A snow-covered cottage is nestled in the hills, all ready for Christmas… but inside a body lies dead upon the floor.
Melissa Craig is enjoying her first winter in the Cotswolds, taking brisk walks through the snowy fields and basking in the winter sunshine. The only thing Melissa is plotting is her Christmas shopping.
But after the unexpected death of local writer Leonora Jewell, Melissa is asked to complete Leonora’s final book. However, on her first visit to the cottage, she finds a gruesome object overlooked by the police: a metal bar covered with dried blood.
Terrified, Melissa rushes to the nearest telephone box to call the police. But by the time they reach Leonora’s cottage, the murder weapon has mysteriously vanished.
With no murder weapon, the detective in charge of the case scoffs at Melissa’s suspicions. Furious and frustrated, Melissa focuses on finishing Leonora’s novel. But as she reads Leonora’s notes for the book, she starts to wonder… did Leonora accidentally plot out her own murder?
As Melissa does some investigating of her own, she uncovers some pretty suspicious local characters. But with the police unwilling to help, can Melissa solve this vicious crime alone? By hook, by crook, or by the book, Melissa must find the killers before they strike again…
Winter always seems to enhance the attractiveness of murder mysteries, especially typically English ones like the Melissa Craig series. This is a particularly atmospheric story both in terms of snow and frost and the air of menace that follows the intrepid crime writer around as she becomes embroiled in another murder mystery.
This story sees the reappearance of Bruce, from earlier books in the series and he definitely brings out Mel’s impulsive personality traits. There is a lot going on in the background of this story, some of which seems superfluous to the plot. I worked out whodunnit, early on, this is possibly the author’s intention, as it shows up Mel’s fallibility, and increases the danger she faces.
Perfect for reading on a cold, stormy Winter’s day like today.
I received a copy of this book from Bookouture via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
On a chilly morning in December… Forever friends Shauna and Lulu touch down at Glasgow Airport on a quest to find answers from the past.
George knows his time is nearing the end but is it too late to come to terms with his two greatest regrets?
His Grandson Tom uncovers a betrayal that rocks his world as he finally tracks down the one that got away.
And single mum Chrissie is ready to force her love-life out of hibernation, but can anyone compare to the man who broke her heart?
I’m dying. I just want to say that straight out. Or as the young ones would say, “put it out there”. Bloody nonsense, some of the phrases that folk use nowadays. What’s wrong with just plain speaking?
The boy thinks I don’t know he’s here, but I can hear and feel him fine. Tom. The boy. That’s still how I think of him even though he’s gone thirty now. Fine lad he’s turned out to be. I couldn’t be prouder. It’s a bloody miracle when you consider his feckless father.
I can hear that lassie, the nurse, too. Liv, that’s her name. Cheery thing. She’s got one of those voices that reassures everyone who listens to her. Not that there’s much reassurance to be had for me now. A painless exit is about as much as I can hope for, and these drugs that they’re pumping into me are taking care of that. Don’t half take the wind out of my sails though. Between the medicine and this damned disease, it’s getting harder and harder to open my eyes.
That said, I’m not in any rush to leave this world. I’ve never been one for impatience. I’ve lost track of the days, and I hate to keep asking the nurse, but I’m fairly sure it’s close to Christmas. The sound of festive songs has been drifting in from the corridor – Blue Christmas by Elvis was always my favourite – and on the few occasions I’ve managed to open my eyes, I’ve noticed people walking by the window with gift-wrapped presents. It’s always been my favourite time of the year, especially when our Tom was a boy. We would have Christmas morning at our house and my son Norry and his first wife, Catriona, would bring the boy round first thing. Catriona was a fine woman and so much more than that sour-faced one Norry replaced her with. She was a smashing mother to Tom, too. It shames me to say it, but every bit of compassion and kindness in that boy came directly from her, not from that son of mine.
Anyway, where was I? Christmas. My darling Betty would cook and organise games and make it the perfect day for everyone. It was at times like that Betty, and I wished there’d been more of us, a bigger family for the boy to share the day with, but Norry had been our only son, and then he’d repeated the pattern by only having Tom. Of course, there was more kin out there – I had two sisters, Annie and Flora, that I lost touch with long ago. Those memories pained me, and our Betty knew that, so we left them in the past and we never spoke of them, not to Norry, not to Tom, not to anyone. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten them though. In fact, now I think of them more than ever.
Tom is shaving me now, and I’m glad about that. No excuses for a shabby appearance, that’s what my father drilled into us, and I’ve always lived by it. I hope it’s the only thing of that man’s that I’ve taken to heart. By God, there was a father that ruled with an iron rod and wasn’t one for sparing feelings. There were no tears shed when Billy Butler went to his maker, although it saddened me when my mother went only a few weeks after. Influenza afflicted the both of them. I wish she’d had a chance to live without him, even for a short while, to breathe without walking on eggshells, waiting for the next rage or rant. All of us kids – Annie, Flora and me – knew the feeling of fear and I vowed that I would never be that kind of father with Norry.
Instead, I tried to be the man who led by example and instilled decency and compassion in his offspring, but I’m sorry to say I failed. It’s always been a great sadness that Norry was more of his grandad’s ilk than of mine. A selfish boy, self-centred and prone to nastiness, who grew into an arrogant bugger of a man. It gives me no pleasure to say that of my own son, but one of the gifts of these last days is honesty. If I can’t be truthful with myself, then what’s the point? These are days of reckoning, of reminiscing, of looking back on eighty years that were well lived but not without mistakes.
The boy is mid-shave when the question the nurse asks him sinks in to my fuddled brain. ‘Are your parents on the way?’ she says.
I try to focus on the answer, so I get it right. I hear him say, ‘Yeah, my dad and stepmother. They’re halfway here. They touched down in Dubai a couple of hours ago, and their connecting flight took off on time. They should be here about three o’clock.’
Bloody hell. So Norry and that wife of his are coming. I must be close to dead if they’re making the effort because they didn’t bloody come when I was alive and kicking, or when my darling Betty was sick and passed away.
And of course, it wouldn’t be Tom’s mother, Catriona, that would be with Norry. That poor lass was treated terribly by my son, and he forced her out of their lives when Tom was sixteen. To be honest, for her sake I was glad she got out of that marriage. She had a lucky escape. I was only too glad to give her as much help as I could to start her new life down south. She kept in touch with me right up until she passed, a few years ago. Cancer. This bastard of a disease. I was only grateful that the lass found happiness with a man who treated her well. I never met him, but Tom would visit them, and he told me he was a decent chap. That made me sleep a bit easier at night. I felt it was the least she deserved after being married to my son.
Norry had barely batted an eyelid when she left. He’d never admitted it to me, but I had a fair idea that he was already up to no good with the next one. Rosemary. She wasn’t like Catriona. This time he’d met his match and someone who was as contemptible as he was. They’d tied the knot as soon as his divorce was final – went off to Bali or someplace like that. Didn’t even invite us. Not that I’d have gone. Not after their antics. Next thing we knew, Norry sold up his business and off they went to Australia, taking our Tom with them. Norry said it was about work-life balance and enjoying the fruits of his labour, or some nonsense like that. The truth was, he’d made a killing and reckoned he could live like a king down under, and he had so much in the bank that he got a visa to live there without a problem. That Rosemary one encouraged him every step of the way. Fancied herself living in a big house in the sunshine, with no ties or commitments, so off they went, and damn everyone else. Losing Tom near broke my Betty’s heart. It was one of the happiest days of her life when the boy came back to live with us a year later. He’d never settled out there, and we were glad of it.
Through the haze of the buggering pills, I can hear the beeping from the monitor beside me getting faster. That’s what I get for thinking about those two. It wouldn’t surprise me if the bloody thing exploded when they walk through the door. I can only hope their plane gets delayed and I get to spend another day without them here.
I haven’t read the first book in the Winter’s Day series, so I read this as a standalone and it is a lovely, poignant read, with a festive flavour, complex characters and a web of secrets to explore.
There are many characters whose lives are intertwined; each character has a story to tell which adds to the main storyline and illustrates their reason for being there on this particular Winter’s day. The beauty of this story is its unashamed emotion, the characters’ experience many feelings and because of their inherent honesty, it’s impossible not to empathise.
Something to warm you on a cold Winter’s day, a lovely, heartwarming yet realistic festive read.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Shari has written seventeen novels under her own name and pseudonyms Ronni Cooper, Millie Conway and Shari King, of which many have been published globally. She writes a weekly opinion column and Book Club page for the Daily Record. Shari lives with her husband and 2 teenage boys in Glasgow. Twitter Facebook Website
Life in Little Leyton is never quiet, and when handsome developer Max and his bride-to-be Ellie, receive some sad news, he decides to whisk her away for a romantic break. The time away gives Ellie a new perspective, and she’s eager to get home to get on with planning their wedding.
But a devastating incident at the pub she runs, The Dog & Duck, puts everything in jeopardy. And, at their home Braithwaite Manor, tensions are heightened when Ellie’s future mother-in-law turns up with all her worldly belongings, much to Max’s sister Katy’s despair.
With Max preoccupied with problems at work, Ellie’s left literally holding the baby, while dealing with a seemingly endless list of dramas. And as Christmas approaches, Ellie begins to wonder if she’ll ever get her happily ever after…
Later that day, back at the manor, I found Max, Arthur and Katy sitting around the kitchen table, the doors of the conservatory wide open onto the stone paved patio that offered views of the sweeping lawns, running into the distance as far as the eye could see. The days were still warm and bright, but the faintest of breezes provided a cool autumnal edge, and the geraniums and blowsy petunias in the profusion of wood and stone planters were beginning to look a little straggly now.
After dinner, I would go round and deadhead the plants, which was my one small contribution to the upkeep of the extensive grounds. I found it reassuringly therapeutic, giving me a chance to snatch some alone time and to reflect on the events of the day. Luckily, Max had a small team of gardeners who helped him out around Braithwaite Manor, and it was their hard work that kept the gardens looking so plentiful. Of course, Max was head gardener and liked to get outside as much as his busy schedule would allow. He was never happier than when sitting upon his ride-on mower, his canvas hat perched on his head at a jaunty angle, whizzing across the lawns. Arthur was a keen gardener too, and was always ready with advice, even when it wasn’t needed. He’d had an allotment for years, growing an assortment of fruit and vegetables, until a spate of ill health had meant he’d no longer been able to manage. When he’d fallen ill, Arthur had come to us to recuperate, and the arrangement had worked so well that he’d never returned home. Braithwaite Manor was his home now, and he was part of our family. He’d also taken on the role of Chief Adviser for Vegetable and Fruit Production.
Max’s little sister, Katy, on the other hand, had no interest in gardening or the great outdoors, come to that. Spending the majority of her childhood growing up in Spain, she’d always told me how much she’d hated the heat, just one of the many reasons why she’d been desperate to come back to the UK to live. There’d been a big bust up with her mum, Rose, and her stepdad, Alan, and Katy had left under a cloud, coming to live with us for a while. Max had agreed to let Katy stay, and she was now happily settled in Little Leyton, attending college in town, working shifts at The Dog and Duck, back in touch with her biological father and in a steady relationship with her boyfriend, Ryan.
I pulled out a chair and sat down at the table to join them. Along with the four dogs, currently mooching beneath the table, this was our little melded family.
‘So, how did it go?’ Max placed a very welcome cup of tea in front of me. ‘What did they think to the news?’
‘What news?’ asked Katy, sitting up to attention, her curiosity immediately piqued.
‘Well… we were waiting to tell Veronica and Malc before making it common knowledge, but Ellie and I have set a date for the wedding. It’ll be on 20th December this year.’
‘Really!’ Katy jumped up from her seat, squealing. The dogs, alerted by her excitement, jumped up too, their tails wagging excitedly, and Flora darted between all our legs making us giggle with her antics.
‘Ah, that’s marvellous news,’ said Arthur, standing up to shake Max’s hand and giving me a hug. ‘If you’re half as happy as me and my Marge were, then you’ll have some magic years ahead. It’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? A happy family life.’
I squeezed Arthur even tighter and rested my head on his chest. I remembered Marge well. She was a kind hearted woman who welcomed all the village children into her home and in the summer months was happy for us to run wild around her playground of a garden. There would be home made cakes and biscuits, and fresh lemonade, and I would always come away with a bag of apples, or pears, a batch of scones or anything else that Marge might have whipped up that day. They never missed a birthday or Christmas, always sending a card and a small present. When Marge died, Arthur put on a brave front and carried on as best he could, but it was plain to see for anyone who knew him that he was struggling without the woman he loved at his side. That was the start of the deterioration in his health, I realised now. He hadn’t looked after himself properly, not eating or drinking, and had slowly declined to a point where he couldn’t manage on his own. Max and I were both so pleased and relieved when we were able to persuade him to come and live with us.
‘It is very exciting, but if you could both keep it under your hats for another few days. I haven’t mentioned it to the girls yet. I’ve invited Polly, Josie and Sasha round on Friday night for drinks and nibbles. I’ll tell them the news then, and ask if they’ll be my bridesmaids. I can’t wait to see their faces.’
‘Your secret is safe with me,’ said Arthur, tapping his nose. Katy glanced across at me, nodding her agreement before standing up and wandering over to Noel’s rocker, lifting him out.
‘Once we get back from our holidays it will be full steam ahead with the arrangements. When you think about it, it’s not that far away.’
‘When is it you’re going?’ asked Katy.
‘In a couple of weeks. It’s come round so quickly, and I’m already feeling nervous about leaving Noel behind, but Max seems to think it’s for the best.’ I cast him a questioning glance, hoping he might have had a change of heart on that front.
‘Look, Ellie, it’s up to you. I really don’t mind. And if you’re not going to be happy leaving him behind, then, of course, we must take him with us, but you need a break, and I think you’ll get more of a rest if it’s just the two of us. We’ll be able to completely relax, go for some nice long walks, have some lovely meals, get some good nights’ sleep, with proper lie-ins, and come back completely refreshed. Your mum and dad will be here to look after Noel and the dogs, so really there’s nothing to worry about.’
‘Good idea,’ said Arthur. ‘We’ll manage, won’t we, Katy?’
‘Yes, well, you certainly don’t need to worry about me! I don’t need looking after. In fact, I might go and stay with Ryan,’ she said airily, before handing Noel over to Max, and turning to waltz out of the kitchen, tension bristling off her shoulders.
‘Katy! I don’t think Max was suggesting you needed looking after for one moment.’
‘And you won’t be staying with Ryan, young lady. You’ll be staying here. To give Veronica and Malc a hand if they need it.’
Max’s tone was gruff, and I could see Katy’s hackles rise.
‘We were hoping you might help with looking after the dogs and with Noel,’ I offered. ‘You’re always so good with him when he’s cross and tired and doesn’t want to settle. It will make me feel so much better knowing you’re here with him.’
‘Really?’ She turned to me, her expression matching the sharpness of her tone. ‘So, you want me to help out when it suits you, but otherwise, you don’t want to know me.’
‘Katy! Don’t speak to Ellie like that! What’s got into you?’ Max’s brow furrowed, his puzzled expression mirroring my own confusion. Her face had lit up to hear our wedding news, but now it was as if she was having second thoughts about the whole idea. ‘Do you not want us to go on holiday – is that it?’
‘No, it’s not that at all!’ she said in frustration.
Max and I shared a glance and shrugged, none the wiser as to what had made Katy so angry.
‘Oh, come on, Katy,’ I tried to coax her. ‘I know you, and can tell when you’re upset. How can we do anything to put it right if you won’t tell us what it is?’
‘It’s you!’ she said, glaring at me, as though it were blindingly obvious. ‘You pretend that we’re best friends and everything, but it doesn’t mean a thing.’
I glanced across at Arthur, who was looking as perplexed as me.
‘That’s not true. Why would you even think that?’
‘Huh!’ She crossed her arms fiercely, her body held rigid.
If you’re looking for a little me time as Winter approaches, this is the perfect book to curl up with. I’ve already read other books in this series, but with sufficient backstory and character information provided, you can read this last book as a standalone.
This instalment of life at the Dog and Duck is full of family drama, and unexpected incidents and you meet familiar characters and new faces. The story portrays the dynamic flow of everyday life well, and this gives this lovely story an authentic edge.
It is pleasantly seasonal and rounds up the series perfectly.
Read this and enjoy and then put the other books in the series on your Christmas list.
I received a copy of this book from Aria Fiction via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Jill lives with her husband, two children and an English Pointer named Amber in the Bedfordshire countryside. Her short stories have appeared in women’s magazines around the world as well as in charity anthologies. When she’s not writing, Jill loves spending time with family and friends, reading, films, musical theatre, walking, baking and eating cakes, and drinking wine.
More snow fell on Pleasley last night and whilst it isn’t as deep as the Boxing Day snowfall in the picture, our roads are pretty hazardous. The reason I mention this? Megan and I are off to watch #Strictly Come Dancing tonight at the Nottingham arena.
I’m the world’s worst passenger and the prospect of taking a journey on snowy roads horrifies me. Of course I’m not going to let that stop me watching some of my favourite dancing stars but I’m apprehensive… So I’ve got no writing done today, constantly drying dogs that love playing in the snowy garden and cooking comfort food for my family before they venture out into the cold.
Distracted, I wondered how long I actually get to write in an average day. In theory as writing is my job now, I should get seven or eight hours a day but in practice I know this isn’t the case. So over the next few weeks I’m keeping a note (actually its a spreadsheet), of what I do in a day, how long it takes me and most importantly how long I have each day to write .
Now I’m off to get ready, hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow with my review of Derek Muk’s Haunted Academy, which I featured last week and has been a popular post on my blog over the last few days.