The Lie Maker by Linwood Barclay

I was kindly gifted a copy of Linwood Barclay’s ‘The Lie Maker’ by HQ Stories.

Wow, there are so many books in the world that, as I was reading this, I thought this was the first time that I had read Linwood Barclay – however, I was mistaken. In fact, five years ago I had read one of his books, and I admit that maybe I should remember all the novels that I have enjoyed, but I think, for me, this actually means this is evidence of a good author, as I do not feel I was reading a book that I had read before, but something completely fresh.

‘The Lie Maker’ was an absolutely fantastic read. In fact, I devoured it in two days; this was a book that the phrase ‘I cannot put it down’ was created for. I shut myself away just so that I could get the book finished.

A friend messaged me to tell me that ‘He [Linwood Barclay] is an absolute master’ – and she was not wrong. This was such a clever idea for a book; our main character is offered a job writing the background stories for people who go into witness protection, but – as you can imagine – this is not going to be a job that is smooth sailing…if it is a job at all. Now, that is as much as I can say for the moment because, as a thriller/crime novel, there will be no spoilers here.

But what I can say is that this book is well crafted and has you guessing from start to finish, I think maybe a couple of the reveals may not come as a total shock, but they are all so cleverly woven into the story that you are not at all disappointed. I definitely did not have the solutions in my head before we got to the end. The characterisation of all the characters was fantastic, too, making the story very believable as a piece of fiction.

I think it is fair to say that I have been reminded that I am a fan of Linwood Barclay, and I will be looking for his books in the bookshops and the libraries. And, as he is an author that counts Stephen King amongst his fans, you know you must be a reading an author who deserves the title of ‘an absolute master’.

One-Armed Jack: Uncovering the real Jack the Ripper by Sarah Bax Horton

I was kindly gifted a copy of ‘One-Armed Jack: Uncovering the real Jack the Ripper’ by Sarah Bax Horton, by the lovely Tandem Collective UK.

As someone who has a passion for history and loves a good mystery, this was a great book to have the chance to be on a readalong for. We have to all admit that we have probably heard of the crimes of Jack the Ripper, and there have been so many who have tried to work out exactly who this infamous character was (as the name ‘Jack the Ripper’ was penned by the media of the day). And the case has, of course, been hitting the headlines again in recent years as we look at reframing history to remove the sensationalisation of the crimes, while ensuring that the women are remembered for the real people they were, and not just as the victims of this figure. Hallie Rubenhold’s book ‘The Five’ starts this very important conversation, reframing that historical narrative to bring ‘her-story’ and not just ‘his-story’ to the world.

But I digress; let us return to ‘One-Armed Jack’. This book was an absolutely fascinating read, bringing us not just the history of ‘Jack the Ripper’, but also ensuring that the canonical five (just as Rubenhold did) have their story shared too (as well as others who may also have been the victim of Jack the Ripper when you look at the actions of such a serial killer).

I do not want to give spoilers to this true crime book as, realistically, it is still a thrilling read that brings us evidence that allows her to prove why exactly she (and others) believe that Hyam Hyams could well have been the man we know as ‘Jack the Ripper’. I found all this work and evidence incredibly interesting, and I can see exactly why this man may well have been in the frame. And, maybe just the lack of expertise in policing at the time – as we all know that things have to develop and improve – may have been the reason why he was never really discovered in Victorian England.

I find the study of Hyam Hyams as a figure intriguing in this book, and it becomes very thought-provoking when the experiences of his past are used as evidence as to why he may have committed such terrible crimes. Yet he would not have been the only person (sadly) in Victorian London who may have had such an experience. As his life goes on, you see that some of those of experiences would not be to unique to him – so, really, why do some chose one path and others a different one? It is easy to see why people have such a keen interest in true crime and those who commit it – but what this book does so well is to not glamourise it, which we know some media outlets have been accused of previously.

This book is one that I will definitely be encouraging people to read if they have an interest in this piece of history – the social history, as well as the particular story of Jack the Ripper. I think a clear case is made – with evidence – that Hyam Hyams could well have been the man that evaded the authorities for so long. However, it is clear that we will never really know; there is no way that anyone can tell us for certain – so maybe we will always have to have an open mind, and there may well be others who decide to investigate another figure.

But, for now, ‘One-Armed Jack’ is a book you should read if you’re looking for a well-researched and clearly laid out case that could potentially identify ‘Jack the Ripper’.

The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville

I am ashamed to say that ‘The Night of the Flood’ has been on my tbr pile for well over a year. This was a book I picked up after the 2022 ‘Tasting Notes Live’ event where I heard Zoe Somerville speak. I finally picked it up in August from ‘The Unread Shelf Project’ prompt of ‘Immerse’, as I felt this book would be a rather atmospheric read that would transport me back to the Norfolk of the early 1950s.

This book was inspired by the real floods which hit the Norfolk coastline in 1953 – and they become the setting for a fantastic slow-burn thriller. However, the thing that really drew me into this story was the backdrop of the Cold War. It was so interesting that this was a book about civilians (rather than a pure spy story) during the time and how much of an influence this unknown quantity of what was happening actually created such an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. It is always in the background of this story, haunting the characters and making Jack such an enigma of a character (I am still not sure if I warmed to him or not as I read this story). This is, of course, combined with the hangover from the Second World War – the idea that life is precious and can be sadly cut short – emphasised, again, by the tragedy of the floods.

There is also a great study of the taboos of British society at the time. And that some of these taboos, combined with the fear generated by the Cold War, were adding to the anxiety felt by many as they attempted to live their lives – the way they were expected to, even if it was not the way they truly wanted to.

I became truly hooked on this book once I was immersed amongst its pages. I found the characters and their experiences fascinating – against such a historic background. Zoe Somerville creates so much atmosphere with her writing that you can almost imagine being there and really witnessing what is taking place, which made it a perfect choice to the prompt of ‘Immerse’.

I will definitely be looking out for ‘The Marsh House’ and adding that to my tbr pile.