She’s stuck in the past, the killer wants to immortalise his future. When a local farmer announces on social media that he has discovered a bog body in Ardee, the world’s historians are keen to explore the secrets of the life and grisly death of the victim. Antique journalist January Quail is fighting to keep her newspaper job and uncovers far more than she bargained for.
The victim is actually a recent murder, and January uses her nose for the truth to investigate the County Louth town. From shopkeeper to the publican, everyone is a suspect, but when the Gardai can’t find the killer, can January?
Once she sets down the liqueur glass, January gains the confidence of the lead garda investigator. Within days, the case unravels into a much more dangerous situation with a killer on the loose.
Despite the risk, January is electrified that this newest discovery has come at the perfect time to inject some colour into her flailing career. January relinquishes her old ways to fight for survival, abandoning her antiques column and vintage corsets to solve a cryptic crime that has the experts puzzled. This woman who longs to lives in the past must now fight for her life in the present.
Fiona Sherlock is a crime writer from Bective, in Ireland. Her murder mystery games are played across the world. She also writes poetry and prose but cannot stay away from a good murder. After spending a decade in Dublin working in public relations and journalism, she moved to the country for mid-day fires and elderflower champagne.
Three letters. Three murders. The clock is ticking…
When the body of a homeless woman is found under Bradford’s railway arches, DS Nikki Parekh and her trusty partner DC Sajid Malik are on the case.
With little evidence, it’s impossible to make a breakthrough, and when Nikki receives a newspaper clipping taunting her about her lack of progress in catching the killer, she wonders if she has a personal link to the case.
When another seemingly unrelated body is discovered, Nikki receives another note. Someone is clearly trying to send her clues… but who?
And then a third body is found.
This time on Nikki’s old street, opposite the house she used to live in as a child. And there’s another message… underneath the victim’s body.
With nothing but the notes to connect the murders, Nikki must revisit the traumatic events of her childhood to work out her connection to the investigation.
But some memories are best left forgotten, and it’s going to take all Nikki’s inner strength to catch the killer…
Before they strike again.
Liz Mistry has made a career out of her Bradford-based detective stories. It is fair to say that cheerful, they are not. This is crime fiction as gutter-level grime with drug addicted prostitutes with blackened stumps for teeth.
If you’re looking for “cosy” crime, then Mistry probably isn’t for you. However, if you want well plotted, sparsely written, taut thrillers with some truly nasty villains, then Mistry is for you.
DS Nikki Parekh is a very grounded guide to the investigation, a woman of complex emotions – Mistry is a top notch writer of anxiety and the need to escape from pressurised situations.
As a novelist she is also constantly growing in confidence. Here, we slalom between narrators, first person and third person to entice, excite and conceal the motivations of the protagonists.
And, it is fair to say, Parekh and her partner DC Sajid Malik, do have a lot on their plates. They are still processing the trauma of the trafficking case which comes in the book which precedes this one, as well as tackling a killer who is picking the victims off and experiencing an unnatural gratification – blood spattering on their lips described as “erotic” at one stage a particularly effective way of unsettling the reader.
This novel is sure to be a firm favourite with anyone who wants to go down, down to the neglected areas of Bradford, down to the seedy underworld in which Parekh and Malik ply their trade, down into the well-crafted, excitingly well-plotted, hard bitten novels of Liz Mistry.
Author Bio – Born in Scotland, Made in Bradford sums up Liz Mistry’s life. Over thirty years ago she moved from a small village in West Lothian to Yorkshire to get her teaching degree. Once here, Liz fell in love with three things; curries, the rich cultural diversity of the city … and her Indian husband (not necessarily in this order). Now thirty years, three children, two cats (Winky and Scumpy) and a huge extended family later, Liz uses her experiences of living and working in the inner city to flavour her writing. Her gritty crime fiction police procedural novels set in Bradford embrace the city she describes as ‘Warm, Rich and Fearless’ whilst exploring the darkness that lurks beneath.
Struggling with severe clinical depression and anxiety for a large number of years, Liz often includes mental health themes in her writing. She credits the MA in Creative Writing she took at Leeds Trinity University with helping her find a way of using her writing to navigate her ongoing mental health struggles. Being a debut novelist in her fifties was something Liz had only dreamed of and she counts herself lucky, whilst pinching herself regularly to make sure it’s all real. One of the nicest things about being a published author is chatting with and responding to readers’ feedback and Liz regularly does events at local libraries, universities, literature festivals and open mics. She also teaches creative writing too. Now, having nearly completed a PhD in Creative Writing focussing on ‘the absence of the teen voice in adult crime fiction’ and ‘why expansive narratives matter’, Liz is chock full of ideas to continue writing.
In her spare time, Liz loves pub quizzes (although she admits to being rubbish at them), dancing (she does a mean jig to Proud Mary – her opinion, not ratified by her family), visiting the varied Yorkshire landscape, with Robin Hoods Bay being one of her favourite coastal destinations, listening to music, reading and blogging about all things crime fiction on her blog, The Crime Warp.
Carla Sullivan’s 50th birthday is fast approaching when her whole world is turned upside down. Discovering her feckless husband is having yet another affair and following her mother’s death, she is in need of an escape. Finding an envelope addressed to her mother’s estranged sister Josette in the South of France gives Carla the perfect plan.
Seizing the moment, she packs her bags and heads to Antibes to seek out the enigma known as Tante Josette. But as the two women begin to forge a tentative relationship, family secrets start to unravel, forcing Carla to question her life as she has always known it.
A heart-warming tale on the beautiful French Riviera, which will keep you guessing.
People who don’t know me that well are sometimes surprised that I’ve always been a sucker for a nice romantic story, especially one set in a hot place.
I’ve written reviews on the genre here before (and sometimes I feel like I’m the last Peter Mayle fan out there.) After all, this is classed as “women’s fiction” so a man can’t enjoy it. But, you know, I like what I like.
This one, though, caught me by surpise.
To be honest, this was not really the novel I had expected it to be. I was expecting some comic misadventures and a women recovering from the swings and arrows of ill fortune with a glass of rose in her hand and a bevy of swarthy Frenchmen sniffing around rejuvenating her dormant passion.
While readers do get almost all of that, what they are also treated to is a much more serious, much better written and much more engaging story than that style of synopsis would suggest.
Carla’s appalling treatment at the hands of her bone headed philandering husband almost had me punching the air with joy when she tells him, “No, I deserve better.” It leaves one quietly grieving for the years of suffering which people have had to put up with without the courage to escape and find their own happy endings.
After all, don’t we all deserve to be the lead characters in our stories?
Additionally, the story which reveals itself may not be startlingly innovative – I think most readers will have sussed where it is going by about a third of the way through, Jennifer Bohnet does a wonderful job of peeling away the layers and explaining why these sort of revelations hit so hard and take so much time to heal.
Bohnet also does a fine job of reminding us that the mores of the sixties were not quite the free flowing, free love bonanza people have been retroactively allowed to believe.
‘The Villa of Sun and Secrets’ is a lovely read for a pandemic. Layered, unexpectedly moving, narrated with wit and charm by the talented Julia Franklin, this does offer the escape and the dream of villas with swimming pools and a cool glass of nice French wine so tantalisingly out of reach to us in our rather sombre modern age. A lovely audiobook.
Jennifer Bohnet is the bestselling author of over 14 women’s fiction titles, including ‘Villa of Sun and Secrets’ and ‘A Riviera Retreat. She is originally from the West Country but now lives in the wilds of rural Brittany, France.
The Glass family business is crime, and they’re good at what they do. Vengeance took Luke Glass behind bars – but now he’s free and he’s never going back. Luke wants out of the gangster life – all he has to do is convince his family to let him go.
His brother holds the reins of the South London underworld in his brutal hands – nobody tells Danny Glass no and expects to live – not even DCI Oliver Stanford, bent copper and one of the Met’s rising stars. The way Danny sees it, his younger brother and sister Nina owe him everything. The price he demands is loyalty, and a war with their arch enemy gives him the leverage he needs to tie Luke to the family once more.
Luke can’t see a way out, until Danny commits a crime so terrible it can’t be forgiven. Love turns to hate when secrets are unearthed which pit brother against brother. Left with no choice but to choose a side, Nina holds the fate of the family in her hands.
In the Glass family, Owen Mullen has created a crime dynasty to rival the Richardsons and the Krays. Heart-pounding, jaw-dropping with non-stop action, Family is perfect for fans of Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers and Mandasue Heller.
“Family” is my first exposure to the work of Owen Mullen and, on this evidence, it won’t be my last trip to the world of the Glass family.
I’ve written elsewhere (and here) of how impressed I am by the work Boldwood Books are producing in the crime genre and Mullen is a very worthy addition to their stable of writers.
Here we have the crime family dynamic coming under strain as newly released Luke strains against the ties of his increasingly psychotic brother Danny while his Machiavellian sister Nina cooks up her own schemes.
So far, so ‘Lock Stock’. But what elevates this above the routine is the quality of the turns. It was Raymond Chandler who advised writers, “When in doubt, have a man with a gun come through the door (‘Trouble is My Business’) Mullen certainly likes to take advantage of this handy aphorism and there are geezers puffing into pubs with gats clapping like no ones business.
The real strength, however, lies in Mullen’s careful doling out of excitement. His protagonist, Luke, is an intelligent observer. His first person narration contrasts with the third person accounts throughout the rest of the tale. So we hear Luke’s thoughts, we hear his doubts, his fears, his rationalisations.
When the action explodes, it is over in seconds and gives a wide berth to the sort of sadistic, voyeurism of violence we experience in lesser writers.
Mullen is also no stranger to the odd Chandlerism. “I’d met him for less than thirty seconds and already would’ve liked to put his face up against a brick and throw a wall at it,” is Luke’s verdict on one shady character and this is worth the price of the novel alone.
We all know you can pick your friends, but not your family: however, I’d advise getting to know the Glass family very well and let Mullen propel you with his propulsive prose through the south London underworld.
When he was ten years old, Owen Mullen won a primary schools short story competition and didn’t write another word for four decades. One morning he announced he was going to write a book. He did. Since then he has written seven. Owen was born in Coatbridge, a few miles from Glasgow, where the Charlie Cameron stories take place, and where he ran a successful design and marketing business.
A late developer, he has a Masters degree from Strathclyde University which he got in his forties. In his earlier life he lived in London and worked as a musician and session singer. People tell him he enjoyed himself and he has no reason to doubt them.
The journey from rocker to writer has been a fascinating experience and the similarities between the music and book industries, never cease to amaze him. His passions are travel, food and Arsenal Football Club.
A gregarious recluse, he now splits his time between Scotland and the island of Crete, along with his wife, Christine.
In the year 2000, I was a student in Scotland. Like many students, I had more energy than sense.
I would finish work on a Thursday, head home for a cat nap, wake up about 23:00,jump in my car.
Fuelled by too many cigarettes, too much coffee and hours of homemade mix cassettes (look ‘em up kids), I would drive overnight to London or the south coast.
For drunken debauchery or parental visits respectively.
On this particular trip, I was flagging. I was tired and the sickly motorway coffee wasn’t doing it. My mouth was already doubling as sandpaper, my eyelids drooping. I pulled into some services – Congleton was it? – anyway, somewhere not as far away as it ought to be. I wanted a story. I wanted distraction.
Browsing the tape and CD racks, I saw a John le Carre audiobook.
I was, I think, aware of le Carre as a literary figure.
I’d done the fairly standard spy reading journey of people of my generation (Roger Moore on bank holiday replays of James Bond as a child – public libraries to be introduced to Ian Fleming (“you mean there are more Bond stories I can watch in my head and it’s free?! Any time I want?”) as a young teen) and I feel like my mum had thrust a le Carre at me to try later on.
I can’t remember, but I have a vague half memory like I wasn’t interested. I’d had my head turned aged 13 by ‘The Rachel Papers‘ and the style of Martin Amis and had fully gone down the late teen pretension of the Beat poets.
Good knows what I was reading by this stage, a degree in alcohol studies with additional credits in neglected studies probably.
Anyway, I’d sort of heard of this le Carre bloke. I bought it. It cost a fortune. (£6.99? £8.99? Extortion) But, it had four cassettes and would last me nearly the whole way.
That trip, that book, literally changed my life. I’d known before then I wanted to write. I’d known since Amis had twisted my head to the possibilities of humour and wit and zippy, self-referential style what prose got do and sound like and be twisted to do.
But I really don’t think I had appreciated what plot could do. Le Carre’s honeyed voice helped. A fine actor, he read his work with the silken, upper class drawl of the entitled. He was like a harder-edged Leslie Philips or Stephen Fry’s favourite grandfather. I stopped once in seven hours. Just because the car was thirsty and, probably, I needed more tobacco. But otherwise, captivated, enchanted, enthralled. The works. It was anger and passion and characters who resonated and were blind and duplicitous, even to themselves.
I now know that the book which so shook my world on its axis is not even regarded as that good.
Indeed, it may well have helped that I was (I later discovered to my horror) listening to an abridged version (And what an abridgement. The full monty Michael Jayston version I now have on my phone – don’t tell me the world hasn’t got better in the last 20 years – is 12 hours 42 minutes so I’m assuming nearly half the novel has been pared away. This might be a good lesson for all writers, aspiring and established, about the need for judicious editing.)
These days, I can’t be objective about it. It came at the right time, was so powerful when it hit, that I can only love it. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve listened to it. I’m fairly sure I got to the end of the tape as I pulled up at my destination.
On that Sunday night, as I climbed back into the car to do the same trip in reverse, I feel like I went back to tape one and put it back in again to listen afresh, but I can’t be sure. The novel was ‘Our Game’ and it changed my reading life, that much is clear.
His introduction opened my eyes to more, in some ways even more than the text itself. At the start, le Carre talks passionately about our failure to see through on the promises we made to the little nations during our Cold War rhetoric and centres on the plight of the Ingush.
This is the Caucuses, a region I’d definitely never heard of, encompassing the (then) very failing Russian state and the Chechen conflict of the mid-90s and the looming Islamic problems which I’d missed entirely as the sort of smug teenager who drives the length of the country to good parties rather than study.
The next year, 2001, of course, these were issues which would be unavoidable even to such smug, complacent teens as myself. Similar events with le Carre would reoccur for me – I had an abridged audio cassette version of ‘Absolute Friends’ which is another angry novel which certainly resonated with me at the time.
I read everything in his back catalogue – finding his work uneven and developing my private theory that there were two types of le Carre book – the unputtdownable and the unreadable.
This is entirely personal and arbitrary – for me, the former includes ‘Our Game’, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, ‘Smiley’s People’.
In the latter category are ‘The Night Manager’ (brilliant tv, tedious novel), ‘Single and Single’ (still don’t think over finished that one) and, more controversially amongst spy geeks, ‘The Honourable Schoolboy’ which, for all its arresting imagery, I find so dull I’ve only finished it once in any version – hardback, paperback or audio – and find as readable as wading through treacle in diving boots.
I love this inconsistency, however. He was never dull. He swung for the fences (or drove for the boundary, to use a more Anglocentric image).
When ‘Legacy of Spies’ was released, I asked my partner if we could go from our highland home to watch the live stream talk and Q&A from the Royal Festival Hall. It was my birthday treat.
The fact that this required a round trip, midweek, on a work night, of 190 miles seemed reasonable to sit at the master’s feet, remotely, if not literally.
I think it’s fair to say one of us enjoyed it more than the other. I was enthralled. I thought John Snow had an off night, if I’m honest, but just hearing Le Carre in full flow was worth it.
Which is exactly what I told myself as I drove home, late into the night, letting his words wash over me as they have for two decades.
‘Solo: A Down to Earth Guide for Travelling the World Alone’ by Aaron Hodges
Feeling alone? Trapped? Lost?
Time for an adventure!
The bad times won’t last forever, and for more than five years, Aaron Hodges has journeyed the globe alone, visiting everywhere from Istanbul to Argentina. Honest and insightful, SOLO is packed with his personal travel tips and humorous stories. Learn about the ups and downs, the triumphs and the pitfalls of venturing off the beaten path. Follow his guidelines for exploring the world alone and be inspired to take the trip you’ve always dreamed of.
Discover the world of solo travel.
What is the last taboo in modern society? I have a feeling that travelling alone may well just be it.
About 13 years ago, I found myself with a long holiday and newly heart broken. A friend’s family had a house in France they were willing to lend me and so I decamped by myself.
Although I have since had many very wonderful breaks with my partner, I always think fondly of that break. It was delicious. Pleasing myself, dealing with setbacks and challenges – like having subpar schoolboy French as my only communication skill.
However, what has subsequently struck me most, has been the horror and outrage that a lot of people have expressed at the very idea of travelling alone. Is it lack of confidence? Is it a reluctance for people to be thought self-indulgent? No idea, but boy, do people not like the idea of travelling alone.
Except if they have tried it. Aaron Hodges has not only tried it; he’s written the book on it.
In one way, this title arrives at the most inopportune moment. As most of the UK is still locked down, Hodges’ (mainly) Asian and South American travels begin to read like travels from a previous world. Which in some ways, they are.
Hodges is an engaging and charming narrator who whisks readers along in brisk fashion offering a charming step-by-step guide for those who want to chance solo adventuring.
This is a short read, illustrated with Hodges’ photos from his travels. At this most uncertain of times, Hodges offers a glimpse into a world which many of us long to revisit as soon as we can.
If we ever get the chance to, I for one, will be taking Aaron Hodges’ lovely little guide, ‘Solo’.
Author Bio – Aaron Hodges was born in 1989 in the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand. He studied for five years at the University of Auckland, completing a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Geography, and a Masters of Environmental Engineering. After working as an environmental consultant for two years, he grew tired of office work and decided to quit his job in 2014 and see the world. One year later, he published his first novel – Stormwielder – while in Guatemala. Since then, he has honed his skills while travelling through parts of SE Asia, India, North and South America, Turkey and Europe, and now has over a dozen works to his name. Today, his adventures continue…
In this scene, Jack comes home from work to find his teenage daughter, Beverley, teaching herself to type. She’s an unmarried mother to baby Kerry and is already finding full-time parenting difficult. She decides to look for a job. After all, her mother goes out at work, so why can’t she?
On Friday afternoon, Jack let himself into the house and whistled. The only response was a soft tap-tapping from the kitchen.
He walked down the passage and opened the door. Bev was sitting at the kitchen table with Lily’s old typewriter, a book open beside her. She was looking at the book and typing, a frown of concentration on her face.
She jumped a mile.
“Shit!” she yelped. “Don’t do that!”
“What? Walk into me own kitchen? What you doing?”
“Baking a cake, what does it look like?”
“Then you’re a lousy cook,” he grinned.
Bev giggled. Jack knew she could never resist her old dad’s jokes.
“Any danger of a cuppa?”
She rolled her eyes and got up to put the kettle on.
“Where’s the baby?”
“Upstairs in her cot. She finally decided she was tired.”
He walked round the table and looked at the paper in the machine.
The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. The quick btrim
“What’s a b-t-r-i-m?”
“It’s an old man what sneaks up on you.”
“Ah, I thought so.” He sat down. “So, you’re learning to type?”
“Yeah. I’m using Mum’s old book. It’s easy. Or it was till you scared the living daylights out of me.”
He held up his hands. “Sorry, love. So, how long’s this been going on?”
She shrugged. “Not long. I got bored, so thought I might as well do something useful.”
“Something useful, eh? Like doing some housework to help your mum out?”
She leant against the sink and gave him a look, just like Lily. What was it about his girls and those stroppy looks?
“Something useful for me,” she said. “So I can get a job.”
He frowned. “There’s plenty of time for that. You’ve got Kerry to think of first.”
Bev huffed and turned away, spooning tea into the pot, muttering to herself.
When rural banker Richard Harper is reported missing, DSS John (Archie) Baldrick and DC Ben Travers are drawn into the tangled details of the man’s life. Would Harper really have chosen to leave his seriously ill wife, and abandon his pregnant girlfriend? Or is there a real threat behind the abusive emails he’d been receiving from desperate clients in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis?
On the home front, Archie’s marriage is rocky and his two teenage daughters are giving him all sorts of trouble. The frail but beautiful Helena Harper and her magnificent house offer an oasis of calm as Archie struggles to discover who is responsible for her husband’s disappearance. Has he really been abducted, tortured or killed? Or is Richard Harper himself behind everything that has happened?
Archie and Travers ultimately face a race against time as the case descends into a bewildering morass of obsession, violence and murder.
Longlisted for the 2019 Michael Gifkins Memorial Prize for an Unpublished Novel
Finalist in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best First Novel
Ok, first things first – I’ve never been to New Zealand. Many people close to me who I value the judgement of, tell me that it is wonderful and I like wine and rugby so I can’t really see any reason for it not to be lovely.
And, if this novel is anything to go by, I’ll be a fool not to visit as soon as this trifling matter of a global pandemic is out of the way.
This is a novel which just begs to be enjoyed. Archie Baldrick, our Marlborough Marlowe, is every reader’s dream of a sexy lead detective. Paunchy, beset by anxiety for his teen daughters (not without cause) and in a marriage which looks fragile as the two former teen lovers drift away, our middle aged ginger detective with the sciatic nerve is quite the pin up.
And this is where this story lives: in the details and the quiet sadness which character endure, not complainingly just with the knowledge that their world’s just got a little but sadder.
The actual story of the disappeared banker who may or may not be responsible for the swirling violence and murder which the climax of the novel addresses is handled with a rare skill and aplomb by this debutant author.
First novels can often be brilliant because they are the culmination of a whole life’s ambition burning to get out. But ‘Into the Void’ does not come off like that at all. It is a fast paced, well-plotted and exceedingly well-written voyage into choppy waters for likeable, recognisable and flawed characters.
Highly recommended and I can’t wait to read O’Reilly’s next one.
Or readers can email Christina via her website www.christinaoreilly.com or her Facebook page Christina O’Reilly – Author for a paperback copy.
Author Bio –
Christina O’Reilly is an author and proofreader living in the Waikato region of New Zealand. Several of her short stories have been published in anthologies, most recently in Fresh Ink: A Collection of Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand 2019. Into the Voidis her first crime novel and was longlisted for the Michael Gifkins Memorial Prize in 2019. It is also a finalist in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best First Novel.
In the years before the war, Sylvie Charlot was a leading light in Paris fashion with many friends among musicians, artists and writers. Now she is largely forgotten. Spending time in Paris during a break in his acting career, Colin Mallory sees a striking portrait of Sylvie. Some think it is a late work by Édouard Vuillard but there is no signature or documentary evidence to support this view.
The picture has some unusual qualities, not least the presence of a shadow of something that cannot be seen. Perhaps the picture was once larger. Colin feels an odd sense of connection with Sylvie, who seems to be looking at him, appealing to him, wanting to tell him something. Despite a warning not to pursue his interest in her portrait, he is determined to find out more about the painting, who painted it, and why it was hidden for many years.
Colin’s search takes him back to the film and theatre worlds of Paris and London in the 1930s – and to a house in present-day Sussex. As he uncovers the secrets of Sylvie’s past, her portrait seems to take on a life of its own.
‘The Purple Shadow’ by Christopher Bowden is a novel of flowing prose, elegiac phrasing and subtlty of characterisation.
At the opening of the novel, out of work actor Colin Mallory is a malingering flanuer, perusing the streets of Paris at his pleasure.
Oddly, one of the toughest aspects of reading this novel is that it is so evocative of Paris that is almost painful in a world of lockdowns and social distancing. Bowden writes with a quiet panache and obvious affection for the City of Love that one is left with a feeling of nostalgia and great longing to return to the capital.
“His view was dormers and balconies, shutters and skylights, chimneys and blank walls. Even these were becoming indistinct as the blue light of evening gave way to night.”
Christopher Bowden is clearly a talented artist in his own right and he weaves the strands of plot between forgotten British movie stars of the interwar years with the latter day painting recovery with the skill of a Royal Academician.
Colour imagery positively throbs through the tale. From the second page’s “bright white walls,’ to the “chevrons of indigo, orange and grey” on the last, colours are used to mirror emotions and evoke the surroundings. It is skilfully and unobtrusively carried out.
My issue with the novel is, unfortunately, one which perturbed me for the entire end third of the book. The purple stain of the title is, as the blurb makes clear so this is not a spoiler, one on a painting. The stain seems to be changing, adapting and – possibly – literally moving and yet all of the characters just seem to shrug and say, “Creepy, isn’t it?”
Sorry, no – not creepy. Stupid. You’re confusing a sentient painting with some tawdry sub-Halloween-level balls.
All of the characters’ entirely blasé approach to the supernatural might enable the plot to wallop on, but it made me want to chuck this finely plotted, beautifully written little novel across the room in irritation.
Still, a quick read by a master craftsman which can be savoured for the quality of the writing alone.
Author Bio – Christopher Bowden lives in south London. He is the author of six colour-themed novels, which have been praised variously by Andrew Marr, Julian Fellowes, Sir Derek Jacobi, and Shena Mackay.
Get ready to learn what really happens behind closed doors.
Landlords have become one of the most hated groups in society. Parasites, they’re often called. And there’s a lot of them. The Treasury estimates there are almost 2.6 million landlords in the UK with around 5.45 million rental properties.
But the real life of a professional landlord is very different to what most people think. From burglaries and break-ins to drug raids, police warrants, crazy tenant antics, bailiffs, squatters, lawsuits, wrecked properties, interfering council officers, game-playing freeholders to moments of heartfelt joy and happiness, the life of a landlord is never dull. Especially when the government keeps moving the goalposts.
This explosive front line exposé blows the lid off what it’s really like to be a landlord and the shocking reality of renting out a property. Hovering close to a nervous breakdown and likely suffering PTSD, The Secret Landlord exposes truths rarely shared. Stories that will grip you, move you and smack you in the face.
This is the truth, the other side of the door.
This is as difficult a book to review as I’m sure it was to write. And, in all honesty, I think a reader’s degree of satisfaction with their purchase is going to be directly linked to their politics and their experiences (isn’t everything?)
There’s a lot to like
The good things – the Secret Landlord is clearly a well-intentioned landlord. She writes fluidly and is as engaging a guide through the trials and tribulations of this lifestyle that you could wish for. Material which could be very dry is handled with aplomb.
So, it is clearly well written and its diary format allows these dispatches from capitalisms front line to romp along.
I think it is fair to say that this is a landlord who’s heart in the right place and is well intentioned. She wants to make a living – fair enough – and her ethos is clearly well meaning.
She says, ““My tenants tend to stay with me for years – I like that. I like the fact we can have a long relationship and get to know each other. Truth is, I don’t really like change. I really like it when people come to stay and they don’t leave. I like them growing and changing and hearing about their lives.”
That’s positively heart warming. As is how responsible this attitude is:
“I don’t understand, I truly don’t, the landlords who don’t do repairs. I have no understanding, morally or commercially, why you wouldn’t fix a problem.”
Here’s the thing though: the system is awful.
And, frankly, her justifications for her role within it are very poor. Take a scenario from early on in the book when she needs to sell two properties to ensure she has enough capital on hand to survive.
“My phone rings and I see it’s the long-term tenant at the flat where I’ve just sent his eviction notice. I brace myself. ‘I’ve just got this notice, what’s going on? What have I done?’ ‘I’m so sorry, you haven’t done anything, but the problem is the government has made lots of tax changes and so I have no choice but to sell.’ ‘But, this is my home!’ ‘I know and I’m really sorry, I don’t want it to be like this, but I hope you can understand I have to sell because I need to raise some money.’‘So how long have I got?’ ‘The date’s there on the notice, you have over two months. I’m really sorry about this.’
Right, so a tenant who has done nothing wrong is to be made homeless because you over extended yourself?
By the way, in Scotland the tenant would get 6 months notice which would help a little bit, but what makes this galling is the weakness of the arguments in need to make herself feel better.
At various points she asks, “Is it my fault?” and, later when the tenant about to bounced out in the street is not pleased we get this reported exchange:
“He’s still majorly unimpressed as the rental market has risen loads and he’s unhappy about how much more he’s going to have to shell out to rent somewhere else. I bite my tongue. I’d like to point out he could’ve been saving some money from his reduced rent with me.”
Yeah, except that’s not how it works is it? We aren’t given this particular tenant’s occupation but there is every chance that his wages won’t have kept pace with rent levels so he almost certainly won’t have been pocketing the difference, oh-so-financially-prudent Secret Landlord.
“Is it my fault?” she asks?
“No,” unsurprisingly answers friend who is also a landlord.
“Yes,” say everyone else. You are literally part of the problem.
This particular paradox is writ large when she outlines how the system has changed since the financial crash. She has repeatedly said that she is a responsible landlord.
“The hoops you have to jump through and the paperwork you have to complete is something else nowadays. But, back in the day, and obviously that was before the financial crash, getting a mortgage, a re-mortgage or any sort of money was easy. Hell, you could even do same-day re-mortgages back then!… I should have borrowed more!”
No! No, you shouldn’t. People investing in sub-prime mortgages is the literal – literal – reason the world’s financial system had a cardiac arrest which nearly sent us back to the Dark Ages. This is not an exactly reflective guide.
“The thing that gets me about all of this is the way the government has created these housing problems and blamed landlords for everything. The government sold off the council housing and hasn’t built enough since. Private individuals then bought properties to rent out to fill the housing need. Then everybody and his dead grandmother went crazy about landlords owning property and renting them out and making a profit.”
Now, in her defence, it is also clear that the tax system is a mess, tenants are – well, arseholes – and this is not an easy profession. Actually it sounds like a dreadful profession and this is a lady doing the best she can. Maybe calling landlords parasites is harsh.
But, if you lay with pigs, you end up bacon and I’m afraid that this well-written, slick journey through the dark lowlands of the realities of capitalism’s foothills does not make me feel sorry for the choices this category of people have made.
Author Bio – The Secret Landlord has been renting, refurbishing and selling properties across the UK for almost two decades. An award-winning landlord, as judged by the National Landlords Association, The Secret Landlord has provided accommodation for hundreds of tenants from all walks of life.