Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner working in London, is forced to brush up on her detective skills for a third time when her cousin Sarika is plunged into danger.
Sarika and her reality TV star boyfriend Terry both receive threatening notes. When Terry stops calling, Lena assumes he’s lost interest. Until he turns up. Dead. Lena knows she must act fast to keep her cousin from the same fate.
Scrubbing her way through the grubby world of reality television, online dating and betrayed lovers, Lena finds it harder than she thought to discern what’s real – and what’s just for the cameras.
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
‘A Messy affair’, is the third book in ‘The Lena Szarka Mysteries’, but reads well as a standalone. It is an enjoyable read, and now, I want to read the first two in the series.
Lena, an enterprising Hungarian woman living in Islington, London, has a talent for business, unwavering loyalty to family and friends and undoubted skill as an amateur sleuth. She has a sharp wit, and an intelligent mind, and reading the story through her eyes is a joy. All of the characters are believable, and fulfil their roles in the story well.
The plot follows a murder mystery style and has elements of a cozy mystery. The urban setting and contemporary themes, give it an edginess, which is original and will appeal to a younger audience.
Lena is not a reality TV fan but finds herself embroiled within it. Her thinking is astute, and I like how she theorised, in her bid to find the antagonist. There are numerous suspects and many twists, I did work it out but coupled with the drama, humour and final suspense, this was a satisfying experience, and I look forward to Lena’s next adventure.
Elizabeth Mundy’s grandmother was a Hungarian immigrant to America who raised five children on a chicken farm in Indiana. Elizabeth is a marketing director for an investment firm and lives in London with her messy husband and two young children. She writes the Lena Szarka Mysteries, featuring a Hungarian cleaner as a detective.
Ophelia Street, 1970. A street like any other, a community that lives and breathes together as people struggle with their commitments and pursue their dreams. It is a world we recognise, a world where class and gender divide, where set roles are acknowledged. But what happens when individuals step outside those roles, when they secretly covet, express desire, pursue ambitions even harm and destroy? An observer in the midst of Ophelia Street watches writes, imagines, remembers, charting the lives and loves of his neighbours over the course of four seasons. And we see the flimsily disguised underbelly of urban life revealed in all its challenging glory. As the leaves turn from vibrant green to vivid gold, so lives turn and change too, laying bare the truth of the community. Perhaps, ultimately, we all exist on Ophelia Street.
I received a copy of this book from Urbane Books in return for an honest review.
Set mainly in 1970, in London, on a typical cul-de-sac, of the time. The story’s narrator is a young reporter, who is new to Ophelia Street, and the story, divided into the four seasons of 1970 are his impressions of the people and households he shares the street with.The narrator is a shadowy character, you don’t think about him, as the story draws you into its urban tale.
The book is beautifully written, lyrical, but what it depicts and explores is often poignant, and sometimes horrifically violent. The tragedy and violence creep up. You are not prepared for something so terrible, in amongst live’s relentless ordinariness. The impact of these events resonates.
Many of the characters are not easy to like, but you do empathise with their situation. Some of the relationships are strange, and sometimes sinister, and gut-wrenchingly sad.
The time period is faithfully represented. The sexual discrimination, misogyny and social class divide are evident. The depth of despair this period represents, with its collapse of Britain’s industrialisation, strikes and mass unemployment, add to the sense of hopelessness and inevitability this London street represents.
The literary fiction lovers will appreciate the purity of this book, the characters are complex and real, the exploration of community and humanity under pressure is engaging. If you enjoy reading, to experience how others feel and live, this book will meet your needs.
John Simmons is an independent writer and consultant. He runs Writing for design workshops for D&AD and the School of Life as well as Dark Angels workshops. He has written a number of books on the relationship between language and identity, including The Writer’s Trilogy We, me, them & it, The invisible grail and Dark angels. He’s a founder director of 26, the not-for-profit group that champions the cause of better language in business, and has been writer-in-residence for Unilever and Kings Cross tube station. In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Falmouth in recognition of outstanding contribution to the creative sector. He initiated and participated in the writing of a Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum with fifteen writers. It was published by Unbound in 2014. He is on the Campaign Council for Writers Centre Norwich as Norwich becomes the first English City of Literature. John also wrote the compelling novel Leaves, which was published by Urbane in 2015
Spanish Crossings was published in March 2018 and The Good Messenger in September 2018.
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.
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I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
What appeals about this story is its commitment and honesty. Georgina is a relatable, remarkable, yet ruthless character, who you would want on your side. Her love for her family and friends shines through, even though she commits and sanctions unspeakable acts as the head of a south London crime gang in the 1930s.
When her newly acquired gangland empire is under threat from men who think she should know her place, she only has one response; be better than them, and fight back. She symbolises the female fight for equality. The crimes are gritty, but the story is one of family, and this is why the protagonists are likeable.
A clever plot with plenty of depth and hidden twists complements the complexcharacters well and makes this a page-turning chapter of a compelling crime series.
Guest Post – Sam Michaels- The Birth of a Ruthless Woman
was born and bred in London and then lived in Surrey, Kent and Hampshire before
moving to Spain four years ago. It was here that I found I had the time to take
up writing. So, after lots of encouragement from my husband and mum, I sat on
my sofa and penned my first novel, Trickster.
probably imagine that living in a sunny climate is inspirational and blissful
for a writer but I doubt it’s anything like you might picture. There’s no
sitting in the sun, sipping sangria and dipping in the pool. It’s impossible to
use my laptop outside because I can’t see the screen. So instead, I sit at my
new desk in my spare bedroom with a ceiling fan on and the shutters closed.
It’s so peaceful and this is where I wrote my second novel, Rivals, the follow
up to Trickster.
a series of five books has been such an interesting journey. Normally, after a
novel is completed and published, the author will leave the characters behind
and move on to the next story. But with mine, I’ve had the wonderful
opportunity to delve deep into Georgina’s Garrett’s life from birth, growing up
and into adulthood. When I’d finished Trickster and started writing Rivals, I
was so excited to meet Georgina again and couldn’t wait to move her character
on through her complex life.
came about as I was driving with my hubby. I remember turning to him and
saying, ‘Georgina Garrett, the birth of a ruthless woman.’ She started off as
just a short single scene in my head – A young woman, beautiful, tough and on
the wrong side of the law. I could see her eyes, hair and the shape of her
body. I knew when she was born and that she’d had many struggles to overcome.
In the scene, Georgina was dressed as a boy and was thieving with her father.
For the rest of the drive with hubby, I blurted out the whole story, from the
day WW1 was declared and the birth of Georgina until she came to rule the
streets of Battersea.
hubby was flabbergasted and so was I – Trickster just needed to be written now.
I began typing, I found Georgina’s character changed slightly. I gave her more
of a heart and made her more caring. After all, I wanted my potential readers
to love her as much as I did! And I found that once the book was finished, I
missed her. So I was keen to get on with writing Rivals and now I’m almost
finished writing the third in the series.
so much more for Georgina to yet experience – and I can’t wait to share it with
you in the coming books!
Sam Michaels lives in Spain with her family and a plethora of animals. Having been writing for years Trickster is her debut novel. FacebookTwitter
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.
He wasn’t always a killer. At first, he just wanted to talk.
D.C. Charlie Stafford has an odd case on her hands. And it may be her toughest one yet.
A burglar who isn’t
interested in valuables, the subject of Operation Greystream is a strange but
smooth operator. In the dead of the night, gloved and masked, he visits the
elderly. He doesn’t hurt them and, if they beg, he won’t take anything of real
value. All he wants is conversation… and they’re powerless to refuse him.
But then 87-year-old Florence Briarly is found by her friend, cold to the touch and neatly, too neatly, tucked into bed. And Charlie realises this case has taken a sinister, urgent turn. Now, this stealthy burglar has had a taste of murder, it’s only a matter of time until he craves it again…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Another exciting range of investigations for DC Charlie Stafford and her colleagues. This book illustrates the problems faced by detectives, the procedures that must be followed and how the law can sometimes work against them, It is its authenticity that makes this such a readable crime thriller.There are also moral questions explored in this story. Can something be illegal, yet in most people’s eyes morally right?
There are multiple crimes for the team to solve in this book, which shows the complexity of modern police work, and the many competing demands they have to satisfy, with often limited resources.Mistakes are made, which have consequences, and the team have to live with this
Whilst, the overt violence is less than in previous stories, the trauma that the victims suffer is palpable and well described. This is also a family drama. How do family members react, when someone they know and love becomes a criminal or a victim? Can this, sometimes, misguided loyalty, impede the police investigation? Suspense builds with each crime, and it is only the relentless, painstaking detection and forensic evidence that will solve the crimes.
This reads as a standalone, but if you enjoy authentic police procedurals, with believable family drama and complex characters, read the series.
Guest Post – Sarah Flint – Daddy’s Girls
It’s been a long, but exciting year!
Well, it’s been just over 13 months since ‘Broken
Dolls’ was published and boy, what a year!
In that time, I’ve written ‘Daddy’s Girls’ and a new
standalone book, (yet to be revealed) travelled New Zealand, Australia and the
UK and beaten breast cancer – not necessarily in that order!
I think I said in my last blog post that with the smooth comes the rough – and my rough was a fairly hefty dose of hospital admissions and treatment. The smooth, was hearing that I was fully cured of my cancer, and meeting an incredibly courageous lady on my ward, who gave me the thrill of actually finding a total stranger who had read all my books – for the first time ever. The rough to that meeting was that within a fortnight I heard she had sadly died, but I will always remember her bravery and fortitude and the time I spent chatting with her and her lovely husband.
On that note, during my travels I’ve also met some
fantastic people; both personally and professionally, who have become friends,
fans and followers and I count you, as avid readers, bloggers and tweeters,
among them. From my local writers group, to contributors and visitors at
Bristol CrimeFest it has been amazing to hear your stories. You have all been
an incredible support during this year and I have heard from many who have, or
are, going through similar tribulations and have very much appreciated your
motivational offerings and words of wisdom. I hope I can now do the same in
Thank you x
When thinking about my friends and family, my thoughts
always return to a similar theme. What would you do to save, protect or avenge
a family member or good friend? Would you be prepared to lie for them, or even
die for them? It’s a theme that drove ‘Daddy’s Girls’, and has steered my
Thomas Houghton was loosely based on a suspect I
arrested during my time as a police officer in the Metropolitan Police. The
man’s history fascinated me as he had very few, and very minor criminal convictions,
yet he appeared to have committed the most heinous burglary and knife-point rape
imaginable. What drove him to commit that crime? And why had the man’s daughter
been prepared to lie and even take on a false identity herself, in order to
cover for him? Was it love, fear or simply bewilderment that compelled her ill-conceived
Out of those questions came ‘Daddy’s Girls’, a story
that evolved in order to provide a fictional reason for the man’s actions – his
decline into drugs, mental illness and criminality – and the imaginary outcome
for both he and his daughter.
I witnessed my own mother’s battle with multiple sclerosis,
so I know how devastating it can be to watch someone you love change from an
outgoing, active person to someone unable to walk, talk or feed themselves. The
toll on carers, physically, mentally and emotionally is far harder than, I
think, we as a society appreciate. Could this be a reason for Thomas’s crime? I
don’t know, and I don’t excuse it, but it seemed to make sense as a work of
The book could equally have been named ‘Mummy’s Girl’, as I also wanted to explore the motivations of the victim’s child when searching for justice. How had Florence Briarly’s daughter acted? Could one crime be judged to have been morally right, even if legally wrong? Why can standing-up for your parent in one situation be considered wrong, while acting for your parent in another be judged as right?
It’s an interesting dilemma and one that seems to rear
its ugly head on a regular basis in the media, along with the question of how
safe you really are in your own home and what steps can you lawfully take in
order to protect your loved ones, and your possessions?
Ooh – it’s a moral and legal nightmare! But it makes
for great stories.
Throw into the mix Charlie, with her unfailing quest
to get justice for the victim and her continuing loyalty to Hunter, as well as Ben’s
on-going problems, and you have my latest offering. I have really enjoyed
exploring the dilemmas in all the storylines, as well as finishing the book on
a note of intrigue. It certainly has made me want to continue Charlie’s story –
and I hope it will make you want to do the same.
I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.
With a Metropolitan Police career spanning 35 years, Sarah has spent her adulthood surrounded by victims, criminals and police officers. She continues to work and lives in London with her partner and has three older daughters.