Category Archives: Books

The Devil’s Promise by David Stuart Davies

The full title of this book is The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Promise.

From the back cover:

The discovery of a corpse on a deserted beach is just the first in a series of mysterious and terrifying events that threaten Sherlock Holmes. While investigating the death, Holmes and Watson attract unwanted attention from the strange inhabitants of the nearby village, and are viciously attacked. Watson wakes to discover that months have passed and his friend is not the man he remembers. What has transpired during those lost days? And is it connected to the notorious “Devil’s Companion” whose descendants live nearby?

A book for RIP X, and one I had high hopes of when I read the Foreword by Mark Gatiss – an English actor, comedian, screenwriter and novelist, writing for Doctor Who and the co-creator of Sherlock. He wrote:

I think that Sherlock Holmes is imperishable, a brilliant British icon – indeed a worldwide icon. He represents the best of us. He is as clever as we would all like to be. He is surprising, capricious, slightly dangerous, strangely elegant, dashing, Byronic and the best and wisest man any of us will ever know.

I believe he lasts because we all want to be Sherlock Holmes and we all want to believe there are people like Sherlock Holmes out there, instead of the universe being completely chaotic, which is actually the truth.

This fabulous character is the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle who, in my opinion, was a writer of genius. No wonder many of us wish to tread in his footsteps. Sherlock now lives in other people’s stories too, as he does in The Devil’s Promise, penned by the great Davies, whose Sherlock Holmes writings have brought me hours of pleasure.

Holmes and Watson are staying in an isolated cottage in Devon when they they find themselves caught up in a nightmare scenario of a puzzling surreal nature they cannot understand. After Holmes discovers the body on the beach weird images appear on the door of the cottage, they are attacked by villagers, and meet a brother and his strange sister who warns them to leave or they will be killed.

But I was a little disappointed; it began well but later became repetitive – the dead body disappears and reappears and Watson keeps getting into fights, being hit on the head and losing consciousness. It has elements of suspense, as Holmes is coerced to take part in a ceremony to raise the Devil. But I began to think it was all very predictable – maybe it’s the cynic in me but I found myself reading just to see how it ended and whether it was as predictable as I thought it was. And it was, apart from the very last three sentences.

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

Mount TBR 2015This year is just flying by and it’s time for the third quarterly checkpoint for Bev’s Mount TBR 2015 Challenge. I’m answering three of Bev’s questions:

1. Tell us how many miles you’ve made it up your mountain (# of books read).  

I have read 29 books, way behind the number of books I need to read to reach my target for this year. The full list is on my TBR Challenge page. In terms of how many mountains I’ve scaled this means that I am on the slopes of Mt Vancouver and I have 19 books left to read to reach my target of Mt Ararat (48 books) by the end of the year. Will I make it – maybe not?

2. Pair up two of your reads using whatever connection you want to make. Written by the same author? Same genre? Same color cover? Both have a main character named Clarissa? Tell us the books and what makes them a pair.
The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. What makes them a pair is obvious in the titles – they’re both about secrets. But it is more than that, although they are by very different authors, written in very different times, they are both excellent mysteries, the secrets are tantalisingly and slowly revealed, both have complicated plots, with many twists and turns, both have convincingly ‘real’ characters and both explore social and moral issues. And I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.
Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search. Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.
Spilling the Beans by Clarissa Dickson Wright
Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea
Turn of the tide

Five of the Best: September 2011-2015

This was originally Cleo’s idea (Cleopatra Loves Books). It’s to look back over your reviews of the past five years and pick out your favourite books for each month from 2011 – 2015. I like it so much it inspired me to do the same.

I really enjoy looking back over the books I’ve loved reading. These are some of my favourite books for each September from 2011 to 2015 (click on the titles/covers to see my original reviews). These are all crime fiction, mostly dark scary books, because each September and October I take part in the R.I.P. Challenge, that is hosted this year by The Estella Society.


Blood Harvest by Sharon Bolton.  I can’t quite believe that it’s four years ago that I read this book as I can still remember the tension, terror and suspense within its pages.  It’s a dark, scary book, set in the fictional town of Heptonclough in Lancashire.There are two churches, the ancient ruined Abbey Church and standing next to it the ‘new’ church of St Barnabas. The Fletchers have just moved into a new house built on the land right next to the boundary wall of the churchyard. But this is not a safe place for children, three little girls have died over the past ten years, and when the Fletcher children start to hear voices in the graveyard more disturbing events unfold.


The Sixth Lamentation by William Brodrick, the first Father Anselm book. This is historical fiction and it’s also a mystery. It looks back  to the Second World War in occupied France, telling a dramatic tale of love and betrayal, full of suspense, and interwoven stories, with accurate details of life in Paris during the Occupation and the subsequent war trials. William Brodrick has also drawn on his own personal experience. He was formerly in religious life but left before his final vows.


Relics of the Dead by Ariana Franklin, the third book in her Mistress of the Art of Death series. The date is 1176, the setting is Glastonbury where the monks, after a fire had destroyed their monastery, discovered two skeletons buried in their graveyard. The question is  – are these the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere? Henry II needs evidence that they are not and sends Adelia Aguilar, the anatomist, to examine the bones for evidence. I’ve always liked the stories about King Arthur, about his life and death, about Excalibur (which does feature in this book), about Guinevere’s affair with Lancelot,  and the Holy Grail (which do not).


The Brimstone WeddingBrimstone wedding by Barbara Vine. This is one of the best of Barbara Vine’s books that I’ve read – nearly as good as A Dark-Adapted Eye and writing under her real name, Ruth Rendell, A Judgement in Stone. it’s not horrific in the overblown graphic sense, but in a sinister, psychological way that really is ‘chilling’ and inexpressibly sad. The atmosphere is mysterious, a house isolated in the fens, seems to hold the key to the past. Stella, who is dying of lung cancer,  never mentions her husband or her past life, but gradually she confides in Jenny, a carer at the retirement home where Stella lives, telling her things she has never said to her son and daughter – things about her life she doesn’t want them to know.


This September I’m spoilt for choice as I read several excellent books – The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell is just one of them. This is his 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission, a very cleverly plotted book, multi-layered and complex and I loved it.

A murder mystery combining a cold case and present day murders combined with great storytelling, rich descriptions, interwoven with details of near-death experiences, the Gothic, mental and personality disorders makes this most definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year.

I must also mention three of Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint books that I read this September – all excellent books.

The 1924 Club

1924 Club

Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings have come up with a new  blog-community-project, which looks really interesting.  The idea is to get everyone reading from a particular year – reading whatever you’d like to, so long as it was published in 1924. For more details click on over to Simon’s blog

To take part post your reviews of a book or books published in 1924 between 19-31 October and during that time Simon will also have gathering-up posts available where you can link to your reviews, as well as any other 1924 book reviews you’ve ever written.

So, I’ve been looking at my shelves and have a small selection – some short stories by Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I haven’t read yet. These were first published in magazines in 1924 and later in various collections. I also have Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford which was published in four parts, the first one, ‘Some Do Not …’ in 1924. I’ve been wanting to read this ever since I watched the BBC Two  production in August 2012.

September’s Books

I have read some fantastic books this September, twelve in all – I gave 5 stars to five of them on Goodreads (books marked with *). Four of the books are TBRs ,that is books I’ve owned since before 1 January 2015, two are non-fiction, that is memoir/biography and three are library books. The links are to my posts on the books.

Watching War Films with My Dad: a Memoir by Al Murray (NF, TBR) – no review. I liked this book which begins with Al talking about how his Dad pointed out all the things that are inaccurate/just plain wrong in the war films they watched together, which is very funny. Growing up in the 70s he became fascinated with the history of war – in particular World War Two. He writes about Action Man, Airfix and model making, paintballing as well as philosophising about history and war. Al Murray is a history graduate as well as a comedian and both strands are evident in his book, but he does ramble on at times.

The Robber Bride by Margaret AtwoodThe Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood (TBR) – it’s about power and the struggle between good and evil, about women’s friendship, and about the relationship between men and women. Overall I thought it was very good, and in parts excellent.

Three Lacey Flint books by Sharon Bolton Dead Scared* (TBR) – Lacey Flint 2 , Like This, For Ever*  Lacey Flint 3 and A Dark and Twisted Tide, the 4th Lacey Flint  book. All fabulous books, totally absorbing murder mysteries and terrifying in parts. I’ve yet to write about A Dark and Twisted Tide, which is possibly the best one of the three!

Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma by David Boyle (NF) – no review of this short biography (112 pages) – a good introduction to his life and work. At some time I think I’d like to read Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, a much more detailed (and longer!) book used as the basis for the film The Imitation Game.  I’ve recently watched a TV programme about Gordon Welchman, which has made me keen to read  Gordon Welchman: Bletchley Park’s Architect of Ultra Intelligence by Joel Greenburg.

The Buried Giant* by Kazuo Ishiguro (LB) – an extraordinary and mesmerising book with elements of fantasy, myth and legend, of allegory and adventure and the perils of a quest.

Adam Bede by George Eliot (TBR) – a long and slow-moving novel set in rural England in 1799 about love, seduction, remorse, crime and religion.

Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor – historical crime fiction set in in Massilia, modern day Marseilles, in 49 BC during Caesar’s siege of the city, featuring an investigator called Gordianus the Finder.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck* (LB) – I really liked this short book about commitment, loneliness, hope and loss, the story of two drifters, George and his simple-minded friend Lennie looking for work and dreaming of having some land of their own.Their hopes are doomed as Lennie – struggling against extreme cruelty, misunderstanding and feelings of jealousy – becomes a victim of his own strength.

The Ghosts of Altona
* by Craig Russell (LB) – an outstanding book, one of the best I’ve read this year, a modern Gothic tale as well as being a crime thriller, set in Hamburg as Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission, investigates a cold case and a series of modern day murders.

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves – the 7th and latest Vera Stanhope book, in which Vera investigates two murders at Valley Farm, a quiet community in Northumberland. With a complex plot, convincing characters and a seemingly effortless style of writing I loved this book. I may eventually get round to writing a proper post about it.

With so many outstanding and different books it’s impossible to choose a favourite! I’m hoping October’s books will be just as enjoyable.

This Week in Books: 30 September

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading two books: A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton. I expect I’ll finish this today.


Police sergeant Lacey Flint thinks she’s safe.

She thinks her new job with the river police, and her new life on a house boat, will keep her away from danger. But she’s wrong.

When Lacey discovers a body in the water, and sinister offerings appear in her home, she fears someone is trying to expose her darkest secret.

And the river is the last place she should be.

And I’m still reading Mrs Jordan’s Profession: the Story of a Great Actress and a King by Claire Tomalin. I’ve just got up to 1790 when Prince William, George III’s third son, has set his sights on Dora Jordan. Claire Tomalin writes in an easy style, painting a rich picture of life in which princes, theatre players, politicians and the aristocracy crossed the social boundaries for a while. It will be a while before I’ll finish this book.

Blurb: Acclaimed as the greatest comic actress of her day, Dora Jordan lived a quite different role off-stage as lover to Prince William, third son of George III. Unmarried, the pair lived in a villa on the Thames and had ten children together until William, under pressure from royal advisers, abandoned her. The story of how Dora moved between the worlds of the eighteenth-century theatre and happy domesticity, of her fights for her family and her career makes a classic story of royal perfidy and female courage.

Then: I recently finished:

The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell – see yesterday’s post for my review – an excellent book.

Next: what can I say? It all depends upon what I fancy when the time comes. Right now, I’d like a change from crime fiction -something short and light hearted would be good. Any suggestions would be welcome.

The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell

Last week I quoted the opening paragraphs and the description of The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell, a novel, which won this year’s Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the YearIt’s an outstanding book, one of the best I’ve read this year. I suppose it can be called a modern Gothic tale as well as being a crime thriller. Russell is a new author to me, but by no means is he a new author, The Ghosts of Altona being his 7th book featuring Jan Fabel, the head of Hamburg’s Murder Commission. However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment that I’d jumped into the series right at the end. And in a way it didn’t matter at all as in the first chapter Jan has a near-death experience when he is shot by a suspected child killer, which has a profound effect on his life and the way he views death.

Two years later his first case as a detective is resurrected when the body of Monika Krone is found under a car park, fifteen years after she disappeared. The prime suspect at that time was Jochen Hubner, a serial rapist, christened ‘Frankenstein’ by the press because of his monstrous appearance, but there was no conclusive evidence to connect him to her disappearance. Monika, beautiful, intelligent and cruel had been the centre of a group of students obsessed with the Gothic. Then ‘Frankenstein’ escapes from prison and there are more murders which Fabel thinks are linked to the discovery of Monika’s remains, all of men who were in the same Gothic set at university.

There are many allusions to the Gothic tradition and symbolism, the killings being reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre tales, as well as philosophising on the nature of near-death experiences, Schrödinger’s cat, Cotard’s Delusion (in which sufferers believe themselves to be dead), and the intertwining of the hallucinogenic, the psychedelic, the spiritual and the macabre. All absolutely fascinating and incorporated seamlessly into the crime investigation so that I was turning the pages as fast as possible to get to the solution. It’s all very cleverly plotted, multi-layered and complex and I loved it.

As well as the story and the characters I loved the setting – Hamburg, a city I knew very little about before reading The Ghosts of Altona, the second largest city in Germany, a member of the medieval Hanseatic League. It’s a city of water with two lakes and the river Elbe running through it and it has more canals than Amsterdam and Venice combined. Altona, one of the city boroughs had been under Danish administration for over two centuries.

The Author

Born in Fife, Craig Russell served for several years as a police officer in Scotland, before becoming an advertising copywriter and later creative director. His Fabel novels were inspired by his long-standing interest in the language, culture and people of Germany. He has been translated into 23 languages, and his Lennox and Jan Fabel series have both been highly acclaimed. For more information see his website.

His Jan Fabel books (from Fantastic Fiction):

His  Lennox books


My Reading Challenges (although I didn’t read this book, or any book, specifically for any of the Reading Challenges I’m taking part in):

Stacking the Shelves: 26 September


Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves. This means you can include ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ books (ie physical and ebooks) you’ve bought, books you’ve borrowed from friends or the library, review books, and gifts.

Here are my recent additions to my bookshelves. First crime fiction:

Blood Atonement etc P1010673

  • Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody – the 3rd Kate Shackleton Mystery. I’ve read the first two. Crime fiction set in the 1920s.
  • Blood Atonement by Dan Waddell – the 2nd Nigel Barnes novel. I’ve read the first one, Blood Detective. Barnes is a genealogist helping DCI Grant Foster to solve modern day crimes.
  • The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell – a psychological thriller. The death of a child sets in motion a chain of deception, kidnap and murder.

And also these:

Moon Tiger Gate of Angels P1010674

  • The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald – described on the back cover as a metaphysical novel and a love story, amusing, disturbing and provoking reflection. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1990.
  • Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively – 1987 Booker Prize winner – a novel about a historian in her seventies looking back over her life.

What books have you added to your shelves this week?

This Week in Books: 23 September 2015

This Week in Books is a weekly round-up hosted by Lypsyy Lost & Found, about what I’ve been reading Now, Then & Next. A similar meme,  WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

Now: Currently I’m reading two books:

The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell – see yesterday’s post for the opening paragraphs and blurb.

And Mrs Jordan’s Profession: the Story of a Great Actress and a King by Claire Tomalin.


Acclaimed as the greatest comic actress of her day, Dora Jordan lived a quite different role off-stage as lover to Prince William, third son of George III. Unmarried, the pair lived in a villa on the Thames and had ten children together until William, under pressure from royal advisers, abandoned her. The story of how Dora moved between the worlds of the eighteenth-century theatre and happy domesticity, of her fights for her family and her career makes a classic story of royal perfidy and female courage.

Then: I recently finished Last Seen in Massilia by Steven Saylor


As civil war between Caesar and Pompey engulfs the Roman world, Gordianus the Finder receives an anonymous message informing him of the death of his son Meto who has been acting as a double agent for Caesar. The search for Meto’s fate brings Gordianus to the besieged seaport of Massilia, which is stubbornly holding out against Caesar’s troops. As famine and slaughter threaten the blockaded city, Gordianus is drawn into the intrigues of exiled Romans and duplicitous Massilians. His only friend in the city, Hieronymous, has been made the doomed scapegoat elected by city officials to bear the sins of the populace and save them all from annihilation. Meanwhile, Gordianus is constantly frustrated in his efforts to find out what happened to his son – and when he witnesses the fall of a young woman from a precipice outside the city called the Sacrifice Rock, then the plot begins to thicken…

See this post for my thoughts on the book.

Next: This is always difficult for me to predict – last week for example I listed some books I thought I might be reading next but after starting each of them I put them all down for a while and began reading The Ghosts of Altona – which wasn’t on the list.

At the moment I’m thinking that the next book I read could be The Heresy of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman, which I’ve been meaning to read ever since I read his first Dr Dee book, The Bones of Avalon.

I thought of this book because ITV are broadcasting a new series adapted from Rickman’s Merrily Watkins books, beginning tonight with Midwinter of the Spirit, about a priest (Merrily) who is also an exorcist. I have the first four books on Kindle waiting to be read and was tempted to try to read the first one before watching the programme, but as I expect the adaptation could easily be different from the books I decided not to as I don’t want to get irritated and keep saying ‘it’s not like that in the book’ whilst watching the programme.

Have you read any of these books and what have you been reading?

First Chapter, First Paragraph: The Ghosts of Altona

First chapterEvery Tuesday Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, where you can share the first paragraph, or a few, of a book you are reading or thinking about reading soon.

I started reading The Ghosts of Altona by Craig Russell yesterday.

It begins:

The sky that day, he would later remember, had been the colour of pewter. When he thought back on it, that was what he would remember, the lack of colour in the sky, the lack of colour in everything. And he hadn’t noticed at the time.

Winter had been half-hearted that day.

‘So why, exactly, are we talking to this guy more than any other neighbours?’ asked Anna Wolff as she and Fabel got out of the unmarked police BMW. ‘Schalthoff has no record … never been so much as a suspect for anything and has no dodgy connections that we can find. I just don’t get why you get a vibe from him. What is it – some kind of hunch?

This book won the 2015 Bloody Scotland Crime Novel of the Year. It’s the first book by Craig Russell’s that I’ve noticed. How could I have missed the others? This is his seventh Jan Fabel book!


Jan Fabel is a changed man. Head of the Polizei Hamburg’s Murder Commission, Fabel has dealt with the dead for nearly two decades, but when a routine enquiry becomes a life-threatening – and life-altering – experience, he finds himself on much closer terms with death than ever before.

Fabel’s first case at the Murder Commission comes back to haunt him: Monika Krone’s body is found at last, fifteen years after she went missing. Monika – ethereally beautiful, intelligent, cruel – was the centre of a group of students obsessed with the gothic. Fabel re-opens the case. What happened that night, when Monika left a party and disappeared into thin air?

Meanwhile, Hamburg’s most dangerous serial rapist has escaped from high-security prison. Fabel is convinced he had outside help, but from whom? His suspicions that the escape is connected to the discovery of Monika’s body seem to lead to nothing when there are no sightings of the fugitive, but little can he imagine the real purpose for which this monster has been unleashed.

When men involved with Monika start turning up dead, the crime scenes full of gothic symbolism, Fabel realizes he is looking for a killer with both a hunger for vengeance and a terrifying taste for the macabre. A true gothic demon is stalking the streets of Hamburg…

I’m enjoying what I’ve read so far. What do you think – have you read any of Craig Russell’s books? Would you read on?