The Last Remains by Ellie Griffiths

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths

The Last Remains is a fitting conclusion to a unique series that has had me hooked from the very beginning. Ruth is called in when human remains are discovered in a café in King’s Lynn. The victim is identified as Emily Pickering, a student at Cambridge who went missing in 2002. At the time of her disappearance, she was on a field trip to Grime’s Graves, a Neolithic flint mining site in Norfolk. She set off for home, but never got there. Suspicion falls on her tutor Leo Ballard, and on Ruth’s friend Cathbad who, coincidentally, knew Emily at that time.

Change is in the air… Michelle is divorcing Nelson and going back to live in Blackpool. The Archaeology department is under threat of closure, so Ruth may have to look for another job elsewhere. Ruth and Nelson are trying to work out if they have a future together.

There is also a feeling of loose ends being tied up, echoes from the past, recurring characters and references to the other books in the series – all of this gives the reader a feeling of closure. It is written in the present tense, which can be unpalatable to some readers, but the writing and characterisation are so good I scarcely noticed. As always, the setting on the saltmarsh has an atmosphere all of its own (you could not imagine Ruth living anywhere else) and the plot incorporates strange local myths and legends. I was sad that this was the final book in the series, but plan to start at the beginning and savour them all over again.

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sally Milz is a writer on live TV comedy sketch show The Night Owls. Her male colleague is romantically involved with a glamorous actress – punching above his weight she thinks – as are several others on the show. Sally writes a sketch ‘The Danny Horst Rule’ poking fun at this phenomenon, but also suggesting that the opposite would be unlikely to happen. Enter Noah Brewster – popular singer-songwriter with a reputation for dating models – as guest host and musical guest on the show.  He and Sally hit it off, but she can’t believe he could really be attracted to her. Two years later he gets back in touch, so maybe she was wrong?

Curtis Sittenfeld is known for writing literary fiction, so Romantic Comedy is a bit of a departure from her usual subject matter, but then again this is not like other romcoms. Firstly, the structure is unusual with only three chapters, a prologue and epilogue loosely divided up only by date and time. If you normally like to stop at the end of a chapter,  you will find it difficult here. The first chapter describes in great detail how the live show is written and put together. I did think there was a bit too much emphasis here, and did not find it as amusing as I was perhaps meant to. No matter, I was intrigued enough to carry on reading. The second chapter consists entirely of emails between Sally and Noah, as a prelude to them meeting up again in the final chapter. Noah is obviously used to life as a famous musician and all that that entails, but for Sally it is a bit of a shock to be recognised and photographed everywhere they go. Mentions of politics and covid will mean Romantic Comedy is forever set in place and time.

It is beautifully written with believable characters and I really hoped they could overcome the obstacles and make a go of it. Sally is deeply flawed, but her continuing lack of self-belief got a bit wearing after a while. Random trivia – the Indigo Girls mentioned throughout the book are a real band and I even found we had a CD at home. I have not read any of Curtis Sittenfeld’s other books, but plan to correct that as soon as possible.

Clues to You by Claire Huston

Clues to You by Claire Huston

Clues to You is the third book in the ‘Love in the Comptons’ series, but can easily be read on its own as each story has different main characters, with only the occasional appearance of characters from previous books. Primary school teacher Kate Brannon is attending a 1930s Murder Mystery Weekend in a country mansion with her friends Bella and Ethan, and is not pleased to find that Max Ravenscroft is also on her team. They have history, but she gradually comes to realise that she has seriously misjudged him. With Bella and Ethan distracted by visits to the spa and a wedding venue, Kate and Max are left to try and solve the murder and win the prize money. At first, Kate is a bit uptight, but she gradually loosens up, and she and Max get to know each other better. They make a good team, and they seem to be the only ones taking the murder mystery seriously.

The setting in the Victorian manor house adds atmosphere to the story. Claire Huston weaves the two strands of the narrative skillfully together, and you forget that the characters in the murder mystery are actors, who are supposed to stay in character, but don’t always manage it. Unlike the first two books in this series, this is a combination of cosy mystery and romance. There are doubts about the competition being fixed as the prize money has not been won for many years, and this adds an extra layer of intrigue.  I was vaguely aware of references to Agatha Christie’s books, and if you are a fan it would be fun to spot them. The plot is complicated, with lots of twists and red herrings thrown in, and the ending rounds it all off nicely. Clues to You was a bit slow to get going, but once it did I was riveted and had to keep reading to find out the identity of the murderer.  I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for the next book in this thoroughly enjoyable series. Thanks to Claire Huston for a digital copy that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

Eva Mallory's Husband Hunt by Katherine Dyson

Eva Mallorys Husband Hunt by Katherine Dyson

Eva Mallory believes her family name is cursed, so the sooner she can find a husband and take his name the better. Her family is keen to help and offers up a variety of contenders for the role, most of them extremely unsuitable. On the other hand, perhaps it’s nothing to do with the Mallory name and she is just very clumsy and a bit accident prone – a lot of people are.

Fairly early on, she meets Luke and thinks her luck has changed at last, only to discover he shares her surname. He is also the new teacher at the same school where Eva works, so she tries to avoid him, but they are thrown together repeatedly. The attraction between them is strong, so will she come to her senses, when she learns the truth behind the supposed curse, and follow her true feelings – you will just have to read it for yourself to find out.

The best things about Eva Mallory’s Husband Hunt are the scenes set in the school (you will never think of a stationery cupboard in the same way again), and her eccentric family who are originally of Polish heritage. The characters are well drawn, the Leeds setting makes a pleasant change, and there are a lot of light-hearted humorous scenes where we are encouraged to buy into the idea of the family curse no matter how ridiculous it might seem at first. I enjoyed Eva Mallory’s Husband Hunt a lot, and will definitely look out for other books by this author. Thanks to One More Chapter, HarperCollins and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Cast a Cold Eye by Robbie Morrison

Cast A Cold Eye by Robbie Morrison

Cast a Cold Eye is Robbie Morrison’s second novel featuring DI Jimmy Dreghorn and DS Archie McDaid of the Special Crime Squad. Set in Glasgow in 1933, with the city fully in the grip of the Depression, a body found on a narrowboat on the Forth and Clyde canal rings alarm bells for the detectives. The victim has been shot in the back of the head, execution style, which is unusual in a city where violence and knife crime are rife, but guns are not. The complicated plot involves criminal gangs and the IRA, and nobody knows what the Special Branch officers are up to, as they are not big fans of sharing information with the detectives.

This atmospheric crime novel portrays the city of Glasgow as a hotbed of sectarian violence, and gives the reader an insight into the history behind it all. Robbie Morrison paints a vivid portrait of Glasgow at this time. I grew up in the area in the 1960s and 1970s, and could still recognise a lot of the places he describes. Make no mistake, this is a very violent story, but the banter between the detectives helps to take the edge off.  

At the heart of this series are the characters of Dreghorn and McDaid. We get a bit more background in this second book, and this helps us to understand them better. Dreghorn is a flawed character, traumatised by what he experienced during WW1. He is no stranger to violence, sometimes makes questionable choices, but this is a nuanced portrayal of a damaged individual who has nothing in his life apart from his job. McDaid, on the other hand, is a devoted family man who can leave his work behind when he goes home. They make a good team – their unorthodox methods certainly get results.

I read a lot of what is termed ‘Tartan Noir’, and Cast a Cold Eye is up there with the best. It stands out because of the excellent characterisation, and the strong sense of time and place. I look forward to reading the next book in this gripping series. Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.