Today’s book review of a crime novel is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
Synopsis: Leeds, 1954: When Joanna Hart came into his office, enquiry agent Dan Markham thought it would be an easy case. All the blonde with red lips and swinging hips wanted was to know if her husband was unfaithful. But when the man is killed, Markham’s involvement makes him suspect number one. As the evidence piles against him, he realises someone has set him up. In a deadly game, Markham has to battle to keep his client and himself alive. All he can rely on are his wits and the rusty skills he acquired during his National Service in military intelligence. But can he hope to be any match against a killer who has spies on every corner of Leeds and a reach that goes all the way to Whitehall?
Review (via my Kindle’s text-to-speech function)
– Markham being young crops up a few times but I must have missed how old he was. It would’ve been nice at one or more of the mentions to know how old he actually was. I am in my late 40s so young to me would be different to somebody in their 20s or 70s.
– A very interesting look at 1950s procedures where Markham investigates by asking people – shady and otherwise – rather than contemporary crime’s reliance on modern technology.
– Character description was excellent, especially regarding the women.
– There were some great phrases including, ‘In a black and white world, she was a splash of technicolour’ and ‘faint drift of perfume’.
– While the majority of the novel felt authentic, there were a couple of phrases that jarred with me as being too contemporary (feel free to say that I am wrong): ‘go f**k himself’ and ‘sh*g our brains out’ (coincidently the only two phrases that could have offended the reader).
– We should all learn from the books we read and this was an informative novel. The pace was very good throughout with conflict and twists, and it was definitely a page-turner.
– Not the ending I was expecting but tied up all the loose ends.
And now for writers…
– There were few clichés including ‘clean as a whistle’, ‘penny to a pound’, ‘shaking like a leaf’, ‘play second fiddle’, ‘long as your arm’, ‘as good as her word’, ‘keep your eyes peeled’, ‘hide nor hair’, and ‘a ton of bricks’, although some are dialogue so more forgivable.
– Be careful when you have a scene with two people of the same gender to distinguish who is who, especially at the beginning of chapters where a reader might have stopped at the previous chapter the night / time before. This is something I noticed (too) many times in this novel where there are two characters, usually male, and one is mentioned by name, then the other is mentioned as ‘he’ but because the second character is not mentioned by name, the ‘he’ should technically refer to the previous named character. An example of this would be, ‘half-past came and went, and Collins didn’t appear. He ate the sandwich and sipped at the coffee’. In this case the ‘he’ would refer to Collins but it actually refers to Markham. It happened so often that it was annoying, not quite to the point of stopping the novel but I spoiled it for sure. (And I would have appreciated a few less ‘lad’s and ‘old man’ in the dialogue)
– There were a few adverbs that could have been chopped, especially where we know how a character is feeling by what he or she has just said, e.g. ‘asked angrily’.
– I spotted a small number of typos: ‘making his hand into a large first‘, which I would hope to have picked up if reading this novel, but because I was listening to it with my kindle’s text-to-speech function, it made it obvious. And a ‘Mrs’ (rather than Mr) Markham crept in after Atkinson tapped the folder (whose sentence was missing its full stop). And when confronted by Baker, Markham ‘riffles’ through rather than ‘rifles’ through a folder. In chapter 18, ‘He wants her business and her won’t take no for an answer.’ and later in that chapter, ‘The constable raised his eyebrows at enquiry agent but said nothing.’
– I noticed quite a few characters shaking their heads so I did a search for the word ‘shook’ and found fifty-one. Providing the context is appropriate, it is fine to have character shaking their heads but anything that leaps out to the reader is something to watch out for, especially if you know already that it is something you are inclined to over use. I have been told in the past that I have too many characters sighing. Speaking of body parts, when a character nods or shrugs, we don’t need the relevant body part, eg nodded his / her head.
– Probably the most well-known saying in writing is ‘show don’t tell’ and there were a few instances of tell where they could either have come out (e.g. She seemed angry) where we’ve already had the character speaking, or should have been changed to a show. It is not easy to spot when writing, and not always possible to change them but again, something for a writer to be aware of.
– In almost every review, I’ve mentioned ‘began / begun to’ or ‘started to’ and again in this novel there are quite a number of began, begun and started to that could have come out where the character and / or action isn’t interrupted so it is happening… e.g. the phone rings and keeps ringing so ‘it rang’ would be far better than ‘began to ring’.
– Avoid repetition unless it is to emphasise. In chapter 14 we have, ‘he breathed deep, dug out a Craven A and lit it, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs.’ In chapter 16, ‘He began to reach out for his wallet but Smith reached out a hand to stop him.’ And in chapter 17, ‘Around a second bend, out of sight for a few seconds…’ And in chapter 20 there were three ‘around’s in the same short paragraph, including, ‘There were no cars around or indication anyone might be around.’ It would be okay to have ‘around’ twice in the same sentence if it emphasised the ‘anyone’ but it doesn’t in this case.
– While the names are generally distinctive, Carla and Carter sounded too similar. While authors tend not to write their novels thinking about an audiobook version, it is something to bear in mind. I use (and provide my clients with) a names template and list them as I go through the novel to ensure there aren’t any (especially main characters) starting with the same letter. I have a template for novels and short stories – let me know if you’d like a copy.
– Although we don’t get a lot of her, Carla was my favourite character. I didn’t like Joanne and therefore didn’t care what happened to her, although she did redeem herself.
– I noticed at least three instances where hands are being thrust deep into pockets so I did a search and found 52 ‘pocket’s, which, while they relevant, surprised me.
– Tenses seem to be accurate throughout, with one exception: ‘I kept someone at her house in case she comes home.’ To me, ‘I kept’ means that the someone is no longer there, yet ‘she comes home’ implies it is still a possibility.
Engaging characters in an entertaining and well-paced novel with plenty of conflict, twists and intrigue – definitely a page turner.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a freelance editor, online tutor, prolific blogger, 2015 Head Judge for the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition, Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition, RONE 2015 Judge, and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page) and has created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has nine others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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