Susan Allott: The Silence Tuesday, May 19 2020 

Auntie M had the good fortune recently to interview Susan Allott, after reading and thoroughly enjoying her debut THE SILENCE. Here are a few questions to head the review and give readers a better sense of the author:


Susan Allott (photo by John Yabrifa)

Auntie M: The setting comes alive in both time periods of this mystery. I understand you spent time in Australia and used your own homesickness for England to inform the main character’s mother. What made you decide to set the The Silence in Australia?

Susan Allott: I wrote about Australia because of my time living there as a homesick ex-pat, and also because when I got back to London I met my future husband who was, by crazy coincidence, Australian. Louisa, my protagonist’s British mother, goes through an experience of extreme homesickness that was close to my own, and I originally thought her story would be more central to the book. But over time the Australian characters and settings took over and The Silence became a book about coming back to Australia rather than leaving it.

AM: It seems remarkable that a person could disappear for thirty years and not be asked after, yet you’ve skillfully set up those parameters. How did the Faber Academy course you took help with those kinds of plot points? Could you describe the course for readers?

SA: The Faber Academy course that I took part in runs over six months and is held in the Faber offices in central London. There were a dozen students, and we met up every Tuesday evening for six months. I already had a draft of The Silence when I enrolled but I had doubts about whether it was worth pursuing. The course gave me confidence and helped me to see myself as someone who could be published one day. Once you have that, the lessons about plot, structure, voice and so on start to take hold.

AM: The Isla who returns to Australia is not the same person who leaves for England, nor will she be at the end of the book. How did you decide on her pathway to growth and change?

SA: The subject that fascinated me from the outset of writing The Silence was the enormous pull of home, and how we form our identity around the place we come from. I also think we sometimes idealize the place we call home if we live far away, so that after a while home can become an idea without much grounding in reality. So Isla’s return to Australia to find out what happened to Mandy was also about Isla’s personal quest to figure out where she really came from, separating the idea from the reality.

AM: The colonial situation revolving around Aboriginal children is skillfully handled. What was it about that period in Australia’s history that made you decide to illustrate it? Which came first: that idea or the mystery?

SA: I’d written several chapters of The Silence, and had a whole cast of characters, when I read a book called Australia, the History of a Nation by Philip Knightley. He mentions a policeman living in Victoria, a southern Australian state, who gets home from work and cries on his veranda because part of his job is to remove Aboriginal children from their families and take them to state institutions. I already knew about the Stolen Generation but hadn’t thought of writing about it. But this policeman and his personal conflict felt like a way in. It fascinated me and the mystery grew out of that.

AM: What are you working on now, for readers who will be looking for your next book?

SA: I’m working on a spooky mystery set in my part of South London, where the new inhabitants of a Victorian house start knocking down walls and unsettling the secrets that have been locked into the building for decades. They unwittingly open up a long-buried pocket of time which starts to bleed into the present. Can they stop history repeating itself?

AM: Whose books would we find on your nightstand’s To Be Read pile?

SA: The new Elizabeth Strout, Olive Again, is next to my bed and will probably be my next read. But I’m also very tempted by Sadie Jones’ The Snakes, and Anna Hope’s Expectation. And although they aren’t physically on my nightstand, I SO want to read Hamnet, the new Maggie O’Farrel, and Bass Rock, the new Evie Wyld. Deciding what to read next is my favorite dilemma.

Many thanks for these insights, Susan. And now on to the review:

Susan Allott’s remarkable debut, The Silence, brings a mystery to the forefront, set in a Sydney suburb.

Alternating between 1967 and 1997, it tells the story of Isla Green, whose father calls her Hackney flat, a call that sees Isla return to Australia. The police have been to see him, in connection with a former neighbor’s disappearance thirty years a before.

Mandy and her husband Steve were the Green’s neighbor’s, and Isla’s father, Joe, told the police that they moved away together, but it appear Joe may have been the last person to see Mandy alive. In 1997, now that Mandy’s own father has died, her brother hasn’t been able to trace her for her part of the inheritance. In fact, he hasn’t heard from her in the past thirty years.

In 1967, Isla’s mother, Louisa, is homesick for the England she left when she and Joe emigrated to Australia. Mandy and Louisa have become friends, and Mandy watched little Isla while Louisa went out to work. Mandy’s husband was a police officer whose job had taken its toll on him emotionally.

With her father under suspicion and his drinking out of control, Isla searches for the secrets each couple hid all those years ago, determined to find the truth about Mandy’s disappearance, and about her father.

Handing the tough subject of aboriginal children under Australia’s colonial habits adds a sense of tension to the plot and increases the emotion. Will Isla find out the truth? And when she does, will she be able to handle it?

An accomplished debut with finely drawn, realistic characters. Highly recommended.

Victoria Dowd: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder Thursday, May 14 2020 

Please welcome Victoria Dowd, to describe debuting a mystery amidst the Corona virus:

My debut crime novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, was released on 6th May. After people say ‘Congratulations!’ the next sentence, however, is often ‘How has it been releasing a book at the moment?’

This is not an easy question to answer for someone who is a debut novelist. There’s very little I have to compare it to. There were some very obvious differences. The launch party was not a collection of friends and relatives clustered in a bookshop clutching glasses of warm white wine.

Instead, a group of very close, life-long friends appeared on my laptop screen in various fancy dress outfits which revolved throughout the evening with clothing cobbled together from childrens’ dressing up boxes and outfits left over from parties twenty years ago. It was definitely a night to remember!

There was the Facebook party organised with fellow authors from my publishers, involving (virtual) food, drinks and quizzes – with real prizes that were up for grabs that people had taken the time to make. These included miniature copies of my book, key rings and beautiful crotched book ‘merchandise.’ There have been fridge magnets of the book and cocktails created to drink alongside the book (a Fortune Teller, if you’re interested and it’s very potent!).

I have been overwhelmed by the lengths people have gone to. I can have a ‘normal’ launch for all the rest of the books and probably will do for this one as well. But I can never recapture the extraordinary efforts of those surrounding this book: the wonderful editor, Emma, who worked with me tirelessly and completely remotely, on every word and page right up to the very last minute; parties that we Zoomed, Facebooked and Skyped; the presents, cards and messages; independent bookshop owners such as Venetia Vyvyan operating her bookshop single-handedly from home, who telephoned to ensure she could obtain copies to sell; established authors such as Margaret Murphy taking the time to speak on the phone with invaluable advice for a new author.

We really did just carry on. It has been remarkable just how adaptable people have become so quickly and how incredibly generous and supportive others are in their efforts. It is no understatement to say that I have been utterly overwhelmed by the tide of goodwill.

In some ways, it was quite fitting that it should come out under such adversity. The book itself is, after all, a modern take on the crime novels of the Golden Age – a time of extraordinary upheaval and deprivation. From wars to depressions and rationing, these authors were not simply writing at a time of cocktail parties and country house weekends.

Although the books are often referred to as ‘cozy mysteries’ there is always the underlying ripple of people in dire straights, those who have lost loved ones to war and disease, or characters who will go to any lengths to obtain that longed for financial security. Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime herself, published many of her greatest works during the Second World War (And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun, The Body in the Library, The Moving Finger, Sparkling Cyanide – to name a few of many). The Golden Age of crime may well have had Lord Peter Wimsey whipping around in a sports car and Miss Marple solving crimes from the comfort of a drawing room, but it also had the constant undercurrent of those who will kill for inheritance, to hide past misdemeanours and avoid certain ruin – people who are desperate enough to carefully and coldly plan the taking of another human life.

In The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder I wanted to test those sort of characters to their limits. There is the familiar setting of the isolated country mansion. There are five women in a book club, again something very recognisable to many readers. And there is the narrator, a troubled young woman who, although not officially a member of the book club, tags along with her mother. Their dysfunctional, spiky relationship instantly causes an acerbic tension between them and the other members of the group.

There is also a dark humour to their interactions which I think is very much a trope of Golden Age crime. The sharp wit of authors such as Josephine Tey and Margery Allingham is very often dismissed or over-looked. I wanted to create that environment we expect from these sort of crime novels, so the unexpected can happen. I wanted the familiarity of the difficult mother and daughter relationship, a book club who don’t really read books, a group of friends where not everyone likes one another. Then they become isolated, snowed in and the murders begin.

Under this level of constant extreme pressure there is only one escape, to figure out who the killer is. And that is the glory of the Golden Age of crime. It’s not about the body, the blood or death – at least not all of it. It’s the puzzle, working out every single tiny clue before the denouement.

Can you solve it before the author gets to the final page? I hope not.

Victoria Dowd is a crime writer and her debut novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, is available to buy in paperback or ebook on Amazon, published by Joffe Books. It’s the first part of a crime series that is an updated dark, humorous take on the Golden Age of crime and the works of authors such Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Josephine Tey.

Victoria is also an award winning short story writer, having won the Gothic Fiction prize for short fiction awarded by Go Gothic. She was runner up in The New Writer’s Writer of the Year Award; her work has been short listed and Highly Commended by Writers’ Forum magazine. She was also long-listed for The Willesden Herald International Short Story Competition. She has had short stories published in BTS Literary and Arts Annual, Gold Dust magazine and also by Stairwell books in their literary and arts journal Dream Catcher. She lives with her husband and two children and can frequently be found in Devon swimming/floating/drinking around Burgh Island, reading Agatha Christies. Originally from Yorkshire, after studying law at Cambridge University, Victoria was a criminal law barrister for many years before becoming a full time writer.

James Oswald: Bury Them Deep Wednesday, May 13 2020 

James Oswald’s tenth Inspector McLean novel, Bury Them Deep, reinforces why he’s one of Auntie M’s favorites, whether its the newest McLean or in his equally well-written, yet vastly different series featuring detective Constance Fairchild (No Time to Cry; Nothing to Hide).

This time the Scottish detective mixes with a highly politicized operation when he sets out to find a missing administrative member of the Police Scotland team who’s not shown up for work. It doesn’t help that the woman’s mother is a retired Detective Superintendent Grace Ramsey, recovering from a broken hip, but still as intimidating as McLean remembers.

Assigned to the team working on an huge anti-corruption scheme, Anya Renfrew’s disappearance sets off alarm bells. With her access to many of the systems in place that unlock the secrets of Edinburgh’s most powerful businessmen, none of the possibilities look good. With fears Anya may have been bought off for the information she could share, another possibility is that she been silenced to keep her knowledge quiet.

Last seen in ancient hills where the maps are difficult to follow and the stories from folklore imbue the atmosphere, McLean and his team set out to find out all they can about Anya Renfrew, her current life, and her past.

At the same time, just to muddy the waters, an old foe of McLean’s at a long-term psychiatric hospital claims to have information about the missing woman.

It’s a race against time to find Anya as the team investigates a disturbing pattern of other women having disappeared from the same area where Anya is last seen.

One thing about Oswald’s plots: they are consistently creative and bring a new level of knowledge to the reader, as he explores areas most readers won’t be familiar with.

This ability to hit on unique stories, inhabited by a familiar cast of characters led by McLean, all set in the city and surrounding area of Edinburgh, make this a Highly Recommended read.

Sujata Maseey: The Satapur Moonstone Sunday, May 10 2020 

Sujata Massey’s Award-winning The Widows of Malabar Hill introduced Bombay lawyer Perveen Mistry, one of a few female lawyers in India in the early 1920s. Massey brings Perveen back for another adventure in The Satapur Moonstone, and it’s every bit as exciting a mystery as the first.

It’s 1922 and Perveen is asked to journey to the remote Sahyadri mountains to the state of Satapur. The royal family has recently seen its share of disasters: its maharaja died suddenly after taking ill and his eldest son died soon after in a hunting accident.

Now the dowager queen and her daughter-in-law maharani are at odds with how the next in line, a young crown prince, should be educated. With the British Raj agent involved in their rule, a woman is required as the two maharani’s live in purdah and do not speak to men.

After reluctantly agreeing to this venture, Perveen’s journey to the circuit house run by the Englishman Colin Sandringham is arduous, and it is even further to the royal palace in Satapur where the women await her visit. But Colin is interesting company and after a slight delay, Perveen is on her way inside a palanquin, being carried through the forest for the long and dangerous journey to the palace.

What she finds there, and show Perveen will cope with it, show her strength as well as her sleuthing skills. There are power plays and old secrets that threaten the young prince and his little sister, even as Perveen comes under threat. It will take all of her wiles to protect the royal children and carry out her commission.

The time and mores, the landscape and its dangers, all come alive under Massey’s graceful language and extensive research. Perveen is an interesting, intelligent woman, bound by Parsi customs and chafing at them due to her own history. It all makes for an absorbing read this is highly recommended.

Anne Cleeland: Murder in Deep Regret Wednesday, May 6 2020 

Anne Cleeland’s newest Doyle & Acton mystery, Murder in Deep Regret, finds the married detectives working a confusing case, just as they are having their portraits painted for his ancestral home.

A recent acquisition to the London Kingsmen football team, the player Rizzo had been awarded a huge salary that matches his popularity. So when his body is found inside St. Michael’s sacristy, an apparent suicide, Doyle’s nose for the truth twitches as her scalp prickles, and DCI Acton’s actions confirm this was murder.

The church is in the midst of a huge renovation project, dragging on due to the absence of the owner of the construction company. D’Angelo has gone missing after a sailing accident, and is presumed dead, lost at sea.

But what could his death and that of the most revered football player in recent history have to do with each other?

As the couple investigate and Doyle keeps her eye on her husband’s tendency for retribution and running a separate inquiry. Knowing he’s keeping secrets again, Doyle’s dreams come to the forefront with information, keeping the fey Irish gal asking questions without answers.

One thing she’s sure of, even as she juggles her job, watching over her husband, and caring for their young son, albeit with good help at home, is that whomever killed Rizzo did so to bring Acton into the the investigation.

Cleeland’s distinctive recurring characters, including those of their team and at home whom have become like old friends, round out the cast. This is another complicated case, with a hint of sexy romance that never fails to charm. A perfect read for distraction in these times, or anyone looking for a darn good mystery with characters you won’t soon forget in this continued series winner.

Simone Buchholz: Mexico Street Wednesday, Apr 29 2020 

Chastity Riley is the state prosecutor who works with Hamburg police while she tries to figure out her complicated personal life in the newest entry to Simone Buchholz’s series titled Mexico Street.

With vandals routinely setting cars on fire, the Special Forces team, led by Ivo Stepanovic, are called in when one of these cars is found to contain a body.

Nouri Saroukhan is the estranged son of a Bremen gang of thugs who treat their family worse than their enemies at times. The tight-lipped and even tighter-wound clan have a feud with a rival family. It doesn’t help that Nouri loves a girl from the other clan.

What could be a simple feud gone too far turns instead to have threads connecting it to the financial district, while both families look for Aliza, a strong young woman on the run.

Tightly plotted, the story shows how some cultures within Germany are stuck in the past in terms of male dominance and female roles. There are difficult stories Riley confronts, and they add to her own darkness.

Riley is the quintessential noir heroine: this is a woman who drinks too much and smokes too much, yet there is something attractive about her tough exterior that draws people to her.

Buchholz’s writing has a dark tone awash with sparkling and observant prose that adds to the noir feel of the book. While this is book three in the series, it is Auntie M’s first brush with Buchholz and Riley, and it certainly won’t be her last.

Mary Torjussen: The Closer You Get Sunday, Apr 26 2020 


Mary Torjussen’s suspense thrillers have all been hailed as suspense-filled (Gone Without a Trace; The Girl I Used to Be) and her newest, The Closer You Get, continues to deliver a nicely twisted psychological suspense novel.

She introduces readers to Ruby, who had fallen in love with her boss, Harry. Her marriage with the controlling Tom has long been over and it’s taken her a while to understand that he’s made her miserable. After a secret affair with Harry, Ruby prepared to leave Tom and Harry to leave his wife, Emily.

Their plan is to meet up at a pre-arranged hotel on a certain Friday night after telling their spouses they are leaving. Ruby girds herself, packs her car with those belongings she can fit in it, and waits for Tom to return from work. She announces she’s leaving him, and while he lets her go, she can’t believe it was that easy.

She waits at the hotel for Harry…and waits…and waits. Harry never shows up. Devastated, she finds on Monday she’s been fired from her job. Now she has no home, no job, and no self-esteem.

While she will eventually find out why Harry never showed, it does little to soften the blow or her situation. Renting a tacky apartment, Ruby takes a temp job and tries to pull herself together. That’s when she gets the distinct feeling someone has been in her apartment, which is strengthened when someone starts following her.

Is Ruby losing her mind? Or is there someone really out there menacing her. Ruby and Emily are finely drawn, and while each woman has her own point of view, the twists Torjussen builds into her plot will take unlikely turns.

An intense look at a torn marriage, an affair gone wrong, and tension that ratchets up and up as readers flip the page.

Carol Westron: This Game of Ghosts Wednesday, Apr 22 2020 


Carol Westron’s This Game of Ghosts introduces characters so real they leap off the page.

Honey Alder lost more than her teenaged son when he died seven years ago. She lost her marriage, her self-confidence, and became anxious and depressed.
With those things finally under control, she’s teaching again and helping her teenaged daughter care for her infant son, Ben. Honey’s not as fond of Ross, Ben’s father, who’s around far too often for her tastes, but she admits he’s good with Ben.

Honey’s also started to see a new man, Terry, a social worker. It’s Easter weekend and they are to spend it at a folk festival seeing her favorite band and meeting several of Terry’s friends. And then her ex, Matt, shows up at her house and tells her he’s seen a ghost.

Soon Matt’s ghost is appearing in more places, causing accidents, too. Honey knows that Matt doesn’t lie. It’s simply not in his makeup. So what is she to make of his insistence that this old woman keeps appearing? Is he cracking up, or is he being haunted by a past he can’t recall? Or worse, is someone gaslighting him?

Terry’s friends turn out to be a mixed bag, too, with most highly unlikeable. Terry’s also become possessive in light of Matt staying at Honey’s house after an accident. That’s when Honey realizes she doesn’t really like Terry, and the attention he’d paid her was what she’d longed for.

Honey will have to call on all of her new-found strength to figure out what’s really happening to Matt, while trying to fend Terry off. People are complicated, but Honey needs to see through them and the various masks they are wearing in order to save Matt, and ultimately, herself.

A wholly satisfying read from the author Mystery People calls “A born storyteller.”

Louise Beech: I Am Dust Thursday, Apr 16 2020 

At once a gothic mystery and a kind of ghost story, Louise Beech’s I Am Dust incorporates all of the elements of both, along with the kind of astute look into the human psyche that has become her hallmark.

Twenty years after the first mounting of a musical called Dust, it’s due to return to the same theatre that hosted its debut.

The musical is the stuff of lore, as its lead actress, Morgan Miller, was murdered a few performances in, and is said to haunt the Dean Wilson Theatre. Is there any truth to the curse surrounding this place and this play?

Working as a theatre usher is Chloe Dee, whose career choices have been affected by the original musical, and who is scarred by life in many ways. A teen who has her own relationship with theatre, Chloe is surprised to find the woman taking on Morgan Miller’s role is someone she knows, and knows well.

With the story told in alternating time periods of Chloe’s life, the mounting tension encapsulates all of the yearning undercurrent of a young woman’s heart. When Chloe starts to hear staticky messages on her work radio, coupled with seeing flashes of movement, is she hallucinating?

The tone of the backstage workers, the backstabbing theatre community, and the workers who make it all happen add perfect layers of verisimilitude of that life.

Beech’s lyrical prose, not a word out of place, creates just the right atmosphere to in this twisty plot to suck you in and make you stay up far too late to finish this emotional and surprising read.

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid From Our Eyes Tuesday, Apr 7 2020 

Julia Spencer-Fleming brings readers the ninth installment in her popular series featuring NY police chief Russ Van Alstyne and his wife, Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson in Hid From Our Eyes.

With two busy careers, the newlyweds are managing their infant son’s needs. Russ is fielding the possible defunding of his department and an impending vote, while Clare looks for help at her church to ease her workload and fights for her sobriety when a young woman’s body is found on a lonely road outside of town.

The body is found in a situation that bears an uncanny resemblance to a similar case from 1952, when the police chief at the time was Harry McNeil.

When he retired and the new chief was Jack Liddle, another woman was found in similar circumstances. In that case, the suspect was a local boy, a Vietnam vet who’d just returned and found the body while passing on his motorcycle: Russ Van Alstyne.

The book shows threads of all three time periods as the case heats up and shows that the first two cases were never solved. Of course, the last thing Russ needs is the decades-old suspicions coming up when he’s fighting to save his department.

And it may be the last thing harried Clare needs, too.

They will set out to find the murderer who has managed to evade authorities for decades. As the action switches between
the time periods and the victims, suspects will rear be on the radar, but the stretched time period skews things, making the denouement all the more complex and interesting.

Spencer-Fleming has developed the personalities of Russ and Clare thoroughly in previous books, yet readers new to the series will be able to discern why they are such a popular couple, as she illustrates the frustrations they share underpinned by their love.

She doesn’t ignore secondary characters, either, bringing attention to single mom Hadley Knox, whose past she keeps running from, and her strained relationship with another officer no longer in their department.

It all adds up to a highly anticipated mystery that will make readers of the series realize just how much they’d been missing Russ and Clare. Highly recommended.

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Lee Lofland

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Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews

Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

Being Author

An online writing community

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews