sylvia ashby

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

A book of brilliant beginning, strangely satisfying ending, and a “meh“ middle part.

41nTt6pxC4L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Margo Lewis is a classics teacher living in Cambridge and doubling as an agony aunt for the local newspaper. Her column is called Dear Amy, hence the name of the book.

After a student from Margo’s school goes missing—presumed a runaway because of a few hastily gathered personal possessions—Margo begins to receive some very disturbing letters. They are addressed to the Dear Amy columnist and are written by a girl that’s gone missing decades ago and is presumed dead.

Now, I loved that beginning. It’s got everything I’m a sucker for in a psychological thriller: a narrator you are reluctant to trust because you instinctively feel she’s not telling you everything. A young girl in peril. A beautiful town and a community that does not quite match the moral dignity it inhabits. Well-buried old secrets surfacing reluctantly.

But, and in this case the “but” is a big one: the book needed more work.
Firstly, there are a few discrepancies in the story. Plot holes but also pieces of information that we are given and that don’t match from one chapter to the next. Secondly, I found the chapters from the villain’s perspective immature and clichéd, to say the least. I don’t think they were needed from suspense and plot development point of view, so I wish they hadn’t been included. The physiological methods for retrieving lost memories described in the book were painfully poor and a bit desperate.

There were a few brilliant moments, sparks, in the reviling of the story, which I enjoyed. The novel is fast passed. Margo is likable and I was rooting for her to be “saved” from her past.

Some reviewers have mentioned that they were annoyed by the romance streak in the novel. I wasn’t. I wanted something good to happen to that woman after all the crap she’s been through. The very last sentence saved the book for me, really. I’m not going into details, but it was kind of a full stop that really gave me closure. It was strangely satisfying in a conclusive sort of way.

This book was given to me by Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. In this case, I wished they’d revise the book before releasing it to fix up the few weaknesses and make it a five-star read, which it could well be.

“The White Cottage Mystery” by Margery Allingham

 

51ukNLTFQnL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_This was Margery Allingham’s first detective story, originally serialised in the Daily Express in 1927. Margery Allingham was one of the beloved writers of the Golden Age of Crime alongside Agatha Cristie, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Croft, Father Ronald Knox etc.

Like every classic Golden Age of Crime novel “The White Cottage Mystery” features an impossible murder, a love story, a noble detective, a suspicious inheritance and demons from the past. There are a lot of charming ladies struggling to do “the right thing”. There is a man who fought in the war and a villain with a cockney accent; a nanny, who is obsessed with her charge and simple but arduous “house staff” who reveal snippets of information about their masters at exactly the right time.

When Eric Crowther is shot to death Chief Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry are involved in solving the crime. Moments before the crime is committed Jerry drives past the White Cottage giving one of its inhabitants – charming Nora – a lift. As Jerry and his father dig deeper into the lives of the people present in the house at the time of the murder, they realise that

anyone could have killed Mr Crowther.

He was a vile man who enjoyed nothing more than collecting peoples’ secrets and torturing them with what he knew.

The novel was, perhaps, fast passed for its time but it lost a bit of it’s shine at present. The emotions are a bit over the top; the dialogue a tad stifling.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book the same way I’d enjoy watching a black-and-white movie from the fifties. Or the same way I crave Shepherd’s pie every now and again. “The White Cottage Mystery” is comfort food for the mind.

J.K.Rowling claims her favourite Margery Allingham’s book is “The Tiger in The Smoke”, so I’m off to check out that next.

I’m grateful for this book to Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

“Missing, Presumed” by Susie Steiner 

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“Missing, Presumed” is a surprising crime novel on quite a few levels. Good surprising, I must say as opposed to “what is this?” surprising.

For one, the narrative is predominantly driven by DI Manon Bradshaw story, not the actual crime. By her own admission, Manon is “Misanthrope, staring down the barrel of childlessness. Yawning ability to find fault. Can give off WoD (Whiff of Desperation)”. This is an excerpt from a description of herself she’d like to put up on a dating site. She doesn’t post this, no, instead she cuts and pastes another woman’s resume, which she thinks sounds more enticing. And which attracts only weirdos: a poet, who sleeps on his ex’s couch and likes petite women (Manon is not); a guy who doesn’t stop talking about himself, but Manon still sleeps with him.

The crime itself is a dubious one, at best.

A Cambridge student, Edith Hind, is missing from her home. He boyfriend returns to their shared cottage to an open door, a bunch of coats knocked to the floor in the hallway and some blood in the kitchen. That’s it.

Edith, however, is a beautiful, popular, white girl. “An intellectual” according to her father Ian Hind, so the Police take notice. It helps that Sir Ian Hind is the go-to surgeon for the Royal family and frequents the theatre with the Home Secretary. The Police is quick to escalate the manhunt for Edith to national and international scale with mounting costs and disgruntled Police superiors.

At the same time, the body of a young black man is washed up from the river near the Hints holiday home.

Taylor Dent’s been missing for weeks.

His little brother has tried to report him missing, but the Police have taken no heed. The brother is only 10 years old; Dent is impoverished and black. Their mum is a drug addict. Nobody is looking for Dent.

DI Manon Bradshaw stumbles through the investigation in much the same way she blunders through life. She doesn’t so much follows leads and questions witnesses, as we are used to in crime novels, but rather lets the crime evolve until all is revealed.

And all is revealed.

There is a lot of umbrage in this novel. I mean the word “umbrage”. For a rare word like that the characters in the book use it a lot.

Also, I don’t think separating the structure of the novel through many voices adds to the narrative. The voices sound very much alike. There was little difference who’s name was at the beginning of each chapter.

Still, these little facts don’t change that “Missing, Presumed” is a wonderful effort. Looking forward to meeting Manon Bradshaw again.