“A Season in Another World” Matt Duggan (Thirty West) – poetry review

Matt Duggan A Season in Another WorldA collection of poems rooted in the contemporary world that ask readers to look again at the familiar and question their senses to really observe what’s going on. The title poem suggests “I found the answers to life in another world,/ yet duly forgot them when I returned” and ends,

“Occasionally I’d swim to Hades,
.                spending a season in another world;
where I saw giants on miniature stages
whistling the tune to Hawaii Five-O.”

There’s a restless energy and a searching beyond the ordinary. The energy is also about bringing lessons learnt back and using new knowledge to inform and reassess. Not all the poems fly off into surrealistic images, “Watching Cobwebs on Skirting Boards One Friday Night” is a study in noticing minor details,

“Notice what needs to be cleansed,
using blusher to hide the wedding ring bruise,
never remembering the kitchen battle marks
where hurt is hidden from pride, reassembling a trembling beat in the heart.

Bites that tattooed the arm; hair like lipstick traces
bubbling under hard skin—
when morning reveals the aftermath,
denial is the response from the rage she caused and brings to him every Friday night.”

It captures both the shame of domestic violence where “hurt is hidden” and the shift of blame by the perpetrator onto the victim. It’s easier to blame her than figure out what’s making him angry and deal with it. Despite the recorded violence, it’s a silent poem suggesting the isolation and lack of communication both parties feel albeit for different reasons. She is fearful, ashamed and hiding bruises. He is blaming her and failing to address the cause.

Suggestive details build the picture in “The Spaces Left Bare” where in an empty, luxury hotel,

“Air is stale and needs recycling;
windows gleam with no visible fingerprints;
immaculate laminated tiles,

underfloor heating;
the spaces are left bare…

.
.
Where beneath the plush gothic balcony,
a homeless man sleeps in the open air;
at night, the room lights up for no one,
then fades as dusk wakes the clock;
where guests will never reserve or stay.”

The emptiness of the room is also a comment on the values of a wealthy society that appears to tolerate homelessness. The homeless man is passive whereas in the empty room lights come on when day turns to night as if its immaculate fittings can’t tolerate darkness; a reflection of the way wealth can protect against some negative aspects of society.

Among the taut, focused poems is one duff note in “No One Loves Us Like the Graveyards” where

“No one loves us like the graveyards.
They do not watch the stars even though they stare
deep into amber sky,
bumping into each other while walking the shopping aisles.
Not for any religious purpose, but for the drones and the missiles

webbed in skylines of this Syrian circus;
no one loves us like the graveyards.”

The title is used as a refrain which feels as if it’s straining for effect and the poem itself isn’t offering much that isn’t already known; it’s preaching to the converted. “Elegy for Magdalena” brings readers back to Matt Duggan’s usual focused form,

“We were dancing against the tide,
where no God, Man, or Papal Master
could bury love in the reckoning;

where bare light preaches in monstrous dark
until the shallow sound of light does break.
Our lips locked—electricity soared from tongue and stranded soul.

I’d tasted the stolen fruit,
a taste that has never left my side;
on this day came her presence—like the fragments from a dream.

My sanctuary: a bed of spitting wolves—
a sovereign placed in dust—where a shredded wedding dress hangs
like a crucified shadow on these uncertain shores.”

“A Season in Another World” is a collection of crafted, contemporary poems written with an acute sense of observation and deft use of imagery and landscape to focus the reader’s attention and draw them in.

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“Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady” Alan Price (The High Window Press) – poetry review

Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady Alan Price coverAlan Price’s poems have a filmic quality to them. They often started with a camera’s eye view of a scene presented in a way to guide the reader to discern the poem’s mood. This allows for textured layers to explore a theme or idea. The poems are not just visual or intellectual concepts. They show compassion. In the title poem,

“White shirt torn off,
no longer assisted
by her adept hands.
Jacket, trousers and underwear
hurled at the chair
she once sat on.

‘Saturation’ she’d said,
‘Are we not seeing
one another too much?’
He kneels on the bed, not guilty.”

He and his Japanese lover take a break. Kneeling suggests supplication, a plea that this doesn’t end. Later he wonders,

“Was he more innocent
falling down naked
or dressed up to the nines,
indulging in camouflage,
smiling for Erochikku?”

Appropriately Erochikku translates as “erotic”. He is left lonely with memories and readers see a mix of desire and regret. There’s an ambiguity here too: the reader is left unsure as to whether the “she” is a woman or a picture. Is she speaking or is it his conscience?

In “Futility of My Own Great War” Alan Price acknowledges domestic subject matters seem unimportant compared with apparently greater subjects,

“To write about the retreat, knowing I’d have run too if they’d put me there.
To write to scared young officers, knowing I’m absent and unafraid.
To write about orders I uncover as wrong, ignorant of how to obey.
To write that I’ll be coming home soon, when I’m always home.
To write with those dying for me, when I live on with my buried life.
To write to discover what I’ve buried. Scenes of the dead.
Writing me, now.”

It also touches on issues around writing other people’s stories, even when the others are no longer with us. How far can a writer go when using someone else’s story? How can a writer understand another’s motives and experiences through second hand sources? Can a writer, who has never been to war, understand what it’s like? On the other hand, writing about a relatively uneventful life, albeit from a position of knowledge and understanding, can seem unimportant and not worthwhile, even when a personal truth can be expanded to a universal one. It’s only a compassionate writer who would consider such issues. It’s left for the reader to decide which way the writer should decide.

In “Mischievous Shoot”, another writer is urged not to lose sight of what made her a writer in the first place. A writer has posed for her author photo wearing glasses, “the kind actors wear to show how arty they are”. The last stanza is,

“I watch her posing through this album
before her stories found a publisher.
Before she had her hair cut short, grew ill,
grew better, grew back into her mischief.”

Other poems touch on more contemporary issues. “Fortress Europe” takes Katie Hopkins’ comparison of migrants to cockroaches in The Sun newspaper to its natural conclusion, the attack refers to a suggested gas attack,

“In the dark of their old chambers
they hiss and chirrup on festering laws.
All will survive the attack,
draw plans to creep and stick around.”

The last quoted sentence could be applied to Katie Hopkins: she is paid to provide controversy and click bait and, so long as she is careful not to say anything that can’t be shrugged off, she will survive even when readers attack. It’s when she’s not talked about, she will be quietly dropped. A cockroach potentially could survive a nuclear blast: they will outlive humans. That wasn’t the metaphor Katie Hopkins was aiming for.

“Accommodations” doesn’t specifically say so, but could refer to the Grenfell Tower fire where 72 people lost their lives when fire broke out and cladding used on the tower facilitated its spread.

“You expect to live in a safe tower
shielded from wind, flood and fire.
Yet the clothes that clad your body
protect and attract more than
every panel of these huge walls.
I’m trembling, not burning.”

It concludes with a fantasy that tower blocks are appreciated, invested in and owners take proper fire retardant measures. This in turn allows the inhabitants to thrive and become part of the wider community, instead of being left as victims of cost-cutting measures by investors more interested in balance sheets than a duty of care, a system that tries to shift responsibility onto inhabitants whilst robbing them of power. A theme picked up in a recent novella after Grenfell that imagines inhabitants dreaming of owning a house and a garden closed to whoever lives next door, rather than an apartment in a community of neighbours.

“Wardrobe Blues for a Japanese Lady” contains assured, quiet poems, crafted so the reader knows the poet has confidence to allow them space for interpretation: the conclusion is not as important as the journey. Alan Price employs visual images to guide readers, creating poems that stay in the memory after the book has been read.

“Wardrobe Blues for  Japanese Lady” is available from The High Window Press.


 

“Anatomy of a Scandal” Sarah Vaughan (Simon and Schuster) – book review

Anatomy of a ScandalThree stories are interwoven when a rape case lands in court. James, the defendant in a junior minister confident he’ll be found not guilty and will be able to return to government once the dust settles. An old Etonian who studied at Oxford alongside the Prime Minister, James’s life has been one of privilege and entitlement. He met his wife Sophie at Oxford. Her purpose there was to bag a husband to finance the comfortable lifestyle she aspired too. It was James’s idea she give up work after their second child was born, but she did so willingly. Now she has to face up to some uncomfortable truths about her marriage. It was easy for her to convince herself she had a special place in James’s heart as the mother of his children and turn a blind eye to his infidelities. But, in court, she has to endure hearing the evidence and understanding the truth she, until now, had never been ready to admit. Kate, the barrister for the prosecution, isn’t just prosecuting another rape case. There’s a personal angle to this one that points to secrets in her history.

The story is chiefly told through the viewpoints of Kate and Sophie, with occasional chapters in James’s viewpoint. His victim, as happens in rape cases, plays a secondary role as witness, someone who tells her story in front of the jury. She is humiliated and shamed by the defence who take every opportunity to remind her that she had willingly entered an affair with a married man and suggest she did consent on the occasion she now describes as rape. Kate knows her witness is telling the truth. Sophie watches her husband turn politician when it’s his turn to be witness. She learns that he sees the truth as interpretable and his belief that his version of the truth is more important that anyone else’s. The verdict comes around two-thirds of the way through the novel, with the final third focusing on repercussions and a life-defining event at Oxford twenty-three years before the trial. A secret that could end the careers of both James and his best friend the Prime Minister.

James’s saving grace is his relationship with his children. His lack of self-examination comes from a background where problems were brushed aside or someone was paid to make them go away. His powerful connections cause Sophie to feel trapped. She has no career and is dependent on James and can’t risk upsetting James’s plans to be back in government. She can’t just reveal the Oxford secret, not because of the impact on her security, but because James’s connections mean she can just be swept aside.

The case forces Kate to confront her demons too. She was a northern, working class girl who managed to get into Oxford but left after the first year, switching to Liverpool University where she focused on becoming a barrister. She nearly passed on this case. What stopped her was wanting to see justice done. The aftermath reaches out beyond Sophie and Kate. James’s mother questions the way she raised her son. Friendships forged at Oxford are put under the microscope and picked apart. Only those based on truth and respect can remain intact.

“Anatomy of a Scandal” is pacey but not so quick that readers don’t have time to absorb the drama or get to know the characters. Kate, Sophie and supporting characters are fully-rounded and credible. Readers want justice for Kate but also for Sophie not to be dragged down with her husband. There are moments where readers can empathise with James too. His privilege enables him but also gives him a blind spot, a weakness that leaves him vulnerable but gives him an ability to recognise his power and change. Sarah Vaughan asks questions, all too relevant in the #MeToo climate, but doesn’t preach. She shows awareness of capturing nuance, relating identifiable scenarios and lets characters speak for themselves as they demonstrate the effects of rape ripple out beyond the perpetrator and victim. “Anatomy of a Scandal” is a gripping court room drama with depth and a compulsion which makes the characters live on.

More details of “Anatomy of a Scandal” at Simon and Schuster’s website.

“Hillbilly Elegy” J D Vance (William Collins) – book review

Image result for j d vance hillbilly elegy“Hillbilly Elegy” is subtitled ‘A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’. J D Vance admits that, on the face of it, he’s not a celebrity, not achieved anything particularly significant and finds it “somewhat absurd” that this book exists. But this is one of J D Vance’s survival mechanisms – this shrugging off and playing down of achievements is part of the same dissonance that helps some survive trauma. What makes “Hillbilly Elegy” a compelling read isn’t just the writing skills learnt as an editor of “The Yale Law Journal” or his honesty, but also his ability to step out of his personal situation and place it in a wider context.

In a nutshell, J D Vance was born in Middletown, Ohio but spent most of his summers in his grandparent’s birthplace of Jackson, Kentucky. After graduating from school, he joined the army for a tour of Iraq before studying law at Yale where he met his wife and now lives amongst the middle-classes in Cincinnati. Like many, his grandparents had moved north in search of work. Armco, like other steel companies, encouraged employees to recommend family members. However, after a hurried marriage, not all family members moved with the grandparents so there were frequent visits back to Jackson, not the best way of setting down roots in Middletown. There were three children, a son and then a ten year gap before two daughters. During that ten year gap there were several miscarriages, thought to be a result of the constant arguments between the grandparents often provoked by the grandfather’s drinking problem and the grandmother’s frustration, instead of pursuing her dream she stuck with being a housewife and mother. In turn, not helped by family loyalty being uppermost and a belief that outsiders should not know what happened behind closed doors. Whilst two of the children seemed to shrug off the arguments, one daughter, J D Vance’s mother didn’t. She become a pregnant teenager in a short-lived marriage and then married again quickly into another short-lived marriage, leaving her a single mother to two children, Lindsay and J D.

Despite the revolving door of stepfathers, grandmother or Mamaw, remained a constant in Lindsay and J D’s lives. She urged both to study and do well. Grandfather helped J D with maths homework. J D acknowledges his grandmother’s consistency and support enabled him to turn around his school grades and realise he could aim higher than a job at Armco. Even though by this time, jobs at Armco were scarce, most teenagers in Middletown had a relative who still worked there and there was an assumption they would work there too. There was a collective denial about the decline of the manufacturing industry. Needing money and lacking confidence, J D deferred applying to college and joined the Marines. One key lesson from the Marines was that, if you failed at something, you simply tried again instead of quitting. Another crucial lesson was finance: he figured out that, as a poor student, he was better off applying for an Ivy League university than a hometown one. At Yale, he felt impostor syndrome and it took a professor to challenge his application for a clerkship to realise that he didn’t have to push so hard and could opt for a more appropriate route. The culture at Yale took some adjusting to: not just figuring out which utensil to use at a networking event in a restaurant, but also overcoming the urge to stay behind and help clear up. Networking was novel too: undergraduates didn’t apply for jobs but went to cocktail event and dinners to meet potential employers. Other students would lean on a family contact to open a door, which wasn’t an option J D had and he marveled at the confidence and lack of hesitancy others had in simply asking.

Alongside his story are insights into the attitudes of he society he grew up in. J D Vance’s chaotic family home wasn’t unusual. He and his sister scored 6 on the scale of adverse childhood experiences such as being humiliated by parents, feeling a lack of familial support, having parent who are separated or divorced, living with an addict, living with someone who is depressed and watching someone be physically abused. Both married spouses who scored 0. During a temporary job in a store, J D Vance witnessed people on food stamps buy soda in bulk to sell off later and noticed that these same people rarely bought fresh food. Children lost their baby teeth to “Mountain Dew Mouth” where sugared drinks were put in baby’s bottles (Mamaw intervened to prevent J D’s mother putting Coke in his bottle) and then later lost their adult teeth in fights or to a poor diet. Those in Middletown who were in work resented those out of work and on food stamps who seemed to be playing the system and doing better. Those out of work would say that welfare should be for the deserving poor who would work if there were jobs available and that work was the way out of poverty, whilst conveniently ignoring their own situation. In another temporary job, J D Vance witnessed a nineteen year old and his pregnant girlfriend get offered jobs in a warehouse. The girlfriend worked in the office when she actually turned up – in a five day week, she might make it in on three days and never gave notice or reason for absence. The boyfriend was invariably late and took lengthy bathroom breaks. After a serious of warnings, both were sacked and the boyfriend complained, asking how the employers, who knew their circumstances, could sack them.

In conclusion, there is a discussion about how the problems of those living in poverty and without work can be solved. He doesn’t see it as a problem that can be solved without a profound shift in hillbilly culture. There’s not much point in creating jobs if, like the nineteen year old and his girlfriend, people can’t be bothered to turn up and work. There’s not a lot of point in expecting children with no working adult in their household to have aspirations to get a good college degree, although putting poor children alongside middle-class children in schools, raises expectations in poor children, that can’t be achieved if the middle-classes have deserted places like Middletown. One thing the American government could help with is to redefine a family to include aunts, uncles and grandparents. J D Vance argues if his grandmother could have fostered him, he would have had less chaos in his background, but instead he was left dreading social workers getting involved because his grandmother would not be recognised as a potential fosterer and he’d have been shipped out to strangers. His chief argument is that hillbilly families need to take a long hard look at themselves and accept that chaotic backgrounds and parental addictions harms children and the state of denial where all problems are someone’s else’s fault is a trap of their own making.

These conclusions are compelling argued in non-legalese. J D Vance uses language to communicate, not obfuscate and his vocabulary is engaging. “Hillbilly Elegy” is both a successful memoir and a social history of growing up in the 1980s. It’s also proof you don’t have to be a celebrity or prize-winner to be interesting.


Leicester Writers Club Everybodys Reading event flyer

Journeys in Translation Event during Everybodys Reading

“Urban Myths and Legends” The Emma Press – poetry review

Urban Myths and LegendsThe editors Rachel Piercey and Emma Wright wanted to find poems that “shared Ovid’s glee in storytelling” looking for transformations and gripping ideas. Some poems take their inspiration more directly from “Metamorphosis” than others and some hint at fairytales – a glass slipper, a rose briar – while others create their own myths. Some transformations are dramatic, as in Pam Thompson’s “My People”

“… those who lived near the canal
grew scales

and those who lived on the tops
grew furs to keep out biting winds

and some sprouted wings
to hunt for food

or so my mother told me
before her toes pitched her

into a middle kingdom
of sloughed-off skins
and reheated dinners.”

Other transformations are less dramatic, in Deborah Alma’s “My Brown-Eyed Girl”

“my sister and I discovered
that she’d always coveted
my grey-green eyes
and I, hers of golden brown,
and Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes
was never personal enough.

So we swapped, we popped out
our eyeballs, slipped them
into our mouths to moisten them
before slotting into familial sockets.
Then we sat down with a nice pot of tea,
lemon drizzle cake
and little chance of rejection…”

The contrast between “grey-green” and “golden brown” follows the line of desire; “grey” suggestive of boredom and “golden” suggestive of reward or treasure. The routine detail of tea with cake acts as a anchor and keeps the poem from veering off into fantasy. It also resists the temptation to fork off into a nightmare. Other poems take on the personification of an inanimate object, for example in Jon Stone’s “Yardang”

“…Out it came, a tortile bolt
of drunkard wind – dying to screw
and strew, to chew and chisel bone
or stone, to shave down to a hump
each stump. Now I’m a blasted dune,
the scoundrel’s plaything. Now I drift,
as darkly as the shifting coast,
from one form to some other, strand
by strand, flayed to my filament,
while on its high and singing wire
the mad sylph speaks its only like.
My faltering’s its favourite band,
my knots its little coterie.
The coward wind is changing me.”

The yardang projects its reinventions on the wind it blames for whittling it into shape and toying with it: an unreliable narrator but a likable one. “Urban Myths and Legends” feels like a city walk along a street with varied architecture, some buildings ornately constructed, some classical and modern with clean lines, each a marriage of form and function; each worth stopping to study while a gentle wind whispers of history, suggestive fantasy and magic realism along a street worth return visits.

“Urban Myths and Legends” is available from The Emma Press

“In the Cinema” Stephen Bone (Playdead Press) – poetry review

Image of In The Cinema
The ending of the title poem, “don’t tell me how it ends/ don’t spoil it for me,” echoes through this collection. Stephen Bone is good at giving readers the telling detail and leaving them to work out the ending. In “Unmendable”, a potentially valuable glass is dropped on the floor

“with a rich percussion,

a jigsaw of glass
at our feet.

For a moment like haruspices
we studied the red remains;

then the word arrived,
reached you first;

unmendable, you said.”

The word could be just as much about the relationship as the glass. The tone changes as the couple survey the broken glass and the “s” assonances stop and give way to the short ‘i’ vowels and ‘d’ endings. The pared-down, minimalist style continues throughout. One effect of this is to drawn attention to each word because, the fewer words there are, the more significance each one has. In “78s”, the narrator comes across a gramophone in a loft with collection of vinyl records and naturally tries it out:

“Their voices

now and slurring
under the drag of the needle
as the turntable slowed. Like
grotesque recordings from their
deathbeds.”

This seems uncharacteristically overwrought until the final stanza (over the other side of the page),

“Until, with a few turns
of my arm – as if cranking up
a vintage car – their lungs filled
again with thirties’ air. Resurrected
to the prime of your life.”

Although the poem names some of the artists, I’d have liked a little more context, more detail on music style or the significance to the previous owner who is not named and simply addressed in the second person. Did they dance to the records or sit in still reverence when listening? Did they openly talk about how the music made them feel or was coming across them more like uncovering a spider-webbed photo album of people whose names have been lost in the mists of time? The reader doesn’t know if “you” is a distant relative or a mother. It’s definitely a different “you” to the one with the broken vase.

Not all poems are in second person however and one of the most moving is “A New Kind Of Rain”, where a boy calls his grandmother to be picked up after a game is rained off (presumably football but not specified).

“not hearing the flatness
in her voice, the intake
of breath, on the edge
of saying something
but didn’t.

Her eyes were red
and she was wearing
more powder than usual.
He could smell its rose-like
scent as she gently pulled
him to her, before
he heard the slow, quiet
sentences…

On the journey home
he sat silently beside her,
digging a fingernail deep
into his thumb;
watching the wipers
frantic
to keep up
with a new kind
of rain.”

It captures that teenaged self-centredness that fails to notice the grandmother’s grief until she tells him and his concerns pale against hers. Again the end is not spoiled for the reader. Occasionally I’d have liked a change in tone, but these poems are written with care and appreciation of detail. The poet clearly understands how to choose details to focus on and allow to accumulate into a story.

“In the Cinema” is available from Playdead Press.

“The Widow’s Confession” Sophia Tobin (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

The Widows Confession Sophia Tobin book coverThe confession is split into sections and a chapter built around each section so readers can see the back story to the confession and draw their own conclusions to what happened as the story unfolds. It’s set in Broadstairs, Kent in 1850 and the writer of the confession is Delphine Beck (although readers later learn that’s not her real name). Delphine has come to Broadstairs to paint and escape attention after leaving New York, where she was born and grew up, in mysterious circumstances. She has travelled with her sister Julia. Locals are suspicious of the widow, thinking her unconventional ways – walking about the town without a companion and painting – will bring bad luck and some look at her suspiciously when the body of a girl washes up on the beach. Delphine and Julia are not the only strangers in town though. The vicar, Theo Hallam, has a guest, Edmund Steele who later meets his aunt at the local hotel. She befriends two ladies, an aunt and a niece and their circle is joined by Mr Benedict, another painter, who is in Broadstairs to indulgence his artistic temperament, temporarily away from his wife and children, as much as paint. The group come together for excursions, beach walks and picnics, visits to almshouses and other local attractions. Delphine watches Mr Benedict’s efforts to separate aunt and niece and assumes he has designs on the niece, whom she gently tries to warn. The niece reveals she is adopted and has to look to marriage to secure her future. She is worldly enough to know there’s no future in Mr Benedict’s efforts, which are not aimed at the extramarital affair that everyone assumes. Delphine also watches a gentle romance develop between Julia and Edmund Steele which she fears will result in her having to reveal her own secrets. She also puzzles over Theo Hallam’s reaction to her which seems to veer between hatred and tenderness with no apparent cause.

The local doctor and police are content to write the girl’s death off as accidental drowning. To other otherwise would mean spending scarce resources or funding an investigation from their own pockets. Even two further deaths fail to provoke a reaction: the bodies of a couple were found in a chalk pit and it’s assumed they fell in after drinking too much at a nearby tavern. Without the resources to investigate or families to demand action, it’s down to the group of visitors and vicar to try and uncover the truth, limited by the lack of forensic data available and the reluctance from townsfolk to talk about the deaths.

From Delphine’s confession, readers learn she’s been disowned by her family by an act of teenage rebellion which brought unintentional disgrace on her. This led her to travel to England with her sister – also disowned – to forge a new life and new identity. So far the pair have been careful not to forge friendships or set down roots in any of the places they’ve visited. When Mr Benedict discovers Delphine’s true name via an art dealer with a loose tongue, Delphine makes plans to move to London. A move that might be scuppered by Julia’s desires for Edmund Steele.

Mr Steele’s visit to Broadstairs isn’t entirely one of a tourist either. He and Theo Hallam have a mutual friend who is concerned about Theo’s wellbeing and had asked Edmund to spend time in Broadstairs to check on Theo. The vicar had previously been on a mission to Africa and is trying to conceal his guilt over a chain of events he set in motion before returning to England. Although not his fault, he carries the burden of a woman’s accidental death and has convinced himself that he is not worthy of another woman’s love. A problem that has parallels with Delphine’s secrets.

A third potential victim is rescued and the group’s attention turns back to the serial killer in their midst. The killer’s motives are very much in keeping with the social constraints and values of the period, making the historical setting justified. Similarly, Delphine’s and Theo’s secrets are very much of their time and their issues have echoes in the killer’s motives.

“The Widow’s Confession” is very much from Delphine’s viewpoint as she struggles to make sense of her situation and reflects on the situations of the group she finds herself in. She knows she cannot go back to her life with her family in New York but has to make sense of the past before she can live in her present. Fortunately she is an empathetic character, practical, down to earth and as observant as you would expect an artist to be. It is also easy to warm to Edmund Steele, the sensible friend, and Theo Hallam, a man struggling with his own past and desire to be helpful to his parishioners. Julia, the niece and her aunt seem to be hiding secrets under a veneer of manners and expected behaviour. The confession enhances the story behind the murders and the two are credibly woven together so both are integral to the story.

Overall “The Widow’s Confession” is engaging with both the historical and thriller elements carefully sown together.

Next week, there will be a guest post from author Sophia Tobin discussing why she set this novel in Broadstairs and the challenges involved in writing about a place that has a direct personal connection.

Sophia Tobin's Blog Tour appearing on 21 January 2015 at emmalee1.wodpress.com