19 July 2018

A Discovering Diamonds review of Echoes Down the Line by David J. Boulton

AMAZON UK £5.99 £9.99
AMAZON US $8.00 $7.78
AMAZON CA $8.21 $11.08

Murder mystery /
19th century
England and Ireland

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the author is a former railway man. His knowledge of railway jargon and the workings of trains and railway procedures is phenomenal. Of course, it is possible that he spent a lot of time on research.

The story opens in Ireland with two brothers who are forced to flee after being involved in an attempted theft of grain that went wrong. Many years later, one of the brothers dies. On the day of his funeral, a dead body is found in the railway yard, which turns out to be the son of the other brother fresh off the boat from Canada. At the same time boxes of dynamite are discovered missing from a rail car.

Enter Sergeant Sam Spray and Constable William Archer. Love interest is in the person of Lizzie Oldroyd who provides lodging and food for the two cops and worries about Sam. Nothing hot and heavy here which suits the period and the story. The most likeable character, however, is an enterprising eleven-year-old boy named Jimmy Allcroft who manages to get in on the sleuthing. Sam loses a few points because of his impatience with Jimmy.

The mystery is put together cleverly and involves Fenians and royalty, and kept me guessing to the end, but it was a little slow moving, and there was just a little too much ‘railway’ in it for my liking. Perhaps inevitably given that the sleuths belong to the railway police, but some rather lengthy descriptions of the movement of trains tended to interfere with my enjoyment of the story.

I do wonder why the cover depicts a horse, as magnificent as he is, pulling a canal barge though. Something railway connected would surely be more suitable? I also feel that maybe the price of the e-book is a little high?

Despite the above, railway enthusiasts will enjoy this story for its detail.

© Susan Appleyard

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18 July 2018

Barnabas Tew And The Case Of The Missing Scarab by Columbkill Noonan

A Discovering Diamonds review of Barnabas Tew And The Case Of The Missing Scarab by Columbkill Noonan

AMAZON UK £1.99 £6.99
AMAZON US $2.65 $10.99 
AMAZON CA $2.99 $14.23

Victorian / Egyptology
YA  / Fantasy / Humour

When you've been strangled by a mummified Egyptian God, things cannot get any worse. Can they?

Influenced by the adventures of a certain Mr Holmes, Barnabas Tew has set himself up as a private detective, but with very little success. Even in the handful of cases he has solved, his erstwhile client has succumbed in unfortunate circumstances. Unknown to Barnabas and his slightly more intelligent assistant, Wilfred, one of those (dead) clients has recommended him to Anubis because Anubis has a problem: the dung beetle that pushes the sun across the heavens has been kidnapped. Transported by death to Egypt's afterlife, Barnabas and Wilfred set out to interrogate various gods and minor gods, most of whom sport animal heads of differing varieties. Unfortunately, more accidental deaths occur as a result of their investigations.

To say Barnabas is bumbling is paying him a compliment; he is clueless, full of self-importance and arrogant – but all in a 'nice' way so you can't help but like him. Wilfred is little better but tries valiantly to keep his employer out of even more trouble. Needless to say they triumph but for all the wrong reasons.

It doesn't say anywhere that this book is aimed at Young Adults, but I feel that this is its best audience - yet it is eminently readable by us older folk in the same way as, say, Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. There were a few minor typos and perhaps a very small hole in the plot but certainly not a disastrous one. Even a very few modern words or expressions did not seem out of place; this is, after all, a mixture of comedy and fantasy. And we are left with a perfect set up for further adventures with Barnabas Tew.

Entertaining, light- hearted and humorous, excellent for a quick read.

© Richard Tearle

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17 July 2018

The Blood and the Barley by Angela Macrae Shanks

The Blood and the Barley by Angela Macrae Shanks
Shortlisted for Book of the Month

AMAZON UK £3.99 £10.00
AMAZON US $5.31 $12.99 
AMAZON CA $5.12 $16.82

The Strathavon Saga #1

Fictional Saga

It is the late eighteenth century in the North-Eastern Highlands of Scotland. The Jacobite cause is lost, but local government officials still seek to crush the least hint of rebellion by local crofters, and in the process stamp out illicit whisky-making. In Strathavon, as in most glens of the region, crofters risk losing their homes and even their lives by converting barley into whisky and transporting it on ponies down to the Lowlands because it is their only means of finding the rent to remain on their native land. In the Highlands, land and kinship mean everything.

This is the background to the life of Morven MacRae, the feisty daughter of a notorious smuggler. Morven is an apprentice healer. Her teacher and friend is Rowena Forbes, who the local exciseman is convinced is a witch. The man, McBeath, known locally as the Black Gauger for his appalling ways, believes he is possessed by her, but he is also obsessed by her in other ways: he desperately wants her as a woman, and that means as his wife. This involves eliminating her husband and threatening to have her turned out of the glen if she refuses him. Which she does, for McBeath is corrupt in mind and body. Fortunately, Rowena has a young kinsman, Jamie Innes, who comes to her aid.

Jamie’s family were evicted from Strathavon when he was small boy by the Black Gauger. Jamie is tall and strong, and just about everything a young hero should be except for the fact that he is a little too na├»ve and credulous. But that can be attributed to his youth and lack of real-life experience, and we hope he will ‘grow’ during the course of the story. Naturally, when Jamie appears in the glen and immediately saves Morven’s life we can sense where the story will end. But it’s not that simple for either of them: their fate is tied to what is happening to Rowena Forbes. This in turn leads to numerous misunderstandings and unforeseen complications.

But this is far more than a boy meets girl story. It is also a portrayal of what kinship, loyalty and land means to Highlanders and the author’s description of the Highlands is so evocative one can almost feel the texture of the heather. Macrae conjures a mystical land of crags and burns, where belief in the old ways still hold and are made plausible by its isolation from what Wordsworth described as the ‘getting and spending’ of everyday life. Macrae also uses the local dialect in dialogue so well I didn’t bother to check the meaning of words in her glossary: it all made sense to me in context. What mars the story, however, is the persistent ‘head-hopping’. In trying to create the community of the area, from the humble crofters to the land-owning duke, the author gives us necessary backstory and explains kinship links but goes a little too far in providing the reader with every character’s mood and motivation. The crofters walk off the page as real people, but their jostling motivations cause unnecessary confusion and often slow the action, especially when we get multiple points of view on a single page.

In this respect, Macrae could trust her readers a little more. For example, the type of reader who enjoys this sort of novel will recognise and relate to Sarah, Rowena’s adolescent daughter, whose identity crisis brought on by jealousy of her mother’s young friend, Morven, is exacerbated by the loss of her father and the arrival of a very handsome cousin. Showing us what Sarah does would have been sufficient, thus avoiding confusion as to who says what and why in scenes where she is eavesdropping on her mother, and where we already have two points of view from the people conversing in secret. Similarly, Morven’s parents, who are beautifully portrayed with the tensions of their marital bond and struggle to provide for their family, also intervene with their private hopes, fears and anxieties in key scenes relating to Morven and Jamie. Constantly shifting point of view and giving us multiple inner-dialogues slows the action in crucial moments, and to my mind, hindered the exciting, and otherwise satisfying end. This is a first novel and this is definitely an author to watch – I suggest a stricter technical editor, however, for her future novels.

Nevertheless, this is a well-told tale, and I’d love it to become a saga along Poldark lines. Morven has the makings of an excellent Demelza. The community of the glen, their whisky stills and smuggling born out of necessity make for a convincing backdrop and I look forward to reading more about Strathavon. I recommend The Blood and the Barley to anyone who enjoys family sagas.

© J.G. Harlond

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