-cracking ways. But although the same age as Falco when he started his adventures, Albia’s personality is darker, more watchful as she’s experienced life at its worst in her childhood and as a young widow living in a Rome ruled by a paranoid tyrant.

After her adventures in The Ides of April, Albia is once again drawn into a seemingly simple dual murder by the Aedile, Manlius Faustus, with whom she has worked before and therefore has a complicated relationship. Newlywed Aviola and his second wife Lucilia are found murdered in their bed and a large cache of valuable silver is missing. What looks like an inside job becomes complicated as the household slaves seek sanctuary in the Temple of Ceres. If they are found guilty, then execution beckons. If not, there is a murderer on the loose and Manilius Faustus is given the task of finding who did it as the Temple lies in his jurisdiction. He commissions Albia for the job of finding clues and she in turn asks her uncles, the Camillus brothers, for legal advice. And so begins a dark and convoluted search for a killer and a horde of silver that seems to have disappeared into thin air. What really went on in the Aviola household? And what about the ex-wife and children hungry for their inheritance? And how complex were the domestic relationships especially when two households merge resulting in possible redundancies, in this case the selling of surplus slaves? As Albia uncovers secret after secret, she soon learns that more than one person is hiding something to safeguard their future. Will she find who murdered the couple before another gets killed? And what exactly does Faustus think of her?

Although darker in tone than most of the Falco novels, Enemies at Home is a little lighter than The Ides of April with little pockets of comedy wedged amongst the more hard hitting historical detail which makes Davis’ novels such superb and informative reads. One of things I love about Davis’ writing is that, like a good historian, she doesn’t judge what the Romans get up to. As Albia and Faustus are both Romans, their views, only rightly, will be that of a contemporary Roman. However disturbing and harsh we may view their cultural and social rules today, they accept and work within it. In Enemies at Home, Davis brings home the harsh realities of being a Roman slave. Just as one can strive for and attain manumission, setting themselves and their descendants free, another can lead a life of wretched misery from cradle to grave. Roman laws deem a slave must always protect their master and they can be executed simply for not doing their job. As is the case with Aviola’s slaves, even if they did not do the killings, Albia and Faustus must determine whether the slaves had done enough to protect their master and mistress. And if not, the consequences are dire.

Enemies at Home is an enjoyable and interesting novel with a nicely plotted mystery at its heart. I sort of guessed whodunnit but Davis provides the reader with enough suspects to keep you guessing until the end. Can’t wait to see what Rome has in store for Albia next!

Dead in their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is the sixth volume in Alan Bradley’s wonderful mysteries featuring the intrepid sleuth Flavia de Luce and completes a story arc first begun in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. But don’t fret, there is still more to come from Bradley’s pen and a tv adaptation in the works. Because, of course, we can’t get enough of Flavia.

The story arc in question is the mystery surrounding the disappearance and supposed death of Flavia’s mother Harriet, who was rumoured to have crashed in the Himalayas 11 years ago. But Harriet’s body, preserved in the Himalayan ice, has been found and finally she is coming home to be buried amongst her family. For Flavia, this brings as much joy as sorrow as she has little or no memory of her beloved mother. As Harriet returns to Buckshaw, all manner of people start turning up, from Winston Churchill to more suspicious figures as well as Flavia’s scary Aunt Felicity, Harriet’s cousin Lena and her equally strange daughter Undine, who may or may not be as capricious as Flavia. Amidst the dismantling of her father’s carefully built grief, Flavia begins to notice that there are several discrepancies in the account surrounding her mother’s death. What exactly was Harriet doing flying her plane into the Himalayas in the middle of war and leaving behind three small children? And who was she trying to warn in the film Flavia happens to find by chance, one of the last recorded memories of her mother? As the de Luces and almost everyone of importance descend upon Buckshaw to bid Harriet farewell, Flavia begins to realise that the long arm of the war is still reaching out for her and that there are still things about her family which will surprise her.

Finally, we will find out what happened to Harriet. Unlike the other mysteries in the series, this volume is the conclusion of a story told in the last five volumes and not a stand-alone. Although I’ve wanted to know what happened to Harriet since volume 1, I did feel there could have been a little more mystery and substance to the story rather than it being solely a conclusion with an introduction to further mysteries for Flavia (which sound really exciting though!) I don’t want to give anything away so you’ll just have to read it, and although this isn’t my favourite episode in Flavia’s colourful history, it’s still a necessary part, just to offer some closure and I’m glad Flavia finally got to see Harriet again. However, I did wish there was more of a motive and explanation and back story behind Harriet’s tale, which would make fascinating reading and I do hope Bradley would consider writing some short stories with Harriet as the protagonist. I love Flavia but her mother is fascinating too.

One of the strongest things about Bradley’s series is the notion of family in its myriad incarnations from blood ties, honour, loyalty and love to its more ugly side, jealousy, envy and hate. The characters that people the quintessentially English village of Bishop’s Lacey are colourful, compassionate and often full of surprises as are those in Flavia’s family including their faithful retainer Dogger, suffering from shell shock, and whose history we uncover a little more in The Dead in their Vaulted Arches.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Hurry!

Mr. Campion's Farewell

Being a long-time fan of Margery Allingham’s mysteries featuring the dim-looking yet bright Albert Campion, I was intrigued to find out that Campion returns in a new mystery, Mr. Campion’s Farewell, the third novel begun by Allingham’s husband, Pip Youngman Carter, and completed by Mike Ripley with the co-operation of the Margery Allingham Society. Intrigued and slightly unsure, of course, since it deals with one of my favourite detectives.

The mystery is set in September 1969 amdist flower power and hippies but we are transported to a small English village that has remained virtually unchanged since time immemorial when it was one of the important centres of the wool trade. It is to Lyndsay Carfax that Campion makes his way on a pretense to see artist Eliza Jane Fitton, his wife Amanda’s niece. But Campion is there because his friend, Superintendent Charles Luke of the CID, is feeling uneasy but what is happening in the village but cannot point out why. There is been a legend that Lyndsay Carfax is ruled by nine Carders, a secret group that controls everything in the village. Over the years there have been several incidents where unruly folk have disappeared for nine days, returning rattled to keep a low profile for the rest of their days. Most recently, Lemuel Walker, the village schoolmaster who has been digging unwanted history, had disappeared for nine days and returned broken and in fear. And yet he refuses to press charges. And so Campion is there to find out what is going on in this superficially calm village. When he learns that Eliza has been injured in a suspicious accident, he knows that someone is getting rattled. Will he unearth the secret of the Carders? And will he remain unscathed?

Mr. Campion’s Farewell has a pretty decent mystery at its heart. But the thing about reading the mysteries of the golden age over the years is that it isn’t just about the mystery. We’ve grown to love the characters and this is probably the trickiest part of getting it right. I liked the Campion which Ripley unfolds in this novel. He is old yet sprightly and has grown into his character. His wife Amanda is a hot shot aircraft engineer and we also have a cameo from his right hand man, Magersfontein Lugg. Although the novel gradually comes into its own, the beginning was difficult as you can see Ripley struggling to find his voice and, perhaps, trying too hard to sound contemporary. There was a lot of dialogue which was a little too wordy and didn’t sit right. However, you can imagine how much fun Ripley had trying to recreate the world created by Allingham and Carter and he does eventually succeed as the mystery picks up speed. Overall, I enjoyed the mystery and look forward to the sequel, Mr. Campion’s Fox.

I would like to thank the publisher for kindly sending me a copy to review. Mr Campion’s Farewell, completed by Mike Ripley, is published by Severn House and priced £19.99.

Dead Travel Fast

Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries, beginning with Silent in the Grave, has been a quiet hit in these parts and with six volumes in the series, my friends and I are eager to read more. Raybourn’s writing is easy and polished and her love of words evident in the care she takes in crafting her sentences. I also have a penchant for gothic romances and vampires so I was eager to try her debut, The Dead Travel Fast, which features both.

Take one headstrong Scottish woman, unmarried and practical with a talent in crafting stories to frighten impressionable young ladies, a suffocating household and an invitation to visit a school friend who is about to get married in Transylvania. And so Theodora Lestrange travels to meet her friend Cosmina who is staying in bleak Castle Dragul in the high Carpathian mountains, cut off from civilisation by snow and superstition. Here she meets the brooding and handsome Count Andrei Dragulescu, Cosmina’s cousin and fiancé, who fascinates and frightens her and won’t leave her alone. Taking the opportunity to use this experience to start writing her novel, Theodora soon realises that not all is as it seems at Castle Dragul. Why do they warn her not to keep her windows open at night? And why is there a sprig of basil hanging over her windowsill? And what of the strange dreams and ashen features of Cosmina and her aunt? And when one of the maids is found dead and drained of blood, Theodora’s fear crystalises.

I really enjoyed The Dead Travel Fast, which is full of references to classic gothic and Victorian sensation novels, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, which I am sure Raybourn loves. The ending wasn’t as dramatic as I expected but I liked the twist which distinguishes this novel from other classic vampire tales. There was a good mixture of surprise and familiar comfort. That is no mean feat as finding something new to say, in what is fast becoming a crowded genre, is pretty difficult. But I think what elevates this book is the care with which Raybourn crafts her writing. She writes beautifully and her novels really deserve a lot more attention than they get. And yes, maybe some may not think the subject matter may to be serious enough but, as Donna Tartt says, reading should be as much about enjoyment as well as the well crafted sentence. And you get both in The Dead Travel Fast.

Strangler Vine

Set in early 19th century, just before the coronation of Queen Victoria and the establishment of the British Raj, when the British East India Company was wealthy, autonomous and with its own private army, M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine charts new territory in the genre of literary historical crime and has been recently longlisted for the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014. And there’s no one better to do it than Carter, who has also written biographies of Anthony Blunt and Queen Victoria’s grandsons, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King George V and Tsar Nicholas II, although this is her first foray into fiction.

The Strangler Vine uses the tried and tested setting of a team of two ill-suited protagonists who are sent off into the wilds of India to search for a missing celebrity author. Ensign William Avery, only six months in India and already heavily in debt, has orders to to deliver a message to Jeremiah Blake, a decommissioned Captain of the East India Company who is rumoured to have gone native. He encounters a man dressed in rags with an attitude problem and returns defeated to the Company headquarters hoping never to see the wretched man again. But he is soon sent on a dangerous mission with Blake to hunt down Xavier Mountstuart who has gone missing in the Moffusil region while researching the Thuggee culture for his next literary masterpiece. As Avery begins his journey with reluctance and a sense of doom, it soon becomes clear that Blake is not what he seems and that his brooding countenance hides a wealth of skills and secrets. What will they find on the way? And is Mountstuart still alive?

The novel gives a fascinating insight into Colonial India on the cusp of rebellion just when once mutual respect and acceptance gives way to colonial bigotry and oppression which will culminate in resistance and open rebellion. Carter draws on a part of history often overlooked by the exuberance and pomp of the British Raj which follows it. Both Avery, just off the boat and inexperienced, and Blake, experienced, jaded and who has spent most of his life in India, play off each other eventually succumbing to the inevitable reliance and trust which will save their lives. Mountstuart is the archetypal gentleman explorer and spy who is clever with languages and has the right wealth and cultivation to see him through any horrendous escapade.

The Strangler Vine was a highly enjoyable reading experience with a wealth of history, mystery and thrills. It galloped along at speed and although the quaint spelling of Colonial words such as ‘jangal’ instead of jungle took some getting used to, it didn’t bother me much and made me aware of the extent of research Carter must have buried herself in to get the authenticity and feel of the novel spot on. And yet Carter wears her historical research lightly, the detail folded seamlessly in with the plot. The plot is king here, just as it should be.

There is also no whitewashing of events either. The East India Company is shown as a mercenary, greedy business out to wring as much wealth as it can from India and this is shown through Blake’s disillusion and the gradual loss of Avery’s innocence. Governments are the same everywhere and in any period of history and this is what makes fascinating reading. The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys often get away with it. It’s a hard lesson but history is full of it.

This is just the kind of book I like, clever, erudite and with a nice glossary at the back. It has had some incredible reviews and reminded me a lot of Jason Goodwin’s Ottoman mysteries beginning with The Janissary Tree. I want to know more about Avery and Blake and we are in for a treat because The Strangler Vine is the first in a series of mysteries featuring the unlikely pair soon to be followed by The Infidel Stain. Can’t wait!

Thank you very much to Penguin who kindly sent me a copy of the book to review.

Strangler Vine

I’m halfway through M.J. Carter’s debut novel The Strangler Vine and am loving the mix of history, mystery and Victorian sensation reminiscent of G.W. Dahlquist’s The Glass Books trilogy with a whiff of Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. Set in India before the Raj when the British East India Company still controlled vast areas of the country, The Strangler Vine follows Jeremiah Blake, special agent and soldier in the East India Company who has gone native, and his reluctant side-kick, the uptight junior officer William Avery, who are sent on a mission to track down a missing writer who has been sniffing around things that should have been left alone.

So when Penguin kindly invited me to the launch party at the London Review Bookshop thrown by John Lanchester, author of two of my favourite books, The Debt to Pleasure and Fragrant Harbour, and who turned out to be Carter’s husband, I leapt at the chance.

It was a lovely evening of wine, snacks and scintillating conversation. It was great to chat to Carter about her love for historical research (she has also written a number of non-fiction books as Miranda Carter) and I was pleasantly surprised when she asked me if my blog name, chasing bawa, had anything to do with the architect Geoffrey Bawa (yes it does).

It was also really nice to speak to the Penguin publicists Lija and Anna and get an insight into the publishing world and to talk books, books and books. A tip for bloggers: do cross-post your reviews on other social media sites such as Goodreads and Amazon.*

And I spotted Kazuo Ishiguro there too!

*but do obviously check the terms and conditions regarding rights and copyright.