Miss Hargreaves- Frank Baker (1939)

Another author I hadn’t heard of introduced to me via Christopher Fowler’s “Book Of Forgotten Authors”.  He became a little less forgotten when Bloomsbury republished his most celebrated novel as part of a Bloomsbury Group Series of 6 titles including works by Wolf Mankowitz, Ada Leverson, D E Stevenson, Rachel Ferguson and Joyce Dennys.

The whimsical novel is something I can often take or leave but I loved this.  I can’t see why is isn’t celebrated as one of the great twentieth century comic novels.  It made me laugh (and, this is where the comic/whimsical can fall flat) it sustained my interest for the duration.  A film version was planned but check the publication date and you’ll see why that fell by the wayside but there was a successful stage version in the early 1950s starring a beautifully cast Margaret Rutherford.

And maybe that where part of the appeal lies for me imagining the marvellous Ms. Rutherford in the title role.  Two young men on a trip to Ireland invent a woman whilst sightseeing in a church – pretending to a guide that she was a friend of an old vicar there.  They elaborate about her more and more, getting carried away with their invention in subsequent days so much that they write her a letter at a hotel they imagined she would stay at.  They get a reply and then the formidable Miss Hargreaves arrives embodying everything they’d made up.  You have to go with it- no explanation is given but there’s a lot here on individuality and the motto that runs through the novel is “Creative thought creates.”  In this case, it’s a living, breathing person and in a style reminiscent of EF Benson’s Lucia novels (which I also love) she begins to take over the community in which her inventors live.  P G Wodehouse also springs to mind but I enjoyed this more than any Jeeves novels I’ve read to date. The baffled Norman Huntley gives a first-person narrative and there’s some more splendid characterisation in his musician/bookshop owning father.

There’s great energy and vigour but it can also hover on the edge of a darker side as explanations for Miss Hargreaves are explored.  The only time pace slackens is in the details of cathedral services and organ-playing (Norman is a church organist as was the author) but there’s still charm here amongst the flue work, pedal bombards and diapasons. 

Frank Baker added a postscript in 1965, obviously for a republished edition and reproduced a few of Miss Hargreaves’ poems in full (in truth they work better as odd lines in the narrative which demonstrate her unique talents as a poet).  The author lived 1908-82 and was also an actor and musician who worked as a pianist in the celebrated Player’s Theatre in Charing Cross.

I’m finding much joy in British novels of 1930s, 40s and 50s with EF Benson, Norman Collins, Barbara Pym etc.  I can add Frank Baker to this for this delightfully quirky work. 

Miss Hargreaves was first published in 1939.  I read the Bloomsbury Publishing edition from 2009.

All The Lies They Did Not Tell- Pablo Trincia (2022)

Amazon had this as one of their monthly free Prime Reads choices back in July 2022.  Its subtitle “The True Story Of Satanic Panic In An Italian Community” had me interested and remembering my desire to read more true crime I went for it.

This investigative work focuses on what became known as the Devils Of The Bassa Modenese Case which I had not heard of but which caused a huge furore in the late 1990s and led to 16 children being removed from families, convictions and acquittals and a number of deaths of adults associated with the case.

Pablo Trincia’s research into this led to a podcast with investigative journalist Alessia Rafanelli and evolved into this book which has been translated from the Italian by Elettra Pauletto.  Structurally, it does resemble a podcast eschewing a strictly chronological approach to focus on those involved and their stories with the interweaving and retreading of material that this structure involves.  Initially, I found it a little confusing to separate the families but this soon falls into place.

The events are extraordinary.  It is hard to imagine what happened here and the snowballing of such panics but similar things were happening in other countries and can be attributed to the way children were questioned by authorities.  Concerns about a family of vulnerable children led to tales of horrific satanic abuse involving almost everyone these children knew of.  Sexual abuse, torture, rituals, decapitations of cats and children killing other children in buildings and cemeteries horrified authorities who began widescale arrests, family separations and trials.

How much was true and how it came about became the author’s obsession.  He says;

“The story was like a black hole.  The more I looked into it, the more it seemed to bend social and behavioural norms and alter the relationship between cause and effect- things I’d always taken for granted.  It seemed like a parallel universe where everything was deformed.”

The author got lucky as he got hold of much information from a couple of people who had been totally driven by the cases and had lots of documentation and who had both died since the trials and from that he began to piece together what had actually happened.  Was this a case of false memory and how could that have affected so many children or was Satanism thriving in this small part of Catholic Italy in the 1990s?  It’s a sobering, involving account.  It is hard to believe that something like this could ever happen again, it reflects a terrifying moment in the history of abuse investigations where circumstances proved ripe for these life-destroying accusations.

All The Lies They Did Not Tell was published by Amazon Crossing in 2022.

Hide – Matthew Griffin (2016)

This wasn’t really what I was expecting.  From the cover and from what I’d heard about this book I was anticipating a love story between two American men with a historical element which caused them to keep their love hidden within a tenderly written, possibly understated debut novel.

There wasn’t much of a historical element as this was old age breaking down the long-lasting relationship of Wendell and Frank in rural Virginia, two men who had rarely left the house they shared together in case people worked out their relationship.  When a health emergency hits Frank, Wendell claims he is his brother.

This is the tale of the deterioration of Frank’s health told in a first-person narrative by Wendell.  I can recognise the poignancy of these men and their hidden lives but I did have issues with the novel.  Firstly, it is without humour which, when the going is good made it a little dry and when things took a turn for the worse I was desperate for the author to introduce some lightness.  This is the second time I’ve thought this  recently, Andrew Holleran’s 2022 comeback novel “The Kingdom Of Sand” also featured the old age of gay men with the same relentlessly downbeat viewpoint.  Secondly, I felt their past needed more attention, we particularly learn very little about Wendell. I can understand this to a point as the title suggests, secrecy is paramount but it holds these characters at arm’s length.  Thirdly, Wendell is a taxidermist and we have some detailed accounts of his work which was really difficult reading for me, there was one section I had to scan rather than read and this is something I so rarely do. 

I toyed with a disappointed two star rating but then technically it works so well.  It is a well-crafted novel.  Matthew Griffin is a University Professor and graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and that proficiency shows.  There were quite a few moments when the present day was informed by the back story of the relationship explaining why they were reacting thus but I feel there was more opportunity to open up and give us more of these lives.  I’m sure this then would not have been the novel the author wanted to write but I personally think some more back-story on both individuals and their time together would have resonated with a wider audience and might have given a bit more balance to the air of despondency Griffin creates.

Hide was published by Bloomsbury in the UK in 2016.  I read the paperback edition from 2017.

Children Of The Archbishop – Norman Collins (1951)

I’m still very much on a mission to get people back reading the novels of British author Norman Collins (1907-82).  It does seem as if there is a growing buzz for “London Belongs To Me” (1945) as I’ve seen a few recommendations for it over the last couple of years and that is the one title that is available as a Penguin Modern Classic but three more titles in for me and I can safely say there’s a lot of wonderful story-telling, writing and characterisation to be rediscovered in his other 15 novels.

I managed to source this out-of-print title from the reserve stacks of Bristol Library – the particular copy I read has been on library duty since 1962.  I’m so glad there are people out there holding onto these books.  Like “London Belongs To Me” and “Bond Street Story” it is located in the capital city and that feels to me as if we are on safer ground with books of this vintage rather than the potential minefield of others of his works set in the former colonies, such as “The Governor’s Lady” (which was still a five star read).  In “London Belongs To Me” we had a lodging house as focus, “Bond Street Story” had a department store and “Children Of The Archbishop” an orphanage.  The Archbishop Bodkin Orphan Hospital is situated in Putney and this novel is concerned with those who help run it, work in and are resident there in the inter-war years (spanning approx 1920-38).

The opening section wonderfully explores the passengers of the No 14 Bus with writing which once again evokes a mid-twentieth century Dickens.  Collins flits from passenger to passenger, driver to conductor until we follow a young woman who gets off the bus and leaves a bundle on the orphanage doorstep.  This bundle “Sweetie” becomes one of the main characters who we follow for pretty much the first two decades of her life.

Orphanages can equal sentimentality and I wondered if Collins was going to go overboard on this but he doesn’t, particularly in the first half of the book where we are more concerned with the running and the Warden’s distinctly unsentimental approach which shows the orphanage as wrapped up in politics, disputes, personal prejudices and cost-cutting as any institution.  The actual “Children of the Archbishop” are pretty much represented by two of the 500 juveniles, Sweetie and Ginger, who are of similar ages and who defy the strict gender segregation to forge a friendship.  Some staff members favour these two in a way which feels slightly disturbing and as they are given greater focus in the second half of the book that sentimentality does creep in.

The whole notion of orphanges run in this manner will seem alien to the modern reader especially when compared to the locations of the other London-set books by Collins I have read which feel more readily accessible.  Collins, at the time, as with “Bond Street Story” which has a more or less contemporary time setting as this novel, was writing of the distant past, a historical novel set a generation before, I don’t know how different an early 1950’s institution such as this would be from his focus here.  For the first time in a Collins novel I sensed that I was reading a book which might not be deemed relevant enough to be in print, but having said that, I really enjoyed it.  There were twists I’m kicking myself for not seeing coming and I think that was because the author had drawn me in so much I was unable to step back and see the mechanics of the bigger picture and that represents great story-telling.

The book, as a whole, just falls short of the very best of the three other Collins novels I’ve read and I think it was because of the hospital/school setting rather than anything else but it is another high quality read.

Children Of The Archbishop was published in 1951 by Collins.

People Person – Candice Carty-Williams (Trapeze 2022)

This book has been on my radar since the start of 2021 when I had it as one of my most anticipated books of the year.  It was one of only two I didn’t get round to reading in 2021 from that list and this was because publication was delayed until April 2022.

This does suggest it might have been a troublesome second novel for the author who faced the daunting task of following up her commercial and critical smash “Queenie” which won Book Of The Year at The British Book Awards.

“People Person” focuses on the five children of Cyril Pennington a decidedly absent parent who one day takes his adolescent offspring out to introduce them for the first time to one another so that they will not accidently pair off in the future.  The five, with four different mothers have very infrequent meetings after that until the thirty-year old main character Dimple calls on her older sister when an emergency occurs.  Sister Nikisha rallies the rest who become embroiled in a situation which forges their relationship. 

There is a wider cast of characters in this book and this budding association of half-siblings create a greater warmth and heart than I felt in “Queenie”.  With that book, however much I enjoyed it, I was very aware that I did not fit in with the intended market for it, so felt a bit of an outsider, I did not experience this feeling this time around.

Dimple is good at getting herself in deeper messes and it is heartening that this newly discovered family are prepared to stand by her.  The notion of family is so strong here- this group are beginning to see similarities and differences in each other for the first time in response to the situations Dimple gets herself into.  Father Cyril’s periodic interferences in their lives are amongst the novel’s high spots.  He is seen as the obvious “People Person” of the title but then again he is not because of his fractured family relationships and as a character he provides very good value.  This is a second strong title from Candice Carty-Williams.

People Person was published by Trapeze on 28th April 2022. 

Best Of Friends- Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus 2022)

I loved Kamila Shamsie’s last novel, the 2018 Women’s Prize For Fiction winning “Home Fire” placing it at number 6 in my 2017 Books Of The Year.  Although based on the Ancient Greek myth of Antigone it felt extremely relevant to our world.  There were some big themes tackled and I said that the author “is educating, entertaining and gripping her readers in a manner which explores the potential of the plot in eye-opening, thought-provoking ways.”

No wonder I was looking forward to reading this.  It feels a much less ambitious work, a quieter novel but it still managed to impress.  The best friends are Zahra and Maryam and we first meet them in Karachi in 1988 as two fourteen year olds negotiating adolescence and kissing posters of George Michael.  Their friendship has been strong for years, Zahra is keen to point out the difference between their own close bond with a word she has found in the dictionary “Propinquity- a relationship based on proximity” which is what they feel they have with others.

The first half explores the potential minefields of teenage life for two girls in late 1980s Pakistan excellently.  It feels pitch-perfect, Zahra is coming to terms with physical changes and feelings, the awkwardness and newness of which will bring shudders of recognition.  Maryam, more privileged, feels that her future is mapped out for the with a family leather goods business and a grandfather who sees in her the abilities to take the business on.  She plays cricket with his employees, is popular and has more vision than her own father.  The girls sense new beginnings with the ascendancy of Benazir Bhutto until an event takes them into an unexpected direction.

The second part of the novel takes us to London in 2019 where the friends are now living very different lives.  How far are they the products of their past experience?  The second half is unsurprisingly more political as they attempt to improve the adult world they felt let them down as teenagers, but will their friendship survive?

I loved the first half and enjoyed the second half but for me the novel’s strength is in their teenage Karachi days exploring the girls’ strongly forged friendship with all its intensities and experiences together with the limitations that their environment places on them.  This feels magnified by the bombardment of the myriad mixed messages of their Pakistani upbringing which the author skilfully conveys.

Best Of Friends is published by Bloomsbury Circus on September 27th 2022.   Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

All The Broken Places – John Boyne (Doubleday 2022)

A new John Boyne title is always a reading highlight for me.  I’ve read 7 of his up to now, 4 of which have ended up in my end of year Top 10s. I was both thrilled and made nervous by his decision to write a sequel to his most famous and my 2nd favourite of his, (“The Heart’s Invisible Furies” is probably still my most loved book of the 21st Century so far), “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” (2006) which I read in 2018 when it was runner up in my Books Of The Year to “The Count Of Monte Cristo.”

It is such an impressively self-contained piece that it seems an unlikely and perhaps unnecessary book to have a sequel.  In his Author’s Note John Boyne says he’s been mulling the idea over for years and the isolation of lockdown felt like the right time.  The question for me was, did I want to revisit these characters in another setting?

This is the first-person narrative of Gretel, the sister to Bruno, main character in “Striped Pyjamas” and it follows a dual narrative, one which moves through time from the end of World War II and one taking place in modern day London.  Here, Gretel is a sprightly 91 year old living in a smart apartment in Winterville Court, overlooking Hyde Park, the other narrative explores how Gretel has reached this point in her life.

Unsurprisingly, the central theme in the novel is guilt. Gretel has got to 91 living daily with her family’s involvement in the hostilities in the place Bruno thought was called “Out-With”.  The immediate post-war years saw a need for re-invention in different locations until she settles in London. 

My dilemma here, and I think this will be the case for many readers, is Gretel.  She is realistically rather than sympathetically drawn but I couldn’t help rooting for her and I struggled whether this was the right response, and this was likely to be the author’s intention.  Obviously she has got to an old age thousands were deprived of and there are some extraordinary moments in her past which will stop you in your tracks and will fundamentally change the way you feel about this character in “Striped Pyjamas” and Boyne does extremely well to also convey her effectively as an elderly woman still struggling after many decades to come to terms with her past.

Supporting characters do not seem as well drawn as in other of this author’s novels (especially in the contemporary section) but we are seeing them from Gretel’s perspective and words and she is very wrapped up in herself, so perhaps this is appropriate.  As “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” builds to a big twist there are a couple of those along the way for those readers looking for a big reveal.

I did enjoy this and wanted to know what was going on but my ongoing niggle as to whether a sequel was necessary was unresolved and so I take that as meaning that this book is not as Essential as “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas”.  All of the now 8 Boyne works I have read have had something in them to enrich my life but this  for me does not quite make it into my Top 5 of his novels.  It is thought-provoking and at times really gripping but remains slightly in the shadow of his 2006 masterpiece.

All The Broken Places is published by Doubleday on September 15th 2022.  Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the advance review copy.

Let’s Do It- Bob Stanley (2022)

This is the second non-fiction work with this title I’ve read this year.  First up was a five star biography of Victoria Wood by Jasper Rees, this second “Let’s Do It”  also merits my highest rating.  Subtitled “The Birth Of Pop” by music writer, DJ, film producer and founding member of classy pop act Saint Etienne, Bob Stanley.

I read Bob’s work in “Record Collector” and even when I have no connection with what he is writing about (just a glance at my 100 Essential CD Countdown will show I’m pretty much on the margins for what “Record Collector” considers significant) I always enjoy his column and when I heard about this book decided that this author would probably be up to the gargantuan task he has set himself.

Over nearly 600 pages in the hardback edition Bob Stanley illuminates the history, the chronology and the connections of popular music, giving pretty much equal weight to the US and UK- a parallel history which had points of convergence and divergence over the decades but one in which the UK, until the British Invasion of the 1960s pretty much took the supporting role. 

This is very much the story before the British Invasion.  I haven’t read his critically acclaimed “Yeah Yeah Yeah” (2013) which is a chronicle of modern pop and for which this is a much needed prequel of what went on before and I would say this history, maybe because of its further distance from us could be the more fascinating.

Is there a starting point in the development of popular music?  It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to cite Ragtime and Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” from 1899, the sheet music of which was the first to sell a million copies and  from this point the author is able to track the separation of “serious” classical music to what came to be considered “popular” and its huge significance to our world.  He succinctly sums up the appeal and influence of the major players along the way including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra as well as shining lights on people whose positions attained in the pop hierarchy may not have been as stellar, for one reason or another.

Bob Stanley is a brilliant guide because you do believe he has absorbed all this music from decades before any of us were born and his love of popular music, in all its forms, shine through.  He can be great when he’s not buying it (Al Jolson, Rice/Lloyd Webber, much of Tom Jones) but in a book where the scope is so huge and there’s so many names to be mentioned that half a page suggests an artist who has really made an impact his writing can be outstanding. 

On Nat King Cole;

Gradually his style became sleeker, soft and comforting, but slightly rough, like corduroy.  His delivery, like his piano playing, was relaxed, economical and emphatic.  When he sang you felt like you could trust him completely, and when he told a story, it sounded as if he was making it up off the top of his head.

On the (still) under-rated British singer Matt Monro, who Stanley acknowledges “there was never anything but kindness and warmth in his singing”;

He still looked like the bus conductor he had been before turning pro, like he’d just given the school bully a clip round the ear and chucked him off the 68 to Chalk Farm.  No matter what the exotic setting on his album covers, you could cut the shot of Monro and place him on a Watney’s pub backdrop and it would fit just as well.  A pint of bitter at his side, a fag in his hand.  Never a cigar.  Part of his classiness was that he never looked down on his own.  Monro was a working man’s hero.  In this respect certainly, he was Sinatra’s equal.”

On Shirley Bassey;

“When she sang Sweet Charity’s “Big Spender” in 1967 (wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun?) it was like the hardest girl in school had taken a shine to you and was repeatedly slamming you against her locker door.”

If you had never heard of these three artists Stanley’s interpretation of what made them fit into the pop canon would be enough.

Is there a central character in the way that I suspect (but don’t know) that The Beatles would dominate “Yeah Yeah Yeah”?  Answer- not really because the fickle nature of pop suggests there’s always something else around the corner, those who survive were able to reinvent themselves or their timing was just right to take them onto the next big thing and judging by index references that would be Frank Sinatra (who Bob Stanley really wishes had stuck to his original retirement plan of 1971), Duke Ellington (so influential and who moved back and forth from “serious” to “pop”) and Bing Crosby (who was so popular).  Also hugely significant is the body of songs now known as The Great American Songbook from the greatest songwriters of all time and whose influence can be felt throughout the 500+ pages (and played a very important part in the careers of those I’ve mentioned above).

Reading books about music nowadays is a treat because with Spotify you can be seconds away from listening to performers whose work you would probably never have accessed.  Here are some of the artists I added to playlists whilst reading this book who I feel need to be discovered/rediscovered by me: –

Reginald Foresythe, Henry Hall, Art Tatum, Leslie “Hutch” Hutchinson, Dick Haymes, Frankie Laine, The Andrews Sisters, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, Roy Hamilton, The Tokens, Caterina Valente, Chris Connor, Nat King Cole, Earl Bostic, Sammy Davis Jnr

Reading this book has been a joy and I feel there is more to come in discovering some of the music I read about.  Highly recommended for all music fans and I will very soon be purchasing “Yeah Yeah Yeah” for the next part of the story.

Let’s Do It was published in hardback by Faber in May 2022.

Take It Back – Kia Abdullah (2019)

I came into Kia Abdullah’s legal thrillers at Book 2 with “Truth Be Told” (2020) which blew me away and ended up in my Books Of The Year.  Stand-alone novel “Next Of Kin” (2021) made it two five star reads elevating Kia Abdullah, in my opinion, into the Premier League of contemporary crime-writers.

With a new novel not due until to the start of 2023 I thought I’d catch up with the one I missed out on which introduces Zara Kaleel, a Muslim woman who has given up her six figure lawyer’s post to work in counselling and support at Artemis House- a sexual assault referral centre.  Zara is struggling to adapt to all the changes in her life and one day Jodie arrives at the centre, 16 years old with the disfiguring disability of neurofibromatosis and tells Zara she has been raped by a group of four Muslim teenage boys.  This is a case which can only be explosive- with disability, faith and consent being the triggers and is one which places Zara into great conflict with the Muslim community and her family.  Justice for Jodie takes over Zara’s life but doesn’t reduce any of her demons.

The case does not feel quite as central stage as it is in the other two books.  The author takes time to establish Zara’s character as a strong determined woman who has defied expectations in terms of her career, faith and relationships which adds fuel to the fires of the rape case.  This focus does actually make it feel a little less intense than the subsequent novels but you can really appreciate the author is here honing the skills to knock readers for six in the future.

There’s twists and turns, some anticipated and some I certainly didn’t see coming and the court case is as engrossing as always.  I’m not sure if it felt totally resolved this time round which may grate on some crime readers.  I notice in my reviews of the other two books of hers I’ve read I cannot even bring myself to reveal any details of the cases and I have here because just the bare bones would open up a raft of ramifications whereas the cases in the follow-up books are more complex and you need to be within the narrative to get the full horrors of the implications.

So, whereas this is a really impressive legal thriller I think this author upped a level with Books 2, where Zara supports another case and Book 3, a stand-alone.  Here she is learning to write the crime novel masterpiece which she hits home with next time round.

Take It Back was published by HQ in 2019.

Before The Darkness – Michael Dean (2015)

The other day I was wondering what had become of the author Michael Dean.  I was reminded of his excellent novel “I, Hogarth” (2012) which was one of the first books I reviewed for NB magazine.  It was runner up in my Books Of The Year (to Michelle Lovric’s dastardly “The Book Of Human Skin” (2010)) and I revisited it here on the Blog site in 2015 in my 100 Essential Books Strand.  His depiction of the life of artist William Hogarth, I stated, “ feels like it dates from the eighteenth century and this can only be achieved through immaculate research which plunges us seamlessly into Hogarth’s London.” I haven’t read any more Dean since although I was aware of a book called “The Crooked Cross.”

These reminiscences led to a bit of research and I discovered post-Hogarth Michael Dean has been involved with a five book series sometimes known as “Darkness Into Light” and also as “The Rise And Fall Of The Nazis” of which the aforementioned “The Crooked Cross” is Book 2.

I found it as a cheap 5 volume e-book edition from Sharpe Books and remembering the excellence of “I, Hogarth” gave the first book a go.  This is an account of the events leading up to the assassination in 1922 of Weimar Republic Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, who was Jewish.  It is debatable whether Hitler’s rise to power would have happened without this event as Rathenau was on the verge of bringing about the renegotiation of the Treaty Of Versailles, which was one of the main causes, as we no doubt remember from school history lessons of Hitler’s ascendancy and World War II.

Story-wise this is gripping stuff. I knew nothing about Rathenau and the build-up to his demise is genuinely grim.  However, and this entailed quite a bit of double-checking to see whether this was in fact the same Michael Dean whose handling of historical fiction I had so loved before, the style is bizarre, making it one of the oddest books I have read in a while.

Dean is here very factual, outlining the events as in a non-fiction work.  There’s a messy prologue which I had to read a couple of times to make sense of and even in the main text his style seems like notes or an outline for what could have been a tremendous novel.  Occasionally, scenes are developed, particularly here in terms of Rathenau’s homosexuality which left him vulnerable to blackmail and this together with increasing hatred of his religion amongst parts of German society gives the man a very strong personal dimension to write about.  But Dean could have done so much more with this material.  The research is impeccable, but unlike in “I, Hogarth” he does not consistently do the next step of merging that research into the fiction.  This seems to be an odd stylistic choice here as this is an author who can really bring history to life.  Here his telling rather than showing his audience is off balance which feels ultimately unsatisfactory.  When the facts are developed it’s good but it is not done to an extent that I would have hoped for in this short novel.  I’m wondering if this was a kind of tacked-on prequel as it was the second in the series “The Crooked Cross” that I knew about prior to this.  All is certainly not lost and I remain interested in the series but I think that the potential to develop the life of this significant man into a superb slab of fiction has been slightly missed.

Before The Darkness was published by Sharpe Books in 2015.  It is published as a stand-alone but it is better value at the moment to buy the five book “Darkness Into Light” collection.