I’m happy to share the cover for a new #ganglit novel due out on 23 January 2020. Look out for my #review and a Q&A with Stephanie Harte on Publication Day, here when I kick off the blog tour in the new year.
Gemma is about to risk it
all for the man she loves. Will she survive entering into a life of crime?
Gemma has always been there for Nathan. He’s the love of her
life and she made a commitment to him, one she’d never consider breaking…
until smooth-talking gangster Alfie Watson comes into their lives and changes
Alfie doesn’t care about true love – he wants Gemma, and the
gangster always gets what he wants. When Nathan ends up owing him money, Alfie
gets payback by recruiting Gemma to carry out a jewellery heist. To everyone’s
surprise, she’s a natural. Until Alfie forgives Nathan’s debt, she has no
choice but to accompany the gangster on more and more daring heists – even
though one slip-up could cost her everything.
Nathan might have fallen under Alfie’s spell, but it doesn’t
take long for him to realise that he needs to save Gemma from his own mistakes
if their marriage is to have any chance of surviving. But when that means
taking on the East End’s most notorious gangster at his own game, will he find
himself up to the challenge?
Hatred is such a nasty thing – we all deplore it in others but do not necessarily recognise it in ourselves. At what point does resentment, jealousy, betrayal or humiliation turn into anger and then grow to an all-consuming hatred? Hatred can be slow, taking years to fester, or can explode in seconds – it can linger for a lifetime or wither in seconds of its conception.
Inspector Matthew Merry and Sergeant Julie Lukula have to deal with the consequences of violence and murder on a daily basis and in the case of Gerry Driver, they both see that hatred is the prime motive. But is it, as Julie thinks, one of a series of hate crimes that has led to this killing? Or, is Matthew right in saying, ‘Driver’s death is undoubtedly a hate-filled crime but I’m just not convinced that there are sufficient links to suggest it is part of a pattern of hate crimes.’
Only time and their investigation, which takes as many twists and turns as the Thames does along its course through London and past Wapping Old Stairs will tell.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
Another well-researched police procedural set in the Whitechapel in the East End of London. The plot is twisty, and there is a convoluted mystery for the police team, and the reader to solve. The crime is nasty, and the question posed, whether this is an isolated hate crime or part of a series threatening a particular section of the community? Makes this realistic crime fiction.
The murder investigation team, first introduced in ‘The Fourth Victim’, remains disparate but effective. DI Mathew Merry is difficult to empathise, making it hard for me to connect with him, and as he is integral to the drama, the story as a whole. Despite this, the police procedural is well-written and believable and will appeal to those who like a mystery to solve and are less concerned with the redeeming features of the protagonists.
John was born in the mid-fifties in East London, on part of the largest council estate ever built, and was the first pupil from his local secondary modern school to attend university. He has now taken early retirement to write, having spent the first part of his life working in education and the public sector. He was the director of a college, a senior school inspector for a local authority, and was head of a unit for young people with physical and mental health needs.
He has travelled extensively, from America to Tibet, and he enjoys visiting the theatre, reading and going to the pub. It is, perhaps, no surprise that he is an avid ‘people watcher’ and loves to find out about people, their lives, culture and history. When he is not travelling, going to the theatre or the pub; he writes.
Many of the occurrences recounted and the characters found in his novels are based on real incidents and people he has come across. Although he has allowed himself a wide degree of poetic licence in writing about the main characters, their motivations and the killings that are depicted.
John is currently working on a series of novels set in modern-day London. These police procedurals examine the darker side of modern life in the East End of the city.
The inspector recalled studying Geraldine’s face at close quarters and, even after she’d been dead a few hours, there had been no sign of Gerry to give the game away. Such was the persuasiveness of Gerry’s impersonation that he had tricked death into accepting him as Geraldine.
*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
In the darkest days of the Blitz, family is more important than ever.
With her family struggling amidst the nightly bombing raids in London’s East End, Ida Brogan is doing her very best to keep their spirits up. The Blitz has hit the Brogans hard, and rationing is more challenging than ever, but they are doing all they can to help the war effort.
When Ida’s oldest friend Ellen returns to town, sick and in dire need of help, it is to Ida that she turns. But Ellen carries a secret, one that threatens not only Ida’s marriage but the entire foundation of the Brogan family. Can Ida let go of the past and see a way to forgive her friend? And can she overcome her sadness to find a place in her heart for a little boy, one who will need a mother more than ever in these dark times?
I received a copy of this book from Atlantic Books – Corvus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The sense of community, family and the austerity of wartime London is conveyed well in this historical family saga. Part of the ‘Ration Book’ series, none of, which I have read, it works well as a standalone. However, the engaging characters, historical detail and sense of place, make me want to read the earlier books.
1941, London has suffered two long years of war, rationing makes living difficult, and the ever-present threat of nightly bombing means that living each day to the full, and appreciating your family is vital. Ida Brogan is a character who does this, she values her family and still loves her husband, but the return of an old friend in need makes her question everything that has gone before. The main plot focuses on her struggle to come to terms with this unwanted knowledge, and how it affects the family she holds so dearly.
There are many subplots interwoven into the story that gives it authenticity, depth and variety, which keeps the reader turning the pages. Outstanding characters are Ida, Jeremiah and Queenie. They are complex and believably flawed. The plot is well-paced and gives enough detail for you to appreciate the ambience of London’s EastEnd in WW2, without slowing the pace. The relationships, rationing and sense of community are beautifully conveyed and relatable. They made me recall my grandparents’ and parents’ wartime experiences, retold on numerous occasions during my childhood.
A lovely blend of family drama and history, with a realistic balance of humour and poignancy.
Jean Fullerton is the author of twelve novels all set in East London where she was born. She also a retired district nurse and university lecturer. She won the Harry Bowling Prize in 2006 and after initially signing for two East London historical series with Orion she moved to Corvus, part of Atlantic Publishing and is halfway through her WW2 East London series featuring the Brogan family.
Whitechapel is being gentrified. The many green spaces of the area, which typify London as a capital city, give the illusion of tranquillity and clean air but are also places to find drug dealers, sexual encounters and murder…
Detective Sergeant Julie Lukula doesn’t dislike Inspector Matthew Merry but he has hardly set the world of the Murder Investigation Team East alight. And, it looks as if the inspector is already putting the death of the young female jogger, found in the park with fatal head injuries, down to a mugging gone wrong. The victim deserves more. However, the inspector isn’t ruling anything out – the evidence will, eventually, lead him to an answer.
Is this story inspired by a real event? If not, what are the inspirations behind this story?
Most of the ideas I have are sparked by incidents I’ve heard about or been involved in. However, they do get greatly adapted to fit the plot. For example, the idea to set the main narrative of The Fourth Victim in Whitechapel came from walking past Lehman Street police station and wondering what a modern-day Jack the Ripper might be like. It didn’t take me long to decide that the events if enacted today, would be more mundane – less sensational in this jaded age – and Jack would be psychoanalysed to death. Though he or she would, no doubt, be a Twitter celeb – at least for a day!
Given that I wanted to write something about how the police deal with mental health issues, and how this impacts on the nature of criminality and victimhood; then that ‘Whitechapel Ripper’ setting seemed to put everything into place.
Is it important to create memorable detectives in this genre? Why do think this is?
In general, I would say it is important to create a memorable team of detectives. Even if it is mainly a partnership – Morse had Lewis but also Dr Max DeBryn and Strange, while Poirot had Hastings and Japp. Although neither Morse nor Poirot could function in a modern police force. A better example would be Vera or Montalbano, both of whom have their teams and sidekicks. It is the people around the central character and their relationships which define them and make them memorable.
It is, therefore, necessary to create characters which are relatable, well-roundedhumans with flaws and inconsistencies. The interactions of these characters are what creates interest and bring the story alive. I tend to find ‘lone wolf’ characters unrealistic, especially in the police as these are organisations based on teamwork. If you consider some of the more modern ‘classic’ detectives, like Martin Beck or Wallander, they may not be the best team players but they are still part of a team and interact with them. This is as true of the criminals – no one is all good or all bad – and the victims. Both of which are often used as mere plot devices and quickly forgotten, while in reality, they are central to the crime.
Do your detectives have to be likeable? Why is this?
No, not essentially, in reality, how many of the detectives you read about would you want to spend an evening with (Holmes would be insufferable and Jimmy Perez would be maudlin)? I would say it is more important to make them understandable, to show their weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as their strengths – this is what makes a character interesting and, hopefully, why people want to read about them.
Take Maigret or Elise Wassermann, these characters only become likeable once you start to understand their backgrounds and relationships. Both these characters might seem to be the typical ‘lone wolf’ detective but neither would be anything more than a cypher until you realise that Maigret needs his wife to give him a strong anchor in life and Wassermann, who is autistic, is really doing her utmost to fit in. Otherwise, neither of them would be particularly likeable.
Do you draw your characters from real life, your imagination, or are they a mix of both? How do you make your characters realistic?
Sometimes, someone, I come across sparks an idea for a character and, at other times, I realise a character I have written reminds me of someone I know. But, on the whole, I find the characters develop a life of their own – once you have a few basic characteristics defined for a character it is surprising how complex they can become.
What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?
I enjoy books that teach me something: whether it is about writing technique, a moment in history or life in general.
Treasure Island is technically the best book ever written. Not a word is wasted, the plot is fast-paced, the characters are well rounded and every scene comes to life. Which is quite a feat?
Though I like anything by PG Woodhouse for his wordplay, and CJ Sansom and C Hibbert for their impeccable research.
These days I generally read crime fiction – usually, police procedurals – and the masters of this genre are Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö who wrote the Martin Beck series.
What are you currently writing?
Having decided to write a trilogy based on the Metropolitan Police’s Major Investigation Team East – who deal with murders in modern-day East End of London – I have discovered this is actually a ‘trilogy’ in four parts. And I am currently working on the final two parts of this series, the second book in the series – Geraldine – is being published at the end of September.
However, I am also working on the plot of another book, an allegorical story of modern life. It’s about a paranoid white suprematist who befriends a homeless Muslim woman – now if I can pull that off who knows what will come next …
What are the best and the worst things about being a writer?
I absolutely love the act of writing, editing and all aspects of the process – I become totally absorbed by it. Unfortunately, because I am naturally lazy, I completely hate the thought of having to start writing, editing or anything else connected with the process, and do all I can to put it off.
Life is full of contradictions.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
The iconic setting of Whitechapel for this book puts you in the correct frame of mind for murder. Although this part of the EastEnd of London, is much changed, it seems the possibility of a serial killer is an uncomfortable echo of its gruesome past.
Detective Inspector Merry, who on the surface is anything but, and Detective Sergeant Lukula make an interesting an investigating duo. The other members of the murder investigating team are also distinctive, and despite their personality differences, the team functions well.
This is a character-driven police procedural, with well-drawn realistic characters whose multiple human frailties make them authentic. The plot gives heavier emphasis on the police team’s personal lives than is usual in a police procedural. This adds interest to the more routine parts of the story, but for some will detract from the main storyline.
The investigation of the crimes is detailed and well researched. There is also a mental health theme in this story, which is contemporary, and again, shows copious research.
The plot has twists and false information, and the ending draws everything together in a satisfying way.
John was born in the mid-fifties in East
London, on part of the largest council estate ever built, and was the first
pupil from his local secondary modern school to attend university. He has now
taken early retirement to write, having spent the first part of his life
working in education and the public sector. He was the director of a college, a
senior school inspector for a local authority, and was head of a unit for young
people with physical and mental health needs.
He has travelled extensively, from
America to Tibet, and he enjoys visiting the theatre, reading and going to the
pub. It is, perhaps, no surprise that he is an avid ‘people watcher’ and loves
to find out about people, their lives, culture and history. When he is not
travelling, going to the theatre or the pub; he writes.
Many of the occurrences recounted and
the characters found in his novels are based on real incidents and people he
has come across. Although he has allowed himself a wide degree of poetic
licence in writing about the main characters, their motivations and the
killings that are depicted.
John is currently working on a series of novels set in modern-day London. These police procedurals examine the darker side of modern life in the East End of the city.
On an ordinary Saturday morning in 1996, the residents of Nightingale Point wake up to their normal lives and worries.
Mary has a secret life that no one knows about, not even Malachi and Tristan, the brothers she vowed to look after.
Tristan wishes Malachi would stop pining for Pamela. No wonder he’s falling in with the wrong crowd, without Malachi to keep him straight.
Elvis is trying hard to remember the instructions his care worker gave him, but sometimes he gets confused and forgets things.
Pamela wants to run back to Malachi but her overprotective father has locked her in and there’s no way out.
It’s a day like any other until something extraordinary happens. When the sun sets, Nightingale Point is irrevocably changed and somehow, through the darkness, the residents must find a way back to lightness, and back to each other.
I received a copy of this book from HQ via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Whilst the idea for this story is familiar and contemporary, it is the believable, complex characters that make it worth reading for me. The author’s knowledge of this setting and social ethos makes the reader feel part of the story. The characters easy to empathise, even when they are not always likeable.
The ordinariness of life in the tower block setting makes the tragic event both dramaticand unexpected. There is a careful build-up of characterisation at the beginning so that when the event occurs, you care what happens.
The aftermath is also well written and explores in a sensitive way what happens to our characters afterwards. The ending is poignant but hopeful. emphasising the quality of the community and the individuals who comprise it. They are born into adversity and rise above it, making a story that could be too sad, life-affirming and heartwarming.
Alex South is a high-functioning alcoholic who is teetering on the brink of oblivion. Her career as a television journalist is hanging by a thread since a drunken on-air rant. When a series of murders occur within a couple of miles of her East London home, she is given another chance to prove her skill and report the unfolding events. She thinks she can control the drinking, but soon she finds gaping holes in her memory and wakes to find she’s done things she can’t recall. As the story she’s covering starts to creep into her own life, is Alex a danger only to herself – or to others?
The pressing need to talk to DI Brook takes over. When I turn around, I spot him lingering behind the tent, so I fill my lungs with air and shout his name as loudly as I can, but to no avail. He has clearly decided not to hear me.
‘They not listening to you, love?’
An elderly woman dressed in black with silvery blue hair and a lively red setter has suddenly appeared beside me. Her face is half hidden behind what look like very expensive sunglasses. ‘Such terrible news to wake up to this morning.’
I nod silently, unsure of what to say. The last thing I need right now is a member of the public asking me silly questions. I have a job to do, and sometimes they just get in the way.
‘I’ve seen you before, haven’t I? You live around here?’
She pulls her glasses forward, resting them on the end of her nose, to reveal watery grey eyes. ‘I know you, you’re on the news. Although I haven’t seen you on for a while. Not since that…’
She stops herself. I know what she’s going to say. Not since that time you were pissed on air ranting about how the system had failed us all.
‘I’ve been busy doing research for a new investigative report I’m working on.’
‘So you got lucky today because you live around here? That it? I know how it goes, the pecking order. Worked in broadcasting when I was younger. Couldn’t take the cynicism and got out after a few years.’
‘Right.’ I really don’t need this now. It’s only midday, and my nerves are shot. She’s not going away, though.
‘I love watching the news and talking about politics. You really must come for tea. I don’t get many visitors these days. I live on Navarino. Right on the corner of the park.’
‘That’s very kind of you, but I imagine I’m going to be quite busy with this story.’
‘Of course. I didn’t mean today, silly. Number three, the red door. Just knock.’
Audrey is back, looking purposeful, her eyes willing the pensioner to move on.
‘Sorry to interrupt, but they want a two-minute hit into the lunchtime bulletin. What we know now.’
‘Goodbye then, Alex. Please make sure you come and see me.’ The woman pushes her glasses back up her nose and shuffles off with her dog.
‘Who was that?’ Audrey nods towards her. ‘A neighbourhood pal?’
‘Just a dog walker.’
‘Not the dog walker?’
‘Oh. Okay. So, the report?’
‘It’s fine. Have you spoken to the police? I can’t seem to attract their attention.’
‘Managed to grab DI Brook at the press conference earlier, but only to get his business card.’ She hands it to me. DI John Brook, Serious Crime Division. There’s a mobile number on it. I already have it in my phone from dealing with him on previous cases, but I decide not to mention it. Best to let Audrey think she’s on it, which she is. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t just call him before, rather than shout at him like a complete loser. I’m embarrassed to say my memory fails me more often than not, especially after a big night out.
‘Thanks, Audrey, you’re a star.’
‘No worries. I don’t think he’s going to talk to the media again today – at least that’s what he said – but give him a call. I did mention you might.’
‘It’ll be the first live report from the scene for us, so the editors say just keep it simple. They’re leading on it.’
‘I have done this before, Audrey.’
‘Yes, of course, sorry.’
She looks a bit hurt by my reaction, which happens when I’m not fully in my right mind. Greg used to get on me for that all the time. Snapping at people. I should say something nice.
‘Sorry. Didn’t mean to sound short with you. It’s my first live for a while, and I suppose I’m a little nervous.’
‘You’ll knock ‘em dead, Alex. You’re great at this job.’
‘That’s very kind. Thank you.’
‘We all have bad days. We’re only human after all.’
She is being very sweet and understanding. Buttering me up. That’s nice even if she doesn’t mean it because it’s exactly what I need today.
‘Thanks, Audrey, but today is going to be a good day.’
With the business card in my hand, I put my headphones on and pull up DI Brook’s number from my contact list, then hit dial. While it’s ringing, I check my Facebook page. Two thousand and fifty-three people have wished me happy birthday. Wow. I guess many people feel like Audrey does, ready to give me a second chance. I mean, it wasn’t so bad what I did, bitching about the government live on air. There were a lot of people who wrote to me afterwards saying well done for speaking honestly. Didn’t help me with the editors, though. Anyway, that’s behind me now.
DI Brook isn’t answering, and I hang up. Just then my phone buzzes. It’s a message from Richie, the chap I’m planning to meet later. I met him on a dating site, just like I met Nigel.
Hey, sorry to do this to you, Alex, but something’s come up at work. Afraid I can’t make it tonight. Can we reschedule?
It’s annoying, but I don’t bother to respond; there’s really no point. That’s how online dates go sometimes. They don’t always materialise, and if I’m honest, I can’t be bothered anyway, not now that I have a huge breaking news story to contend with. This is much more important.
A suspenseful plot, an authentic setting and an unreliable protagonist guarantee that I would read ‘I Never Lie’ and it didn’t disappoint.
Fast-paced it moves between Alex a TV journalist’s point of view and diary entries of a recovering alcoholic whose dark issues become apparent as the story unfolds.
Alex, a London based TV journalist, is on the precipice of career success. She moves to London to further her career but also because personal life implodes, and now threatens to impinge on her career.
Alex is an alcoholic in denial, and it makes her vulnerable in all area of her life. Someone is murdering women in London, and Alex’s involvement seems serendipitous but is she in danger?
Alex is challenging, her constant denial of her alcoholism is tedious but authentic and an essential catalyst to the thriller’s plot. The plot is well- executed with twists, some of which you may not see coming. I enjoyed trying to work out what is real and what is part of Alex’s alcohol delusional state.
The final twist is a little disappointing for me; I imagined something different. However, full of suspense it does answer the questions raised by the plot.
Written by a TV journalist, the setting is authentic and absorbing and makes the perfect backdrop both for the murders and Alex life’s disintegration.
Originality, cleverly built suspense and realistic characters are evident in this thriller, even if using an alcoholic as an unreliable protagonist is popular in many psychological thrillers currently.
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Jody Sabral is based between the South Coast and London, where she works as a Foreign Desk editor and video producer at the BBC. She is a graduate of the MA in Crime Fiction at City University, London. Jody worked as a journalist in Turkey for ten years, covering the region for various international broadcasters. She self-published her first book Changing Borders in 2012 and won the CWA Debut Dagger in 2014 for her second novel The Movement. In addition to working for the BBC, Jody also writes for the Huffington Post, Al–Monitor and Brics Post.
Welcome to Rosie Lee’s cafe in the heart of the East End – where there’s not an avocado, slice of sourdough or double-shot no-foam soy milk caramel latte on the menu!
Rosie-Lee’s owner Abby is a woman without a plan….and her beloved little cafe is a business with a serious lack of customers. The Rosie Lee’s fry-up is legendary, but cooked breakfasts alone – however perfectly sizzled the bacon – aren’t going to pay the bills.
Fast approaching forty and fighting a serious case of empty nest syndrome, Abby realises it’s not just her menu that needs a makeover. And when Jack Chance, her The One That Got Away, saunters through the cafe doors and back into her life things definitely look set to change…
Abby has always believed a cup of strong builders tea makes everything better, but Jack’s reappearance is a complication even the trusty sausage sarnie can’t resolve…
Rosie Lee’s Café is a typical example of what a good café can be like – as long as it’s 1988. That’s probably the last time the décor or the menu was updated. This reviewer suspects that the owner may be waiting until its particular interior design style comes back into fashion. They may be in for a long wait.
‘Bollocks!’ I exclaimed. The positive review I’d been hoping for obviously wasn’t about to materialise. I forced myself to read on.
Despite it being located just a stone’s throw from Old Spitalfields Market, a newly regenerated hub of all things creative and on trend, the tide of urban regeneration seems to have passed Rosie Lee’s by. I ordered the traditional breakfast fry-up and, I will say, the food didn’t disappoint. The breakfast was cooked to perfection and my cup of good old ‘Rosie Lee’ (tea) was hot and freshly brewed. And the toast, although not sourdough, was crisp and very tasty. I should mention, though, that there is no gluten-free option.
I winced at the memory of the day this reviewer had visited us. He’d asked Flo for gluten-free bread and she’d told him that if he wanted anything fancy he could take his hipster beard and bugger off somewhere else.
All in all, Rosie Lee’s Café is fairly uninspiring, but it won’t give you food poisoning. Just for that, this reviewer is giving it one teapot out of a potential five. Now, on to more interesting territory. Bare Naked Coffee is an artisanal bakery and coffee house…
I closed the newspaper. I didn’t need to read about how fabulous their unleavened hemp bread was, or how their primo coffee blend ‘was to die for!’
‘Bollocks,’ I repeated.
‘Abby! The coffee machine’s not working! Come and do that thing you do with it, would you, love?’
‘What’s up with it now, Flo?’ Her cries for help brought me out of the kitchen and into the café. A frazzled and sweaty-looking Flo stood in front of the offending machine.
‘The steam’s not working. I’m not getting any froth!’
‘Brilliant,’ I said, reaching for the spanner under the counter. This was the fourth time in the last week that the bloody machine had died on us, so I’d taken to keeping tools handy. There was a small queue of people all waiting for their orders, and I brandished my spanner at them, like some demented warrior queen.
‘Sorry for the wait, folks, let me just try and get this sorted for you.’ They looked at me and then at the spanner, undoubtedly expecting me to do something highly technical with it. Instead, I lifted it up high and brought it down heavily onto the top of the machine. Once, twice, three times. It hissed and wheezed for a few seconds and I held my breath.
‘I think you might have killed it completely this time,’ said Flo from her new, safer position on the other side of the counter.
‘Just wait for a minute, hold on.’ Taking a metal jug full of milk from beside the machine, I dipped the end of the steam nozzle into it. With one eye closed, I turned the handle that forced the steam into the milk and prayed that it wouldn’t explode in my face. From somewhere inside I heard gurgling, then the machine let out a high-pitched whistle as the milk began to bubble. Problem solved. The little queue of customers gave me a small ripple of applause and I turned to take a modest bow.
Flo came back around the counter and took the jug out of my hands.
‘Here, give us that. That bloody thing needs replacing. One of these days you’re gonna take a swing at it and it’ll go off like a rocket.’
‘I can’t afford a new machine, Flo, you know that. I’m barely making enough to cover costs as it is, let alone have any spare.’
‘Maybe you’ll have a bit extra once you’ve finished this catering job?’ she asked, hopefully.
‘Making desserts for some random corporate event isn’t really going to help much,’ I said. ‘Besides, I really only did it as a favour to Liz.’
‘I did tell you to charge her more, didn’t I?’
‘Yes, Flo, you did. Several times actually.’
‘Well, she took the right piss, all that faffing about changing her mind, leaving it all to the last minute. I know she’s your friend, but she was a pain in the arse. Uppity little madam.’ I marvelled at how Flo managed to deliver this speech whilst simultaneously serving customers and wiping up spills on the counter. She was seventy years old, but she was still as feisty and energetic as ever; I couldn’t manage without her, despite her occasional bouts of rudeness towards anyone with too much facial hair.
‘Look, it’s done now. I’ve just got to drop off the last batch of tarts and then it’s over with. No more corporate catering for me.’ I draped my arm around her tiny shoulders and dropped a kiss on her head. I’d known Flo all my life. She was one of my mother’s oldest friends and although she might look tiny and fragile, she was formidable.
‘Well, bugger off, then, go and get rid of those cakes.’
‘I’ll be back as quick as I can,’ I said, pulling on my jacket. Now, where did I leave the van keys? I rifled through the pockets, pulling out old tissues and other assorted bits of crap until Flo jingled the missing keys in front of my face.
‘What would I do without you?’ I said, taking them from her and heading into the kitchen.
‘You’d manage. Look, there’s no need for you to rush back. I can take care of everything here. We’re not exactly rushed off our feet, are we?’
I looked back out to the café. It was true; business hadn’t been brisk. I had been hoping that a glowing review in the local paper might drum up a bit more trade, but there was no chance of that now. The development of the nearby market had been great for anyone in its immediate vicinity, but not for us. We were just that little bit too far outside the ‘development zone’. It wasn’t just my café either – all the shops in this little-forgotten corner of East London were struggling to stay afloat. I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind. There’d be plenty of time to obsess about my failing business later, hopefully, whilst relaxing in a hot bath with a glass or three of wine.
‘Are you sure you’ll be all right on your own?’ I didn’t want to take liberties; Flo might be mighty, but she was still seventy years old after all.
‘Positive. You’ve worked hard on all this.’ She gestured at the last batch of boxes I’d wrestled into my arms. ‘You deserve a few hours off.’
‘Okay. I might go and see if I can find a nice going-away present for Lucy.’
‘Lovely. Off you go, then, and I’ll see you in the morning. And tell Liz I said she got you cheap.’
I took the boxes and pushed my way through the back door. Flo was right of course; Liz had got me cheap, but she was my best friend. What was I supposed to do? She’d begged me to help her out after her other caterers had let her down; I wasn’t going to say no, was I? Charging her more would have felt like taking advantage of her desperation. It would have come in handy though, there was no doubt about that. Between my daughter’s imminent departure for university, the temperamental coffee maker and, now as I stood there looking at it, a delivery van that was on its last legs, my finances were stretched to the limit. The van, with its faded green paintwork and peeling pink cupcake on the side, sat in the yard looking old and knackered. Fifteen years of trips to the cash and carry and school runs in London traffic had taken their toll on the old girl. I knew how she felt. I secured the last of the boxes into the back of the van and shut the doors.
If you’re expecting a story that revolves around a cafe, you’ll be disappointed; the cafe does feature in this tale of second chances, family secrets and organised crime but its more about the heroine’s emotional journey than hearty breakfasts and afternoon tea.
Abby is a likeable protagonist, despite having a difficult childhood and teenage, she has enough people around her that care to make a success of life but she finds it difficult to trust and when her first love returns, even though she feels the emotional and sensual pull she runs the other way.
Jack is a dreamy hero, but he finds despite his entrepreneurial success, true love alludes him. He too has an emotional journey to travel, and he struggles to understand Abby and her conflicting signs and what he has to do, to get her in his life again.
Family and indeed community secrets are the backbone of this story, and they come across as believable, organised crime threatens everything Abby holds dear and as the secrets unravel the danger increases.
A mix of romance and crime make this an absorbing read, even if it’s not the feel-good cafe story I expected.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Born in London, Jane’s writing career began in cable TV, writing true crime documentaries. More recently, Jane has contributed to an anthology of short stories and written two weekly crime serials. When she’s not writing, Jane loves to read good books, binge watch TV boxsets and drink tea. And wine.