CTG’s #bookcrush – The Murder of Harriet Monckton by Elizabeth Haynes



My lovely book crush this week is The Murder of Harriet Monckton by award winning, bestselling author Elizabeth Haynes.

I was immediately attracted to this cover – the statue of a young woman, the creeping ivy twisting around her, and the handwriting hinting at secret notes and lives. I picked it up, read the back and I was hooked!

Because behind the gorgeously intriguing cover lies a Victorian crime novel based on the true story of an unsolved murder.

Here’s the blurb:

“On 7th November 1943 a young woman is found poisoned behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. Drawing on the original coroner’s reports and true witness testimonies, Elizabeth Haynes builds a compelling picture of Harriet Monckton’s final days through the eyes of those closest to her: her fellow teacher and companion, her would-be fiancé, her seducer, and her former landlord and lover. All are suspects. Each has a reason to want her dead.”

 I can’t wait to start reading!

If you like the sound of The Murder of Harriet Monckton you can find out more on Amazon HERE.

CTG Reviews: Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square by William Sutton


To celebrate this marvellous historical crime story being re-published by Titan Books in advance of the second book in the series launching later this year, I’m re-running my review …

What the blurb says: “Murder. Vice. Pollution. London never changes. London, 1859. Novice detective, Campbell Lawless, stumbles onto the trail of Berwick Skelton, an elusive revolutionary, seemingly determined to bring London to its knees through a series of devilish acts of terrorism. But cast into a lethal, intoxicating world of music hall hoofers, industrial sabotage and royal scandal, will Lawless survive long enough to capture this underworld nemesis, before he unleashes his final vengeance on a society he wants wiped from the face of the Earth? Lawless and The Devil of Euston Square is the first of a series of Victorian thrillers featuring London policeman, Campbell Lawless on his rise through the ranks and his initiation as a spy.”

This story is unlike any historical crime novel I’ve read before – it’s fascinating, witty and rather hilarious. Romping along at a jaunty pace, the story is filled with the sights, sounds and smells (and trust me, there are a lot of smells, many of them quite unpleasant!) of Victorian London, whisking you along for the ride.

Campbell Lawless is finding his feet in the detecting profession. He throws himself into his cases, determined to uncover the mysteries behind the ‘great spouts’ of water that spring up at strange locations across the city – outside the recently built Euston Station, at curtain call on a London stage to name a couple; why in a chain of seemingly impossible burglaries of wealthy houses little is taken, and who (and why) someone is stealing the workings of clocks.

Aided by super-smart Librarian, Ruth Villiers, Lawless works tirelessly to piece together the clues he finds, whilst staying on the right side of his rather grumpy boss, Wardle. In the course of his adventure, Lawless has encounters with the men behind the new underground system, newspaper editors, actresses, revolutionaries, and even a Prince. Each player in the story is a well-drawn and fabulously larger-than-life character.

Lawless and the Devil of Euston Square is William Sutton’s debut novel and the first in a series of mysteries featuring London policeman, Campbell Lawless. The next book in the series – Lawless and the Flowers of Sin – is due out in July.

I’m very much looking forward to the next one.


To find out more about William Sutton hop over to his website here and follow him on Twitter @WilliamGeorgeQ


The INTO THE FIRE blog tour: CTG interviews Manda Scott – plus a fab #IntoTheFireComp

INTO THE FIRE cover image

INTO THE FIRE cover image

Today I’m delighted to welcome author Manda Scott to the CTG blog as part of the INTO THE FIRE blog tour. Manda is the author of four critically acclaimed novels about Boudica and, writing as MC Scott, four novels set in Ancient Rome featuring assassin and spy Sebastos Pantera. She is founder and Chair of the Historical Writer’s Association, the Historical Publishers’ Group, Chair of the HWA Debut Crown and of the programming panel for the Harrogate History Festival.

So, to the interview …

Your latest book INTO THE FIRE is out in hardback this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s a dual time line thriller – the contemporary thread is set in 2014 and there’s a historical thread in 1429, when a young girl, who claimed to be a peasant, turned up at Chinon and told the king she had been sent to free France from English rule (I paraphrase, but that was the gist).

In 2014, Inès Picaut is a police chief in Orléans, called to the site of a fire at a hotel, that is clearly arson. It’s the third such fire in as many weeks, but the first in which there is a body – and so she is now leading a murder hunt. The dead man in this case has been burned beyond recognition, but for the fact that he swallowed a USB drive before he died, and it contains three enciphered files which may help Picaut and her team to identify him – a task which becomes ever more pressing as further fires erupt, and more people die.  

In 1429, Tod Rustbeard, a man of French and English nationality, fights on the English side as the self-styled Maid of Orléans breaks the siege of Orléans. As the English defences crumble, he is sent behind enemy lines with an explicit task: to find the truth behind this girl who cannot be what she says she is – and then to use that truth to destroy her.  As he grows ever closer to his quarry, he has to question not only her identity, but his own. 

The two timelines weave together, each informing the other, so that the central question WHO WAS SHE? drives both forward.  I am absolutely convinced that she wasn’t an illiterate peasant girl, but we can talk about that more in the next question.   Beyond that, any good thriller is driven by a mix of anticipation and uncertainty, and each thread has to have its own threats, rhythms, internal questions that make the two together greater than the sum of their parts.

What was it that sparked your idea for writing INTO THE FIRE?

I’d always had an interest in Joan of Arc’s reputation as a woman warrior – having written about Boudica, it at least made sense to take a look at  the next most famous woman warrior – but I always got stuck on the notion that she was a peasant girl who turned up out of nowhere, got on a warhorse and led the troops into battle. Either she was a cipher, a flag-carrier and nothing more… or she had to be trained. If she was the former, I wasn’t interested. If she was the latter, I couldn’t see how it was possible.  Then I read an article that pointed me in the direction of who she could have been and the more I read about it, the more sense it made – until in the end, it seemed to me she couldn’t have been anyone else.  The question of why she had to spin her own lies in the beginning also makes so much more sense once everything falls into place.

Then I learned that the man who proposed this theory first was thrown out of France and even now, is immensely bitter about it – and it seemed to me that this, the current way of looking at her, was the most important.  She has been mis-represented for 600 years, and even now, she’s being held up as an icon of ‘perfect womanhood’ (virginal, godly, republican) by the far right in France.  So iI really wanted to explore how the political movements of the twenty first century hijack the myths of the past – and how they’ll kill to keep that myth intact. I believe absolutely in the maxim of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing, so that meant that if I wanted to do what I thought was possible, it had to be through the vehicle of a dual time line narrative – that I had to *show* who she was in the past, in order for us to understand more deeply the projections and patho-mythologies of the present..  It’s a lot harder to write, but if the author gets it right, it’s immensely satisfying to read.

How would you describe your writing process – do you plot the story out in advance or jump right in and see where it takes you?

I never plot in advance, although if there is a historical thread to the book, then I need to make sure I know the history of who was where, doing what and when – and that I have all the ancillary data correct: the things that bring history alive. But for me to write a book, it needs to live inside me, which means the characters have to have their own freedom and they have to have the power to surprise me. I’d grow bored otherwise, and if I’m bored, then the reader is going to be bored too…

INTO THE FIRE features both an investigation taking place in present day Orleans and a historical timeline featuring Joan of Arc in 1429 – how did you go about researching them?

First, I got on the EuroStar and went to Orléans – that was really key to understanding the dynamics of both past and present.  In anything I write, the characters matter most, their identities and inner integrities and the charisma of the situation, but always, the place shapes its people and Orléans was key to both threads.  Having been there, I spent a very large amount of time reading everything I could about Joan of Arc (and there’s a lot), particularly the transcripts of the two trials – her trial by the English and the ‘rehabilitation trial’ by the French 30 years later that endeavoured to prove she wasn’t really a heretic after all – eye witness statements at the latter were crucial to understanding what actually happened, although of course we have to remember that human memory is flawed and undoubtedly coloured by time.  But still, having got my head around her, the modern day narrative of Picaut and Patrice, her computeroid cyber-brain assistant was fast and furious and most of it just rolled out almost unaided. I’m very wary of people who say that books write themselves, because they never do, but some are less effort than others and this bit flowed particularly sweetly – I revelled in the cyber-crime aspects, and the breaking of ciphers.  I’d written a series of spy thrillers just before and the cadences of that were still working their way through.

What was it that first attracted you to writing crime fiction?

I read Val McDermid’s Lyndsey Gordon series back in the 90s and fell in love with the genre. I wrote HEN’S TEETH in the late 90s because I thought I needed the exigencies of plot to help me complete a novel and then I joined the CWA and learned the actual rules of crime writing, as opposed to the ones I had invented for myself, and found that it was a fascinating structure within which to explore the things that matter most to people – I hate the kinds of novels that look at our masks. I am most interested in what happens when we drop those masks and we do so in the presence of death and danger – so crime writing, and thriller writing in particular – is the obvious medium. I consider my historical novels to be thrillers too, they’re just written in a different milieu.

For those writers aspiring to publication, what advice would you give?

I’d say what Fay Weldon said to me on my first writing course, which was ‘Find your own voice’, and then what Terry Pratchett (one of the greats, so sadly missed) said on the second writing course which was, ‘just keep writing.’  And then last, from me: Read.  Read everything.  Read books you love and books you loathe and books you don’t really care about – and work out what you love and why you love it and how it was done, and what the good bits are and what works and what doesn’t.  Reading is the apprenticeship for writing so read and read and read.

And, finally, what does the rest of the year have in store for you?

I’m 3/4 of the way through a sort-of sequel to INTO THE FIRE called ACCIDENTAL GODS so I have to finish that, and then we seem to be about to sell the TV rights to Into the Fire and the company wants me to write the screenplay which is both an enormous honour and an enormous privilege, so I’ll crack on with that.   I’ll be at Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July in Harrogate and then back up again for the History Festival in October. I’m Chair of that for the third and final time this year and so it’ll be all-out to make it the best yet.  I’m handing over Chair of the Historical Writers’ Association to the brilliant historical crime writer Imogen Robertson also in October and Andrew Taylor, multiple winner of the Historical Dagger will take over Chair of the HWA Debut Crown, so between now and October, I’ll be flat out, but I’ll have a rest in November. Perhaps.  I suspect something else will have come up by then.

A massive thank you to Manda Scott for talking to us today on the CTG blog.

To find out more about Manda and her books hop on over to her website at www.mandascott.co.uk and be sure to follow her on Twitter @hare_wood



 I’m thrilled that those lovely folks at Bantam Press have given me a copy of INTO THE FIRE to giveaway to one lucky winner! To be in with a chance to win all you need to do is tweet the link to this post (using the Twitter button below) OR retweet one of the CTG tweets about the giveaway – making sure to include the hashtag #IntoTheFireComp. You’ll also need to follow us on Twitter so we can send you a direct message should you win.

Rules: (1) One entry per reader (2) UK residents only – due to postage costs – sorry! (3) We will draw the winner at random (4) No cash alternative (5) The competition closes for entries at 9pm GMT on Monday 29th June 2015 (6) The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.


Also, make sure you check out all the other fabulous stops along the INTO THE FIRE blog tour …


CTG Reviews: Madras Miasma by Brian Stoddart

Madras Miasma cover image

Madras Miasma cover image

What the blurb says: “Madras in the 1920s. The British are slowly losing the grip on the subcontinent. The end of the colonial enterprise is in sight and the city on India’s east coast is teeming with intrigue. A grisly murder takes place against the backdrop of political tension and Superintendent Le Fanu, a man of impeccable investigative methods, is called in to find out who killed a respectable young British girl and dumped her in a canal, her veins clogged with morphine.
As Le Fanu, a man forced to keep his own personal relationship a secret for fear of scandal in the face British moral standards, begins to investigate, he quickly slips into a quagmire of Raj politics, rebellion and nefarious criminal activities that threaten not just to bury his case but the fearless detective himself.”

Madras Miasma is the first book in the Detective Le Fanu mystery series. Set in the 1920s it gives a glimpse into the life and challenges of a forward thinking detective at a time of rising unrest and change in India.

Le Fanu is an engaging protagonist. His meticulous attention to detail reminded me a little of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and his determination to follow the evidence, without bowing to those in society who expected special treatment, makes him a likeable and courageous hero.

The detective, Le Fanu, and his Sergeant, Habi, soon discover that the young woman found dumped in a canal is a ‘fisherwoman’ from England – an unmarried lady on a ‘fishing’ expedition to India to find a wealthy husband. As they track her movements during the final days of her life, they find a web of secrets and scandalous goings on, and come under increasing pressure from senior officials to modify their investigation.

What I especially enjoyed about this novel was the strong sense of place and the vivid descriptions of setting, society and customs which pulled me into the narrative and made me feel the heat of the sun, the rising political tensions, and the challenges between the old guard and more progressive police work.

Packed with mystery and suspense, this is an engaging read.



To find out more about Brian Stoddart and his writing hop on over to his blog at http://professorbrianstoddart.com/category/a-madras-miasma/ 

[with thanks to Brian Stoddart for my copy of Madras Miasma]

CTG Reviews: The Beauty of Murder by A K Benedict

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

The Beauty of Murder paperback cover image

What the blurb says: “Stephen Killigan has been cold since the day he came to Cambridge as a senior lecturer. Something about the seven hundred years of history staining the stones of the university has given him a chill he can’t shake. When he stumbles across the body of a missing beauty queen, he thinks he’s found the reason. But when the police go to retrieve the body they find no trace of it. Killigan has found a problem – and a killer – that is the very opposite of reason.

Killingan’s unwitting entry into the sinister world of Jackamore Grass will lead him on a trail of tattooists, philosophers, cadavers and scholars of a deadly beauty. As Killigan traces a path between our age and seventeenth-century Cambridge, he must work out how it is that a person’s corpse can be found before they even go missing, and whether he’s being pushed towards the edge of madness or an astonishing discovery.”

Wow. Wow. Wow. They are the first three words (or one word repeated) that comes into my mind on finishing The Beauty of Murder.

This is a literary crime thriller which ticks all the boxes with a flourish: intriguing characters, fascinating storylines, gorgeous settings, beautiful prose and a sprinting pace. And it’s A K Benedict’s debut novel.

Stephen Killigan is a likable guy – he’s smart, likes a beer (or two, or more), and is looking for love. He also wants to do the right thing when he discovers the body of a missing woman. But being a good citizen soon turns out to be the start of a journey that threatens to destroy all he holds dear. When the police find no trace of the body, Stephen is determined to find out what happened to her. But as he finds clues to the mystery, each one makes less sense than that before it. Is he losing his mind as so many suggest? As the body count rises, and the links of the modern-day murders with those in 1635 become clearer to him, Stephen becomes the prime suspect. Yet he finds an unlikely friend in Inspector Jane Horne, who is trying to solve the series of seemingly unsolvable cases whilst keeping her own private health battles secret from those at work.

The Beauty of Murder is filled with unusual, memorable supporting characters like Stephen’s friend, Satnam, who likes a few beers and loves the girl in the library, and Robert Sachs, the “poncey philosopher who loves himself” who muses over the beauty of the dead. I think my favorite of these is Iris Burton, the eccentric academic who takes it upon herself to teach Stephen Killigan about time travel including what to carry in your kit bag and how to avoid paradoxes (in my mind she was played by Helena Bonham Carter!).

The relationship between Stephen Killigan and Jackamore Grass has real Sherlock/Moriarty feel to it: two highly intelligent men pitting their wits (and their lives) against each other to solve the mystery (in Stephen’s case) and win the game (in Jackamore’s case). Jackamore, who finds getting away with murder tiresomely easy, is pleased to at last have a worthy opponent, but as Stephen hones his skills and closes in on the truth, Jackamore starts to pick his victims from those close to Stephen.

Quirky, mind (and time) bending, and compulsively addictive, this is an outstanding literary crime thriller. I can’t wait to see more from this author.

The Beauty of Murder is out on 10th April in paperback and available for pre-order over on the Amazon website right now.

Highly recommended.

[I bought my copy of The Beauty of Murder]

CTG Reviews: The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

The Tournament cover image

The Tournament cover image

What the blurb says: “England, 1546: a young Princess Elizabeth is surrounded by uncertainty. She is not currently in line for the throne but remains a threat to her older sister and brother. Roger Ascham, Elizabeth’s teacher and mentor in the art of power and politics, is determined to keep her out of harm’s way. When an unprecedented invitation arrives from the Sultan of Constantinople, to an assembly of the finest players of chess from the whole civilised world, Ascham resolves to take Elizabeth with him.

But once there, the two find more danger than they left behind. There’s a killer on the loose and a Catholic cardinal has already been found mutilated. Ascham is asked by the Sultan to investigate the crime. But as he and Elizabeth delve deeper, they find dark secrets, horrible crimes and unheard-of depravity. Things that mark the young princess for life and define the queen she will become …”

It’s not often that a historical thriller, or any thriller for that matter, comes with an adult content warning on the front page. But this one does, and for good reason.

Although the story focuses on the thirteen year old Princess Elizabeth, it is introduced by her lifelong friend, Gwinny, as she tells the reader about a tale told to her by Elizabeth when she was on her deathbed. From thereon until the last chapter the story is told in Elizabeth’s words, telling of the wonders and horrors she witnessed on the trip she took with her tutor Roger Ascham.

The first hint of foul play comes as the group from England – Roger Ascham, the king’s chess player – Mr Giles, Elizabeth and her friend, Elsie, and Elizabeth’s chaperones – Mr & Mrs Ponsonby – near the city of Constantinople. Mrs Ponsonby falls ill from poison, confining her to bed and her husband to her side. Ascham, Giles, Elizabeth and Elsie continue into the city, but at the palace they find more danger. A serial killer has been terrorising the city, and at the opening ceremony for the tournament a cardinal is found mutilated. The Sultan asks Ascham to investigate the crime. He agrees, allowing Elizabeth to work with him. But as they start to uncover the secrets behind the murders they find evidence of shocking depravity and more people start to die.

As you might expect from a novel centring round a chess tournament, strategy, logic and power are strong themes throughout the story. There is also a lot of sex, and this is where the adult content warning comes in, as some of these scenes involve underage children and highlight how they are used and discarded by some characters at the palace.

Ascham is a smart and likable character, with more than a touch of Sherlock Holmes about him. Elizabeth is a curious and intelligent narrator with echoes of Dr Watson. She’s bold and courageous, but not driven to reckless fancy like her friend and companion on the trip, Elsie. Elsie is a fun-loving, but ultimately tragic character, who freely engages in the orgies held by the Crown Prince, not understanding the politics and power at play until it is too late.

This is the fastest paced historical novel I’ve ever read. There are numerous twists and turns throughout the story, and although the settings are clearly drawn and atmospheric there are no lengthy descriptions holding up the action.

I especially loved the tie-in between the quoted passages from ‘ Chess in the Middle Ages’ about the different chess pieces, and the chapters (and central characters) that followed, for example the references to the origins of the chess piece ‘The Bishop’ tying in with the action involving the cardinals.

A must-read for historical crime fiction fans and for all those who love a good mystery.

Highly Recommended.

[Many thanks to Orion for my copy of The Tournament]

The Twelfth Department by William Ryan

The Twelfth Department

The Twelfth Department

What the blurb says: “Mosco, 1937. Captain Korolev, a police investigator, is enjoying a long-overdue visit from his young son Yuri when an eminent scientist is shot dead within sight of the Kremlin. Korolev is ordered to find the killer.

But when another scientist is brutally murdered, and evidence of the professors’ dark experiments is hastily removed, Korolev begins to realise that he’s caught in a dangerous battle between two warring factions of the NKVD. And then Yuri goes missing …”

The Twelfth Department is the third in William Ryan’s Captain Korolev series set in 1930s Russia. His previous novels in the series, The Holy Thief and The Bloody Meadow have between them been shortlisted for a range of fabulous awards including the Theakstones Crime Novel of the Year, the CWA New Blood Dagger, the Irish Fiction Award and the Ireland AM Irish Crime Novel of the Year.

The Twelfth Department is a stunning read. On every page of this novel you feel the undercurrent of tension and horror, a situation made commonplace by Stalin’s Great Terror. Yet despite living in a city caught in the vice-grip of fear, Captain Korolev is a loyal and honourable man, seeking out justice and truth, and determined to do the right thing even if that puts him in danger.

The story feels so authentic, the setting and period detail so vivid, and the story drives forward with a sense of urgency born from the very real jeopardy that the characters find themselves in. I found myself so drawn into the story – the lives of the characters and the world in which they lived – that it was a real struggle to put the book down when I had to go to work (or sleep).

While the novel is part of an ongoing series it works well as a stand alone story in its own right. A must for fans of the police procedural and historical crime fiction, and for anyone looking for a gripping mystery and emotive story that will keep you hooked to the very last page.

Highly recommended.


[With thanks to MANTLE for my copy of The Twelfth Department]