Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Veil of Lies is a medieval “whodunnit” that pits the wits of a disgraced knight against the equivalent of “the mob” as well as an elusive killer.

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The disgraced knight is one Crispin Guest, formerly of the House of Lancaster, but now of the less than salubrious streets of London. Known as “The Tracker”, against his better judgement, accepts a commission from a wealthy merchant who believes his wife is being unfaithful. Required to follow the man’s wife, what Crispin discovers confirms his employer’s concerns. When the merchant is found dead shortly after, suspicion falls on the lovely wife. But Crispin is not convinced by her guilt.

When Crispin learns that the merchant was also in possession of a valuable holy relic, a veil believed to bear the impression of Christ’s face and which forces anyone in its vicinity to speak the truth, he understands there are darker forces at work. This is relic is something that other parties are willing to kill to possess. Suddenly, a great deal more than a wife’s honour and a man’s life is at stake.

There’s no doubt Westerson brings the seamier side and brutality of this era London to vivid life in this tale of secrets, murder, and deception. The plot ticks along at a steady pace and with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. As a hero, Crispin is somewhat wanting (which I also liked) as he struggles with his loss of status and the people he’s not only forced to reckon with daily, but how he’s perceived and treated by others as well. Crispin is an unapologetic snob who manages to seriously offend and thus offside those whose help and trust he needs, let alone those he likes. In that respect, the novel exposes the class system extant at the time and how much appearances and connections counted. The woman at the centre of the tale is also flawed, but I enjoyed reading a book that didn’t rely solely on binary characteristics to spin a good yarn – so much so, I’ve downloaded the next book in the Crispin Guest series.

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The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

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The Stone Circle is the 11th book in Elly Griffiths fabulous series featuring archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway and terse DI Nelson. Like its predecessors, it’s packed with mystery, complex interpersonal relationships and murder.

In this novel, a body is found buried in a recently unearthed stone circle. While the circle is of ancient origins the body definitely isn’t. Enter both Ruth and Nelson whose expertise is required to firstly age the body and then discover who the culprit is. When a cold case is reopened, it’s not long before suspects come to the fore. But when the most prominent of these is murdered, Nelson and his team have to work harder than ever before someone else is hurt – or worse. 

As usual, Griffiths excels in developing her characters – the regulars and even those introduced because of the central plot. Ruth, Kate, Nelson and his family’s dynamic becomes even more tangled and emotionally fraught as revelations and decisions regarding the future are made and then disregarded. I think Griffiths does real justice to the notion that it’s possible to love two people at once – two good people who don’t deserve to be hurt. While Nelson is torn between the two women in his life and his very different families, there’s no doubting his love for them or the fact he’s a good person who can make bad decisions (like other characters in the books). I also like that the women are represented as strong and proud, not passive vessels to Nelson’s wishes or desires. 

The ending to this novel feels a little rushed – not in terms of the plot, which is nicely played out, but in relation to the main recurring characters. I wish the editors had allowed Griffiths the chance to flesh it out just a little more. Nonetheless, I really look forward to seeing where Ruth, Nelson and the rest of the characters based around King’s Lynn (which really does see more than its fair share of buried bodies, surely?) takes us! 

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The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

The latest book in the Joseph O’Loughlin series, The Other Wife is a cracker of a read that I dare you to be able to put down once you start. I forced myself only so I could savour the joy of a great story with characters I’ve grown to know and love and who are embroiled in a plot both dark and, for Joe at least, deeply, personal.

The book opens with Joe relocated to London with youngest daughter Emma, contemplating life after the death of his wife, when he receives the call adult children both dread and half anticipate: his eminent surgeon father has been admitted to hospital and is on life support.

Racing to be by his father’s side, Joe reflects upon this cold, distant and judgemental man he barely knew and yet whose approval he endlessly sought. When he arrives at ICU, his father is not alone. A younger, lovely woman is sitting by his side, clutching his father’s inert hand. But it’s when she tells Joe who she is, that his world is turned upside down and inside out.

Everything Joe thought he knew is now unstable and with each new piece of information, he seems to lurch from one discovery and response to another. Not even the grounding presence and help of Vincent Ruiz, retired cop and now a corporate investigator, provides the stability Joe needs.

The more Joe delves into his own and other’s histories, the more suspicious he becomes about what really happened to his father and why, but when the truth is finally revealed, not even Joe is prepared for the consequences.

Superbly written, tight, fast-paced and emotionally fraught yet always true, this is a magnificent book that puts family and personal histories under the microscope and doesn’t hold back. It’s explores the assumptions we make – about those we think we know and those we don’t. How unfair and self-righteous these sometimes are and the terrible outcomes that can occur when we’re swift to judge.

No-one is more honest or raw in his judgements than Joe – especially about himself. I think that’s what makes his character rich, real and so appealing. Flawed, vulnerable and yet with a strength he isn’t always aware of, this book really has him centre stage, placed in an oft-cruel spotlight under which he still manages to star.

My only disappointment (as always happens with Robotham) is that I now have to bloody well wait for his next book. Please don’t leave me waiting too long. This was stunning.

 

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

When the reclusive, elderly and utterly glamorous Hollywood screen idol of last century, Evelyn Hugo, invites an obscure journalist, Monique Grant, to write an exclusive story about her for a magazine, little does Grant – or her employer – know what she’s agreed to do. A fading star who captivated audiences and the public with her films and the gossipy stories of her many husbands, affairs, the terrible losses and magnificent successes she survived, Hugo is still an enigma to many. The chance to put the record straight once and for all is, for Monique, too good to be true.

Struggling with personal issues, Monique nonetheless is flattered and seizes the opportunity being given to her, only, as the days go by and Hugo’s incredible tale unfolds, she also wonders why, of all those who could have written this story, she has been chosen. What possible reason could this powerful, intelligent woman, with fox-cunning and an unapologetic knack of always getting what she wants, have for choosing her?

Taking Monique and thus the reader back to her childhood in Hell’s Kitchen in New York, Hugo’s story is breath-taking in its audacity, courage and chutzpah. Beautiful, mildly talented, but knowing how to use the gifts she’s been given to forge ahead, and not caring what others think, Hugo’s tale is as much about female subordination, patriarchy, the Hollywood star-system, sex, sexuality, beauty, ageing, power and its abuses, as it is about a woman learning to navigate a life for herself and those she loves through this.

Taking heed of Hugo’s story, Monique finds herself alternately touched and inspired, inspired to use the lessons Hugo’s imparting to improve her own life. But when she learns the truth behind the story, about why she was chosen to write it, it threatens to unravel not only what she thought she knew about the actress, but about herself as well.

This is an easy, terrific read that takes you back in time on one woman’s remarkable and not always easy to stomach journey. The hurdles and prejudices she overcomes, the way in which men particularly underestimate her and others, the choices she bravely makes, and the hard decisions she stands by are compelling reading. Not always easy to like, it is easy to fall in love with Evelyn Hugo – the hard, wise, and always compassionate woman – even when at her hardest and most selfish. Terrible things were written and thought about the beautiful starlet, but none were as bad, raw or honest as what she wants Monique to write now.

Question is, can Monique do the woman justice? Especially once the truth is revealed…

Great escapist read.

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The Break by Marian Keyes

Never having read a Marian Keyes book before I was uncertain what to expect. However, a glowing review about The Break from a friend (who’s also a huge fan of Keye’s work) made me keen to start. Well, what a glorious, heart-wrenching, warm, funny and fundamentally human novel this is. I found it so hard to tear myself away from and then felt bereft when I’d finished.

Ostensibly the story of the happily married Amy and Hugh who experience a relationship crisis when Hugh decides that though he loves Amy, he wants a “break”, it’s also a great deal more than that. Striding into middle age and all its cosy familiarity, for some people, this stage of life can also breed contempt – mostly for the self. Wondering if we’ve reached our potential or if this is indeed “it” for whatever more time we’re granted, it’s easy to understand why middle age can sometimes be the autumn of so many people’s discontent.

Thus it is with Hugh. A decent, good man (and Amy’s second husband), he nonetheless feels the need to take a hiatus from what he’s become and may yet be becoming. Shocked, horrified and in disbelief by what Hugh intends and unable to prevent him (even if she really wanted to), Amy struggles with the cliché her marriage is turning into. Trying to understand Hugh while feeling a mixture of grief, anger, loathing and every other emotion there is, as well as trying to balance her professional life with the wreck of her personal and the unwelcome return of her narcissistic her ex-husband and his claims, Amy undergoes her own sort of crisis. Juggling her wonderfully messy family and their demands, catastrophes and triumphs, and the chaos that ensues in Hugh’s departure’s wake, Amy’s enforced break almost becomes a breakdown.

The characters are so real, their emotions raw, complex and simple. You ache for them all – Hugh, Amy, the children they share, the mad grandmother and curmudgeonly father and the rainbow of brothers and sisters Amy possesses as well as her business partners. Slowly, Amy realises that if Hugh is on a break, then it means she is as well – with all the liberties and restrictions, difficulties and pleasures, painful memories and daring hopes that entails.

If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh, cry, think deeply and look afresh at your own life and choices, that features witty, authentic and flawed people and mad Irish humour, then don’t go past this sensitively explored, thoroughly entertaining and downright marvellous book.

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