Category: Murder

A Good Old-Fashioned Murder

Review: The Lake District Murder – by John Bude

You know what’s nice? Watching people who are good at things do them well. There’s something so utterly satisfying about it.

This is the reason I love watching the Olympics, the rugby world cup… less so the football world cup! I love watching shows where people make stuff, like glass blowing, wood working and mending cars.

Of course, it’s always a pleasure to watch Hercule Poirot go about deducting, but there’s always something kept from the viewer/reader. Poirot is always held above – we don’t figure things out at the same time as he does, because we aren’t finicky little Belgians with a penchant for details. We’ve got jobs and messy flats, and hobbies beyond trimming mustachios.

The Lake District Murder doesn’t focus on superhuman personality and mighty little grey cells, instead the reader follows the process of some good, careful, thorough policing.

When a body is found at an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage? This classic mystery novel is set amidst the stunning scenery of a small village in the Lake District.

In contrast with the irrepressible personality of detectives like Poirot, Inspector Meredith is almost without personality. He’s how I imagine a right and proper gent from the 30s – he always stops for lunch, he’s always punctual, never complains and has a healthy respect for his bosses. He’ll go the extra mile to solve a case, not because he’s on a mission for justice so much as because it’s his job, so that’s what he’s supposed to do.

We follow Inspector Meredith and are party to his innermost thoughts, both when he thinks then and when he reports them, working with him as he extrapolates his findings and posits solutions. In spite of the dead body, this is such a low drama mystery, as gentle and meandering as the roads around the Lake District which he must traverse on his combination motorbike.

Worth noting I’ve not been to the Lake District since I was 12 and as such have very little idea of the roads.

To compare this to the high-octane thrillers and American cop dramas I’ve been more familiar with, this probably reminds me most of Bones, both the tv show and the Kathy Reichs books. It’s methodical, it’s the complex made simple. The whodunnit aspect of The Lake District Murder isn’t a secret for long – we know for most of the book- the journey and the excitement comes from bringing the perpetrators to justice, in finding proof where there seems to be none, and all with careful, methodical thought and action. Gentle and uniquely satisfying, this book gave me the same kind of joy as watching Edd China replacing brake discs.

See how you feel about extremely thorough police work here!

The Murder Bit.

I’ve been on holiday this past week, which you might think would mean I’ve had plenty of time to do loads of my own personal work, unhampered by the ties of the day job. You would be incorrect. What’s actually happened is I’ve ground to a shuddering halt and watched two full seasons of Game Of Thrones. Time well spent, yes, but it has put me behind on reading for this blog.

Oh no Jon Snow!

I did read a book while I was on leave, but it was in no way relevant to a blog which is, at best, tenuously linked to historical mysteries. I’ve linked it here, it you’re interested, but otherwise I’m not going to mention it.

In lieu of that, and bearing in mind that if I stop posting weekly I’ll probably never start again, let’s look at some books about DEATH.

Click the images for more information.

Amazing True Stories of Execution Blunders – by Geoffrey Abbott

These days, I consider myself something of an historical death aficionado, in so much as a person can be when they read a lot of fiction and are easily grossed out. I know all about the old punishments and the ones which never really happened, but this introduced me to several more disgusting methods which I had known nothing about. It’s not quite so Horrible Histories as it looks, either, and was a heavily sobering look at how awful people used to be – and still sometimes are.

The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death – by Timothy Taylor

Yes. This one.

I think it’s always a sign of a good book when you can remember, over a year later, exactly what you were doing when you started it.

I was on a train to London early one morning, sitting by myself in a deserted carriage. I was nervous about what I was going to London for – something to do with the day job – and wasn’t at all sure I’d chosen the right book to bring. I was testing myself – it was the first non-fiction book I’d ever read about death, and given my history and temperament, it could have set me off into a quivering, shrieking mess. Parts of it almost did.

The Buried Soul is a comprehensive look at the culture which has grown up around death, dating far back into pre-history and spanning the globe. It takes a close and respectful look at the taboos surrounding the way we treat our dead, the superstitions which have developed in different parts of the world and why, and what I found most interesting of all, our changing attitudes to cannibalism. Both grim and enlightening, a non-judgemental and intellectual study of why we do what we do, and why we stopped doing what we did.

Ladies! Beware!

Review: Kill Me Again – Rachel Abbott

As a person who is constantly aware of the creeping shadow of death, it surely won’t surprise you to learn that I practice constant vigilance. If I’ve learned anything from all of these thrillers and mystery novels I’ve been reading, it’s that most people are psychopaths, and you probably won’t find out until it’s too late.

As a young(ish) lady of a naturally anxious disposition, it’s been reassuring to have what I strongly supposed backed up so consistently. I have the pessimist’s pleasure of being proved right.


Unfortunately for the heroines of what I like to call Lady Mysteries(TM), they do not share my sense of constant vigilance. In Kill Me Again, in spite of her career as a defence lawyer, and therefore regular contact with serial killers, Maggie Taylor is not of an anxious disposition, nor does she mistrust all people. Indeed, she believes she lives a pretty idyllic life, until her husband disappears.

When your life is a lie, who can you trust? 
When Maggie Taylor accepts a new job in Manchester, she is sure it is the right move for her family. The children have settled well although her husband, Duncan, doesn’t appear to be so convinced.
But nothing prepares her for the shock of coming home from work one night to find that Duncan has disappeared, leaving their young children alone. His phone is dead, and she has no idea where he has gone, or why. And then she discovers she’s not the only one looking for him.

When a woman who looks just like Maggie is brutally murdered and DCI Tom Douglas is brought in to investigate, Maggie realises how little she knows about Duncan’s past. Is he the man she loves? Who is he running from?

She doesn’t have long to decide whether to trust him or betray him. Because one thing has been made clear to Maggie – another woman will die soon, and it might be her.

It’s an odd thing, the idea that you can be married to someone for ten years, think yourself blissfully in love, and then find out that you didn’t know them at all.  On the one hand, how could anyone possibly be so stupid? But on the other hand, I regularly find out things I didn’t know about friends or co workers who I’ve known for years, and they weren’t things they were trying to keep secret. I’ve been in close relationships with people who have manipulated and lied to me for years without my knowledge. It happens.

When Maggie begins to unravel her husband’s lies, she struggles to cope with the idea that she’s married to a stranger. Yet the important part of Maggie’s story is less about what she did not know, and more about the choices she makes when she does find out the truth. She’s torn between Duncan’s betrayal of her, and the idea of betraying the man she loves to the police.

As the story evolved and more and more was revealed, I was drawn in to the point where I couldn’t put it down. It’s tense – I read the last 20% with my hand over my mouth and in a mad rush.

I’ve been thinking about this book from a feminist aspect, too. The women in this are almost all victims in the hands of men. They’re lied to, murdered, tortured, threatened. That seems to be the way in these things, doesn’t it? Serial killers usually are men, after all, and historically, women are the victims. Perhaps that’s why I always look out for books which tend the other way – it is fiction after all. I’d love any recommendations, are there any thrillers you’ve enjoyed with female serial killers?

All the men in Kill Me Again are awful in some way or another, apart from DCI Tom Douglas, the chiselled hero and Maggie’s son Josh, who is a small child. I honestly don’t think it would pass the Bechdel test, but that isn’t to say that all of the women are weak, in spite of being victims. I enjoyed the women in this, and that is because of Maggie’s actions towards the end. It was a great twist and I’d definitely read a Maggie-centred sequel, which there would be room for. In lieu of that, I’d definitely pick up another Rachel Abbott book.

Give Kill Me Again a try here, and let me know what you think!

If you like psychopaths (or reading about them, at any rate), and you haven’t yet read Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, then I can’t recommend it more highly. And if my word isn’t good enough, perhaps Louis Tomlinson will sway you.

Coming Home, a Mystery of Lies and Ladies

Review: Coming Home – Annabel Kantaria

Some books just grab you. I spent about a week dipping in and out of a not-particularly-interesting book that I was glad to finish, then started Coming Home. I wanted something exciting, something a bit dark, and this seemed to fit the bill.

Coming Home by Annabel Kantaria

Hey, if Judy Finnigan loved it…

Boy, did it ever.

Evie, 28, has lived in Dubai for 5 years. She left London to escape from the shadow of her brother’s death, and the demands of her unstable mother. She’s had the time of her life, finally free from the emotional shackles of her family and able to become her own person at last.

Then her father dies.

Evie returns home to face not only her father’s death, but also the mother she left behind.

Struggling to cope with a grief she isn’t able to express, Evie begins to uncover her father’s secrets. These are revealed in tandem with flashbacks of therapy sessions Evie had as a child following the sudden death of her brother. Every page seems to bring new questions, and what would be a main plot twist in another book is just another layer in this one.

Who did her father transfer enormous sums of money to, just before his death?

Where did her father really go during the week when he said he was away working?

Why did Evie’s father not tell her about the cancer which had got so bad, so quickly?

Why doesn’t Evie’s mother speak to her brother?

And most importantly of all, how much did her mother already know?

I got a real sense of the confusion felt by Evie as she discovered hidden truths and faced memories she’d deliberately buried. Having spent her life trying to help her parents at the expense of her own grief, Evie’s shock and confusion at being lied to is palpable. In a world which places so much emphasis on the sanctity and perfection of a mother’s love, I am always interested in stories regarding the significant absence or abuse of that love.

It’s an emotionally complex book, and I welled up several times while reading – and I had to read it all in one sitting. We lost someone a few months ago, and the grief in this book rang so true, it brought back everything I’d felt during that awful period. It was a difficult read, but a worthwhile one.

The numbness of grief coupled with having to grapple with what, at the best of times, would be overwhelmingly difficult truths, are sensitively and honestly brought to life by Kantaria’s delicately woven prose.

I couldn’t put this book down and raced to the conclusion, only to find myself left with a moral dilemma. The question of all questions – how far would you go to protect your family? I know which path I’d have chosen. Why don’t you find out what you’d do?

The best mystery I’ve read in a long time, and one I recommend highly. Read it now, so I can talk to you about it!

And if you like it, you may also enjoy The Disappearance – another mystery of lies and ladies by the same author.

Death at the Priory

Review: Death at the Priory – Love, Sex and Murder in Victorian England – by James Ruddick

A few weeks ago I was speaking to a friend, and she said an approximation of the following:

“We woman all say we want equality, but really we want to go back to being married off and put on a pedestal by our husbands.”

The romanticism of arranged marriages in history is what inspired me to write An Unnatural Daughter – one of my first forays into having my heroines murder people. Historically, marriage hasn’t been all that great for ladies. They gained protection, yes, but at what cost?

There were, however, things they could do to get by – things that they did to help themselves when the demands on their bodies became too great.

This is where Death at the Priory comes in – an investigation into one of  Victorian England’s most famous unsolved murders.

41QY4CDFYYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (221×346)

I bought it for the juicy murder, but came away with a deeper understanding of how women of a certain class coped with difficult marriagesIt introduces us to Florence Bravo, a woman ahead of her time. Educated, wealthy, vivacious and beautiful, she had a loving and supportive family and everything going for her. But that support stopped when, having married a man who turned out to be a violent alcoholic, she asked her parents for help leaving him. I shan’t go into too much detail, but on the advent of her second marriage, Florence realized she’d made the same mistake again.

The first half of the book introduces us to the victim and suspects, and paints an intriguing picture of the lead up to the long and agonising death of Florence’s second husband, Charles Bravo, who was poisoned by an unknown hand. The second half follows Ruddick as he sifts through the available evidence before reaching his verdict on what really happened.

Ruddick’s investigations and conclusions occasionally take great leaps of faith, but nonetheless I raced through the book, eager to find out whodunnit according to his theories.

What really got me though, was the revelation that women of the higher classes were known to drug their husbands’ alcohol, when said husband habitually drank too much and became violent with it. The drug, antimony, was highly poisonous, but when used very sparingly it induced sickness or a deep sleep. This wasn’t something I had ever considered before, but as I read it I found myself thinking, but of course they did.

Ruddick also posited and then dismissed the idea that women did the same to control how often their husbands were able to share their beds. I wasn’t able to dismiss the idea so quickly as he did – to me it seems perfectly logical that in an age where death in childbirth was common and the miscarriage rate was high, women in such marriages would use any means at their disposal to save their health. Why would you drug your husband to stop him beating you, but still allow him open access to intimacy when another pregnancy might kill you?

From then on I found myself questioning all of his conclusions. Perhaps I’m blinded by my own agenda, much as I feel Ruddick was blinded by his. Nonetheless, though, an interesting read, and a fascinating window into the life of a very unhappy woman, and a timely reminder of the position of women in Victorian society.

Come to your own conclusions and try the book here.

Little Belgians and Moustachioed Victorians

REVIEW: Death on a Branch Line – Andrew Martin

Last month I bought myself the complete box set of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. Not only had nobody thought to buy me them previously (!) but this formed a very important part of my *research*.

The research period of any novel or series is an odd one. It’s extremely flexible in terms of what you (I) can justify as research. For instance, I am going to write mysteries set in Victorian Leeds, so I am researching plot structure, and the time period. So I can binge watch 6 episodes of Poirot and justify it as working, even if I’ve made my way through the best part of a bottle of wine while I was at it. I’m looking at the structure, darling.

OK, I admit this is stretching it, but my goodness, Poirot is cracking good fun. David Suchet is tremendous as the little Belgian, and I’ve reignited my childhood crush on Captain Hastings (he’s just so nice, why don’t the ladies like him!?). Not to mention the tour de force that is Miss Lemon, my secretarial idol.

And this happened, taking one of the top spots of "Best things that have ever happened in my life, ever ever".

And this happened, taking one of the top spots of “Best things that have ever happened in my life, ever ever”.

In fairness to myself, I have learned a lot about character development from these binges, come to a few realisations on plotting and structure, and on what works for me and doesn’t. Which is great – just think how much I’ll learn watching the remaining 40+ episodes! Oh yes, Poirot is exercising my little grey cells. Also discovered through the wonderful medium that is Twitter that Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings) has a thriller coming out soon.

But my research hasn’t solely comprised of Poirot. Even I can’t justify that. It’s also extended to a Victorian mystery, Death on a Branch Line.

One scorching day in York Train Station, Jim Stringer, railway detective, finds himself in conversation with a condemned man. Not convinced of the man’s guilt, Jim believes him when he warns of another death in the offing at his home, in the isolated village of Adenwold. In the company of his wife, Lydia, and in the middle of a scorching heatwave, Jim takes to the rails to investigate.

Come to think of it, I can't recall if he's described as moustachioed in the text, but who doesn't like a blushing Victorian?

Come to think of it, I can’t recall if he’s described as moustachioed in the text, but who doesn’t like a blushing Victorian?

Now then. This was really, really good. A character-driven mystery which was genuinely perplexing and chocka with historical detail. There’s a quote on the back that aligned it with a BBC serial, and that is exactly how it was. A three parter around Christmas, perhaps? Come on, BBC! Get to it!

Perhaps the reason this hasn’t happened yet is one of the main reasons I liked it. Liberal amounts of swearing. 

And it works. This is written first person, from Jim’s PoV, and all that swearing sounds completely natural. A railway detective working on a difficult case in a heatwave would be dropping F-bombs all over the place.

Even better than the liberal amounts of swearing (and I never thought I would write those words) was the wonderful and three-dimensional portrayal of Lydia, Jim’s wife. This is particularly notable given that she is referred to as Lydia about three times, and all the rest as “the wife”. She’s a suffragette, which Jim is tolerant of, but doesn’t understand, and absolutely pivotal in the solving of the case. And here’s the thing, Jim treats her as you’d fully expect a railway detective to treat his wife. He assumes she’s wrong about things and is speaking out of turn, while at the same time being very proud of her, very much in love with her, and not a little bit in awe. What I was left with was the impression of a woman who I admired, and wanted to know more about. This is one book in a Jim Stringer series, and I will read more only because I want to know more about Lydia.

I’m not sure what made me pick this up in the first place, because I have a “railways are boring” mentality, but this book actually made railways interesting to me. Perhaps I don’t just like lady books after all…!

Find on here…

These Damned, Decrepit Bones

REVIEW: Death In The Stocks – Georgette Heyer

I started reading on the Kindle mid last year, when my weak, child-wrists and their brittle sparrow bones proved unequal to the task of propping up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. No regrets, of course.

Upshot is though, I’ve not touched my TBR paperback pile for over six months. Until now! And so, here’s a Georgette Heyer mystery I’ve had for 7 years!

Death in the Stocks

So, this paperback, physical book thing… How do I read while eating lunch!? How do I read while using hands for other domestic tasks?!

Oh, but the feel of the paper, though. The gentle strain on my weak wrists. The option of hurling it at people who won’t stop talking to me while I’m trying to read.


If you’re remotely into historical romance, chances are you’ve read some Heyer, for all that some can be a difficult read these days. Death in the Stocks was the first crime novel of hers I’ve read, however.

“Beneath a sky the colour of sapphires and the sinister moonlight, a gentleman in evening dress is discovered slumped in the stocks on the village green – he is dead. Superintendent Hannasyde’s consummate powers of detection and solicitor Giles Carrington’s amateur sleuthing are tested to their limits as they grapple with the Vereker family – a group of outrageously eccentric and corrupt suspects”

If you like Jeeves and Wooster, I reckon you’ll like this. There’s a very similar tone and the Verekers, the family around whom suspicion of the murder centres, have that same sort of basic stupidity as Bertie Wooster and his friends. It’s almost irritating at times, but I couldn’t help but be entertained.

 “You were angry enough to write a letter telling your half brother that it would give you great pleasure to wring his neck-“

“Bloody neck,” corrected Kenneth.

“Yes, his bloody neck is the term you used. You felt strongly enough to write it, and then forgot all about it?”

“No, I forgot I’d written it,” said Kenneth. “I didn’t forget that I wanted to wring his neck. My memory’s not as bad as that.” 

Our main suspects are bull-terrier breeder Antonia (Tony) Vereker and her artist brother Kenneth, both of whom have beef with the deceased, their wealthy and unpleasant half brother. They make no secret of their joy at his demise, and aren’t really bothered by being suspects, except for finding it something of an inconvenience that the police keep popping round unannounced.

I suppose this falls into the cosy category of mysteries, and it’s definitely the fluffy end of the murder scale. It’s hardly a brain teaser and I think the “whodunnit” aspect is a pretty easy solve. Don’t read it for the mystery, read it for the japes. While I wouldn’t want to be the Vereker’s downstairs neighbours, I wouldn’t mind going to one of their parties.

Have you read any of Heyer’s mysteries? I’ve still got Penhallow on my bookshelf, which I’ll probably dig out next time I need a bit of light-hearted escape. That’s likely to be soon, since we’re about to enter the terrifying realms of buying a property…

Find on here.


KODAK Digital Still Camera

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to start this blog off. It seems wise to just start with an introduction, so we can get to know one another, and figure out what’s going on here. Murder and Manners!? What the hell!?

Hi, I’m Katherine.

When I was little, I was scared of everything. If anything was remotely frightening, I was traumatised, unable to sleep for days. I’d make myself sick with it, with everything from shadows to moths to bad vibes to… well, pick a thing that isn’t pink fluffy cats, and I was probably scared of that too. I was squeamish to the point where I couldn’t even hear about someone cutting their finger without having to leave the room. But as I got older it became necessary to toughen up a little bit and, like Batman, I realised that to conquer fear, I must become fear itself. I didn’t watch Batman, though. Too scary.

So I started forcing myself to face my fear. I read to the end of the scary books, made myself turn off the night light. I read and watched things which were a little bit grosser than I thought I could handle, just so I knew that I could, and didn’t need to be frightened any more.

It took a long time.

I realised that fiction, for all that some of it might scare me, was a safe place. Allowing myself to be scared by things – things which aren’t even scary, really – was quite fun. Because it wasn’t real, it just felt real for a little while.

I discovered historical romance in my late teens, and the more Gothic they were, the better. I ended up finding that if there wasn’t any death in a book at all, I couldn’t believe it. This was history – people were dying all the time! Then I started writing books, and found that if they weren’t just a little bit murdery, a little bit deathy, I wasn’t interested in writing them.

I’m still scared of lots of things. I won’t read or watch horror, for example. Then there’s the anxiety which stops me talking to people easily, the perpetual fear that I’ve offended friends, strangers, or the fear that if I don’t say “take care”, before my boyfriend leaves for work, that he won’t take care and therefore die. The nagging feeling that I will inadvertently start a train of events leading to the end of humanity as we know it, and the dawn of the age of moths. I’m also still scared of moths. But historical fiction and things which are, for want of a better term, “deathy” no longer give me sleepless nights. They fascinate me.

I’ve written five books to date, and each one has had more murder than the last. Given my next series will be set in a mortuary, that trend seems set to continue!

I’ve set this blog up as a place to share the cool things I find out when I’m doing research, some awesome historical fiction I love, and hopefully to meet people who are just as into this stuff as I am.

So, welcome. Whether you’re a devotee of Christie or a die-hard Bones fanatic, hopefully there’ll be something for you here.

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