“Horror in Hades!” #sepulchrestreet @medwardsbooks


Today I’m delighted to be taking part in a blog tour; I do these occasionally and the book in question was one I was really keen to explore. The author, Martin Edwards, has made regular appearances on the blog, most often for his masterful work curating the British Library Crime Classics series. However, I also covered his monumental history of the genre, “The Life of Crime“, which was such an impressive achievement. And so when I was approached to see if I’d be interested in reading his new title, the fourth book in the Rachel Savernake series of mysteries, I jumped at the chance. Edwards is very highly regarded in the world of crime writing, as can be seen from the quotes on the cover of this book; and his crime novels are set in Golden Age territory. I did wonder if coming into the series at book 4 would present any issues, but I’m very happy to report that it didn’t – and I found “Sepulchre Street” a delight from start to finish!

This mystery is set in the 1930s, a decade of change in Britain and a time, post-Wall Street Crash, when many were struggling to make a living. As the book opens, the glamorous Rachel Savernake is attending a private view of an exhibition by the controversial artist, Damaris Gethin. The latter is clearly in a highly-strung state, which is probably not helped by the location of the exhibition; it features tableaux of famous murderers in a gallery called Hades, and the setting is dark, gloomy and unsettling. Damaris corners Rachel (who’s known as an effective private detective of sorts) and demands that the latter brings Damaris’s killer to justice. Since Damaris is still very much alive, this seems an odd request; and as the artist then goes on to commit suicide, publicly and very dramatically, the request seems even stranger…

Also present at the private view is Jacob Flint, reporter for the Clarion newspaper, and a man who’s worked with Rachel before, being somewhat fascinated by her. He’s in pursuit of a society beauty, Kiki de Villiers, who has a mysterious past. A certain Major Roddy Malam is in attendance, and he’s demonstrating an interest in Rachel. Is it significant that they were invited to the viewing? When news leaks out of the return to England of the dangerous gangster, Marcel Ambrose, a man previously thought dead and whose violent tendencies are legendary, many of the protagonists of the story are concerned, not least of all Scotland Yard’s Inspector Oakes, who regards Rachel a little warily, although he’s in awe of her detective skills. What develops is a complex and deeply satisfying mystery which draws in changing identities, 1930s gangster violence, the emotional entanglements of the very high and mighty, some very worried civil servants and even a paid assassin! It’s a fascinating mix, and thoroughly engrossing from start to finish.

It has to be said that Martin Edwards really can write. His plotting and narrative are brilliantly done, and he weaves together marvellous threads which culminate in some wonderfully dramatic climaxes throughout the book. Sepulchre Street itself is tucked away down in Rye, and there’s a particular section of the narrative which draws a number of characters to the town, all converging on that one area and driven by different motives – really clever! There are multiple plot elements but Edwards never loses his grip on these, and the final resolution is one I would never have guessed!

There are so many intriguing aspects of “Sepulchre Street”, not least the issues which Edwards introduces. His knowledge of the period is comprehensive, and one particular element is handled with great sensitivity (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) He also builds in some lovely little in-jokes and references to GA crime which I really enjoyed! The settings are vividly drawn and atmospheric, and I really felt I was inside the action – the book is quite a page-turner. Although rooted in a period when GA crime flourished, Edwards’ narrative introduces harder-edged elements at times, and there is a real sense of threat, particularly from Ambrose and his cronies. They’re a nasty bunch, and although the action is not gratuitously graphic, enough is said for the reader to be very keen to avoid falling into their clutches…

As well as plot and setting, Edwards really excels when it comes to characters. His players are lively, entertaining and very well conjured; I was particularly impressed by his ability to draw such strong female characters, and also to weave some of those issues women face into his plot without them ever sounding forced. Central to the narrative, of course, is Rachel Savernake herself, and although I haven’t read any of her previous exploits, enough was said about her backstory for me to fill in her past. The daughter of grim Judge Savernake, she seems to have had a childhood under his thumb which went to form her singular character. Self-taught, as were her loyal band of retainers the Truemans (who are more like friends and colleagues), she combines beauty and intelligence, and is a most engaging heroine. I loved how she always seemed in complete control, particularly when Jacob is failing to cope!!

It’s probably obvious that I thoroughly enjoyed this clever, absorbing and entertaining book; it succeeds on all levels, mixing a wonderfully conjured Golden Age setting with excellent plot and characters, and the pace never flags. I was on tenterhooks at some points in the story, rooting for the goodies and deploring the baddies; but the story is never simplistic, and Edwards has his characters display some real sensitivity towards those they’re pursuing. There’s definitely the feeling that Rachel in particular is driven by a need for excitement, mysteries to solve and dangerous living, rather than simple crime fighting! Entertainingly, Edwards provides a Clue Finder at the end which reveals points in the story where attentive readers would have picked up important hints to the motives and solutions which was a lovely touch. “Sepulchre Street” was a wonderful read, and I’m now very keen to go back to the start and exploring the adventures of Rachel Savernake from the very beginning! 😀

(Review copy kindly provided by Head of Zeus, for which many thanks!)

Rebuilding the Parisian Landscape @ShinyNewBooks @HoZ_Books


It’s probably been fairly noticeable over the past year or so that I’ve developed quite an interest in the French Revolution (as well as the side aspect of iconoclasm during that conflict…); so when the opportunity arose to review a new book from Head of Zeus about the reconstruction of Paris during the 1800s, I was of course very interested indeed….

“City of Light” by Rupert Christiansen is a beautiful hardback book, lavishly illustrated and full of fascinating information about the knocking down of the mediaeval street plan and the building of the boulevards in Paris. It also puts the changes very firmly in context, clarifying much of what can be a very complex period of French history. The book raises a number of issues, and it struck a number of nerves with me. I find myself very conflicted about the amount of razing to the ground and rebuilding that happens nowadays, particularly when it’s done with little regard for the humans that have to live and work in the areas concerned.

By http://www.geographicus.com/mm5/cartographers/ [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

And the changes taking place around Charing Cross Road and Soho in London I actually find really upsetting. When I first started visiting the area in the late 1970s/early 1980s, there were so many parts that had been unchanged for decades; you could wander down a little side street and find a cafe with 1950s formica tables and small glass coffee cups and saucers; and it was easy (and entertaining!) to get lost in the back streets of Soho. However, so much of that character has been knocked out of the area in the name of progress; and when I met up with my brother (plus Middle child and Partner) in January, he was cursing the gentrification of Soho, and how difficult it was for us just to find a damn pub to grab a quick drink in… I know where he’s coming from!

So this is a book that looks at a historical landmark that is still very relevant to what’s happening around us today. My review is at Shiny here, so please do pop over and have a look.


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