Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Death at Greenway by Lori Rader-Day: Reading Room Review


Lori Rader-Day always gives readers a unique story, something different from anything else they’ve read. I love that freshness, and the characters that help create that uniqueness. I’ve been introduced to dark sky parks, handwriting expertise, and a character who beat the odds of being kidnapped as a baby. And, in Death at Greenway, Lori Rader-Day takes a leap into another whole pond. Well, she actually leaps across the pond to merry old England when it wasn’t so merry during WWII. Historical mystery fiction! Oh, but she doesn’t stop there with delighting me. The setting is Agatha Christies’ Greenway home and South Devon, with London as the starting and ending points. As part of her research, Rader-Day visited Greenway and stayed there. She brings the authenticity of having walked the house and grounds to this story. Is it little wonder I’ve been looking forward to reading Death at Greenway.

After a beginning chapter in which Agatha Christie is at Greenway with her husband and house staff listening to the radio announcement from Prime Minister Chamberlin that England was officially at war with Germany (the listening world encapsulated in that kitchen scene), focus is changed to London, April 1941. London and its inhabitants are suffering greatly from the daily bombings of the German planes, with whole families dying in their homes, despite the air raids and shelters. There is a general consensus that the children of London must be saved, taken away from the city to the country, where they will be safe. Parents are handing over their children to organized evacuation operations, while the parents stay and work in London. Bridget Kelly, who is training to be a nurse, finds herself part of such an operation due to an egregious error she has made in treating a patient. Bridget is given the choice to give up her nurse’s training completely or be a part of an evacuation of ten children to an undisclosed country location. Bridget chooses to lend her services to the evacuation movement. 

War is hell and chaotic, and Bridget starts her journey with the evacuated children, their sponsors, and another nurse in a crowded train station, with much shouting and hurrying and immediate caring for the children. As if the chaos of soldiers and children and parents saying goodbye to their children weren’t enough, the second nurse in the party introduces herself as Bridget Kelly, too. It seems everything in our protagonist Bridget’s life is surreal at this point. Mrs. Arbuthnot, who is in charge of the group, insists that they choose two dissimilar names, so protagonist Bridget becomes Bridey, and the new Bridget becomes Gigi. Bridey finds out quickly that Gigi is happy to let Bridey handle the children by herself for long periods of time while Gigi socializes with a group of other young people on the train. With two babies in the mix to care for, it’s quite the challenge. It’s a long train ride to their destination, which they finally learn is Greenway, home of the famous author Agatha Christie, in South Devon.

Greenway is beautiful, but the evacuation team and their wards are restricted to several rooms and told not to enter others. However, they have lots of space outdoors to walk and explore. Agatha Christie is in residence at Greenway when the group arrives, but she doesn’t interact with the evacuee group. She leaves for London not long after. This story does not include or involve the Grand Dame of Mystery, but we do get some peeks at a habit or two of hers. I enjoyed learning more about the evacuation of children from London and the ten children or vacs, as they were called, at Greenway. Rader-Day weaves a fascinating story into the historical facts of this evacuation, and she even talked to one of the vacs still alive, little Doreen. The two nurses, Bridey and Gigi, carry a heavy responsibility, to keep these children healthy and safe, which is more of a challenge than Bridey thought it would be. Although Greenway is far from London, the German planes are still a danger, as they bomb nearby locations, causing the house and earth around the group to tremble in response. Bridey wonders why they were evacuated to somewhere on the coast and to a large white house on a hill. 

So, what is this story? An historical fiction book or a mystery? For me, it was historical fiction with lots of mysteries running through it. There is murder, but everyone is so busy with the war that a full investigation is not forthcoming. But, still the murder adds to the mystery of what is happening in the small village of Galmpton, where healthy men are dying disproportionate to statistics. What is important in the story? What direction should the reader be focusing on? Oh, Rader-Day requires our undivided attention, so readers read closely and remember that characters tend to appear in a Lori Rader-Day book for a reason. Keep those little gray cells sharp, as the many threads introduced do have connections. 

Some of the threads: Nurses who aren’t really nurses. Travelers from the train from London to Greenway whom Gigi talks to and who end up in South Devon, too. Man found dead in the River Dart, murdered. Other men in the village who seem healthy and too young to die are dying. Somebody is stealing jam and leaving a muddy boot print. Gigi’s wisht man has been seen by little Doreen. Mrs. Poole, the mother of a child kept by her from evacuating arrives at Greenway in distress, and then she is missing. Bridey is friendly with the local doctor, but when he makes a romantic move, she can’t respond. Gigi has hidden money and hidden motives in her role as an evacuation nurse. And much more. Lori Rader-Day keeps it all flowing toward resolution, both on the worldly stage and the smaller one starring Bridey.

The first month or so of this story goes a bit slower than the rest of the time forward, but it doesn’t drag. It is an important time of setting up characters and mysteries and daily life of the evacuation, including what goes on in the village below Greenway. The reader is learning about who is who and who does what and that the Germans aren’t the only destructive force to fear. And then, a year has soon passed at Greenway, and lots of changes are taking place again. To tell beyond the early days at Greenway would deprive readers of discovering all the intrigue and revelations for themselves. There is so much good story still to come, and I was quite happy with the way it all wrapped up in the end, threads coming together and mysteries solved. I think the author was very much in tune with what ending was consistent with a WWII story, and it shows great judgment not to try and rewrite history.

Multiple characters are used to voice the narration of the book, which gives readers the edge of knowing more of what’s going on than any one of the characters. It’s Bridey’s voice we hear the most, which is fitting, as her journey is the one we are following to fruition. I enjoy this use of multiple voices in separate chapters. They’re like the different puzzle pieces used to make the picture whole. And, oh those characters, they are pure Lori Rader-Day magic, one of the things she does best. She brings characters to life with a deftness born of raw talent but perfected by hard work. The character of Bridget/Bridey shows such growth that I am actually proud of her, like she’s someone I really know. That’s how well-developed characters are supposed to affect readers. And, Gigi is a character who shows me not to judge too quickly or assume you know her too soon. So many characters have poignant stories in this book, and readers will follow them all through the sadness and the joy they invoke. Death at Greenway tells the stories of ordinary people inside the extraordinary story of war, and it feels very intimate. That’s the accomplishment of a skillful storyteller.

I thoroughly enjoyed Death at Greenway, and I think readers are in for a treat. Don’t get hung up in what category to pigeon-hole this book. Just enjoy the captivating read that is sure to land this award-winning author even more tangible plaudits.

I thank NetGalley and the William Morrow Publishers for an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

Monday, October 11, 2021

October's Chilling Reads: Halloween Reads Part I



From "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
             Ef you



I'm sure we all have our favorite stories and poems we associate with Halloween, and we readers love to combine our favorites of old with new tales to make us shiver on an October evening as we read and reread those books and stories. There is, of course, no comprehensive list, as tastes are so individual.  But, I've gathered some of my old favorites with some newer books that I hope can help you celebrate this deliciously creepy month of ghosts and goblins and mysteries.     

This post today is Part I of my Halloween Reads topic.  Part II will be selections made by some of your favorite bloggers. 


Short Story Collections and Short Stories: 

When Things Get Dark: Stories Inspired by Shirley Jackson

Ghostly Tales: Spine-Chilling Stories of the Victorian Age (Includes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, F. Marion Crawford, Charles Dickens, Amelia B. Edwards, Elizabeth Gaskell, M.R. James, and Roberte Louis Stevenson), Illustrations by Bill Bragg

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton by Edith Wharton

What October Brings: A Lovecraftian Celebration of Halloween 

The Complete Stories and Poems Of Edgar Allan Poe

American Gothic Tales, edited by Joyce Carol Oates

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories, Introduced and Illustrated by Audrey Niffenegger

Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories by Roald Dahl

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, Edited by Leslie S. Klinger

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson 

The Best of Richard Matheson, edited by Victor LaValle

The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, edited by Michael Newton




Classic Short Story Singles:

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

The Landlady by Roald Dahl

Miss Mary Pask by Edith Wharton

Patient Zero by Tananarive Due


Poems of Fright:

Poems Bewitched and Haunted , John Hollander, Editor (Random House)

Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Hallowe'en in a Suburb by H.P. Lovecraft

Goblin Feet by J.R.R. Tolkien

Phantasmagoria by Lewis Carroll  



Books to Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat:

Recent Publications:

Reprieve by James Han Mattson  

The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

Death Rang the Bell (Blackwell and Watson Time Travel Mysteries #3) by Carol Pouloit

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno  

Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia H

Wonderland by Jennifer Hillier

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Witch Elm by Tana French 

Blood and Brume by Maki Morris

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager (all Riley Sager)

The Shining by Stephen King (all Stephen King)

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

The Good House by Tananarive Due

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo

I Remember You: A Ghost Story by Yrsa Sigurdardottir


The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

The October Boys by Adam Millard

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson


For kids:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

The Witches by Roald Dahl

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Howliday Inn by James Howe

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs



Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Thames Path Killer by Biba Pearce: Reading Room Review


Biba Pearce is a new author for me. I usually have a reading list geared toward my reviewing so I don't often get a chance to pick a random book for reading. But, occasionally I find myself at loose ends and wanting an author I haven't yet read. So, that's how I found Biba Pearce and The Thames Path Killer, the first book in the Detective Rob Miller mysteries. After reading it, I bought the rest of the series so far, three more adds to my Kindle. 

DI Rob Miller has caught the first big case of his career as a member of the Met's Southwest London Major Investigation Team based in Putney. It's his first time as the Senior Investigating Officer, and it's a brutal murder. A young woman has been savagely attacked at night on an especially dark part of a Thames River path, the life strangled out of her. There is reason to believe the murder is personal, a revenge killing, but the fiance of Julie Andrews, the victim, tells Rob that Julie had a stalker, a stranger to her, and that she had reported it to the police. 

Rob is under lots of pressure from his DCI to solve this case, as the higher-ups are pressuring DCI Lawrence. Working with his team day and night to gather information and chase down any similar cases, Rob's home life is unraveling. His fiancee Yvette is unhappy that Rob is working so much, and letting him know it. Things get even more intense when a second murder of a young woman occurs bearing all the signs it's the same killer. 

After the second murder, the deputy commissioner insists that another team, with more experience, be brought in from Lewisham MIT to oversee the investigation. Of course, Rob isn't pleased, but he finds the new Senior Investigating Officer, DCI Jo Maguire, easy to work with, and together they uncover evidence that this serial killer has more than their two victims. Now, they must work with unabated fervor to prevent the Suffolk Strangler from claiming more lives.

The Thames Path Killer is a police procedural, but the police work was nicely blended with the character development and a compellingly layered story. It wasn't all sharp edges of the investigation, and yet, the investigation is fascinating. The story hits the ground running, with the first murder opening the action. The scene is perfectly set, with a rainy, dark, isolated tow path and an anxious young woman hurrying along it to get home, but, of course, the killer is waiting. The suspense and action just keep continuing from there in a well-paced, intense plot. I found the layers of discovery by the detectives sustaining the suspense without lapse.

I'm a reader who needs engaging characters, and Biba Pearce accomplishes that. DI Rob Miller is a character whose development thus far provides a capable, likeable, decent person to root for. I felt the author's unveiling of Rob's character and the other characters, who promise to be regulars, was well-measured, leaving readers to expect more interesting developments. I was happy with my diversion into new author territory with this book, and I am looking forward to reading the next three in the series.

Friday, October 1, 2021

The Guide by Peter Heller: Reading Room Review


Peter Heller. Where to begin? This man/author has a bio page on his web site that reads like a book series about an outdoor adventurer and warrior who loves the natural world and its inhabitants (not man) and is willing to die for them. Luckily, Heller has authored non-fiction books about these daring undertakings. Titles include Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River; The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals; and Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave. 

I must include a smidgen of excerpt from his bio page because I was absolutely fascinated by his accomplishments. I am including three excerpts together as a means of saving space, but I encourage readers to go to Peter Heller’s web site and read the entire bio. So, here goes:

     “He traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing about challenging descents in the Pamirs, the Tien Shan mountains, the Caucuses, Central America and Peru. He was the first man, with a Kiwi paddler named Roy Bailey, to kayak the Muk Su River in the High Pamirs of Tadjikistan. The river was known as the Everest of Rivers in the Soviet Union, and the last team that had attempted it lost five of their eleven men. The run was 17 days of massive whitewater through a canyon inhabited by wolves and snow leopards.” Then, “In December, 2005, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure, he joined the crew of an eco-pirate ship belonging to the radical environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it sailed to Antarctica to hunt down and disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet.” And, “In the fall of 2007 Heller was invited by the team who made the acclaimed film The Cove to accompany them in a clandestine filming mission into the guarded dolphin-killing cove in Taiji, Japan.” 

Peter Heller’s first fiction book is one most readers will be familiar with, the highly acclaimed Dog Stars. This debut gathered a boat load of awards, including New York Times Best Seller’s List, An Amazon Best Book of 2012, A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012, An Oprah Books Club Pick, and An NPR First Read. Its subject matter was a flu mutation that had wiped out 99% of the population. And now The Guide is set in the third year of an actual pandemic. Seems rather prescient, doesn’t it. Following The Dog Stars were The Painter, Celine, and The River. It’s in The River that readers are first introduced to the character of Jack, who is the main character of The Guide. There are allusions in The Guide made to what happens in The River, but the author handled it with great finesse so that readers can go back and read the previous book and enjoy the full tale. And, The Guide stands alone from reading The River. The reader is clued into the death of his best friend in The River and its devastating impact of Jack, but that’s all you need to know for the story of The Guide

I can’t imagine the first description of this book that would come to a reader’s mind would be pandemic book, and, yet it is indeed a book that has the pandemic at its core. In this story, our country is in the third year of dealing with the COVID virus, which is in itself a bit of a shock, while at the same time you realize it’s not so unexpected. The virus seems to be quasi-controlled at this point, but there is vigilance about outbreaks and mutations, and some areas are better off than others. The fishing resort in Colorado where Jack has just signed on to be a fishing guide prides itself in its guaranteed COVID-free status.

And, so we arrive at The Guide and twenty-six year old Jack coming on the scene at Kingfisher Lodge as its newest fishing guide. Jack is replacing a guide who had to suddenly leave on a family emergency. While this particular resort is new to Jack, being a fishing guide is not. He has taken a break from ranching with his father in Colorado before to spend a few months revitalizing himself, trying to mend the broken parts of him. Most recently, he is suffering the emotional toll of having lost his best friend. The river and the fishing are resources of soul-soothing escape and renewal for Jack. King Fisher Lodge is located on what is referred to as Billionaires’ Mile along a pristine river, a highly prized area for its fishing and scenery that only the very rich can afford to book. When met by the resort’s manager, Kurt Jensen, at the cabin where Jack will reside, Jack is reminded of the non-negotiable rules by which guides must abide. One such rule is the forbiddance of going beyond a certain point on the river that adjoins a crusty old neighbor’s property, a man who doesn’t tolerate trespassing and will show his disdain with a shotgun. But, the river promises great trout fishing, and Jack isn’t too concerned about the inflexible rules. He is here to fish and read and hopefully heal his soul a bit. 

The rich client whom Jack will take fishing every day, or every day she wants, turns out to be a famous singer, but she’s no lazy loafer on vacation. Jack is on call to carry her gear, help her with her line, and hopefully help her catch lots of trout, but Alison proves herself an experienced fisher, having grown up in North Carolina and fished her whole life. She experiences the same moments of Zen that Jack does in fishing, and she likes to hold the fish in her hands before releasing it back into the river, a connection of kindred spirits to her. 

Jack and Allison develop an easy friendship, enjoying each other’s company fishing and otherwise. Everything is designed for comfort and ease at the Kingfisher Lodge, and even the cameras at the bridge crossing the river don’t seem too alarming at first. But, Jack and Alison, who have become a team of sorts, start noticing that something is off. Some of the other guests don’t seem all that interested in fishing and at times appear disoriented. There’s barbed wire topping the fences of the neighboring property that extends across the river, an illegal act.  Jack and Alison both hear what sounds like a scream at night, and although they both agree that it could have been an owl, neither one believes it was an owl. And, there’s that single wading boot sticking out of the disturbed ground cover on the cranky neighbor’s side of the fence that doesn’t sit right with Jack. These occurrences are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. 

Peter Heller does so many things well in this book. He gives substantive information showing a clear picture of where Jack and Alison stand on mores and values, incorporating their backgrounds and present-day actions into a well-filled sense of who they are. Heller manages to blend the character of Jack as a graduate of Dartmouth, an avid reader his whole life (he had me at avid reader), a hard worker on his father’s ranch, a stunningly expert fly fisher, a compassionate person, and a warrior for justice. Alison’s background of growing up in North Carolina gives a grounding to her current life as a celebrity. I appreciated Heller making her an outstanding fly fisher, too, and a person with a good head on her shoulders, unfazed by a challenge. 

The suspense is fueled by small discoveries and occurrences, building to the unthinkable discovery that is all too possible of mankind. Heller is brilliant at adding the small recognitions that keep adding up to the knowledge that something is terribly wrong in this $20,000 a week paradise. I found his pacing to be right on track. Some might think it a bit slow at first, but I think it was purposefully so to establish the fa├žade of the peacefulness and perfectness of the elite fishing lodge. The pacing picks up and throws the reader into full suspense mode when Jack and Alison realize clue by clue that there is a dark secret operating right in front of them. Readers will be drawn to the idyllic setting of the river and the mountains, but the juxtaposition of a sinister setting behind the idyllic is all the more nightmarish because of the contrast. 

One of my favorite aspects of The Guide was the feeling of authenticity I sensed on every single page. Reading Peter Heller’s background explains why that feeling of authenticity is so strong. He has lived the life of a fishing guide, one of his many lives, and his home is in Colorado, where the story takes place. Heller’s description of the river and the surrounding land and mountains reflects his own close relationship to nature in a poetic intimacy. This is thankfully no John Steinbeck rambling of place; it is a mellifluous work of words that soothe and comfort you. The reader is at times able to step outside of the problems of his world and the book’s to be bathed in a light of peaceful purity. 

Here’s the thing about The Guide and Peter Heller. I am smitten with Peter Heller and his writing.  I am excited to write a review of this book and to learn more about both Peter Heller’s fiction books and his non-fiction books, which follow his journeys. Nothing is dearer to a reader than the excitement of a new author and a feeling of connection to his/her writing. After reading The Guide and learning more about Peter Heller, I want to read all his books, fiction and non-fiction. I want to see through his words the breathtaking sights he has encountered and be touched by the incredible storytelling he combines with his respect and love for nature. I am so glad I have more of it to explore.