Meet Zoe Finch, West Midlands Police’s newest Detective Inspector. She’s outspoken, ambitious, and damaged. And she’s working a case that could make her career, or cost her everything…
Fresh from the success of the Canary investigation into depravity and corruption at the highest levels, Zoe has attracted attention. Not least from Assistant Chief Constable Bryn Jackson.
But when Jackson is brutally murdered on the night of his retirement party, Zoe is dragged into a case that’s deeply personal.
All the evidence points to the victim’s downtrodden wife, who has secrets of her own. But Zoe begins to suspect all isn’t as it seems. Could Jackson’s death be linked to the Canary case? And what is her new boss, DCI David Randle, hiding?
Seeking out the truth will force Zoe to confront her own past and put her career, and her team’s lives, on the line.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
Female-led police procedurals are a favourite of mine, and this is one that I will add to my list of series to follow. Zoe Finch is a forceful character, dedicated to her career and her son. She’s intelligent and diligent and has caught the attention of the top echelons of the police after success in her last case. At the outset, the reader isn’t sure whether this due to her detecting skills or the threat she poses, to the hierarchy.
The death of a senior police officer puts Zoe in the middle of a politically sensitive murder inquiry. The victim had enemies, some close to home, and Zoe’s immediate superior seems determined to relegate her to the sidelines and close the case quickly.
Well-paced and plotted this story has an addictive quality. It explores contemporary issues concerning the police force, particularly corruption and misogyny. The characters are complex and relatable. The suspense building leads to many surprises, and there’s an undercurrent of menace increasing as the story reaches its climax.
My name’s Rachel McLean and I write thrillers that make you think.
What does that mean?
In short, I want my stories to make your pulse race and your brain tick.
Do you often get through a thriller at a breakneck pace but are left with little sense of what the book was really about? Do you sometimes read literary fiction but just wish something would damn well happen?
My books aim to fill that gap.
If you’d like to know more about my books and receive extra bonus content, please join my book club at rachelmclean.com/bookclub. I’ll send you a weekly email with news about my writing research and progress, stories and bonus content for each book. And I’ll let you know when my books are on offer.
The Ugly Duckling meets the Gothic novel: a plain governess, a romantic Miss, a stern but handsome guardian, involved in a midnight chase, a woman dressed in britches and a gloomy castle. Throw in a bit of Vivaldi and some French philosophy, and you have it all!
If Rosemary can’t control her wayward pupil and prove her worth to her guardian the Earl, her future is bleak.
When Marianne’s father dies, she and her governess Rosemary are forced to go and live with her guardian the Earl of Tyndell. The Earl has strict ideas about how young ladies should behave. He isn’t impressed by the romantic notions Marianne has absorbed straight from the pages of a Gothic novel. And her governess is not only dowdy but perfectly ready to put him in his place, especially regarding his ideas about the education of women. But when the Earl’s interest in Rosemary blossoms just as Marianne falls in love with the last person he would ever agree to her marrying, where will it all end?
Read Rosemary or Too Clever to Love to see how this tangle is sorted out.
In spite of its light-hearted and often humorous tone, this charming novel raises questions about women’s education and philosophy. Book Group discussion topic have been included at the end.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
This is a traditional styled Regency Romance featuring Rosemary. Rosemary comes from a genteel, impoverished background and is forced into service to survive. Marianne her charge becomes the ward of the mysterious Earl of Tyndell, on her father’s death and the two women face an uncertain future.
The novel explores the role of women in Regency society and their lack of power. Rosemary is well-educated, and this makes her unusual in Regency society. The chemistry between Rosemary and Giles the Earl is slow-burning but allows the emotional connection to keep pace with the physical attraction. This is a gentle romance with witty dialogue and unrequited feelings that are enjoyable.
Character-driven this story concentrates on the present with only necessary information on the characters’ backgrounds. The story is engaging and romantic.
Excerpt from Rosemary Too Clever to Love
Rosemary and Marianne put on a play Rosemary has written about Mary Queen of Scots in a ruined chapel in the grounds.
On the day of the performance, the footmen had carried all the chairs from the ballroom downhill to the ruins, the maids had swept the chancel of bird droppings and leaves and the cook had finally filled her baking pans when, about midday, they received the devastating news that the two young men would be unable to perform. They had that morning been indulging in their favorite pastime of running along the top of the walls that flanked the Hardcastle estate, when they had been surprised by a pheasant shooting from its covert and had fallen headlong into a large bed of tall stinging nettles. Their hands and faces, and more particularly their eyelids, had been quite viciously stung, and all the application of mashed dock leaves in the world had not reduced the swelling. The doctor had been called and had advised their remaining quietly in their beds with the blinds down and cold compresses on their eyes. He had given them a small dose of laudanum and they were presently sleeping. There was no possibility of their performing that day.
It was impossible to change the arrangements. People would be arriving in under three hours. With Marianne wailing and her head in a spin, Rosemary made a rapid decision. Luckily, she had kept both young men’s costumes at High House, not trusting them to remember them. She sent a note to Mrs. Hardcastle, asking her to send over a shirt and britches, possibly something Jasper had grown out of. She would play the parts herself. When she told Marianne what she had decided, that young lady was torn between gratitude and being scandalized.
“You’re going to appear in public in britches?” she gasped. “But, but… how will you change?” She looked horrified.
“Don’t refine upon it dear,” replied Rosemary with more calm than she felt. It will just be for a moment. I just have to wear the britches for Bothwell. He’s the only one seen in normal men’s clothing. And as for changing, I won’t have to, really. I shall go down to the ruins in the britches under my Darnley shroud, with my cloak over all. I shall go behind one of the pillars and take off my cloak. I can play Darnley, then I have only to remove the shroud to play Bothwell. That’s the only time I’ll be seen in britches. Afterwards I’ll don the apron for the Executioner. It will work, I assure you. The good news is that his lordship told me yesterday he will not be able to see the play, as he has urgent business with one of his tenants. Something to do with flooding after all this rain. I was a little disappointed, but now I’m delighted. Say nothing to him, for heaven’s sake!”
Marianne was sufficiently reassured to be able to face his lordship later without a tremor, and when he offered his apologies for missing the performance, said with tolerable equanimity, “Oh, it’s only a silly amusement for children, after all! You may be happy to be missing it.”
The time for the performance arrived. The performers hid behind the chapel pillars and the audience took their seats. The servants from High House stood behind the chairs. They had been agog at all the preparations and what they had seen of the rehearsals. They had obtained the housekeeper’s permission to leave their posts to watch the play, provided they hurried back to serve the guests at tea.
Rosemary rang a bell she had borrowed for the purpose. When the audience quieted, Marianne came forward and announced the title of the piece, then arranged herself on a low draped table serving as her bed. Her head up, as she had been instructed, Mariah walked across as the silent chorus with her notice, and they were off. Rosemary had powdered her hair and face. She dropped her cloak behind a pillar and stepped forward in her shroud. There was a little stir, as it became clear who was playing the part, but it soon quieted as she spoke out in a low, carrying voice. With a dignified gesture, she accused Mary of murdering her.
The Smythe boy came next and did well, hesitating a little at first, but then speaking out boldly and clearly. During that time, Rosemary quickly stripped off the sheet. As she bent to step out of it and to shake the powder from her hair, she was observed from behind by the Earl, who had completed his business more quickly than expected and had returned with more enthusiasm than he would have imagined to see the entertainment. He strode swiftly down the hill, quite by chance approaching at an angle that allowed him to see behind the pillar where Rosemary was effecting her change. He did not at first realize what he was seeing, but then recognized her and stopped abruptly to admire her shapely derriere as she bent in the rather tight britches, for Mrs. Hardcastle had sent over a pair that Jasper had long outgrown. Luckily, Rosemary did not see him, or she would have hesitated before slipping into the embroidered doublet and jamming the feathered hat upon her head. As it was, she came onto the stage and carried off the part of Bothwell with enormous verve, her tone insinuating and insulting, a complete contrast to Darnley. The audience, by now into the story, certainly recognized her, but they were too entranced by the performance to wonder at it.
It was only as she was leaving the stage that her eye fell upon the Earl and her heart gave a leap. Whether she was glad to see him, or embarrassed that he saw her, she could not afterwards tell, and anyway, she was too busy changing herself into the Executioner to think about it. Queen Elizabeth and her lady made their entrance. After all their histrionics during rehearsals, the twins were inclined to look down and fail to project, until Rosemary hissed at them to look at the audience and for the queen to speak up. Mariah crossed the scene for the third Act, and the trial and execution scenes began.
Without telling the other performers, Rosemary had arranged that there would be a pan of red paint behind the black draped stool that served as the execution block. When the axe, a realistic looking instrument with a blade made of heavy card fitted onto a broomstick, came down to cut the head three times, this, by historical account, being the number of strokes required to sever Mary’s head, it came up with red along its blade. There was a collective gasp, both from the audience and the other actors. Then, before raising the severed head, a gory affair made of papier mâché, she dipped it in the pan too, so that when she held it aloft, it dripped in a lifelike grisly fashion. One or two of the housemaids screamed and the audience murmured in delicious horror.
The performance was greeted with enormous acclaim. The Smythes were delighted with their lad’s performance and, ignoring or forgetting the hours Rosemary had spent with him to get him to stand up straight and enunciate clearly, seemed to think it was all his own doing. Mrs. Pendleton was pleased with her daughters in spite of their lackluster performance, while Mr. Pendleton was pleased with the sight of Rosemary in britches. Like the Earl, he had not failed to notice her bottom. He sought her out, but she, quickly donning her cloak and running up the hill, managed to avoid everyone. She went straight to her bedchamber, quickly brushed the rest of the powder out of her hair and changed into a gown. By the time she came down again, the guests had gathered in the drawing room and the tea was being brought in.
“Ah, Miss Drover,” remarked the Earl, seeing her. “I hope you will act as hostess and pour the tea?” he made no mention of the britches.
Rosemary was both astonished and flattered. She had planned to ask Mrs. Hardcastle to act as hostess. She knew that by asking her, his lordship had elevated her status in the household. She inclined her head and went immediately to the silver pots of tea and hot water. She was glad to do it, less for the distinction it gave her, than because it prevented her having to deal with all the questions and comments that her performance would inevitably bring. She had already noticed Mr. Pendleton eying her with light in his eye she did not like. She heard the word britches whispered around the room, usually with sidelong glances at her, but Mrs. Hardcastle wasted no time in describing the accident that had befallen the two male actors, loudly commending Miss Drover for not allowing it to prevent the play from going forward.
Rosemary kept her eyes on the teapots and the maids distributing the cups, until the novelty of her performance appeared to wear off. By the time she was forced to join the guests, as usual on these occasions, the women were sitting in groups chatting about domestic issues, while the gentlemen stood together, talking of horses, farming or world affairs. However, she was not to escape so easily.
“Here is our heroine!” announced Mrs. Hardcastle, and there was a round of applause.
“Jolly well done!” pronounced the General. “I must say, I didn’t realize it was you under that sheet until later when you appeared in those britches. They never looked better, I dare say!”
The General obviously thought his social standing was so impeachable that he could say what he liked. There was a slightly embarrassed murmur from most of the gentlemen, though Mr. Pendleton was heard to mutter “here, here,” and the ladies had the grace at look at the floor, all except Mrs. Mannering, who looked at Rosemary with patent dislike.
“It’s lucky Rosemary knew all the lines, because she wrote the play,” cried Marianne, instinctively recognizing that her companion somehow needed protection, “and she worked out so quickly how she could play all the missing parts. I think she’s amazing!”
“And I think my fellow actors deserve most of the credit for continuing as if nothing were amiss” said Rosemary, smiling at Marianne and glad to be able to deflect the conversation from herself. “We must thank them all for their hard work and dedication, not excluding the poor young gentlemen who are lying abed and missed it all. Tell us, Mrs. Hardcastle, ma’am, how were they going on when you left?”
Thus she diverted the conversation, and his lordship, who was not enjoying the oblique references to the charms of a woman he unaccountably was beginning to think of as his own, took the opportunity to announce that sherry or Madeira was available for the gentlemen who preferred that to tea. He was certainly one of them.
I’m a product of a convent boarding school in the south of England in the 1950’s and early 60’s. You can probably guess I received an old-fashioned education. I learned a great deal about the humanities and practically nothing in the sciences. I understand Latin, speak French fluently and my German isn’t bad. I read the Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English when I was 16 and Shakespeare is an open book. But the only science I remember is the ditty: Miss Cummings (our teacher) was a scientist, alas she is no more, for what she took for H2O (water) was H2SO4 (sulfuric acid). Not bad, eh? Words to live by.
I met my American husband while working in Brussels (Belgium). Then we moved to Bonn (Germany). I had three children in a foreign tongue. If you want to know how to say “push” in French and German, ask me!
I’ve lived in the USA for over 40 years, have seven grandchildren and the same husband I started with. We live in a small town in upstate New York but nowadays spend the winter in Florida. I need to sell lots of books so we can buy a waterfront condo! (laughs ironically).
I love my garden, telling my grandchildren stories and eating desserts. I’d give up a steak for a Key Lime Pie any day!
I began writing Regency Romances just under two years ago after the death of my beloved sister who was in the convent with me all those years ago. We used to read them under the covers with a torch after lights out. My books are dedicated to her.
I’ve so far indie published three. The third, Rosemary or Too Clever to Love, just came out at the beginning of May. I’m writing a fourth and editing a trilogy I wrote 18 months ago. I plan on publishing them over the summer.
I love Regency Romances and they’ve always been a guilty pleasure. I was a French professor, and I tell you, after a day of teaching Existentialism, you need a bit of sprigged muslin and some polished topboots to clear your head.
But more than that, I think they fulfil a need for order and calm that is so lacking in our lives today. You know that Almack’s is only going to allow entry to men in white britches; you know young ladies may only dance twice with the same man at the ball; you know the couple is going to get together, no matter how mismatched they appear, or how many obstacles are in their path.
There is something soothing about it all. Of course, it’s escapism and it’s often silly, but it’s always satisfying.
Having been a teacher for 30 years, I find I can’t get away from the urge to provoke discussion. Plus, I belong to three Book Groups. I’ve therefore included Discussion Topics at the end of my last two novels. I hope my readers will have fun with them.