Review: A Matter of Love and Death, Caron Albright

I’m delighted to be part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, and I have a beautiful book suggestion for you: A Matter of Love and Death, by Caron Albright. Set in Adelaide, Australia, in the 1930s, this is a cosy mystery with a similar tone to Anita Davison’s Flora Maguire series.

But first, a little about Books for Older Readers:

“The Books for Older Readers facebook group and website was established in October 2017 to promote books (mainly fiction) with older protagonists or themes such as ‘second chances’, which tend to appeal to readers in mid-life or beyond.”

You can find them on Facebook 

And on their website 

And now, without further ado…

 

A Matter of Love and Death, by Caron Albright.

Amazon blurb: 

An absorbing 1930s mystery that you won’t be able to put down

Adelaide, 1931. Telephone switchboard operator Frances’ life is difficult as sole provider for her mother and adopted uncle. But it’s thrown into turmoil when she overhears a suspicious conversation on the phone, planning a murder.

If a life is at risk, she should tell the police; but that would mean breaking her confidentiality clause and would cost her the job. And practical Frances, not prone to flights of fancy, soon begins to doubt the evidence of her own ears – it was a very bad line, after all…

She decides to put it behind her, a task helped by the arrival of their new lodger, Phil. Phil takes her to a nightclub, where she meets charming but slightly dangerous club owner Jack. Jack’s no angel – prohibition is in force, and what’s a nightclub without champagne? But he’s a good man, and when Frances’ earlier fears resurface she knows that he’s the person to confide in.

Frances and Jack’s hunt for the truth put them in grave danger, and soon enough Frances will learn that some things are a matter of love and death…

 

My review.

Right from the very start I was drawn into the atmosphere, and the time and setting, of this story. The town and its inhabitants are described beautifully, really making me feel part of the unfolding drama, and the author uses all the senses to keep her readers fully immersed.

Frances is a down-to-earth heroine, very forthright in her beliefs, and the way her life becomes entwined with that of some mysterious and puzzling characters is believable and well told. Her friendships are endearing and genuine; Pauline, in particular, fizzes her way through the story, the perfect foil for sensible, level-headed Frances. I’d like to find out if she had her own story, I think it would be an interesting one!

 Maggie, Frances’s mother, is caring and selfless, to the point of her own detriment, and Frances is hard pressed to keep her focused on their own family’s needs. Unlike many roles of this nature, she is not merely ‘the mother,’ she’s a brilliant character in her own right, reminding the reader that no-one appears in someone’s story fully-formed, they all have their own value, and their own history that has shaped them. Anyone of a similar age will connect with her instantly, and appreciate that Frances is the well-rounded individual she is because of the way she’s been taught.

It’s refreshing to live a story through the lives of a family not absolutely mired in debt, but still struggling, while taking great pride in their home; very identifiable for most of us, and told with honesty and a gentle humour. The mystery is secondary to the unfolding relationships, but it does keep you guessing, and the resolution is satisfying when it comes. The relationships themselves are portrayed with warmth, and the love the extended family and neighbourhood have for one another is clear; you get the impression they would go through anything together and remain strong.

Overall this was a lovely story, with engaging and sympathetic characters, and I very much enjoyed reading it.

 

Buy this book on Amazon UK

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Blog Tour – A Knightsbridge Scandal, by Anita Davison: Excerpt

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Anita Davison’s latest Flora Maguire mystery: A Knightsbridge Scandal.  

 

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About the book:

1903 London is bustling and glamorous. With troubling secrets simmering, and worrying signs of war, Flora Maguire must solve a deadly mystery which leads right to the heart of the corridors of power.

Flora Maguire has escaped the country to enjoy some time in fashionable Knightsbridge, London. Extravagant shops, exuberant theatres and decadent restaurants mean 1903’s London is a thrilling adventure, but there are dark secrets threatening from the continent.

When the body of a London socialite, and leading light of the burgeoning women’s movement, is found outside The Grenadier public house, Flora can’t resist investigating. Mysterious letters are discovered in the victim’s belongings, strange links to the foreign office and why do the clues keep coming back to the assassination of a Baltic king?

As Flora closes in on the killer, it soon becomes clear she is no longer safe in London, but will her husband Bunny be able to get to her before it’s too late?

An excerpt from the novel: 

Flora alighted onto the platform into clouds of white smoke from the steam engine that hissed beneath the massive iron and glass canopy of Waterloo Station. Porters darted between travellers pushing squeaky-wheeled trolleys loaded with luggage towards the line of hansom cabs that waited beside the platform; the odours of hot horseflesh wet leather and manure mixed with the sweet fragrance of dried lavender from the flower seller’s stalls.

Flora handed her maid a portmanteau, then followed in the wake of the porter who had careened off with their luggage, her neck craned to keep him in sight. Disembarking passengers jostled on the platform as Flora carved her way through ladies in wide hats and harassed looking nurses holding dawdling children by the hand. The soot smuts on their faces reminded her of childhood train journeys spent with her head stuck out of the window, eyes narrowed against the wind as it tugged at her hair; something every child should do at least once.

Sally hurried along the platform beside her, the bag hefted on one hand and three hatboxes bouncing like balloons on their strings in the other.

Suitcases bumped Flora’s shins, their owners making no effort to move aside, reducing her progress to a series of shuffling steps and starts. Spotting a gap in the crowd, she dodged between two slow-moving matrons, only to collide with a man in a black homburg hurrying in the opposite direction. He barely paused to apologize, simply lifted his hat an inch before disappearing into the crowd.

Flora glared at the miscreant over her shoulder, muttering at his lack of manners as her turn arrived at the barrier.

The guard clipped their tickets with a machine hung around his neck, releasing them into the arched cathedral roof of the main hall. Coming to an uncertain halt as the crowd disbursed into the vast expanse of the station, she glanced up at the monochrome, four-sided clock that hung from the ceiling,

‘He said he would be here to meet us.’ She bit her lip as the first pangs of anxiety gnawed at her. ‘Our train arrived on time, so where is he?’

What if he had forgotten her? Would she be able to find his apartment unaided?

‘He must have been held up.’ Sally transferred the cumbersome bag to her other hand, flexing her fingers with a grimace. ‘Don’t fret, Miss Flora, I expect he’ll be here directly.’

‘I’m not fretting.’ Flora fidgeted, irritated at having been so transparent. ‘I’m merely surprised he isn’t here waiting for us.’ For the tenth time since leaving Richmond, she wondered if it had been wise to agree to this visit on her own; misgivings her husband had dismissed.

‘I would accompany you, my love, but I’ve a complicated legal case on at the moment. After all, William is hardly a stranger; you’ve known him all your life.’ His reasoning had not acknowledged her anxiety at all.

‘Perhaps.’ Though not as my father, a voice inside her head reminded her. The last time she had seen William, her behaviour had been less than cordial. When the truth of her parentage had come to light, she had laid the blame squarely on him, fairly or not. Circumstances had kept them apart since then, though his invitation to stay at his London apartment came as no surprise, but one Flora had thus far avoided. Now she would have to prepare herself to face him all over again.

‘Where’d that porter go?’ Sally dropped the portmanteau at Flora’s feet with a relieved grunt. ‘I’ll have something to say if he’s run off with our luggage.’

‘I very much doubt that. He has a job to do, and not everyone is disreputable.’

‘You weren’t dragged up in Flower and Dean Street,’ Sally muttered darkly. ‘Can’t trust no one down there.’

Flora pretended not to hear, immune to Sally’s tendency for drama and a belief that lurid stories of a childhood in Whitechapel gave her notoriety among those who had led more affluent lives; a judgement made on virtually everyone. Flora raised herself on tiptoe, her eyes narrowed in an effort to locate the porter’s face among the noise, smoke, and clamour of the busy station that had begun to make her head pound.

‘There it is!’ Sally pointed to where Flora’s elephant grey trunk with its military style fastenings sat on a trolley, their porter idling in conversation with the news seller, apparently confident of his fee.

Sally hurried towards him, her voice raised in protest as she heaved the bag she carried onto the trunk, piling the hatboxes on top. The largest tumbled off again and rolled across the concourse floor. With a theatrical groan and slump of her shoulders, she gave chase and after a tussle with an urchin boy who got there first, grudgingly parted with a coin before stomping back to the trolley and returned the box to the pile.

‘Mrs Harrington?’ An unfamiliar voice drew Flora’s attention from the comic sight of her annoyed maid to where a man stood a few feet away; a bowler hat held in both hands at waist level.

‘Yes, I’m Mrs Harrington.’ She gave the concourse a final, swift glance in a last effort to locate William, then turned to the young man. ‘May I help you?’

She judged him to be somewhere in his mid-twenties, and definitely someone she had never met before. Standing an inch or two taller than she, with a compact, but substantial build. Symmetrical features sat beneath arched brows with startling eyes so dark, the pupils looked the same colour as the irises.

‘And who might you be then?’ Sally stepped between Flora and the stranger, her chin lifted in challenge.

‘My name is Peter Gordon.’ He took in Sally’s belligerent expression with a wry smile of amusement. ‘I’m an associate of Mr William Osborne; he sent me to meet you.’

Flora had expected him to have an accent to go with his Mediterranean looks, but his diction was pure Home Counties.

‘Can yer prove it?’ Sally demanded.

‘Sally,’ Flora warned, sotto voce. ‘Although my maid does have a point, sir. I was not expecting to be met by a stranger.’ Despite her uneasiness, there was something compelling about him.


My review of A Knightsbridge Scandal can be found here.

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Anita’s earlier novels are set in 17th Century England, with a family saga set in Exeter during the Monmouth Rebellion and a biographical novel about Elizabeth Murray during the English Civil War in Surrey. Her fascination with the revival of cosy mysteries made her turn to the early 1900’s for inspiration where she found Flora Maguire lurking. The series of five novels was taken up for publication by Aria Fiction, a digital imprint of Head of Zeus Publishing.


LINKS:

Flora’s Secret is available here  and Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey is here. 

Anita’s Blog

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Review -A Knightsbridge Scandal by Anita Davison

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Having read and loved the first two titles in this series, I was naturally delighted to be asked to review the third Flora Maguire novel: A Knightsbridge Scandal.
Once again, the indomitable Flora launches herself into a world of intrigue and deceit, lies and danger… this time becoming embroiled in the conflicting worlds within the Women’s Suffrage movement, and the discovery of the body of one of its leading lights. Flora’s powers of deduction are at full stretch on this one; dark alleyways contrast with the glitz and glamour of high society, but danger lurks equally in both.  Clues are not always what they seem, and characters keep you guessing right to the end.
The descriptions in this book are fully as beautifully written as in the previous two; Ms Davison’s deft touch with a verbal paintbrush is evident in everything, from the weather to a fine china cup. Food leaps off the page and into your hands; the damp fug of the street leaves its smell in your hair; and the chilly air of a pre-Christmas London brushes your skin. You are absolutely in the moment.
 With the delightful, and often amusing, addition of her maid, Sally, Flora’s newest adventure becomes a sparkling and witty two-hander. The men lurk pleasantly enough in the background, offering sage advice and trying not to get in the way, while the women just straighten their shoulders  and get on with the job.
I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Mrs Harrington, nee Maguire, and I very much look forward to reading her next adventure!
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Review – Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey by Anita Davison

Today it’s my great pleasure to welcome Anita Davison. Anita is the author of the brilliant Flora Maguire Mysteries, published by Aria Fiction.

First, a little background, from Anita, to book one:

Flora’s Secret by Anita Davison (Book 1 in the Flora Maguire Series)

Flora Maguire is a twenty-two-year old governess to Edward, the son of Earl Trent. Raised by her father, Riordan Maguire, the head butler on the earl’s Gloucestershire estate, she is used to watching the lives of the aristocracy from the side-lines.

After a family wedding in New York, where Flora has been included as part of the family party, the earl and countess decide to extend their holiday, thus Flora is entrusted with the task of escorting Edward home to England to attend school. Conscious of her status as an upper servant among a complement of only first class passengers, she avoids the dining room on the first night and meets the charming Bunny Harrington on deck, who catches her peeking under the canvas at his new automobile.

The next morning, Flora finds the body of a man at the bottom of a companionway, a death pronounced accidental by the ship’s doctor. Flora’s doubts about what happened prompts her to have the man’s death acknowledges as deliberate, and to do that she has to find the killer.

She enlists the help of Bunny, who is at first sceptical, but after a burglary, a near drowning during a storm and a second murder – the hunt is now on in earnest for a killer as the Minneapolis approaches the English coast.

Book 2 in the series, Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey is out now, followed by Book 3, A Knightsbridge Scandal, due for publication in early in 2017, with two more stories scheduled for later in the year.

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About Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey:

Even the most glamorous stately houses hide secrets and lies from the past…

For fans of Downton Abbey, a thrilling and romantic mystery set in the glorious Cotswolds landscape.

Flora Maguire is now happily married to Bunny Harrington and living in Richmond when she receives an alarming telegram informing her of her father’s tragic death in a riding accident at Cleeve Abbey.

Heartbroken, she and Bunny return to her former home, where she was Governess to Eddy, Viscount Trent, and her father was Butler to Earl Trent.

Flora’s intention was to bury him next to Lily, her mother, who sadly passed away when Flora was a small child.

Mystery surrounds the final resting place of Lily. No-one is willing to talk and, with her father now dead in a suspicious accident, Flora must once again strive alone to uncover hidden family secrets.

My thoughts:

I remember writing a review for the first in this series, Flora’s Secret, and being bowled over by the captivating writing style, and the fresh voice of the main character, Flora Maguire. I clearly recall hoping we would meet Flora again at some point. I also remembered the unfolding story, and how it was so beautifully structured, and the great sense of everything being exactly as it should be, by the end.
What I hadn’t fully remembered, until I came to read Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey, was the author’s ability to describe everything – from the ornate beauty of a well-appointed room, to the glorious simplicity of a perfectly-fried egg – with the kind of immediacy that puts you in that room, (or poises your fork above the egg!) and makes you feel such an integral part of the story you forget where you actually are.
This second book in the series is no less evocative than the first in any of those respects; from the very outset – when we are with Flora on a sticky hot day, and feeling her slightly grumpy discomfort – right the way through until the end, we can see, taste and smell everything. And we can feel the gradually building tension as Flora investigates, and unravels the mystery behind a seemingly-accidental death on the hitherto-familiar estate where she spent her childhood.
This death, in contrast to the slightly detached fascination of the previous incident on the Minneapolis, hits much closer to home. Flora’s emotions are tugged in all directions as she learns family secrets that have been shared by people she has always trusted, and struggles to keep the clear head she needs if she is to see justice done.
As with the descriptions of physical sights, sounds, and other everyday occurrences, we are gently but skilfully drawn into the very heart of Flora’s fears and dilemmas. Again, the viewpoint is third person, but limited to Flora, so we discover things at the same time, react in much the same way, and rejoice in every small triumph.
The secondary characters in this book are as well-drawn as those in the first; the contrast between social classes is clearly marked, without resorting to stereotypes, and the kind of family dynamics that favour no class or situation, shine through the dialogue and little ‘asides.’

I very much look forward to the next outing with Flora… Although, feeling so much part of her world, I just hope I’m not the one she’s investigating next!

Buy Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey from Amazon.ad