Author Archives: Peter

Books: Blue Water

Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass is the first-person account of an intriguing trip across the Atlantic on the mail ship, Tankerville, in the company of some scheming passengers such as two fugitive French aristocrats, an American cotton plantation owner, an Irish performer who may or may not be a spy, and a maybe-freed slave.

Blue Water by Leonora Nattrass

The story is written as the personal report of a disgraced ex-clerk from Britain’s Foreign Office, Mr Laurance Jago. Blue Water is set entirely aboard the mail ship Tankerville as it sails from Britain down the Spanish coast to Northern Africa, west to the Caribbean and then north to Philadelphia. Heading across the Atlantic, the captain discovers a shortage of fresh water and returns to a Portuguese port where they are harassed by a French war ship. Readers of Patrick O’Brian’s Master & Commander series will be in their element as they read of the ongoing harassment and eventual encounter with the French war ship.

Mr Laurence Jago is in fact not a former Foreign Office clerk. His secret mission is to help a civil servant charged with the safe delivery of a most-important treaty to the US Congress. The treaty will stop the Americans joining the French in their war against Britain. The civil servant who hid the Treaty for safekeeping is ‘accidentally’ killed and so Mr Jago now faces the task of finding the Treaty’s hiding place. He realizes that several of the other passengers also want to find the treaty and suspects both the captain, some of the officers and most of the crew of also seeking the treaty for financial reward. A second death makes Mr Jago realize he must find the Treaty quickly, if no one else already has, and, to add to the tension, that he may be the killer’s next target.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers of mystery and suspense and to the niche group of readers of historical maritime novels. The plot is well-paced, but don’t expect thrilling naval chases and battles. This is an interesting and extended interaction between richly-crafted and intriguing characters. The language is appropriate for the era and we are treated to a descriptive glimpse into ship life to such an extent that the plot and the finale were less significant to my enjoyment of the book than the whole story which I savoured rather than devoured.  

Books: The Bookseller of Inverness

The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. MacLean is a thoroughly enjoyable and intriguing historical thriller set in Inverness in the years shortly after the Battle of Culloden.

The Bookseller of Inverness by S.G. MacLean

In Inverness, Iain MacGillivray, a survivor of Culloden, is living a quiet life as a bookseller, until a stranger appears in his shop, looking for a particular book although he refuses to say the title. The next morning Iain finds the customer with his throat cut and a Jacobite sword and a white flower next to the corpse. What follows is a frantic hunt for the coded book that will name the remaining traitors of the Jacobite movement – and a growing list of victims. Iain’s father, long-thought to have been killed, appears and whisks Iain along on an exciting search for the book while trying to avoid capture by the English Redcoats.

I utterly enjoyed this book. The characters are wonderfully created, especially a grumpy drunkard bookbinder and the rascal boy who plays the role of sneaky messenger to perfection. The occasional use of language from the time, detailed descriptions of the houses, the food, and street-life added to the overall historical effect. The occasional boat rides and treks through the Highlands were realistic and tension-filled. The plot is well-paced keeping the reader enthused and intrigued and guessing in equal measures. Politics and nascent revolutions are a dangerous and complex business and keeping up with the changing loyalties is near-impossible. That’s what this story is about and the author captures the dynamism of the time well.

Books: The Lost Boy

The Lost Boy by Jane Renshaw is a wonderfully-crafted suspense story with some elegant twists in the nature of the characters.

The Lost Boy by Jane Renshaw

Penny and Rod Clarke and their two young, not-well-behaved boys, Freddie and Alfie accept Anna’s offer of a holiday a remote Scottish island. Rod is excited to see the island’s birdlife. Penny is excited to have some time away from the stress of trying to keep the family’s business alive. The two boys are not excited by anything, unhappy to be on an island with nothing to do and they soon make their feelings known. In fact, they’re both badly-behaved, spoilt brats.

Anna’s husband is out in the North Sea on a fishing boat and her teenage son is staying with her sister and brother-in-law on the mainland where he attends school. They’ll both be home soon.

But Penny is suspicious of Anna and does some snooping and sure enough… but by this time, Freddie has gone missing. He’s run off before so Anna is not too concerned. Rod returns from bird watching though and accuses Anna of negligence again and the incident becomes the subject of a major rift between Penny and Rod and then becomes the subject of an extensive search exercise – police, islanders, fishing boats, a helicopter… but no Freddie. Anna is even searching the island’s coastline in her small yacht.

And then Rod goes missing.

I’ll leave the description there because I don’t want to spoil the plot twists and intrigue that develops and creates the essence of the story. Suffice to say, the story is well-constructed, with a number of twists, one of which is the bad characters become good and the good characters become bad. And the ending is well worth waiting for.

Books: The Barra Boy

The Barra Boy by Iain Kelly is carefully-crafted and intriguing exploration into Ewan Fraser’s childhood and an absolute pleasure to read.

The Barra Boy by Iain Kelly

Ewan Fraser is an ageing lawyer in a London office. He grew up in Glasgow but that was a long time ago. He’s on ‘close friends’ basis with a woman who works in the next building and they meet daily for morning coffee. Ewan Fraser’s life is predictable and safe until one morning, from the train, he sees a face from the past. Billy Matheson. Ewan is reminded of a summer on Barra and the unanswered questions he left behind when he departed suddenly to attend his mother’s funeral. Seeing Billy Matheson’s face, it wasn’t him of course, it was so many years ago, Ewan is sufficiently troubled as to immediately take leave and fly to Glasgow and then to Barra.

It is 1982 and 13-year-old Ewan has been dispatched from his home in Glasgow to Barra to live with his aunt and uncle, leaving his father to attend to his dying mother.

Ewan is downbeat; instead of helping his sick mother he’s facing a tedious summer on remote and sparsely-populated Barra. His aunt is well-meaning and his uncle, Ewan’s father’s brother, is rather grim. To add to Ewan’s first and less-than-positive impressions of the island’s inhabitants, he sees a younger boy hiding in a cave at a beach. The boy runs off without speaking. Ewan’s aunt and uncle make it very clear that Ewan must have nothing to do with Billy, but refuse to say why. ‘You’re too young to understand.’ The boy, Billy Matheson, appears again on another day making Ewan feel he is being followed.

Ewan makes friends with a local girl, Laura, and together they explore the island by bicycle. One day they’re joined at a beach by Billy and his mother Mhairi. Mhairi and her son are shunned by the other islanders and Ewan wants to know why. He and Laura overhear a snippet of a heated conversation between the Catholic priest and Mhairi and that leads Ewan to the church where he eavesdrops on a conversation between the priest and Laura’s mother which leads him, eventually, to the truth about Mhairi and Billy.

Ewan’s father calls; his mother has died and he leaves without time to say goodbye to Laura which is why Ewan Fraser, the ageing London lawyer finds himself back on Barra, knocking on the door of Laura Roberston’s house.

Haven’t we all got memories from childhood that don’t make sense? Wouldn’t we all like to travel back in time or place to get the answers to questions that have ached inside us for years?

I loved this book. The characters are carefully crafted, the plot skips along at a very readable pace, indeed the characters are the plot. As we would expect a small community like that on Barra would be complicated and tense and this is communicated to the reader in vivid clarity. The language supports the locations and the destination is well worth the journey. The closing chapters were the perfect ending to the book’s well-constructed literary question.

Books: The Poison Machine

The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd is an absolute cracker of a book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading and whole-heartedly recommend to lovers of suspense, crime, and historical fiction. It is the sequel to The Bloodless Boy but is very readable on its own.

The Poison Machine by Robert J. Lloyd

The protagonist, Harry Hunt, ex-apprentice to Robert Hook of the Royal Society, is charged with solving the murder of the Queen’s dwarf. But as word spreads that he is solving this crime he is approached by a Countess to find a missing/stolen diamond and to find a man now impersonating the Queen’s murdered dwarf in France. In doing so, Harry discovers an elaborate plot to kill the Queen of England and this becomes the book’s central plot line.

When in Paris, staying with the Countess’ sister, Harry has his letter of introduction stolen and soon falls foul of Paris’ head bureaucrat. Very soon he is arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille from where he escapes with the help of an inventor’s flying apparatus. He, a trusted friend and ally and the dwarf whom he found in Paris, make their way back to the coast and then across the channel to London where they begin in earnest to solve the plot against the Queen’s life.

I’d like to share more of the plot but the second half of the book is all unravelling the conspiracies and double-crossings and building to the big finish and it’s all simply too well-crafted to reveal any of that here.

The book is superbly written, borrowing quirky language from the era and using occasional sentences in French for authenticity. The plot is relatively simple and easy to follow. There backdrop of intellectual and scientific discovery through the Royal Society gives the book a strong sense of place in time. The characters, the main ones as well as the supporting characters, are crafted magnificently with eloquent descriptions of both physical appearance and behavior. The book develops some strong relationships between the characters to give the whole story authenticity. All of that is excellent, but the last chapter is a simple and satisfying resolution to the whole story.