TBR Thursday 279…

Episode 279

The TBR has been see-sawing during my little break – up, down, up, down, up – finally coming to rest down 1 to 199. However, it looks like the bookshops might be re-opening next week and I may be forced to go on a pilgrimage…

book buying gif

Here are a few I should be getting to soon…

Historical Fiction

The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits

The Slaughterman's DaughterCourtesy of Quercus via NetGalley. I normally avoid books with titles that make women seem like adjuncts of men – The Gigolo’s Wife, The Undertaker’s Widow, The Comedian’s Mother-In-Law, etc., etc. – but the blurb of this one broke through the barrier of my antipathy…

The Blurb says: An epic historical adventure novel—Fiddler on the Roof meets Tarantino—set in the Pale of Settlement during the final years of the Russian Empire.

The townsfolk of Motal, a small town in the Pale of Settlement where nothing extraordinary ever happens, are shocked when Fanny Keismann—devoted wife, mother of five and celebrated cheese farmer—leaves her home at two hours past midnight and vanishes into the night. True, the husbands of Motal have been vanishing for years, but a wife and mother? Whoever heard of such a thing. What on earth possessed her?

Could it have anything to do with Fanny’s missing brother-in-law, who left her sister almost a year ago and ran away to Minsk, abandoning his family to destitution and despair? Or could Fanny have been lured away by Zizek Breshov, the mysterious ferryman on the Yaselda river, who, in a strange twist of events, seems to have disappeared on the same night? Surely there can be no link between Fanny and the peculiar roadside murder on the way to Telekhany, which has left Colonel Piotr Novak, head of the Russian secret police, scratching his head. Surely that could have nothing to do with Fanny Keismann, whatever her past, whatever her reputation as a wilde chayeh, a wild beast . . .

Surely not.

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Thriller

The Chill Factor by Richard Falkirk

The Chill FactorAnother unsolicited one courtesy of the good people at Collins Crime Club, this appears to be a re-release to mark the 50th anniversary of the original publication. I’ve never heard of the book or the author, but the blurb makes it sound just my kind of thing… fingers crossed! 

The Blurb says: Iceland. In the winter it gets light at 10am and dark at 2pm. The daily announcement of the Chill Factor allows you to calculate how quickly you could die from exposure…

Iceland is erupting – and not just its volcano.

It is 1971, the height of the Cold War, and anti-American feeling among Icelanders is running high. When a teenager is found dead after a drunken night out, her clothes torn and face bruised, anger is directed towards the military personnel at the NATO air base at Keflavik who outnumber the local population.

British agent Bill Conran, invited by the Americans to uncover a Russian spy ring, comes to realise that this is no routine assignment. Unsure who can be trusted, and targeted by an unknown assassin, he discovers that Iceland, for all its cold beauty, has never been hotter.

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Crime

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The SurvivorsCourtesy of Little, Brown Book Group UK via NetGalley. I’ve enjoyed all of Jane Harper’s books so far, though to varying degrees. Her settings are always one of her main strengths so I’m all packed for a trip to the beach…

The Blurb says: Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on a single day when a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that haunts him still resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal town he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a community which is bound, for better or worse, to the sea that is both a lifeline and a threat. Between them all is his absent brother Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge in the murder investigation that follows. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

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Shardlake on Audio

Revelation by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

RevelationContinuing my re-read of the Shardlake books via audio, this is the fourth in the series, again narrated by Steven Crossley. These books get longer as the series progresses, and this one clocks in at over 21 hours, so at the glacial speed I get through audiobooks I may be listening to it for several weeks!  

The Blurb says: Spring, 1543. King Henry VIII is wooing Lady Catherine Parr, whom he wants for his sixth wife. But this time the object of his affections is resisting. Archbishop Cranmer and the embattled Protestant faction at court are watching keenly, for Lady Catherine is known to have reformist sympathies. Meanwhile, a teenage boy, a religious maniac, has been placed in the Bedlam hospital for the insane. When an old friend of Matthew Shardlake is murdered, his investigations lead to connections to both, and to the prophecies of the book of Revelation. Shardlake follows a trail of horrific murders that are igniting frenzied talk of witchcraft and demonic possession. For what else would the Tudor mind make of a serial killer…?

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 264…

Episode 264

Three out, three in this week, so the TBR remains beautifully balanced on193…

Oh, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed it’s nearly Christmas…

Dickens at Christmas

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

As always, I’ll be spending the festive season in the company of my old friend, Charles Dickens. I was going to re-read The Mystery of Edwin Drood this year, but then Rose’s review of this one reminded me that it’s the only one of the novels I’ve never read. An unread Dickens! What a treat!

The Blurb says: One of Dickens’s most haunting and bizarre novels, The Old Curiosity Shop is the story of “Little Nell” and her persecution by the grotesque and lecherous Quilp. It is a shifting kaleidoscope of events and characters as the story reaches its tragic climax, an ending that famously devastated the novel’s earliest readers. Dickens blends naturalistic and allegorical styles to encompass both the actual blight of Victorian industrialization and textual echoes of Bunyan, the Romantic poets, Shakespeare, pantomine, and Jacobean tragedy. This edition uses the Clarendon text, the definitive edition of the novels of Charles Dickens, and includes the original illustrations.

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Christmas Fiction

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

Courtesy of Penguin Classics via NetGalley. I’ve only read Capote’s In Cold Blood before, and this couldn’t really sound any more different…

The Blurb says: Tender and bittersweet, these stories by Truman Capote, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, are a captivating tribute to the Christmas season.

Selected from across Capote’s writing life, they range from nostalgic portraits of childhood to more unsettling works that reveal the darkness beneath the festive glitter. In the Deep South of Capote’s youth, a young boy, Buddy, and his beloved maiden ‘aunt’ Sook forage for pecans and whiskey to bake into fruitcakes, make kites – too broke to buy gifts – and rise before dawn to prepare feasts for a ragged assembly of guests; it is Sook who teaches Buddy the true meaning of good will. In other stories, an unlikely festive miracle, of sorts, occurs at a local drugstore; a lonely woman has a troubling encounter in wintry New York. Brimming with feeling, these sparkling tales convey both the wonder and the chill of Christmas time.

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Christmas Horror Stories

Spirits of the Season edited by Tanya Kirk

This is from the BL’s excellent Tales of the Weird series, one that I missed when it came out a couple of years ago. Should complement my Dickens reading nicely, and keep the porpy occupied while I eat turkey sandwiches…

The Blurb says: Festive cheer turns to maddening fear in this new collection of seasonal hauntings, presenting the best Christmas ghost stories from the 1860s to the 1940s.

The traditional trappings of the holiday are turned upside down as restless spirits disrupt the merry games of the living, Christmas trees teem with spiteful pagan presences, and the Devil himself treads the boards at the village pantomime.

As the cold night of winter closes in and the glow of the hearth begins to flicker and fade, the uninvited visitors gather in the dark in this distinctive assortment of Yuletide chillers.

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Shardlake on Audio

Sovereign by CJ Sansom read by Steven Crossley

It would have been nice if I could have rounded the post off with another Christmassy one, but I’ve already started this one and they’re always so long I might well still be listening to it at Christmas! I’m still thoroughly enjoying Steven Crossley’s readings of this great series…

The Blurb says: Autumn, 1541. King Henry VIII has set out on a spectacular Progress to the North to attend an extravagant submission by his rebellious subjects in York.

Already in the city are lawyer Matthew Shardlake and his assistant Jack Barak. As well as legal work processing petitions to the King, Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a secret mission for Archbishop Cranmer – to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator who is to be returned to London for interrogation.

But the murder of a York glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York Castle but to the royal family itself. And when Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret documents which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfolds that will lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age . . .

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Amazon UK or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake 2) by CJ Sansom

Cromwell’s secret weapon…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It is 1540, and lawyer Matthew Shardlake has taken on the case of a girl who has been charged with the murder of her young cousin. The girl, Elizabeth, is refusing to speak, partly from shock perhaps, but she also seems to be full of rage. If she won’t plead she knows she will be subjected to torture, but still she keeps her silence. At the last moment, Shardlake finds that she is to be given a temporary reprieve – twelve days more in the Hole at Newgate prison before the torture begins, unless Shardlake can get to the truth of what happened before then. But then Shardlake learns that the reprieve has been the work of the King’s vicar general, Thomas Cromwell. And in return, Cromwell wants Shardlake to do a job for him – one that may save Cromwell from the King’s growing displeasure…

The two cases in this story are completely separate and quite different from each other, providing the kind of contrast that always makes the Shardlake books so enjoyable. While the Cromwell strand takes us deep into the machinations of the powerful men vying for the King’s favour, Elizabeth’s story is far away from politics, set in her merchant uncle’s home. This allows Sansom to roam widely through the streets of London, and the various types and classes of people who populate them.

Cromwell provides Shardlake with a new assistant, a tough young commoner by the name of Jack Barak who was once helped by Cromwell and now feels a great loyalty to him. Shardlake’s feelings are more mixed – he has been appalled by some of the things Cromwell has done in the name of Reform, including torturing and burning heretics, and is no longer as enthusiastic a Reformer as he once was. However, when Cromwell demands service a man has to be very brave or very foolish to refuse, and Shardlake is neither, plus he knows it’s the only way to gain time to investigate Elizabeth’s case.

Greek Fire, known in the book as “dark fire”

Cromwell has been told that the formula for an ancient weapon once used by the Byzantines, known as “dark fire”, has been rediscovered. Having told King Henry, he has now discovered that the men who promised to supply it to him have been murdered. Cromwell is already on extremely shaky ground with the King since it was he who arranged the marriage to Anne of Cleves, which turned out to be a disaster, and he knows that if he fails to provide the promised new weapon the King will be even more furious. Now the King has set his amorous sights on young Catherine Howard and Cromwell fears that, if she becomes Queen, then her uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, will take Cromwell’s place as the second most important man in the land. So he tasks Shardlake with finding the murderers and, more importantly, with finding either the supply of dark fire he has been promised or at least the formula for it.

Elizabeth had been recently orphaned and sent to live in her Uncle Edwin’s family. She never fitted in with her cousins, two girls and a boy, all of whom seemed to enjoy teasing her about her less refined manners. But when she is accused of having killed the boy by throwing him down the well, her other uncle, Joseph, refuses to believe her guilty. It is he who begs Shardlake to take her case, and as Shardlake and Barak investigate, they will find that there are dark secrets in this family – dark and dangerous.

Both stories are very well told, and Sansom keeps the balance between them well, never losing sight of either for too long. Although Barak’s job is to help Shardlake with the dark fire investigation, he is happy to help with Elizabeth’s case too, especially since in some ways she reminds him of himself when he too found himself in trouble at a young age. Despite having little in common, the rough commoner Barak and the cultured lawyer Shardlake gradually begin to find a mutual respect for each other, and even the beginnings of friendship.

CJ Sansom

As always, the historical setting feels completely authentic, both in terms of the high events surrounding the King and court, and in the depiction of how people lived and worked at this period. Sansom gives an amazing amount of detail about all sorts of things, from the dinner-tables of the high and mighty to the inns and brothels of the poorer parts of the city, and manages to do this seamlessly as part of the story so that it never feels like an info dump. It becomes an immersive experience, and I always feel a sense of dislocation when I return to the modern world. Both plots in this one are interesting, although I found myself more involved in the more personal one of Elizabeth and her family than in Cromwell and his political shenanigans. Brother Guy from the first book is now in London working as an apothecary. He and Matthew have become firm friends and he plays an important role in this book, which is an added bonus for me since he’s one of my favourite characters.

I listened to the audiobook this time, which is wonderfully narrated by Steven Crossley. I will admit his voice for Barak didn’t chime with my own idea of how he should sound at first but I soon got used to it. His Shardlake is perfect, though, and he uses a huge variety of tones and accents for the other people in what is a pretty vast cast of characters. It makes such a difference to ease of listening when each character is so clearly differentiated, especially in such a long book.

So, an excellent second outing for Shardlake and, in common with all the books in this series, gets my highest recommendation.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 250…

Episode 250

A huge drop in the TBR this week – down 3 to 205! The plan of reading all the shortest books is beginning to pay off. It’s so exhilarating!

Here are a few more that should slide off soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey

It was exciting this week! For quite a while there was no clear leader and then gradually the eventual winner pulled away from the field and slowly developed a commanding lead. From the comments, many of you were attracted by the title. Me too! I’m sure that’s what made me buy it way back in 2015. Intriguing choice, People! I plan to read and review it by the end of October.

The Blurb says: Alafair Tucker is a strong woman, the core of family life on a farm in Oklahoma where the back-breaking work and daily logistics of caring for her husband Shaw, their nine children, and being neighborly requires hard muscle and a clear head. She’s also a woman of strong opinions, and it is her opinion that her neighbor, Harley Day, is a drunkard and a reprobate. So, when Harley’s body is discovered frozen in a snowdrift one January day in 1912, she isn’t surprised that his long-suffering family isn’t, if not actually celebrating, much grieving.

When Alafair helps Harley’s wife prepare the body for burial, she discovers that Harley’s demise was anything but natural—there is a bullet lodged behind his ear. Alafair is concerned when she hears that Harley’s son, John Lee, is the prime suspect in his father’s murder, for Alafair’s seventeen-year-old daughter Phoebe is in love with the boy. At first, Alafair’s only fear is that Phoebe is in for a broken heart, but as she begins to unravel the events that led to Harley’s death, she discovers that Phoebe might be more than just John Lee’s sweetheart: she may be his accomplice in murder.

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Short Stories

Thirst by Ken Kalfus

In recent years, Kalfus has become one of my favourite authors and I’m gradually working my way through his back catalogue. This was his first collection of short stories, I believe. This, and the next two books, are all from my 20 Books of Summer list…

The Blurb says: Distinguished by black comedy and an international perspective, Ken Kalfus’ stories frequently fold into each other and are most often about the abrupt dislocation of people bumping into different cultures, be they real, hallucinated, dreamed, or desired. His characters — which include an endless line of refugees fleeing Sarajevo with no particular destination, an Irish au pair plagued by her own psychosexual fears in a Paris science museum, and an entirely fictitious baseball league — are constantly thumping their heads against a shifting reality. Kalfus’ sympathetic portraits of human beings caught in the tectonic cultural shifts that disrupt our lives are frequently hilarious, consistently touching, and powerfully creative.

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Vintage Crime

The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly

After a little spate of books from authors they’d previously published, the BL seems to be back to adding “new” authors to their list, and it’s always fun not quite knowing what to expect. I like the idea of that corpse in the clay!

The Blurb says: Shentall’s, a long-established institution of the Staffordshire Potteries industry, is under attack. With its designs leaked to international competition and its prices undercut, private investigator Hedley Nicholson has been tasked with finding the culprit of the suspected sabotage.

But, industrial espionage may just be the beginning. Delving further into the churning heart of Shentall’s Pottery, Nicholson’s prying is soon to unearth rumours of bonds cruelly smashed to pieces, grievances irrevocably baked in stone and a very real body, turning and turning in the liquid clay.

First published in 1961, The Spoilt Kill received widespread critical acclaim and praise from contemporary crime writers such as Julian Symons. It was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger and remains a finely crafted masterpiece of the crime genre.

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Classic Fiction

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Given my lifelong love affair with Jane Austen, I can’t think why I’ve never read this before. Time to correct that omission!

The Blurb says: Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

PS New laptop arriving later so I’ll catch up on comments and your posts once I’m up and running – might be later today, might be three weeks on Tuesday, depending on how quickly I can get it all set up. If you hear loud sobbing coming from a northerly direction, send me chocolate! Typing on my old lappy has become nightmarish now that I have to bang repeatedly on the “y” key every time I need to use it. Have you ever tried writing reviews using only words without a “y” in them? It’s reall, reall annoing, I can tell ou!

TBR Thursday 243…

Episode 243

The TBR has remained steady over the last couple of weeks with a few drifting out and a few drifting in – still 208. The reading slump continues, the reviewing slump continues – fortunately, there hasn’t been either a chocolate slump or a cake slump, or life would be truly intolerable!

A couple of review-along announcements to start with:

  1. A Month in the Country review-along. This is one of my 20 Books of Summer and Sandra suggested we should read and review it at the same time. Sounds like a great idea to me, so we’ve set 31st August as the date for our synchronised reviews. Alyson and Christine (both non-bloggers at the moment, though I’m working on it 😉 ) have already joined in and anyone else is welcome to jump aboard! The rules are simple – either review it on your blog on 31st August or if you prefer leave your views in the comments section on my review and/or the reviews of anyone else who reviews it. I’ll put links to any other reviews on my own.
  2. Tender is the Night review-along. This didn’t win last week’s People’s Choice but Alyson suggested it would be fun to read it at the same time and discuss. Another great idea! Since then Sandra and Eva have said they might join in too, and again, anyone else is welcome! Same rules – we haven’t set a firm date for reviews yet, but I’m proposing 26th October. Anyone who’s thinking of joining in, especially you, Alyson, of course, please let me know in the comments if that date does or doesn’t suit you.

Doesn’t that all sound like fun? 😀

Here are a few more I might or might not miss dinner for…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Excellent choice, People, especially since it will fit in well with my plan to read some lighter stuff for a while till my slump lifts! Tender is the Night stayed in the race but was always a furlong or two behind, and I fear the other two collapsed on the verge just a few yards from the starting line. This will be my introduction to Zouroudi and her detective, more or less, except for one short story I read and enjoyed in an anthology several years ago. It’s been on my TBR since 2014. I plan to read and review it by the end of August.

The Blurb says: Idyllic but remote, the Greek island of Thiminos seems untouched and untroubled by the modern world. So when the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the local police – governed more by archaic rules of honor than by the law – are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further into the crime he believes has been committed. Refusing to accept the woman’s death as an accident or suicide, Hermes Diaktoros sets out to uncover the truths that skulk beneath this small community’s exterior.

Hermes’s methods of investigation are unorthodox, and his message to the islanders is plain – tell the truth or face the consequences. Before long, he’s uncovering a tale of passion, corruption and murder that entangles many of the island’s residents. But Hermes brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies – and as he travels the rugged island landscape to investigate, questions and suspicions arise amongst the locals. Who has sent him to Thiminos, and on whose authority is he acting? And how does he know of dramas played out decades ago?

Rich in images of Greece’s beautiful islands and evoking a life unknown to most outsiders, this wonderful novel leads the reader into a world where the myths of the past are not forgotten and forbidden passion still has dangerous consequences.

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English Classic

The African Queen by CS Forester

One from my Classics Club list. I’ve seen a couple of reviews that suggest this is one case where the film perhaps is better than the book, but since the film is brilliant that’s hardly surprising! And happily, I have the DVD lined up for a re-watch after I’ve read it…

The Blurb says: As World War I reaches the heart of the African jungle, Charlie Allnutt and Rose Sayer, a dishevelled trader and an English spinster missionary, find themselves thrown together by circumstance. Fighting time, heat, malaria, and bullets, they make their escape on the rickety steamboat The African Queen…and hatch their own outrageous military plan. Originally published in 1935, The African Queen is a tale replete with vintage Forester drama – unrelenting suspense, reckless heroism, impromptu military manoeuvres, near-death experiences – and a good old-fashioned love story to boot.

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Fiction

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

And finally! What other choice could I possibly make for the final book in my mammoth Around the World in 80 Books challenge? This will be a re-read from a long time ago, and Oxford World’s Classics have kindly provided me with a copy, so the intro and notes will make it even more fun to read…

The Blurb says: One night in the reform club, Phileas Fogg bets his companions that he can travel across the globe in just eighty days. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, he immediately sets off for Dover with his astonished valet Passepartout. Passing through exotic lands and dangerous locations, they seize whatever transportation is at hand—whether train or elephant—overcoming set-backs and always racing against the clock.

Around the World in Eighty Days has been a bestseller for over a century, but it has never before appeared in a critical edition. While most translations misread or even abridge the original, this stylish version is completely true to Verne’s classic, moving as fast and as brilliantly as Phineas Fogg’s own race against time. Around the World in Eighty Days offers a strong dose of post-romantic reality but not a shred of science fiction: its modernism lies instead in the experimental technique and Verne’s unique twisting of space and time.

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Historical Fiction on Audion

Dissolution by CJ Sansom

Sansom’s Shardlake books are my favourite historical fiction series of all time. I’ve been meaning to re-read them for ages but never seem able to fit them in. So I decided to try the first one on audio since on the whole I prefer listening to books I’ve already read. The narrator is Steven Crossley – I haven’t come across him before but the reviews of his narrations are very positive…

The Blurb says: The first book in the best-selling Shardlake series. It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066.

Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries.

There can only be one outcome: dissolution. But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes….

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?