The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed Cover

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Audio (Audiobook – 15 September 2022)

Series: Thursday Murder Club – Book Three

Length: 11 hours and 17 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Murder, comedy and the most badass team of investigators you are every likely to read about come together perfectly in the new Thursday Murder Club novel, The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman.

Over the last three years, some of the most impressive and outright entertaining murder mystery novels have been part of the Thursday Murder Club series by British television personality Richard Osman.  Set in a luxury retirement village in the English countryside, the Thursday Murder Club books follow the adventures of four outrageous pensioners who spend their free time solving cold cases.  However, their lives get even more complicated when several murders occur around their village, and they endeavour to find out who committed them.  The series started with The Thursday Murder Club in 2020, which had an outstanding blend of mystery, great characters and humour, all of which came together in a perfect and deeply addictive read.  The Thursday Murder Club ended up being one of my favourite books, audiobooks and debuts of 2020, and I cannot rave about it enough.  Osman followed this first book up last year with The Man Who Died Twice, an excellent sequel that presents the reader with another great mystery, while also exploring the characters even further.  I had another amazing time with The Man Who Died Twice, and it also ended up being one of the best things I read all year, making my top books and audiobooks of 2021 lists.  Needless to say after the first two epic books, I have been very excited for the third Thursday Murder Club novel, and The Bullet That Missed has been one of my most anticipated reads for 2022 for a while now. 

After their last exciting adventure, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, are continuing to solve murders in their spare time.  Their latest case sees them dive into an infamous cold case in which a young, highflying television reporter was murdered just before breaking a story on a major crime ring, with her body never recovered from the ocean.  Teaming up with the reporter’s famous presenter colleague, the Thursday Murder Club eagerly begin their investigation, hoping to shed light on her murder while having fun with their new high-profile friends.

However, it soon becomes apparent that the people behind the reporter’s death might still be active and are attempting to cover their tracks.  Their only witness in the case is found dead in her prisoner cell shortly after the club attempts to question her, and even the notorious crime lord many believe responsible for killing their original victim is afraid to talk.

Not ones to be deterred, the club continues their investigation and soon long-hidden secrets from the past come spilling out.  However, as they close on the killer, a completely different threat emerges from Elizabeth’s past.  A mysterious new nemesis wants Elizabeth to return to her assassin roots and kill an old contact from her spy days, if she does not, everyone close to her will die.  Forced to choose between her friends and her conscience, Elizabeth needs to find a way to defuse the situation before someone gets hurt.  But is this new encounter just the thing the Thursday Murder Club needs to solve their latest crime before the murderer strikes again?

Well damn, what another brilliant and impressive read.  Richard Osman went all out for his third book and I honestly think that The Bullet That Missed is some of his best work yet, possibly even eclipsing the original The Thursday Murder Club.  Bringing together an elaborate and deeply enjoyable mystery storyline with some brilliant characters, outstanding humour, and a heck of a lot of great twists, I was instantly addicted to this latest book from Osman and couldn’t wait to find out how everything ended.  An extremely captivating read, The Bullet That Missed gets a very emphatic five-star rating from me, and I had an incredible time reading it.

I loved, loved, loved the exceptional story that Osman came up with for The Bullet That Missed, especially as Osman provided a perfect blend of mystery, character growth and genuine human moments that the reader can’t help but eat up.  Starting off shortly after the events of the last book, The Bullet That Missed sees the Thursday Murder Club using their usual charm and manipulative practices to investigate another cold case, gaining insight through the victims’ old colleagues, while also dragging in their usual friends and police colleagues.  They soon find themselves in the middle of a cracking mystery and use their connections and well-earned insights to examine the various clues and persons of interests associated with the case.  At the same time, Elizabeth is quite literally dragged into a dark place by a mysterious new figure who knows about her past and who forces her to choose between killing an old colleague from her spy days or watching Joyce and the rest of her friends die.  This side plot adds quite a bit to the overall story, especially the introduction of several awesome new characters, and I really enjoyed how Osman tied it into the main mystery. 

Combined with the various scenes that show the day-to-day lives of the many characters in the book, as well as some genuinely heartbreaking moments of love and loss, this proves to be one heck of a story that I was particularly rivetted to.  I loved the unique investigation that resulted from the mystery, and the characters have so many clever and hilarious ways of getting to the truth.  Osman throws in an appropriate number of red herrings and suspects, which serves to effectively muddy the water and keep the readers in suspense as they try to work out which of the many suspicious characters might have had a hand in the killings.  I was able to pick out the main villain a fair bit in advance, although the journey to getting there and the eventual reveal was really good, and I loved every single second of it.  I also didn’t see a bunch of the final twists coming, and you really appreciate all the cleverly hidden hints and clues that Osman seeded throughout the book.  I came away from The Bullet That Missed exceedingly satisfied with how the story unfolded, and I really cannot emphasise just how amazing and awesome the plot was.

On top of this, Osman has an awesome writing style that I feel really enhances the elaborate and powerful narrative of The Bullet That Missed.  I particularly enjoyed how the author made great use of multiple character perspectives throughout the book to tell the elaborate narrative.  While the focus is generally on the four members of the Thursday Murder Club, the perspectives of all the other characters in the book are shown several times throughout the story.  Not only does this allow you to get multiple intriguing views of the main mystery and the club’s actions, including from the book’s many suspects, but it also ensures that the reader gets closer to all these characters by learning their motivations, feelings, and personal histories.  This makes for a much more compelling narrative, especially as you grow attached to the new characters quickly, while also getting to experience the powerful human developments impacting the main cast.  Osman does a great job of keep the pace pretty consistent and enjoyable throughout the entirety of The Bullet That Missed, and you are constantly exposed to intriguing mystery developments, deeper emotional moments from the characters, or a ton of entertaining humour which can’t help but make you chuckle.  This keeps up throughout the entire book, although it does pick up at several points, especially when the club are making some big moves, and it always works out well. 

While one of the best things about The Bullet That Missed is the compelling mystery, a discussion of this book really would not be complete without mentioning the fantastic humour loaded into it.  Osman is undeniably a very funny man, and he puts his excellent comedic skills to great use in this series, and particularly in The Bullet That Missed, with nearly every page containing some subtle, fun, comedic elements that I absolutely loved.  A large amount of this humour revolves around the various ways in which the older characters of the book manage to outwit and manipulate the younger people they come across, whether it be by acting senile, or forcing them to accommodate them out of politeness.  At the same time, the main characters’ very diverse and highly amusing viewpoints of the world around them, especially involving modern society or pop culture, are extremely funny, and it is entertaining to see an older perspective on this crazy modern world.  Osman fits in quite a huge number of references to British culture throughout the course of the book, and I had a lot of fun hearing all the clever references to iconic shows and products that the character’s mention throughout the book, especially as they often talk about them in a very clever way.  Throw in some fantastic coincidences, a lot of jokes about turning old, several hilarious self-referential jabs about the trouble with writing crime novels, and the perfect banter that occurs between the four main protagonists and their exasperated cohorts, and The Bullet That Missed was an exceedingly funny read that is guaranteed to keep you wildly amused with its various antics.

As always, one of the strongest parts of this latest Thursday Murder Club novel is the characters.  Osman has created an amazing group of protagonists for this series, and he continues to build on them with each book, showcasing their strengths, personalities, and inherent vulnerabilities, as the find themselves in dangerous and unique situations.  Most of the focus is again on the four members of the Thursday Murder Club who, by this third book, are really quite well established, and the reader is already very attached.  Osman keeps up the wonderful interpersonal dynamic that was such an impressive feature of the first two books, and it continued to work extremely well in The Bullet That Missed, with several great new developments added in.  Elizabeth and Joyce are once again set up as the book’s main characters, with a huge chunk of the book dedicated to them.  Elizabeth, the former spy, proves to be an excellent manipulator, and it is always fun to see her talk about her days as a trained assassin, especially when her past comes back to haunt her.  Joyce, on the other hand, is a legitimate sweetheart, and she really is the heart and soul of the book.  I love how Osman changes the perspective in all her chapters to reflect her journalling the events of the story, and she provides some of the best descriptions of the events going on in the book.  It is also very fun to see her in action as, despite appearing to be a harmless, sweet old lady, she is a tough as nails and can be just as manipulative as Elizabeth when she needs to be (the scene in which she meets the Viking was perfect). 

Ron and Ibrahim are also used to great effect in The Bullet That Missed and both have some impressive outings in this book.  I loved the many scenes featuring Ron, especially as he really stands out from the rest of the crowd by being a blue-collar rabble rouser who holds on to the old-school tough guy mentality.  A lot of Ron’s story in The Bullet That Missed revolves around the other characters breaking through his tough exterior, especially as he has a new love interest in this book who gets him to open up in several amusing ways.  I also loved the sense of vulnerability that surrounds Ron when he starts to realise that a lot of the men of his generation are starting to go and he suddenly doesn’t have as many people to connect with anymore, which gets used to great effect when he manages to get information by playing snooker with an old criminal with a similar mindset to him.  The final main character is Ibrahim, who is honestly one of the nicest, most genuine characters you are ever likely to meet in fiction.  Ibrahim gets an outstanding showing in this book, and it was really a relief to see him recovered after the terrible beating he received in The Man Who Died Twice.  I loved how he was able to use his psychology skills in this book, and he even spent time working with the woman responsible for his beating, which results in some excellent scenes.  All four of these main characters continued to impress me in this latest book and I cannot wait to see how their next adventure unfolds.

Aside from these major characters, The Bullet That Missed also contains a substantial supporting cast of entertaining characters who Osman uses to great effect throughout the course of the narrative.  These characters include a combination of some entertaining new figures, as well as many returning characters who made such an impact in the previous novels.  Many of these returning characters have been built up in a big way in the previous books, and it was great to see a lot of their character development continue, especially as they are generally better off after having met the Thursday Murder Club.  I really loved that the three main supporting characters from the first novel, DCI Chris Hudson, PC Donna De Freitas and Bogdan, each come into The Bullet That Missed with some positive storylines surrounding them, and the new romance between Donna and Bogdan was so damn nice. 

All the new characters in The Bullet That Missed were also very entertaining: an older makeup artist who takes a liking to Ron, a gigantic Scandinavian crime lord known only as the Viking, an eccentric local TV news host, and the local Chief Constable who also moonlights as a less-than-successful mystery writer.  These great characters added a lot of flavour to the narrative, and it was fascinating to see how many were worked into the plot, especially as Osman was setting several of them up for returning appearances.  I particularly loved the retired KGB officer turned criminal finance advisor, Viktor Illyich, who is an old contact of Elizabeth and who finds himself being hunted.  He was a brilliant and entertaining addition to the plot, especially with his great methods of manipulation.  You have to love that amazing scene where he applies his techniques to a young Virgin Media representative. 

However, the best recurring character has to be Elizabeth’s husband, Stephen, who has been a bit of a tragic figure throughout the series due to his dementia, which Elizabeth tries to hide from the world.  Stephen is perhaps the best character Osman has written, as the author provides a deep and extremely powerful view of the impacts dementia has on the sufferer and those closest to them.  Watching Stephen slowly lose himself while Elizabeth suffers beside him has provided some of the most heartbreaking parts of this series.  Stephen still proves himself to be a brilliant and caring figure, and Osman writes some great scenes for him in the series, especially when he plays chess with Bogdan, and it is always fun when he provides fantastic insights into Elizabeth’s cases.  He was particularly effective in this book, especially after being kidnapped, and his knowledge and surprising criminal contacts allow Elizabeth to outsmart one of their enemies in several amazing scenes.  Of course, these scenes are also loaded with sadness; with every positive step Stephen takes, he also loses a little, and every time he forgets a detail or a person it breaks your heart a little bit more.  Honestly, every character in this book is pretty damn epic, and clearly creating amazing characters is one of Osman’s biggest strengths as a writer.  I look forward to all the amazing character work that is bound to appear in the next Thursday Murder Club, and I am sure that I will fall in love with every single cast member once again.

While I did receive a physical copy of The Bullet That Missed, I chose to instead grab the audiobook version of this novel, as I had such an amazing time listening to the first two books in this format.  As it was, I ended up being surprised and slightly disappointed to discover that Lesley Manville, who narrated the first two Thursday Murder Club books, wasn’t returning for this third entry.  However, my disappointment was exceedingly short lived when I found out that she had been replaced by the amazing Fiona Shaw, who I have loved for years in things like the Harry Potter films, Killing Eve and Andor.  Unsurprisingly, Shaw did an outstanding job narrating The Bullet That Missed, and she masterfully portrayed all the characters in a very fun and entertaining way.  I loved all the great voices she used for this awesome audiobook, and each character got their own distinctive tone that allowed the reader to easily pick up who they were.  Shaw brings a huge range of different accents to the table, and while her Swedish accent was purposely a little silly, it still fit the character extremely well.  However, what really impressed me was the effort that Shaw took in matching the voices of most of the recurring characters with Lesley Manville’s previous take on them.  All the four main members of the cast, as well as supporting characters like Donna and Bogdan, sounded extremely like their appearances in the previous two audiobooks, and while Shaw did do her own take on a couple of figures, I personally deeply appreciated her attempts to keep some continuity with the previous audiobooks.  Shaw also kept the audiobook rolling along at a brisk pace, and the 11 hour and 17 minute runtime passed along in no time whatsoever, especially as you get deeper and deeper into the plot.  Throw in another lovely interview with Richard Osman at the end and I felt that this was an absolutely incredible audiobook, and definitely the best format by which to enjoy The Bullet That Missed.  I will be extremely happy if Shaw chooses to come back for the fourth Thursday Murder Club audiobook next year.

Richard Osman continues to show the world just how much talent he has a murder mystery writer with the third exceptional entry in the amazing Thursday Murder Club series, The Bullet That Missed.  Continuing to follow his brilliant pensioner protagonists as they solve a complex murder in some clever and funny ways, The Bullet That Missed was an incredible addition to the series that is guaranteed to have you hooked from start to finish.  I cannot recommend this book enough, and if you haven’t started reading the Thursday Murder Club books yet, you are really missing out.

Amazon     Book Depository

Act of Oblivion by Robert Harris

Act of Oblivion Cover

Publisher: Hutchinson Heinemann (Trade Paperback – 20 September 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 464 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

That master of historical fiction, Robert Harris, returns with another deeply compelling read, this time diving into one of the most fascinating manhunts in history with Act of Oblivion.

1660, England.  It is the dawn a new age in English history.  Following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the country has allowed King Charles II to come to power.  In exchange, the King has agreed to clemency for the former Parliamentarians, allowing peace to return to England for the first time in decades.  However, the King’s clemency is not absolute, and under the terms of the Act of Oblivion, all the men involved in the execution of his father, King Charles I, including the 59 men who signed his death warrant, are to be hunted down and brutally executed.

General Edward Whalley and his son-in-law, Colonel William Goffe, are two such men.  Former Parliamentarian leaders, their signatures lie prominent on the king’s death warrant.  Knowing that their deaths are close behind, Whalley and Goffe are forced to abandon their families and flee to the colonies.  Arriving in New England, Whalley and Goffe attempt to become part of the local community, but the shadow of their treason is far-reaching, and both old soldiers will have to live with the consequences of their action.

In London, Richard Nayler has been appointed as secretary of the regicide committee of the Privy Council.  Tasked with tracking down, capturing and executing all the men wanted in relation to the King’s death, Nayler attacks his task with zeal and passion, determined to bring justice to those who wronged the kingdom.  However, Nayler saves the vast amount his hatred and determination for Whalley and Goffe, two men he bears a particular grudge against.  Soon, a large bounty is placed on the two fugitive’s heads, and Nayler himself arrives in America, determined to see the men captured.  Forced to flee across the continent, Whalley and Goffe find themselves as outcasts and fugitives wherever they go.  The chase is on in the new world, and no-one is prepared for how far this mission of vengeance will go.

Robert Harris does it again, producing a brilliant and riveting historical epic that reconstructs fantastic historical events in impressive detail.  I have long been a fan of Harris’s writing, having deeply enjoyed An Officer and a Spy and V2, and his latest book, Act of Oblivion, is one his better works.  I had an outstanding time getting through this complex novel, especially as it spent substantial time diving into a unique historical occurrence I was unfamiliar with.

I had an exceptional time with Act of Oblivion, especially as Harris presents an elaborate and massive story set across multiple years.  Leaning heavily into historical sources, Harris dives deep into the flight of Goffe and Whalley and perfectly portrays their journey to America and the hardships they encountered.  This proves to be quite an intense and frustrating tale, as these two protagonists suffer a great deal through the course of the book.  Forced to abandon their families, Goffe and Whalley are initially seen as heroes by the people of Boston and Cambridge, but the two fugitives are gradually forced to flee from these towns due to the machinations of the English and their former enemies.  Forced to flee to smaller and smaller settlements, the protagonists are chucked into some uncomfortable positions in their flight, which includes years of depredation and isolation throughout the country.  The full tale of their time in America (or at least what is known), is pretty damn remarkable, and I felt that Harris did a wonderful job bringing it to life and showing what these two might of experienced and the lengths they went through to survive.  However, it does occasionally get slow in places, mainly because the historical fugitives were often unable to move for fear of being captured.

Harris covers these slower periods well by mixing in a second major storyline that runs parallel to the depictions of Whalley and Goffe.  This second storyline is primarily set in England and Europe and showcases the events occurring while the fugitives are in hiding.  Mainly shown from the perspective of the fictional character hunting them, Richard Nayler, as well as several scenes that show the fugitives’ family, this second storyline adds some real colour and danger to the events, especially as you get to witness the hunt from the other end.  The blend of fictional and historically accurate storylines works extremely well, and Harris creates a deeply fascinating and compelling overall narrative that really draws you in.  Seeing the simultaneous actions of both hunter and fugitives is a lot of fun, and I loved Nayler’s reactions to the constant escapes of Whalley and Goffe.  Harris also spends time showing the hunt for the other regicides, which Nayler embarks on with greater success.  Not only does this add in some additional fun action and historical context, but it also ups the stakes of the main storyline, as you are forced to witness the gruesome fate that awaits Whalley and Goffe if caught.  All this adds up to quite a remarkable tale, and I was deeply impressed with how exciting and captivating Harris was able to make these historical events appear.

One thing that is extremely clear about Act of Oblivion is the sheer amount of historical research that Harris put into crafting this book.  There is so much exceptional and compelling detail put into Act of Oblivion, as Harris goes out of his way to make this book as historically accurate as possible.  Naturally a substantial amount of this research goes into showing the known events of the two fugitives, as Harris meticulously recounts where they went and the various places they were forced to hide.  While the author does add in a few literary embellishments, this appears to be a very accurate and intriguing depiction of the fugitives’ flight in America, and I had such an amazing time seeing what they went through.  Harris makes sure to try and tells as much of their tale as possible, and the book goes all the way up until 1679, when the records end.  At the same time, Harris spends a large amount of time exploring the history of the rest of the world.  The novel is chock full of intriguing depictions of various key parts of British and American history at the time, which I found to be extremely fascinating, especially as you get to see how England changed after the return of the

King.  Harris also makes sure to examine how major historical events around the world might have impacted the lives of the two fugitives, and I felt that he worked all these fascinating events into the main story extremely well.  All the historical aspects of the book are showcased to the reader in a fantastic and very readable way, and even non-history fans will be able to dive into this story extremely easily.  This is mostly because the historical events themselves are pretty damn remarkable (honestly historical reality stranger than fiction in some places), but I really appreciated how well Harris was able to explore them and showcase them to the reader.

Another historical aspect of this book I deeply enjoyed was the author’s extremely detailed and moving depictions of the American countryside and its settlements in the 17th century.  Quite a lot of the book is spent out in the American wilds, as the two protagonists are constantly fleeing from their pursuers and avoiding people, and Harris makes sure to patiently and lovingly depict the various locations they find themselves in.  You really get a sense of the beauty and danger of the land during this period, and I loved seeing the various English characters react to the wide open spaces after spending time in cities like London.  Harris also takes the time to describe several of the historical settlements that the characters journeyed to and through, and you get a real sense of how built up or settled they were.  I found it fascinating to see all the descriptions about the various settlements, especially as many are quite significant cities in modern times, and it was really cool to see how they originated.  The descriptions of towns like Boston and Cambridge were pretty intriguing, especially as I didn’t realise just how built-up they were during this period (sentiments that some of the character’s shared), and I loved also seeing the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, especially as Harris also explored the events that saw it renamed as something far more iconic.  Throw in the deeply fascinating depictions of the people inhabiting these settlements, including the distinctive religious differences (so many puritans) and political sentiments.  Religion in particular becomes quite a key part of this book, and watching the various Puritan figures discuss their beliefs and their thoughts on the actions of the main characters, is particularly intriguing, as you get to see how these religious fugitives shaped early America.  Overall, this is a very impressive and clearly heavily researched look at 17th century America, which all historical fiction fans will deeply appreciate.

I also really enjoyed the central figures of Act of Oblivion and I found their storylines to be very compelling.  As I mentioned above, I really didn’t know that much about Edward Whalley and William Goffe before reading this book, but that swiftly changed.  Harris did a remarkable job showcasing the lives of these two historical figures and you really get to know everything about them.  While I am sure that Harris made a few character changes to fit the narrative, I felt that the overall presentation of them was pretty realistic.  Harris really highlights their personalities, religious convictions, and deep pride in the actions they took under Cromwell throughout the book as they spend time remembering their pasts.  All the key moments are their lives are captured in some way throughout the book, either in the plot or in their memories, and you soon see what events led them to become fugitives.  While the depictions of some their actions during the war and Cromwell’s control of England does make them a tad unsympathetic, I grew attached to them, especially as you see them suffer in isolation over a period of years.  Harris did a remarkable job showcasing how he believed these people would have felt spending years and years trapped in attics and basements, and you can just feel the mental and physical impacts it had on them.  This was frankly a brilliant portrayal, and I had an excellent time getting to know these unique historical figures.

Aside from Whalley and Goffe, the other major character I need to mention is Richard Nayler, the man charged with hunting the fugitives down.  Nayler is a purely fictional character, although Harris indicates upfront that someone likely had this job in the 17th century.  I quite enjoyed the portrayal of Nayler in this book, especially as he serves as a grim and determined counterpart to the protagonists.  A Royalist who witnessed the execution of King Charles I, Nayler goes about his duties with a resolute duty, determined to make all the regicides pay.  However, his main obsession lies with Whalley and Goffe, who holds responsible for the death of his wife and child.  Despite this tragic past, it is a times hard to feel sorry for the super serious Nayler, especially as he has little compassion for others, even the innocent.  However, he is quite a captivating figure, especially as his growing obsession with finding the fugitives becomes more and more apparent.  While his fellow returned Royalists initially share his determination, it soon becomes evident that he is true fanatic, while the others are purely in it for political reasons.  Harris really shows the downside of obsession through this character, especially as Nayler sacrifices a lot to try and find the fugitives.  I felt he had an impressive storyline throughout Act of Oblivion, and this great fictional character played off the real historical figures extremely well.

Robert Harris’ latest novel, Act of Oblivion, once again highlights the author’s outstanding skill as he recounts a particularly fascinating occurrence from history.  I loved the amazing story contained in Act of Oblivion, especially as the author did such a great job incorporating historical events into an intense and captivating plot.  Deeply intriguing and very entertaining, Act of Oblivion is a highly recommended read, and I can’t wait to see what elaborate historical tale Harris comes up with next.

Act of Oblivion Cover 2

Amazon     Book Depository

The Lawless Land by Boyd and Beth Morrison

The Lawless Land Cover

Publisher: Head of Zeus (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 474 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Get ready for one of the most thrilling historical adventures of 2022 with the wildly entertaining and deeply captivating medieval fiction novel, The Lawless Land, by the outstanding team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.

Despite my recent focus on other genres, historical fiction in all its forms remains one of my favourite book categories to check out, especially with awesome new novels coming out all the time.  One of the best examples of this is The Lawless Land, which I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a little while ago.  The Lawless Land was a fascinating read that takes some great protagonists on a bold adventure through medieval Europe.  This book was written by Boyd and Beth Morrison, a brother and sister team who have deeply impressed me.  This was a rather interesting combination of writers, as Boyd Morrison is an acclaimed thriller and historical fiction author, and Beth Morrison is the Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and has a PHD in history.  These overachieving siblings really cooked up something special here with their first book, and I loved the outstanding story it contained.

In 1351, Europe is in utter chaos as the Hundred Years’ War rages in France and the Pestilence ravages the countryside, depopulating towns and devastating cities.  These are dark days indeed, and only the desperate and the foolish can be found traversing the roads.  Unfortunately, this includes skilled knight Gerard Fox, whose lands and titles have been taken from him as punishment for a crime against the church, and who is now forced to wander the world by himself, desperate to reclaim his family’s honour.

Journeying towards the castle of Lord Tonbridge, the one man who may be able to prove his innocence, Gerard witnesses a band of armed men waylaying a noblewoman.  Impulsively jumping into action, Gerard saves the women, slaughtering her attackers and forever changing his life.  The young woman, Lady Isabel, is Lord Tonbridge’s betrothed, who has fled from her future husband, taking with her a sacred relic she is sworn to protect.  Forced to abandon his own quest, Gerard agrees to escort Isabel to safety, however, he is unaware of the chaos that is about to be unleashed upon him.

Tonbridge had promised Isabel’s relic to an ambitious Cardinal in Paris, one who is determined to rise to the station of Pope.  Desperate to reclaim the relic and use it to cement his position, the Cardinal and his pawn, Tonbridge, unleash their substantial forces to hunt down Gerard and Isabel.  Fleeing their pursuers, Gerard and Isabel traverse the breadth of England and France to find safe harbour for the relic.  Forced to contend with dangerous foes around every corner, Gerard, Isabel, and their faithful companions will face the worse that medieval Europe has to offer and more.  But worse lies in wait for Gerard, as he bears a dark connection with his pursuers that will ensure they will never stop hunting him.

Wow, now this was a really cool historical fiction novel.  The exceptional writing team behind The Lawless Land have produced an outstanding novel that is extremely exciting, action-packed, and character driven, while also being heavy on the historical detail and accuracy.  This results in an exceptional and epic historical thriller read that I had an absolute blast getting through and which gets a well-deserved five-star rating from me.

The Lawless Land was such a cool read, and I quickly fell in love with its brilliant and exceptional story.  Essentially an adventure thriller set in medieval times, the authors start The Lawless Land off very quickly, showing the protagonist in battle as he saves the damsel in distress, only to end up in even more trouble.  Effectively introducing the key characters early on, you get a real sense of the novels impressive style right at the start, especially with its gritty feel and intense action sequences.  The story soon evolves into a high stakes chase across Europe, as Gerard, Isabel and their companions try to outrace and outwit their opponents to save Isabel’s relic and get revenge for Gerard.  The authors make excellent use of multiple character perspectives here to showcase the chase from both sides, and you get a good look at the various schemes and ploys of the antagonists, as well as the full depths of their villainy.  These amazing and action-packed scenes are expertly interspersed with some flashback chapters that examine the full history and tragedy of the protagonists, especially Gerard, and work to fully establish the enmity between him and the antagonists.  This entire first half of the book is very well written, and the authors’ excellent style will appeal to wide range of readers, not just historical fiction fans, as anyone who enjoys a great adventure or gripping thriller read, can get really engrossed in this excellent story.

This perfectly sets up the second half of this epic novel, which sees the character involved in all manner of carnage and battle as they attempt to win.  I honestly powered through the last 250 pages or so in a day; I was having that much fun reading it.  This second part has everything, including jousting tournaments, prison breaks, desperate chases, elaborate skirmishes, political intrigue, skullduggery and more action than you can shake a stick at.  There is even a full-on judicial duel (think The Last Duel), which was one of the most impressive and gritty fights in the entire book.  There are some intriguing twists, clever reveals, major tragedies, and some outstanding action throughout this entire second half, and it was so much fun to see it all unfold.  I really must highlight the impressive action of The Lawless Land, as all the fights felt particularly realist and very epic, and you can honestly feel every powerful swing and strike of steel on steel.  The authors bring all the established story elements of The Lawless Land together extremely well in the end, and readers will come away satisfied, especially with the fun conclusion and the great ending for the characters.  While this is ostensibly a standalone read, and the authors do wrap up everything really well, there is potential for a sequel at the end, and I for one would not be opposed to seeing more from these characters in the future.

One of the most compelling parts of The Lawless Land was the brilliant dive into the history of medieval Europe.  The writing team clearly did their research when it came to this novel, which is hardly surprising considering the scholarly expertise of one of its authors.  As such, this novel is loaded with impressive and captivating historical detail which isn’t overshadowed by some of the more over-the-top action.  You get a great sense of the how bleak and brutal the continent was at this point in history, with some chilling depictions of plague and pestilence, as well as some intriguing looks at The Hundred Years’ War, including a full flashback chapter to the Battle of Crécy.  The authors spend time exploring a ton of fascinating stuff from this period, including knightly conduct, the power and influence of the church, day to day life for people in cities and the countryside, and so much more.  I particularly loved the scenes set around a tournament in France, where the protagonist engages in a series of jousts.  The sheer amount of detail and realism around these scenes are so very cool, and you can really picture how everything would have looked and felt.  There is also a great examination of medieval manuscripts (again, because of one of the author’s academic focuses), which become a key part of The Lawless Land’s plot, and it was really interesting to examine the significance and process behind them.  All this impressive work around the setting and other historical elements of The Lawless Land really enhanced the overall quality of the book, and I loved how seamlessly it was worked into the epic narrative.

I also must highlight the fantastic characters featured within The Lawless Land, which includes an awesome balance of likeable protagonist and maniacal villains who hunt them.  The story is perfectly split between the two groups, and you get some fun and intense competing views of events throughout the story as a result.  The protagonists are headlined by the awesome character of Gerard Fox, a wandering knight, banished from his family’s lands by the church following a confrontation with one of the antagonists years ago.  Dragged into this conspiracy by accident, Gerard becomes Isabel’s companion and protector, and tries to escort the relic to safety.  A man of action and honour, Gerard is haunted by his past and his many failures, which include watching his brother die in battle, and being tricked into losing everything.  He is also obsessed with discovering the true fate of his mother, and her mysterious disappearance and certain revelations draw him into this conspiracy even further.  A lot of the novel revolves around Gerard’s past, and it was fascinating to see him come to terms with it and try to balance this current quest with his own desires.  Gerard ends up being a pretty awesome protagonist to follow, especially with his martial prowess, unique weaponry, penchant for mischief and trickery (like a certain French fox), and his unbending desire to do the right thing.

Gerard is accompanied by some interesting companions, and the most prominent of these is Lady Isabel.  A noblewoman who was forced into marriage, Isabel seeks to protect her family’s most sacred relic from her betrothed and goes to great length to escape him.  Although she is initially seen as a bit of a damsel in distress, you soon begin to realise that there is a lot more to Isabel than what first appears, as she is an incredibly capable woman with some keen insights and strategies that prove invaluable to her companions.  The authors work some excellent storylines around Isabel in this novel, and you really come to appreciate and enjoy her pluck, courage and intelligence.  There is also a very clever twist about this character revealed in the second half of the book, which was set up extremely well by the authors, including in some flashbacks that both hint at and hide the truth from the reader.  I also should mention the fun supporting characters of Henri and Youssef, two friendly rogues who have substantial history and friendship with Gerard.  Henri and Youssef are excellent additions to the protagonists, and their fun personalities balance well with Gerard and Isabel’s to create a very likeable group of heroes that you become quite attached to, even if that leads to eventual heartbreak for the reader.

I also need to talk about The Lawless Land’s outstanding trio of villains who dog the protagonists’ steps throughout the entire narrative.  This includes the evil Lord Tonbridge, Isabel’s betrothed who she runs away from.  While Tonbridge is mainly hunting them for Isabel’s relic, it also becomes clear that Tonbridge is even more obsessed with righting the perceived slight to his honour and is eager for vengeance.  However, Tonbridge is also partially subservient to villainous French cardinal Molyneux, who has promised him power and a kingship if he succeeds.  Molyneux is particularly despicable, as an ambitious and immoral member of the church who is attempting to become Pope.  Using his influence and the protection of the church for his advantage, Molyneux gains large amount of money and land through unscrupulous means and has some dark history with Gerard’s family, which deeply impacts both his and Gerald’s motivations to confound each other.  The final villain is Molyneux’s vassal and bastard son Basquin, who serves as the protagonist’s main pursuer.  A skilled swordsman and tactician, Basquin is a worthy, if not superior, foe to Gerard, whom he bears a powerful grudge against.  There is some fascinating history behind Basquin that became quite an awesome part of the plot, and it was great to see the intense and captivating confrontations between the two.  The authors take Basquin in some intriguing directions in this book, especially when his own desires clash with that of his abusive father, forcing him to go rogue and enact his own ambitious plan.  All these villains were extremely well written, and it proved highly entertaining to see them go up against Gerard, Isabel and the rest throughout The Lawless Land.  I had such a great time with the characters in this book, and their intense relationships, rivalries and schemes added so much to the power of the novel.

Overall, The Lawless Land was an exceptional and impressive historical fiction read from the great new team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.  These two talented writers came up with something very special with The Lawless Land, and I loved the outstanding and highly addictive narrative contained in this book.  Featuring a ton of epic action, some amazing characters, and some superb historical detail, The Lawless Land was an incredible read that comes very highly recommended by me.

Amazon     Book Depository

Quick Review – Esther’s Children by Caroline Beecham

Esther's Children Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 3 May 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 361 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Prepare to read about one of the more unique experiences of World War II with an excellent and moving historical drama, Esther’s Children by fantastic Australian author Caroline Beecham.

Plot Synopsis:

Inspired by the extraordinary life of Esther Simpson, Esther’s Children is a powerful novel of love and courage.

Austria, 1936: Esther ‘Tess’ Simpson works for a British organisation that rescues academics from the cruel Fascist and anti-Semitic regimes taking hold in Europe. On a dangerous trip to Vienna to help bring aid to Europe’s threatened Jewish scholars, Esther meets Harry Singer, a young Jewish academic and musician.

Tess works tirelessly to rescue at-risk academics and scientists from across Europe, trying to find positions for them in Britain and America. In 1938, she secures employment for Harry at Imperial College, London, their love affair intensifying as the world heads into war, yet they are separated once again as Britain moves to intern European refugees.

With Harry detained on the Isle of Man while still waiting for news of his parents, Esther and the Society plead with the government for the interned scientists’ release. When Harry is eventually liberated, his future with Esther is by no means secure as he faces an impossible choice.

Confronting the horrific dangers of World War Two with remarkable integrity and bravery, Esther Simpson is revealed as an exceptional heroine.

This was a rather great read from Caroline Beecham, who once again plumbs the highs and lows of history’s greatest struggle to produce an excellent read.  Beecham, who has written several other intriguing historical dramas, including 2020’s Finding Eadie, is a talented Australian author whose novels usually feature an intriguing hook around World War II.  Her latest novel, Esther’s Children, is probably my favourite one of her books so far, and tells another powerful and intense story about love, survival, and the evils committed during war time.

In Esther’s Children, Beecham has written a particularly clever and compelling story that follows the life of real historical figure Esther Simpson.  Adding in some fictional and dramatic details, Esther’s Children turns into a multi-year tale that showcases Esther’s work as she attempts to rescue academics from Nazi controlled countries in the lead-up to the war and beyond.  In particular, it follows her interactions with fictional character/love interest Harry Singer, as she attempts to get him out of Vienna and into England.  This forms the basis for an intense and heartbreaking story as these two ill-fated lovers are forced to ] contend with the obstacles placed before them, including the encroaching war, the machinations of the Nazis, the bureaucracy surrounding asylum seekers coming to England, and subsequent prejudice faced even after Harry has reached safety.  Told using a split perspective between Esther and Harry, you get an intense inside look at both characters as they attempt to overcome the odds keeping them apart, while also experiencing some of the horrors brought on by the Nazis and others, with the reader hit by constant frustration at everything that happens to these characters.  This entire story moves at a brisk and intense pace, and you will be swiftly drawn into the clever and touching narrative that is driven by these two characters’ experiences.  The way everything turns out is both poignant and heartbreaking, and I felt that this was a great and captivating read.

Esther’s Children’s dramatic story is greatly enhanced by the captivating and fascinating historical details that Beecham has set it around.  The author has clearly done a ton of research to pull her story together, and I was very impressed with some of the unique elements it contains.  Not only do you have some fantastic, if very disturbing, depictions of the Nazi movement taking over Austria, but the story goes out of its way to highlight the work done to get certain (primarily Jewish) academics out of Europe.  Focusing on the work of Esther Simpson, a unique figure from history who I was pleased to learn a lot about in this novel, you see the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning attempt to help these academics emigrate and find them jobs in England’s educational and government settings.  This novel really focuses on the impact that Esther had for many famous academics (her children, many of whom appear in the plot) and I found it fascinating to learn about her work and the people she helped.

However, I personally thought that the most fascinating historical aspect of this book was the subsequent imprisonment of these scholars and scientists by the English once the war broke out.  I must admit that I was unaware of just how widespread and unfair the interment of German nationals in England was during the war, and I was very surprised to find out that so many refugees and fleeing Jews were also incarcerated in places like the Isle of Man, often alongside Nazi sympathisers.  Shown directly through the eyes of one of her protagonists, Beecham paints a pretty grim picture of the terrible life that these incarcerated people would have experienced, and it was pretty heartbreaking to see all these people who had already lost everything get locked up by the country they were trying to help.  I really appreciated the powerful emotional weight that the author loaded into all the historical scenes, and they really work to expand on the dramatic and romance elements of the entire novel.  I cannot wait to see what unique historical element Beecham will explore in her future novels, but I am sure it will be fascinating.

Overall, Esther’s Children is a particularly powerful and captivating read that really highlights Caroline Beecham’s great skill as a historical drama author.  Expertly combining intriguing and dark elements of history with a dramatic tale of love, loss and regret, Esther’s Children becomes harder and harder to put down as the story progresses and you are drawn into the character driven narrative.  An excellent historical drama that is really worth checking out.

Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass

Black Drop Cover

Publisher: Viper (Trade Paperback – 15 February 2022)

Series: Laurence Jago – Book One

Length: 343 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Intriguing and talented new author Leonora Nattrass presents a compelling historical thriller debut with Black Drop, a fantastic novel that drags readers into the conspiracies and issues of late 18th century London.

In July of 1794, as the terror of the French Revolution reaches its height and the war on the continent goes poorly for the British army, uncertainty and fear of violent change infect the people of London.  For Laurence Jago, clerk to the Foreign Office, his position is even more uncertain that those around him.  A young man with hidden French heritage, Jago fears the day that his connections to his mother’s nation will be discovered, especially after spending years serving as a spy for sinister French agent Aglantine.

Now believing himself to be free from Aglantine’s employment, Jago is thrust into an untenable situation when vital confidential information about the British army is leaked from his office to the press.  Suspected by his peers of leaking the information and under investigation, Jago fears that all his secrets and former dealings are about to come out.  His problems are only further compounded when he discovers the body of a fellow clerk in his rooms, supposedly dead by suicide.

When the blame for the leak is shifted onto the dead man, Jago is freed of the suspicion against him.  However, Jago knows that the dead clerk was incapable of stealing the letter and believes that he was murdered.  Determined to find out the truth behind the death, Jago finds himself investigating the highest level of the British civil service and their political masters.  Out of his depth and thwarted at every turn, Jago will risk everything to root out the culprit before they strike to disrupt England again.  However, can he succeed without revealing his own dark secrets, or will Jago hang as a traitor instead of the murderer?

Black Drop is an excellent and clever novel that I had a great time reading as Nattrass perfectly combines a compelling spy thriller/murder mystery storyline with intriguing and detailed historical fiction elements.  This resulted in one of the more unique and fantastic debuts of 2022 and I really enjoyed Black Drop’s impressive story.

This awesome debut novel has an excellent story that expertly combines intriguing spy thriller and murder mystery elements with a character driven historical narrative to create a compelling and impressive read.  Set throughout key events of 1794 and told as a chronicle from the perspective of central character, Laurence Jago, Black Drop presents the reader with an intriguing tale of murder, political machinations and the threat of revolution at the heart of the period’s government.  Nattrass sets the scene perfectly at the start, introducing the key characters while also highlighting the feelings of unrest and dissent as the fear and inspiration from the French revolution hits London.  From there, the story starts to unfold in some interesting directions as the protagonist finds himself involved in political and espionage adventures while also investigating the murder of a fellow clerk, which appears to be connected.  At the same time, the slow-paced story utilises some intriguing aspects from the protagonist’s life as he struggles with dark secrets from his past that have potential implications on the current events.

Following this introduction and the initial parts of the narrative, the middle of Black Drop starts to bring in certain key historical events and figures, which results in some fantastic moments and character interactions, especially once an antagonistic figure becomes more prominent.  While the middle of this novel did drag in places, I felt that Nattrass was providing the reader with the right blend of intrigue, mystery, historical detail and character growth to produce a great overall story.  You really get to grips with the protagonist and the key aspects of the setting during this part of the book, especially when Jago hits a major personal downturn earlier than expected, and interesting reveals enhance the reader’s attachment to the mystery.  The story really starts to pick up once it gets to Nattrass’s recreation of the infamous trial surrounding supposed radical and revolutionary Thomas Hardy.  The ridiculous, and mostly accurate depiction of the trial (with certain elements from other trials thrown in for greater effect), proves to be a great high point for the novel, especially as other key parts of the plot are slotted in perfectly around it.  I did feel that the novel started to come undone around the conclusion a little, especially when it came to the big reveal.  While there were a couple of good twists around certain characters, the solution to the main mystery and the intrigue seemed a little weak to me, and I was a little disappointed with how it turned out, especially as you barely get to see anything about the final confrontation.  Still, this did not affect the overall quality of the story too much, especially as the author throws in an excellent wrap-up for the protagonist’s storyline in this novel which has a lot of potential for a sequel.  While much of the story can be a little sluggish and lacking a lot of action, I had a great time getting through Black Drop, and I loved how the excellent interplay of elements came together so well.

One of the most distinctive parts of Black Drop is the sheer amount of fascinating historical detail that was fit into the story.  Nattrass has clearly done her research on the period and the reader is presented with a fantastic and powerful view of London in the late 18th century.  Not only are there some brilliant and vibrant depictions of historical London but the reader gets some fascinating views into the inner workings of the government at the time.  Substantial parts of the book are dedicated to examining the civil service and the political hierarchy of the day, with multiple influential figures featured as supporting characters.  This proves to be a deeply fascinating part of the book, and I loved how Nattrass was able to weave these intriguing details into the thriller plot, becoming a key part of Black Drop’s story.  I also deeply appreciated the way in which Nattrass explores the social and political issues of the day, especially where it relates to the concerns in London about an uprising similar to what happened in France.  As such, you get a full spectrum of personalities from across London, as royalists and loyalists clash with potential radicals who are targeted by the worried government.  This all cumulates in the fantastic court case of Thomas Hardy, a shoemaker accused of radical actions and attempted rebellion.  This historical trial is expertly recreated by Nattrass to include all of its most interesting parts, including several extremely ridiculous elements from history (a blowgun murder conspiracy).  Nattrass also cleverly combines in some elements from related trials that occurred around the same time as the Hardy case for some amusing dramatic effect, and this extended sequence ended up being one of my favourite parts of the novel.  The overall hint of discontent by many members of London’s society, as well as the innate fear of the established institutions, is portrayed beautifully, and you get a great sense of the public issues during this period.  All these impressive historical elements are handled extremely well by Nattrass, and while it did get a tad tedious in places, it was an excellent part of the book that I deeply enjoyed.

To back up her unique historical tale, Nattrass has furnished Black Drop with a compelling array of characters with some complex and compelling character arcs.  This book actually contains a great combination of original characters and historical figures, with many major figures in 18th century British politics and the civil service featured in substantial roles throughout the book.  Not only does this brilliantly enhance the already substantial historical details of Black Drop, but it also results in some fascinating interactions and depictions as the fictional characters, including the point-of-view character, observe them.  Due to the complexity of the story, Black Drop makes use of a pretty large cast of characters, and while a few of them blend together, most come across as pretty distinctive with some interesting and fun character traits.

The best character of Black Drop is the protagonist Laurence Jago, who also serves as the book’s sole point-of-view character.  Jago turns out to be a particularly complex and damaged individual whose emotional attachment to the case and the state of London society provides some intriguing drama and insight into the events of the book.  Already made quite distinctive by his unique green-glass spectacles, Jago proves to be an impressive and captivating figure, especially as he has some major issues.  Secretly half-French, Jago lives a conflicted and fear-filled life, especially with the intense anti-French attitudes sprinkling the city.  This, combined with his foolish youthful dalliance of being a spy for France, ensures that he has a powerful sense of guilt, and is constantly worried about being discovered, especially once other accusations are made against him.  The discovery of a dead friend, combined with his guilt, the pressures of work, and the constant fear of discovery really strain his mind, and while he doggedly tries to find out the truth behind the murder, he starts to crack and nearly blows his cover.  Watching him trying to hide his own secrets while uncovering the lies and machinations of those around him becomes pretty intense, especially as you grow quite attached to this damaged soul.  His mental state further deteriorates once he becomes addicted to Black Drop (an opium concoction), which dulls his worried and troubled mind, while also leaving him lethargic and susceptible to danger.  This proves to be a serious handicap to his abilities, and it is fascinating to see him try to balance all his issues with the hunt for the truth.  All these issues and concerns result in a very conflicted and emotionally drained character, who Nattrass portrays perfectly, and it was very powerful to see Jago’s entire story unfold.

Aside from Jago there is a rich cast of supporting characters, each of whom add to the story in their own distinct way.  I particularly want to focus on two who ended up being the best supporting figures in different ways.  The first of these is William Philpott, a fiction British reporter character, who arrives in England from and extended stay in America and sets up his paper and family residence next to Jago’s lodgings.  An eccentric, rambunctious and slightly uncouth fellow, Philpott stands in stark contrast to the various stuffy characters that make up the majority of the cast, which ensures that the reader is quickly drawn to him.  Not only does he serve as a lighter character in the novel and a firm confidant for the protagonist, but you also get an interesting viewpoint into his changing feelings about the events occurring throughout London.  Philpott starts the novel as a strong, patriotic figure who fully intends to support the government in his paper when it comes to the court cases against the supposed radicals.  However, upon viewing some of the injustices they are committing, such as their harassment of and unfair case against Thomas Hardy, Philpott becomes more sympathetic, supporting the dissenting voices and writing fair accounts of the proceedings.  This interesting middle ground perspective on the historical events of the book proves to be extremely interesting, and I loved how Philpott’s unique storyline unfolded, especially as it results in him throwing some valuable lifelines to the troubled Jago.

The other character of note is real-life historical figure and future British Prime Minister George Canning, who serves a much more antagonistic role in this novel.  Canning, who at this point in the time period was a young MP with connections to the sitting PM, William Pitt, gets embroiled in the case quite early in the novel, thanks to his connection to the dead man and the suspicions surrounding Jago.  Portrayed in Black Drop as an uncaring and malicious man, Canning is a menacing antagonist for much of the novel, constantly butting heads with Jago and complicating his investigation.  I loved the use of this intriguing historical character, especially as Nattrass turns him into a very unlikable figure, who you cannot help but hate.  Not only does Nattrass do a great job of examining some of the historical elements surrounding him at this period of time but she also layers in some fantastic references to future events in his life, such as the infamous duel that he would eventually take part in.  However, his real benefit is the impact he has on the story and the deep rivalry he forms with the protagonist.  Watching these two battle it out in different arenas is very amusing, especially as Jago is constantly outmatched by this influential politician, and I do hope that we see more of Canning in future books in this series.  These great characters, and more, all add a great deal to this intriguing novel, and I really appreciated how fantastic and compelling they turned out to be.

Overall, Black Drop by Leonora Nattrass is an impressive and captivating piece of historical crime fiction that I am really glad I decided to check out.  Making excellent use of some fascinating historical elements, Nattrass did an amazing job of producing a clever and enjoyable spy thriller/murder mystery storyline in 18th century London, which came together very well.  Filled with great historical events and compelling characters, Black Drop was an absolute treat to read, and I look forward to seeing how Nattrass’s next book will turn out, especially as the sequel, Blue Water, is apparently set for release in October this year.

Amazon     Book Depository

Quick Review – The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

The Dying Squad Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 27 July 2021)

Series: The Dying Squad – Book One

Length: 360 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Intriguing new author, Adam Simcox, presents his compelling debut novel, the fun and fascinating supernatural crime fiction read, The Dying Squad, which proves that just because you are dead, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get justice.

The Dying Squad was a fantastic and intriguing first novel from Simcox that contained a fascinating premise about a man forced to solve his own murder as a ghost.  I loved the sound of this book when I first heard about it, and I was very glad when I received a copy a while ago.

Synopsis:

WHO BETTER TO SOLVE A MURDER THAN A DEAD DETECTIVE?

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to The Dying Squad, a spectral police force who solve crimes their flesh and blood counterparts cannot.

Lazarus reluctantly accepts and returns to the Lincolnshire Badlands, where he faces dangers from both the living and the dead in his quest to discover the identity of his killer – before they kill again.

This was an awesome and intriguing read and I ended up really getting into this fantastic supernatural novel.  Set initially in the apparently crime-ridden wilds of Lincolnshire, the novel quickly establishes itself by killing off the protagonist, Joe Lazarus, and introducing him to his co-lead the bombastic and entertaining Daisy-May, a member of the ghost-run investigative unit, known as the Dying Squad, there to recruit Lazarus.  The book then jumps to the Pen (purgatory), where Lazarus is given the chance to save his soul by solving his own murder.  Returning with Daisy to the real world, Lazarus must investigate his death while facing several limitations, including the fact that the real world is affecting his memories, and he must work to uncover his own past to discover who killed him.  At the same time, dangerous events are occurring in the Pen as a mysterious being leads an uprising of the seemingly mindless souls imprisoned there, while back in the real world, a dangerous creature stalks Lazarus and Daisy-May, seeking to drag them down below.

I really enjoyed the cool story featured within The Dying Squad, and Simcox has come up with something particularly unique and compelling here.  The author does a great job of quickly introducing all the relevant story elements, and the reader is soon expertly enthralled in the book’s compelling mystery.  I loved the unique investigation that takes place throughout the novel, especially as the protagonists must deal with a range of different problems, including the sinister Xylophone Man (he’s a lot more threatening than the name implies), the deceit of living humans, fading memories, and the protagonist’s desire to interfere in events, even when they’re not supposed to.  At the same time, the protagonist’s boss back in the Pen is forced to deal with a universe-ending revolt, as desperate lost souls attempt to tear down the walls of reality.  While Daisy May and some of the other characters are dragged between these two plot threads, Lazarus continues to follow the trial towards his death by investigating several potential suspects and slowly regaining his own memories.  This eventually leads to several startling revelations, including a very clever reveal about who was behind his death and their reasons why.  This investigation eventually leads back to the wider universe story about the rebelling souls, and there are some great moments, especially when the protagonists are forced to make some hard and afterlife-altering choices.  I really enjoyed this unique blend of storylines, as well as some of the cool characters featured throughout the book, and The Dying Squad ended up being quite a fun and interesting read.

I definitely need to highlight the unique world building featured throughout The Dying Squad.  Simcox has come up with a detailed and fascinating scenario, involving supernatural ghosts going back to Earth to investigate unsolved murders.  This results in several memorable and compelling settings, including the dark and dreary Pen, a version of Purgatory, where lost and forgotten souls congregate in confusion and apathy (unless roused by a dangerous soul with ulterior motives).  At the same time, you also have the setting of Earth, which ends up being an unnatural location for departed souls, even the protagonists.  As such, the characters who venture there to investigate encounter all manner of obstacles, from rogue spirits to the very air itself, which drains dead souls of their memories unless precautions are taken.  These various elements, especially the memory loss and the typical incorporeal nature of ghosts, are worked into the investigation aspect of the story extremely well, and it added a layer of complexity and uncertainty that really enhanced the mystery.  At the same time, Simcox really went for broke exploring the wider universe and the focus on the events in the Pen soon become a major part of the plot.  While I deeply enjoyed the potential universe ending event, I cannot help thinking that maybe more of the story could have been spent on beefing up the investigation angle of the book, especially as some of the culprits and twists ended up being a little easy to spot.  That being said, it was a fascinating part of the story that ended up being explored extremely well, and it really enhanced the stakes of the plot.  It will be interesting to see what the focus of the next novel will be, but I am sure that I will enjoy it.

Overall, this ended up being quite a clever read, and I think that Simcox did a great job of combining a complex murder investigation with complex and fascinating supernatural elements.  I had a lot of fun with The Dying Squad, and it is an excellent compelling new debut to check out in 2021.

Amazon     Book Depository

The Honour of Rome by Simon Scarrow

The Honour of Rome Cover

Publisher: Headline (Trade Paperback – 9 November 2021)

Series: Eagles of the Empire – Book 20

Length: 431 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

One of the best authors of Roman historical fiction, Simon Scarrow, returns with another exceptional adventure back in time with The Honour of Rome.

2021 has been a particularly good year for Simon Scarrow readers, as this acclaimed historical fiction author has released two fantastic novels.  The first of these, Blackout, was a clever historical murder mystery novel set in pre-war Nazi Germany, which contained a fantastic and impressive story.  While I deeply enjoyed Blackout, I was a little more excited for the next awesome entry in Scarrow’s long-running Eagles of the Empire series.  The Eagles of the Empire books follow two officers in the Roman army, Centurion Marco and Prefect Cato, as they fight in multiple battle fields across the Roman Empire.  I have been a major fan of this series for years and have had the pleasure of reading every prior entry in it, while also reviewing some of the latest entries, including The Blood of Rome, Traitors of Rome and The Emperor’s Exile.  As such, I was very excited when I received the latest entry in this series, The Honour of Rome, a couple of days ago, and instantly started reading it.  The Honour of Rome is the 20th novel in this series and takes its great protagonists on another intense adventure.

Britannia, 59 AD.  After retiring from the Roman Legions, former Centurion Marco has travelled back to Britannia 15 years after he helped conquer it.  Now a married man, Marco is hoping for a quiet life, enjoying the fruits of the successful inn in Londinium that he half-owns with his mother.  However, not everything is as calm as he hoped.  There are rumours about the tribes being restless once again, and the streets of Londinium are alive with criminal gangs.

Upon arriving at his mother’s inn, Marco discovers that she is being extorted for protection money by a ruthless gang.  Determined to stop this, Marco attempts to resist the gangsters, only to find himself outmatched and a potential pawn into the middle of a vicious gang war.  At the same time, Marco finds himself drawn into the defence of the colony, especially when one of the local tribes refuses to pay any more taxes.

After a bloody punitive raid with a group of veteran reserve soldiers, Marco returns to Londinium, only to face the consequences for his defiance.  Beaten and bloodied, Marco is unsure how to fight back until his old friend Cato appears.  Cato, who has left Rome without leave to hide Nero’s exiled mistress, is always willing to back Marco up in any sort of fight, and he has an ambitious plan to end the gang problem once and for all.  Will the team of Marco, Cato, and their veteran allies be enough to overcome the city’s vicious gangs, or have these proud war heroes finally met their match?

This was another awesome novel from Scarrow, who has once again produced an exciting and fast-paced historical fiction read that perfectly envisions the landscape of Roman-occupied England.  The Honour of Rome is a great read, and I loved the cool combination of historical and crime fiction elements throughout it.  I ended up reading this book in only a few short days and loved every second of it.

Scarrow has come up with another amazing and entertaining story for this compelling book, which takes his long-running protagonists on another intense and bloody adventure.  One of the things that I have always enjoyed about the Eagles of the Empire series is the range of different subgenres that can be blended with its historical fiction elements.  The Honour of Rome is a great example of this as Scarrow utilises a crime fiction based storyline that blends with the overarching historical elements extremely well.  The protagonist is swiftly drawn into a vicious confrontation with two warring gangs of criminals upon his arrival in Londinium, which proves to be an outstanding basis for the main storyline.  At the same time, he once again becomes involved in the Roman garrison’s ongoing conflicts with the local Britons.  This combination of crime and military elements is very effective throughout the novel, and I liked seeing the conflicts with both gangsters and rebellious natives.  This also allows Scarrow to bring in several solider characters into the main crime-fiction storyline as backup as the story progresses, and it was pretty fun to see a bunch of retired soldiers taking on the antagonists.  The author really sets up everything extremely well in this book, and there isn’t a moment of calm or quiet throughout the entire novel, as the protagonist gets involved in several intense and well-written fights and battle sequences.  I found the last third of the novel to be particularly exciting, especially as the protagonists attempt an ambitious and risky strategy.  This results in the predictable satisfying, if bloody, conclusion, and Scarrow has made sure to set up some cool new storylines that will no doubt be the basis for the next few books.  An enjoyable and action-packed thrill-ride from start to finish, I had a fantastic time reading this latest historical adventure.

One of the more interesting things about The Honour of Rome was the noticeable change in character focus that helped set it apart from the other Eagles of the Empire books, namely that it spent most of the narrative focusing on only one of the series’ protagonists.  This is not too surprising, especially as the previous book in the series, The Emperor’s Exile, focused on Cato to such a degree that I kind of assumed that Scarrow was planning to permanently retire Marco.  However, I’m pleased to say I was wrong about this, as two-thirds of this latest book is exclusively told from Marco’s perspective.  I had a great time following Marco in this novel, and it is always a lot of fun to see the gruff and hard-headed Centurion in action.  There are some great moments surrounding Marco in this novel, from being out of his depth when it comes to combating criminals rather than enemy soldiers, to his great camaraderie with the fellow veterans in the colony.  You also have to love the fun interactions that occur around him as he finds himself stuck between his strong-willed wife and his equally strong-willed mother.  This ended up being a really good Marco novel, and I deeply enjoyed it.  Of course, Cato does show up towards the end of the book, and the novel is soon back to its typical dynamic, with Cato taking tactical lead.  There are also some interesting long-term storylines surrounding Cato, especially as he has fled from Rome with the Emperor’s exiled mistress.  It was great to see this team in action once again, especially as they enact another madcap scheme, and I had another fun time following them.

I also rather enjoyed the cool historical setting featured within this great novel, as the protagonists once again return to Britannia.  Historical Britannia is a well-utilised setting in the Eagles of the Empire books, having been the location of several of the earlier novels, including the first five entries in the series.  It made me a little nostalgic to see this damp and gloomy setting once again, especially as it proves to be just as chaotic and violent as ever.  This book makes full use of its clever move from the more traditional battlefields of Britannia to the city of Londinium, and I loved the inclusion of a crime-ridden, early London, especially as Scarrow tries his best to show it in all its dark and rapidly expanding glory.  I also enjoyed the inclusion of the veterans’ colony that was a major secondary setting for much of the book.  It proved to be fascinating to follow these characters who have chosen to settle in this harsh country and spending time conquering it, and I liked their inclusion in the novel.  It was pretty cool to see these retired soldiers in reserve taking on enemies, both on a proper battlefield and against the criminal element, and I thought it was a fun and compelling inclusion to the story.  I also appreciated that, after several books, we finally get a continuation of the Boudica storylines that were set up in some of the earlier novels.  Scarrow is also clearly setting up Boudica’s rebellion for later in the series, and I cannot wait to see how our protagonists, with their established history with Boudica and her people, will fit into it.

With this awesome 20th entry in his amazing Eagles of the Empire series, Simon Scarrow continues to highlight why he is one of the absolute best authors of historical fiction in the world today.  The Honour of Rome has a brilliant and compelling story that perfectly blends historical and crime fiction elements together into one thrilling tale.  I had a wonderful time reading this great book, and I deeply appreciated the way in which Scarrow continues the adventures of his compelling characters by once again returning them to the familiar setting of occupied Britannia.  The Honour of Rome is another highly recommended historical read, and I cannot wait to see what happens next in this series.

Amazon     Book Depository

The Colonial’s Son by Peter Watt

The Colonial's Son Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 26 October 2021)

Series: The Colonial Series – Book Four

Length: 367 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

One of Australia’s best historical fiction authors, Peter Watt, returns with The Colonial’s Son, the first book in a new series that follows on from his exceptional Colonial trilogy.

Peter Watt is a fun and talented author whose work I have been deeply enjoying over the last few years.  Watt specialises in historical fiction novels with a focus on Australian characters and has so far written three great series.  This includes his long-running Frontier series, which followed two rival Australian families throughout the generations as they got involved in some of the defining moments of Australian history (check out my reviews for While the Moon Burns and From the Stars Above).  He also wrote the fantastic Colonial trilogy that followed an Australian blacksmith who joined the British army as an officer during the mid-19th century.  This was an amazing and action-packed historical series, and featured three great books, The Queen’s Colonial, The Queen’s Tiger and The Queen’s Captain.  Watt’s most recent novel, The Colonial’s Son, is a direct sequel to the Colonial series, set several years after the conclusion of The Queen’s Captain.

Sydney, 1875.  After leaving the army and returning to Australia, former British army captain, Ian Steele, better known by the moniker his troops gave him, the Colonial, has settled down and started a successful business empire.  Now the father of three children, Ian is hoping for a quiet life, but is still facing several problems, including the fact that his oldest son, Josiah Steele, is determined to follow in his footsteps and join the British army as an officer.

When an old friend from his army days requests his help, Ian takes Josiah to Queensland to visit the notorious goldfields near the Palmer River.  There, Josiah gets his first taste for action as he and his father find themselves beset by bushrangers, hostile Indigenous tribes and warring Chinese criminal organisations.  Despite experiencing the terrors and tragedies of combat, Josiah is more determined than ever to join the army and travels to England to enrol in a prestigious military academy.  However, rather than gaining a formal training, he is immediately drafted into England’s latest war as a junior officer.

Travelling to Afghanistan, Josiah and his men engage in a series of bloody battles to hold onto the dangerous land for the empire.  Gaining the attention of his commanders, Josiah is chosen for a different sort of mission and sent to the newly united Germany where an old friend may hold the answer to the future of British/German relations.  Back in Australia, Ian Steele finds himself fighting a new enemy, one whose insidious ways could bring down everything he has struggled to build.  Can Ian survive this latest threat, especially when it drives him to do the unthinkable, and will Josiah be able to live up to the impossible military legacy of the Colonial?

This was another exciting and very enjoyable novel from Watt, who has proven himself one of the best authors of Australian historical adventure novels.  The Colonial’s Son is an amazing sequel to Watt’s prior series, and I really enjoyed seeing all the characters, both new and those from the prior series, engage in this latest series of adventures.  I ended up getting through this entire novel in one day, and I had a wonderful time reading it.

This latest novel has a very Watt narrative to it, utilising his typical style of multiple character perspectives to tell a compelling overarching tale of adventure and intrigue.  The Colonial’s Son primarily follows new protagonist Josiah and previous protagonist Ian as they find themselves in all manner of dangerous situations, together and separately.  This includes facing dangers and criminal conspiracies out in the goldfields, deep personal attacks in Sydney, or the various battles and political intrigues Josiah encounters once he joins the army.  At the same time, multiple other perspectives from side characters are utilised to enrich the narrative, with everyone from villains, love interests and friends adding to the story.  Watt tells a very interesting tale in this novel, combining a coming-of-age tale with the dynastic style of his previous Frontier books, and I really appreciated the way in which the author continues several storylines from the previous trilogy.  The combination of military action, criminal activity and intrigue makes for quite a fun narrative and The Colonial’s Son proves to be extremely addictive and easy to read.  I loved the many intense fight sequences featured throughout this novel, and Watt has a real flair for bringing brutal battles to life.  While fans of the Colonial trilogy will probably get a bit more out of this book due to the connected storylines, The Colonial’s Son is very accessible to new readers.

Just like he has done with all his prior novels, Watt makes sure that The Colonial’s Son features a range of intriguing and dangerous historical locations serving as fun backdrops to this awesome story.  There is a bit of a time skip between this novel and the previous Colonial trilogy, which opened up some different wars and settings for Watt to explore.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes set in the goldfields of North Queensland, a particularly grim and unforgiving bush setting full of fun antagonists.  The second half of the novel contains several other historical locales, all of which are shown in quick succession.  This includes Victorian London, Afghanistan, Germany and even Africa, all of which are the setting for some form of conflict.  The scenes set in Afghanistan during the British occupation of this land are very interesting, especially when you consider contemporary events, and there are some noticeable similarities between the historical conflict and more recent battles.  There is also a very fascinating look at Germany, which in 1875 had only just recently been unified into a single country with a more militaristic outlook.  Watt also ensures that The Colonial’s Son contains several hints about future conflicts that the protagonist may find himself involved in.  For example, the inclusion of several prominent Chinese characters in the first half of the novel will probably result the characters getting involved in the Boxer Rebellion, which would be pretty fascinating.  Overall, there are some great historical settings in this novel, and I cannot wait to see what conflicts the characters venture into next.

Watt makes sure to feature a ton of intriguing and memorable characters throughout The Colonial’s Son, each of whom adds some interesting details to the story.  This latest novel contains a great combination of new characters and protagonists from the Colonial series.  I rather enjoyed this cool mixture of characters, especially as you get to see new protagonists develop, while also learning the fate of the surviving characters from the original trilogy.  I particularly appreciated seeing more of original protagonist Ian Steele, and it was fun to see what happened to him after all his adventures in the Colonial books.  I was honestly surprised how much of a focus Ian got in this new trilogy, but I wasn’t complaining too much as I had gotten invested in his development in the original trilogy.  New protagonist Josiah also proved to be a great addition to the plot, even if there are a lot of similarities between him and the younger version of his father from the previous trilogy.  It was kind of fun to see history repeat itself, and I like the interesting developments that occur around Josiah attempting to live up to the legacy of his father, while also making all the same mistakes he did.  There were some other fun new characters featured in this book, including a charismatic young man of Chinese descent on the road to becoming a revolutionary and a young German countess who Josiah befriends.  I also appreciated some of the compelling and unlikable antagonists featured in the novel, as Watt has a real talent for writing scummy villains for the reader to root against.  I deeply enjoyed getting to know this new batch of characters, and I look forward to seeing what happens to all these excellent figures, both new and existing, in the future books.

With his latest novel, The Colonial’s Son, Peter Watt continues to highlight just why he is the leading author of Australian historical adventures.  Featuring an incredibly fun and action-packed plot, The Colonial’s Son does not slow down throughout its entire length, and readers are treated non-stop battles and intrigue.  I loved how this latest novel continued the cool storylines from Watt’s Colonial series, and I cannot wait to see what battles and character developments occur throughout the rest of this series.

Amazon     Book Depository

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Audio (Audiobook – 14 September 2021)

Series: The Thursday Murder Club – Book Two

Length: 12 hours and 30 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Following on from his epic crime fiction debut last year, writer and television personality Richard Osman presents the second book in his Thursday Murder Club series, The Man Who Died Twice.

Richard Osman is an awesome comedic talent and personality who I have enjoyed for many years on Pointless, Would I Lie to You and other fun British panel shows.  Known for his clever wit and immense height, Osman has a great sense of humour, and I was pretty excited last year when I saw that he had written a crime fiction novel, The Thursday Murder Club, which followed a group of true crime loving retirees who investigated a nearby murder.  While I knew I was likely to have a great time reading The Thursday Murder Club, I was truly blown away and it ended up being one of the best books, audiobooks and debuts I enjoyed in 2020.  Due to this, and the fact that my review for The Thursday Murder Club received a lot of attention this year, I have been really looking forward to reading the sequel for some time and I was very excited when details about The Man Who Died Twice were finally revealed.  This awesome sequel was one of my most anticipated releases for 2021 and it did not disappoint, presenting another clever and impressive character driven mystery.

Welcome back to Coopers Chase, the sprawling aged-care community near the town of Fairhaven, England, where peace and serenity is guaranteed for all its residents, aside from the thrill-seeking members of the Thursday Murder Club, a small group of friends who spend their Thursdays investigating cold cases and gruesome murders.  Made up of the intrepid Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, the Thursday Murder club has already had great success solving the murder of the previous owner of Coopers Chase, and they are now looking for their next batch of excitement.

Their wish appears to be granted when former spy Elizabeth receives a letter from a man she thought was dead, her former colleague and ex-husband, Douglas Middlemiss.  Douglas has recently run afoul of a dangerous English mobster and an international criminal cartel after stealing a bag of valuable diamonds and securing them in a secret hiding place.  Reluctantly put into witness protection by MI5, Douglas is keeping a low profile in Coopers Chase while he plans his escape and new life in retirement.  But when an assassin breaks into his flat and tries to kill him, Douglas turns to Elizabeth for help. 

Rallying the Thursday Murder Club to her side, Elizabeth attempts to figure out which of Douglas’s enemies is trying to take him out and who knew he was hiding at Coopers Chase.  But when tragedy strikes and an unknown enemy appears to have made off with the diamonds, everything seems lost.  But this opponent is unprepared for just how relentless the Thursday Murder Club can be, as Elizabeth and her friends put an ambitious plan in place.  However, this time the Thursday Murder Club aren’t just going after a killer; now they are facing down hardened criminals and assassins with a substantially less compunction about killing senior citizens.  Will the Thursday Murder Club once again solve the unsolvable, or will this be their final case?

Wow, this was amazing novel from Osman that I had an outstanding time getting through.  Featuring another epic and captivating mystery set around a fun group of characters, and featuring Osman’s amazing subtle humour, The Man Who Died Twice was an excellent read that I powered through in a few short days, and which gets another five-star rating from me.

The Man Who Died Twice has an impressive and deeply compelling character driven narrative that follows its various protagonists as they attempt to unravel the compelling case of the twice murdered man and the stolen diamonds.  This second entry in the Thursday Murder Club series can easily be enjoyed as a standalone read, although fans of the first book will no doubt have an amazing time seeing how the various characters continue to progress throughout this second book.  Osman beautifully utilises multiple character perspectives to tell several fantastic stories throughout the book, with the protagonists also involved in several personal battles, as well as attempting to bring down a local crime lord and a vicious young thug.  All of these storylines are chock full of mystery, humour, emotion and personal tragedy, as the protagonists work through the issues and challenges in their own unique ways.  The author balances all the storylines perfectly throughout the novel, eventually producing a clever and very entertaining conclusion.  I loved how the entire narrative came together, and there are some very amusing and compelling moments featured throughout.  Thanks to Osman’s ability to provide a great wrap-up to a story, the readers are left feeling incredibly satisfied and happy, especially after every single twist and bit of character development is revealed.  Combine that with Osman’s subtle sense of humour, mostly relating to the more outrageous situations these unlikely heroes casually wander in and out of, as well as some amusing jokes about being out of touch, and the barrage of references to British pop culture, and you have a very entertaining and addictive story that proves near impossible to put down.

I really enjoyed the central mystery of The Man Who Died Twice as the Thursday Murder Club and their associates are drawn into the case of Elizabeth’s ex-husband, a MI5 agent who has stolen a bunch of diamonds from a crime lord and is now avoiding assassins in the Coopers Chase retirement community.  While the initial hunt is for the location of the hidden diamonds, it soon morphs into another murder when a mysterious killer gets too close to the prize.  This is a very interesting and well-crafted mystery, and I loved how Osman moved away from more traditional murder and into the world of espionage and international crime.  To help solve this crime, the Club are forced to work with MI5 agents and soon find themselves investigating an influential criminal middleman with ties to the Mafia, who are hunting for the diamonds.  However, the nature of the crime also suggests an inside job, and the Club are forced to investigate friends and supposed allies to figure out who is responsible.  I had a great time with this mystery, and I loved the clever misdirection and various suspects that Osman featured throughout the plot.  I was able to pick up one of the twists pretty early in, but the full scope of the conspiracy was a lot more complex than I realised, with some additional unexpected reveals that I didn’t see coming.  I deeply enjoyed the elaborate and entertaining final plan utilised by the protagonists to entrap their opponents, especially when it ends in such a comical and amusing manner.  An overall compelling and fantastic mystery, I cannot wait to see what intriguing case appears in the next book.

You can’t talk about a Thursday Murder Club novel without mentioning the outstanding and loveable characters the story is formed around.  The Man Who Died Twice follows an intriguing and eclectic mix of characters as they find themselves caught up in the events of the latest mystery.  Osman spent a great deal of time in the previous novel introducing these fantastic characters and ensuring that the reader would fall in love with them.  This enjoyment for the characters continues in The Man Who Died Twice, as each character continues to evolve, with some excellent new details revealed about them.  Osman really does a good job of utilising each of these character perspectives in the novel, and I really appreciated the way in which the tone subtly changes for each of the characters.

The main characters of this book are the two female members of the Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth and Joyce, who have some excellent moments in this latest novel.  The first of these is Elizabeth, the former spy and investigator who is now retired and has formed the Club to keep her mind busy.  Elizabeth gets a lot of attention in this novel as the story focuses on her prior relationship with Douglas, which also examines her career in espionage.  Elizabeth is a great protagonist to follow, mainly because she is bold schemer even now as an old woman.  I always have a fun time seeing her manipulating and outsmarting everyone she comes across, especially now that most of the other characters know her game but still can’t help falling into her webs.  While there is a lot of focus on her abilities and unerring talent for danger and deception, you also get a good look at her somewhat tragic personal life.  Not only is she impacted by the return of Douglas, which raises a lot of memories from her past, but she is also still trying to hold onto her current husband, Stephen, who is suffering from dementia.  I really appreciated the complex storylines around Elizabeth, and I appreciated the way in which Osman did an intriguing dive into her past.

Joyce on the other hand is a pleasant and friendly former nurse who was the last member of the gang to join the Club.  Joyce seems like your typical, well-intentioned older lady, and I am sure that many readers will see a lot of parallels between her and their own parents or grandmothers.  However, Joyce is a brilliant thinker who uses her brain and her friendly personality to make everyone like her and then help her out.  Joyce forms a fantastic partnership with Elizabeth, and the two make an effective double team, with Joyce’s more subtle tactics and insights combining well with Elizabeth’s more direct approach.  It is a lot of fun to see Joyce investigating these brutal crimes, especially as she picks up on just as much, if not more, than the experienced spy Elizabeth.  I also really appreciate the way in which Joyce’s chapters are written, with her point-of-view shown in a series of diary entries.  This different storytelling technique helps Joyce stand out as a protagonist, especially as it highlights her entertaining personality, including the revelations and observations she has about modern technology and younger people (I had so many chuckles at her forays on Instagram).

The male members of the Thursday Murder Club are Ibrahim and Ron,  who are a little underutilised compared to Elizabeth and Joyce in this novel, but they both get their intriguing storylines which were really well-written and compelling.  This is particularly true for Ibrahim, the group’s shy intellectual, who is forced to deal with a brutal physical attack from a young criminal at the start of the book, a scene which really hit me hard due to how much I got to know this harmless character during the first book.  This attack leaves Ibrahim scarred mentally as well as physically, and he spends the rest of the novel feeling quite afraid and unwilling to leave Coopers Chase.  Osman does some deep and emotional character work on Ibrahim here, and readers end up getting quite invested in his recovery as well as his intense mental journey.  This attack on Ibrahim is also the primary catalyst for Ron’s storyline, which probably gets the least amount of attention out of all the main characters.  Ron, the former union leader, who always puts on a classic tough-guy persona, is deeply impacted by the attack on his best friend and spends the early part of the book constantly by his side.  However, once it becomes clear that Ibrahim is alright, he then leads the charge against his friend’s attacker, and uses Elizabeth’s contacts to bring the thug to justice.  I felt that Osman hit the right notes with Ron in this book, and I appreciated seeing both his emotional side and his vengeful side, and I loved how they both came from the same place of love.

The final characters I want to mention are the associated members of the Thursday Murder Club, younger characters who have been drawn into the orbit of the compelling senior citizens.  These include police officers Donna and Chris, both of whom had an entertaining introduction to the Club in the previous novel and are now firm friends with them.  Donna and Chris spend most of the book attempting to bring down a Fairhaven crime lord while also dealing with their personal issues.  Chris, who was a bit of a sad-sack character in the first novel, has been revitalised by his blooming relationship with Donna’s mother.  While happy and now health conscious, this results in a lot of soul-searching by Chris, who is unsure how to pursue the romance, especially once his girlfriend is threatened by the criminal they are hunting.  Donna, on the other hand, continues her unlucky hunt for love and purpose in this novel, going from one bad date to another while also being suitably horrified by her boss sleeping with her mother.  While Donna does not get as much focus in this novel as she did in The Thursday Murder Club, she still had some great character moments, and I deeply appreciated that touching scene she had with Ibrahim.  I also need to mention Bogdan, who, after being a major suspect in the first novel, has moved on to a supporting role in this book due to his firm friendship with Elizabeth and her husband.  Simply put, Bogdan is the coolest person in Fairhaven and a true friend, helping Elizabeth with her projects by doing all manner of unusual requests, from looking after Stephen to buying a large amount of cocaine.  He has some really good scenes in this book, and Osman sets him up as quite the bright, mysterious action man with a heart of gold.  Throw in some other well-established and explored side characters in addition to the above and you have an exciting and compelling cast with a great story around them.

One of the key things about this series that I really appreciate is the way in which Osman attempts to champion the aging process and show how capable and interesting older members of the community can be.  The Man Who Died Twice is another great example of this, as it contains multiple amazing examples of older protagonists doing impossible things and manipulating people half their age in some elaborate and entertaining ways.  It was a lot of fun once again seeing these older characters taking charge, and Osman has a very unique and entertaining take on the aging process and the mindset of older people.  However, not everything is about the positives of aging, as the author once again presents some sad and dark elements that added some powerful drama to the narrative.  Throughout the course of the story, there are plenty of discussions about illness, living with regrets, and the growing realisation that death is just around the corner.  There was a particular focus on the vulnerability of the elderly, especially with Ibrahim’s storyline, as it shakes both the victim and all his friends.  There is also a compelling look at Stephen’s battle with dementia, which includes Elizabeth’s attempt to keep him in their apartment despite what may be medically best for him, resulting in some touching and emotional scenes, especially once the double meaning of the novel’s title becomes clear.  I really appreciated the author’s unique and compelling take on the aging process, and it was great to see more of the novel’s fun senior protagonists.

While I was lucky enough to receive a physical copy of The Man Who Died Twice, I decided in the end to listen to the audiobook format of this novel, which was a fantastic choice.  The Man Who Died Twice has a runtime of 12 and a half hours, although the last 40 minutes or so is an interesting interview.  I found myself getting through this audiobook extremely quickly, not just because of the amazing story but because the audiobook has a great pace to it and some excellent narration by actress Lesley Manville.  Manville, who also narrated The Thursday Murder Club, does another wonderful job in this second novel, and it was great to hear her impressive take on this fantastic story.  Manville has come up with some amazing voices for the various characters, with each person getting their own distinctive and fitting voice, with some great continuation from the first book.  Each of the character’s voices work extremely well, and I really appreciated the way in which Manville can ascribe age, emotion, and personality with her vocal work.  I had an outstanding time listening to Manville tell this cool story, and it was made even better by a fun discussion between Osman and Manville at the end of the book.  This nice and unique talk between author and narrator was an outstanding and fitting way to finish of this audiobook, especially as it offers some cool insights into the book you have just been enjoying.  I particularly enjoyed finally getting an explanation about why Osman doesn’t narrate his own novel, and I actually agree with his reasoning for it.  Overall, this was another exceptional audiobook adaptation, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone and everyone keen to check out The Man Who Died Twice.

With his second entry in the spectacular Thursday Murder Club series, Richard Osman continues to showcase he is just as talented at writing crime fiction as he is at comedy.  The Man Who Died Twice is an outstanding and wildly entertaining read that combines an impressive story with a clever mystery, some complex and likeable characters, and a brilliant sense of humour.  This was a spectacular read and I had an incredible time getting through this fantastic sequel, especially in its amazing audiobook format.  The Man Who Died Twice was one of the best books of 2021 and I cannot wait to see where Osman takes this series next.

Amazon     Book Depository

Quick Review – Crusader by Ben Kane

Crusader Cover

Publisher: Orion (Trade Paperback – 27 April 2021)

Series: Lionheart – Book Two

Length: 393 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Impressive historical fiction author Ben Kane returns with the second entry in his Lionheart series, Crusader, which does an amazing job of continuing the epic story of King Richard the Lionheart.

Synopsis:

KING. POLITICIAN. WARRIOR. CONQUEROR.

1189. Richard the Lionheart’s long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.

With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.

Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.

No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin’s huge army shadows Richard’s every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test…

Kane has produced another amazing novel in the Lionheart trilogy.  While Kane is best known for his incredible Roman historical novels, I have been particularly enjoying his compelling foray into medieval fiction with this outstanding series that examines the life of King Richard the Lionheart.  Told through the eyes of fictional character Ferdia, better known as Rufus, the first novel in this series, Lionheart, did a remarkable job of covering some of the most influential younger years of Richard’s life, which cumulated in him seizing the throne.  Crusader continues this epic retelling of Richard’s life by recounting the events that occurred as Richard led his forces on a bloody journey to the Holy Land.

Crusader contains a historically rich narrative that explores one of the most iconic periods of Richard’s life, the crusades.  Kane produces a very detailed story that focuses on the journey to the east as well as the battles in the Holy Land.  This includes the army’s stops in Sicily and Cyprus, where Richard was forced into conflict with other Christian rulers, before eventually arriving in the Holy Land and engaging in his legendary conflict with Saladin.  Kane attempts to cover every major battle of this Crusade, with several sieges, large-scale attacks, skirmishes and the infamous massacre at Acre.  At the same time, Rufus continues his deadly rivalry with the dishonourable knight Robert FitzAldelm, while also secretly engaging in a very risky romance.

This proves to be a very compelling story, and I very much enjoyed seeing this detailed portrayal of this legendary crusade.  Kane does a wonderful job of bringing all the dry historical facts to life throughout Crusader, and I found it fascinating to see his take on the entire journey and eventual battles with Saladin’s forces.  While the story does occasionally get a bit bogged down in medieval politics, royal disputes and petty squabbles, Kane keeps the novel going at decent pace, and the reader is treated to several epic and dangerous fight scenes.  The author can write a deeply impressive and thrilling battle sequence, and the reader is left on the edge of their seats multiple times, especially as the various characters you come to care about find themselves in utter peril.  I also enjoyed the bitter conflict that occurred between the non-fictional Rufus and his rival, FitzAldelm.  While not as prominent as in the first book, this rivalry is still a fantastic part of the book, especially as it adds an intrigue-laden edge to the main story.  While I really enjoyed this great novel, I do think that it suffered a little being the middle novel in the series, primarily because certain overarching conspiracies and plots are put on hold because of the crusade.  I also felt the first half of the novel was a little slow in places, especially when compared to the intense second part of Crusader.  Still, this was a pretty amazing story, and I loved how the author managed to ensure that his tale contained both excitement and fascinating historical fact.

Just like in the first novel in this series, Kane spends considerable time examining the complex historical figure of Richard the Lionheart.  In this book, Richard is portrayed as a multifaceted and intense being with a wide range of emotions and moods.  Most of the story focuses on the classic King Richard, the inspirational and personable figure that the protagonist Rufus eagerly vows to follow.  This includes multiple portrayals of Richard’s prowess in combat, especially in the Holy Land where he leads his troops to many great victories.  The author features several intense battles throughout the book where Richard either lead the charge or proved to be something more than human, such as fighting through a superior forces or chasing off an entire army by himself.  I initially assumed that Kane was taking a bit of artistic licence with some of these outrageous scenes, but it turns out that most were based on real historical accounts.  While I found these epic depictions of Richard to be cool, I also appreciated the way in which Kane tries to show the king’s darker side.  There are multiple scenes that portray Richard in a despondent mood, especially when faced with setbacks or betrayals, and this low mood could often transform into a dangerous anger at a drop of a hat.  This makes for a very complex and contrary portrayal, and I really appreciated the way in which Kane attempted to examine the true mind and thoughts of Richard, as seen by his closest friend.

It was also really interesting to see the continued growth of Rufus throughout Crusader, as he keeps moving away from the helpless Irish hostage he was at the start of the series, and is now a knight and close companion to the King.  Rufus goes through a lot in this novel, and it was fascinating to see how he deals with the horrors and dangers of the war around him.  I found his description and concern about the massacre of Acre to be particularly intense, and it was interesting to see him witness such an event while remaining loyal and dedicated to Richard.  Rufus’s rivalries and loves were a major focus of this novel, and it is clear that Kane is setting up something major with them for the final novel.  It was also intriguing to see the changes occurring with additional fictional character Rhys, Rufus’s squire and close confidant, who has accompanied the protagonist on all his adventures.  Rhys, after killing a vicious knight in the first book, has become a little bloodthirsty, and is constantly seeking to prove himself in combat, much to Rufus’s concern.  I really enjoyed the inclusion of these fictional characters amongst the more historically accurate tale of Richard’s campaigns, and it serves as a great narrative device, while also adding in some additional drama and conflict.  I am very curious about how Rufus and Rhys’s stories will end in the final book, although I am not expecting a happy ending.

Overall, Crusader was a pretty amazing historical novel that presented a detailed and captivating picture of King Richard’s crusades.  Loaded up with some excellent portrayals of historical events and a series of epic battles, Crusader will appeal to a wide range of historical fiction fans, and readers will have an outstanding time digging through Kane’s captivating text.  A clever and intriguing novel, I am very keen to read the final entry in this series next year, especially as we all know how dark the final chapters of King Richard’s story are.

Amazon     Book Depository