The Silver Serpent by Scott Mariani

The Silver Serpent by Scott Mariani

It is much harder to write a review of a book like The Silver Serpent that is part of a long-running series than if it was a one-off. You are in danger of repeating yourself to some extent, and can struggle to find something original to say. At the heart of all successful series are the characters and the worlds they inhabit. They find themselves faced with a different situation each time, but ultimately you keep reading to see these characters do what they do best, and overcome whatever obstacle is put in their path. Whether they are action heroes like Ben Hope, police officers or forensic archaeologists the principle is the same.

Ben Hope’s twenty-fifth adventure takes him to the remote Northern Territory of Australia (I had to get the atlas out), where his friend Jeff’s step-father, Kip, has disappeared, and his mother is understandably frantic with worry. Kip has recently inherited a vast tract of land from his uncle Mick, rumoured to be the location of huge silver deposits that Aboriginal legend calls the ‘silver serpent’, but its exact location has never been found – much to the annoyance of Wiley Cooper, a ruthless local mine owner, with an army of hired guns, determined to get his hands on it at any cost.     

The characters are well drawn and believable, some of them extremely nasty, and the setting is vividly brought to life. The immense distances between locations, the extreme heat, and the rough terrain all make Ben’s task more complicated, but he enlists the help of pilot Abbie Logan and has soon worked out what he needs to do. The Silver Serpent is a character-driven adventure story with a gripping plot that moves along at a fast pace and keeps you turning the pages. It is thanks to Scott Mariani’s skill as a writer that this series is still as compelling today as it was at the start. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that there will be many more Ben Hope books to come.  

Anything Could Happen by Lucy Diamond

Anything Could Happen by Lucy Diamond

I have not read anything by Lucy Diamond for quite a few years, but remembered enjoying some of her early books so thought I’d give Anything Could Happen a try. I’m glad I did. Having always believed that Steve was her father, and that he simply didn’t want anything to do with her, Eliza is shocked to discover that he wasn’t. Instead, her biological father turned out to be someone her mother had met briefly on a trip to New York as a young fashion journalist. Lara and Ben spent one amazing night together and arranged to meet the following evening, but she never saw him again.

Eliza is understandably cross with her mother for not telling her the truth, so the two of them set off on a road trip to find Ben and hopefully get some answers. Revisiting her past, and remembering the ambitious young woman she once was, forces Lara to take stock of her life. This is not a light-hearted romance novel, but shows the realistic impact of the decisions they took on all of them. While you can imagine that you know where this story is going, there is always the chance that the predicted outcome won’t happen (just think One Day and Always in December), so I’m not giving anything away when I say that the ending was just right.

The characters are well developed and believable, and I always love a road trip so visiting Scarborough, Cambridge, New York and Edinburgh was a pleasure. Anything Could Happen is a story of missed opportunities and second chances that will both warm your heart and make you think about what might have been. Thanks to Quercus and Friends of Bookends for a copy to review.

A Wedding in Provence by Katie Fforde

A Wedding in Provence by Katie Fforde

Following on from A Wedding in the Country where three young women, Lizzie, Alexandra and Meg, meet on a cookery course and become firm friends, A Wedding in Provence is Alexandra’s story. A chance meeting in Paris leads to her being employed as a nanny to three French children who live in a chateau in Provence. Their father is absent a lot of the time, and their mother left many years before, so they present her with a bit of a challenge to say the least. However, Alexandra is a capable and resourceful young woman and, despite disapproval from almost everyone she meets, gradually gains the children’s trust. Her relationship with them is the main focus of the story, with the romance almost taking second place.    

I have read all of Katie Fforde’s novels over the last twenty years or so, and A Wedding in Provence has a lot of the familiar elements that make her books so memorable. Although it features several characters from her previous book, it won’t matter if you have not read it. It stands on its own just fine, but some things will make more sense if you do.

It is always a pleasure to escape from the real world into a Katie Fforde book, and this is no exception, though I still like her early books the best. The characters are well drawn and believable, and there is a strong sense of time and place, with France in 1963 vividly depicted. It definitely makes you want to book a holiday in Provence and head off in search of the sun. I’m hoping that the next book will be Meg’s story and continue the 1960s theme. Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Dead Man's Stone by TG Reid

Dead Mans Stone by TG Reid

DCI Duncan Bone is still on sick leave recovering from injuries sustained in the previous book, and finally getting treatment for his longstanding PTSD, when a sadistic killer who is dying in prison insists on speaking to him about a forty-year-old cold case. Once again, not sure that he is quite ready, he is drawn back into the heart of an investigation linked to high-ranking and well-respected individuals who are prepared to kill to stop the truth from coming out.

The book opens with a horrific prologue that has the reader hooked right away. The deeper the detectives dig, more secrets are uncovered, and witnesses start dying in suspicious circumstances before they can shed any light on what happened. Can DCI Bone and his team find the killer before anyone else has to die?

The characters are well drawn and easy to distinguish; they all bring different skills to the team. The humorous dialogue, which can occasionally be a bit clunky, offsets the grim nature of the crimes they encounter on a daily basis. There is just enough background about their home life to make them well rounded and believable. It’s good that Bone is getting help, as he is much calmer and easier to work with this time round.   

The setting in the striking scenery of the Campsie Fells is unusual, and makes a change from the big towns and cities in other detective novels. When I was a child, in the 1960s, it was a favourite place for my family to go for a picnic in the summer. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dead Man’s Stone, the third book in the series, and am looking forward to book four, The Killing Parade,  when it comes out later this year. This series just keeps on getting better. I am reviewing this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

London, With Love by Sarra Manning

London With Love by Sarra Manning

Recently, I have read a few novels with a similar premise to London, With Love where the main characters seem destined to be together, but the outcome is unknown. Not all writers manage to do this well, but here Sarra Manning has got it just right. I was interested in the story itself, and not obsessed with how it would all end.  

Jen and Nick meet  in 1986 while doing their A levels at Barnet College and become friends (though she does have a bit of a secret crush on him). Over the following nineteen years, they dip in and out of each other’s lives, never quite on the same page, though their mutual attraction is there for all to see.

The story is told entirely from Jen’s point of view, which means we only see Nick through her eyes, never get his perspective, and only find out what is going on in his life on the occasions they bump into each other. Sarra Manning weaves real historical events into the narrative, along with a soundtrack and popular culture references that help to ground the story in time and place.    

The characters are well drawn, even the minor ones, and we see Jen and Nick mature as the story progresses from insecure teenagers to fully functioning but flawed adults. The title is apt, as the author has painted a loving portrait of her home city and its transport system. I am a fan of Sarra Manning’s writing anyway, and I really enjoyed London, With Love. Thanks to Hodder and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.