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DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (3)

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PART THREE

So far …. 21 year old Maida Warner, from Stockton, has been arrested after a dead baby was found in the room she occupied at Sandown Villa, the home of Mr and Mrs Patterson, who employed Maida as a domestic servant. The bay was found with string tied tightly around its neck.

On 23rd June, at the second Coroner’s Inquest into the baby’s death, (the first was adjourned because Maida Warner was too ill to attend) the grandly named Mr. J. J. Willington Wilmshurst, spoke to a packed room in Leamington Police Station. This time, Maida Warner was present. The newspaper reported:

“The young woman, Maida Warner, who has been charged with the wilful murder of the child, was present, accompanied by a wardress from Warwick Gaol. She looked white and ill, and after the evidence of the first witness was obliged to retire for a few minutes.”

The jury heard medical evidence which was ambivalent about whether the baby was born alive. This was to be a key issue in the criminal proceedings which followed. The legal phrase was “separate existence”. In simple terms, if the baby had drawn breath, even for a few seconds after the umbilical cord had been cut then was deemed, by law, to have had a separate existence and, as such, was entitled to the protection of the law. Despite one of the doctors saying:

“It is my opinion that the child was healthy child, at, or near, full time, that it had lived and breathed freely. The cause of death was suffocation by strangulation, which might have been caused the cord round the infant’s neck. The child was alive when this constriction was put round it.”

But he then muddied the waters by saying:

“It is impossible to say that the child was wholly born, at the time it was done.”

Despite the confusion, the Coroner could only pass the case on up the legal ladder to the criminal courts. It was at this inquest, however, that another piece of evidence emerged which was to have an important bearing on the date of Maida Warner. Knowing that the young woman would not – whatever the outcome of the trial – be coming back to Sandown Villa, John Patterson had gone to clear up Maida’s room. He found a letter, torn up and thrown in the fire grate. It was signed, “Your dear little husband, S.B.C. – Warwick

Stockton was a small village, and it wouldn’t have taken a Sherlock Holmes to discover who S.B.C. was. In 1901 Sidney Cox had been living with his sister and their large family in a house on Napton ad, Stockton.
Sidney Cox

Probably very much against his wishes, he was produced as a defence witness when Maida was brought to trial at Warwick Assizes on July 28th, in front of Mr Justice Wills (left) By this time – and Maida must have had a very clever defence team – the charge had been reduced to that of concealing a death. The judge seemed to put great store by the presumption that Maida was fully prepared for – and happy with – the fact that she was about to give birth. Evidence for this was produced, in the form of newly purchased baby clothes found in Maida’s trunk. Sidney Cox had his moment in court as reported in the local newspaper:

“A young man named Sidney Cox was then called, and stated that he had been keeping company with the prisoner, and it was arranged that they should be married next month.

Judge; “Did you know that she was about to be confined?”
Cox,“No”
Judge, “Did you know what she intended to do?”
Cox,“No”
Judge, “Are you now prepared to marry her, and is it you intention of doing so at the earliest opportunity?”
Cox, “Yes.”

To cut a long story short, the Judge – despite the strange and unexplained matter of the string knotted round the baby’s neck, decided that Maida Warner was guilty of concealing a death, and sentenced her to twelve months hard labour. This story has a happy ending, after a fashion. In December 1906, the local news from Stockton column had this announcement:

Wedding

It is good to know that, whatever the truth of what happened on that fateful day at the end of May 1905, Maida went on to live her life in full. The last we see of her, at least in official records, is that in 1911 she was living with her husband in George Street, Stockton.

1911 census

For me, looking back at something which happened over a century ago, it is a curious case, and no mistake. What was the string doing around the baby’s neck? Was it something to do with a young woman giving birth on her own, and perhaps misguidedly remembering – as a country girl –  how calves were hauled from their mothers’ wombs with stout cord? Did the baby have “a separate existence”? We will never know. I believe there are Neals and Warners still living in and around Stockton to this day, and I hope that they will think that I have reported this strange episode with respect and fairness.

DEATH AT SANDOWN VILLA . . . True crime in Leamington Spa (1)

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PART ONE

Employment options for young women in the England of the early 1900s were pretty limited, especially from poorer households. Educational opportunities for most would have rudimentary, and many thousands would seek work in domestic service in wealthier households, and hope for a reasonable marriage when they had turned twenty or so.

Such a young lady was Maida Warner. In 1905 her family lived in the village Stockton, between Leamington and Rugby. Her father – like many men in the vicinity was employed at the cement works, which was owned by the Nelson family of Warwick. The 1901 census has the Warners living on Beck’s Lane.

1901 census
After working for a lady in Coventry, 21 year-old Maida took up a position with Mr John Percival Patterson and his wife Lizzie on 10th May. They lived in the rather grand sounding Sandown Villa, on Rugby Road in Leamington. The house showed up in the 1948 Kellys Directory as No. 251 Rugby Road, but that puzzled me, as the present day 251 is obviously a semi built in the 1950s or 60s. Thanks to some excellent detective work by Steve Hawks we found that there was renumbering of the houses at some stage, and what was named Sandown Villa is the modern day No. 269, and to the left of it in the picture was Cliff Cottage, of which more later.

Sandown Villa
Back to the events of May 1905. Later in the month, having seen plenty of the young lady, the Pattersons began to suspect that Maida might be pregnant. In the rather euphemistic words of a newspaper report, they “became suspicious of her condition”. Lizzie Patterson broached the subject but Maida strongly denied that she was expecting. It rather suggests to me that she was, as they say, “of a fuller figure” as had she been just a slip of a thing it must have been glaringly obvious. On 28th May, Lizzie Patterson again spoke to Maida about the matter, but received the same reply. What happened next was reported fully in the newspapers when Lizzie Patterson (witness) gave evidence in court.

“On the Thursday she did her work as usual, but after tea she complained of a headache and went upstairs. Witness advised her to go for a short walk, but she said she felt too ill. Witness asked her if she wanted anything, and she said no. She went to bed, and just after nine o’clock Witness took her a cup of cocoa. When Witness went into the room she felt sure something was wrong and she asked Warner if she would have a doctor. She declined, but Witness insisted on having a doctor. When she went downstairs she sent for the doctor.

Witness did not hear anything of the girl, and the doctor arrived about 11 o’clock. When the doctor went upstairs the bedroom door was locked and Witness called “Open the door.” Warner replied, “Is the doctor there?” and the doctor then asked her if she was all right. She said “Yes,” and added that she did not want the doctor. She refused to open the door. If she wanted help she would let them know.

Later Witness again went to the door, and Warner then said she was all right. She did not hear anything of her during the night. Next morning Witness sent some breakfast to Warner, and a little later went to her room to see her. She asked her how she was and she said she was very much better. Warner had drunk her tea and had eaten some food. The girl appeared very much better. She remained in bed until Saturday afternoon, but still refused to have the doctor. Witness suggested that she must either see him or go home, and Warner said she would rather home. She walked to the station and went by the 4.10 train.”

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The railway station – Milverton – was literally just around the corner, and from there Maida could take the train – a twenty minute ride on the old London and North Western Railway – to Napton & Stockton Station.

LNW ∑ Napton and Stockton ∑ Warwks ∑ anon ∑ by 10/1910

As soon as Maida had gone, John and Lizzie Patterson went up to Maida’s room. What they found there would haunt them for many a year.

PART TWO WILL BE AVAILABLE AT 6.00pm
ON SUNDAY 28th FEBRUARY

THE ST MICHAEL’S ROAD MURDER . . . The madness of a daughter (part 2)

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Louth. February 1950. Gladys Hirschberg is living with her mother Alice Wright at 32 St Michael’s Road (below). 55 year-old Gladys has had an eventful life. She married a soldier, Victor King, in 1916, was widowed the next year, and then went to Rhodesia with a new husband, and took his name, von Hirschberg. Gladys returned to England at the beginning of World War Two and served with the ATS. After a brief return to Rhodesia, she came back to Louth in 1946.

32 St Michaels

On the morning of Sunday 19th February, Mrs Lena Gibson who was a neighbour of Gladys and her mother answered a frantic knocking on her door to find Gladys, shaking and white faced. Gladys said to Lena:
You had better come and see. I have killed my mother. I hit her on the head with a hammer.”
Entering No.32, Lena was horrified to see Alice Wright unconscious on the sofa, with a dreadful head wound.

Todd

An ambulance was summoned and the police came and took Gladys into custody, She was formally charged with attempting to kill her mother. The senior officer who read the charge was none other than Superintendent George Todd (above), Gladys Hirschberg’s co-star in the Louth Playgoer’s production of The Winslow Boy in April the previous year.

Alice Wright never recovered consciousness and died two days later, so when Gladys Hirschberg appeared at Louth Magistrates Court on 21st February, the charge was murder. After another hearing on 11th March, Gladys was committed for trial at Lincoln Assizes in June.

It seems that Gladys was in such a bad way
that she was sent to Winson Green prison in Birmingham, because it had a secure mental unit, and it was from there that she came to trial at Lincoln on Tuesday 6th June. The presiding judge was George Lynskey.

This is the newspaper report of proceedings:

In court she wore a black coat and a grey jumper. She looked pale but seemed composed. She pleaded not guilty in a clear voice. While the Jury was sworn in she stood with bowed head and downcast eyes between two women prison officers. The courtroom was crowded, the majority there being women.

Hirschberg was defended by Mr. R. C. Vaughan. K.C.. and Mr. W. K Carter. Mr S.L.Elborne, prosecuting, said that Hirschberg had been living in Rodesia and had returned to England to look after her mother. Later, after living at home and then working in London, she had an offer of another job in Rhodesia, and her mother was going with her. The home and furniture were to be sold. Mrs Wright was over 80, and apparently the accused thought she was doing right by moving her to Rhodesia.

Hirschberg then became more troubled about the situation, and February 19th she told a neighbour that she had hit her mother on the head with a hammer and had killed her. Mrs Wright was found with severe head injuries and died later in hospital.

The neighbour, Lena Marjorie Gibson said Hirschberg had worried about taking her mother to Rhodesia and felt she was taking away her security by selling the house. Hirschberg had been widowed in the first war, married a Belgian and had said this marriage was unhappy. She had sought refuge in Army work during the war and became a junior commander in the ATS.

Mrs. Gibson described how Hirschberg became more worried, had financial worries when her husband stopped her allowance, and felt she was a failure and her life futile.

She had fits of depression and on one occasion was seen crouching in an animal attitude with staring eyes and twitching face.

“I was afraid she was no longer sane.” said Mrs. Gibson. She had also said herself she felt her mind was going. In statements to the police Hirschberg was alleged to have said that her mental state made her want to escape from her responsibilities. She tried to gas herself, and then decided it would be best if they both “went out” because some aspects of her life had been a failure.


“Quite suddenly a cloud came over me and 1 felt I must end it all for both,” Something in her brain told her she must do it but only part of her knew what she was doing with the hammer. She had hit herself on the head with the hammer. The last few weeks had been a terrible effort as if her hands and brain had not co-operated without terrific effort.

Clipping

Called for the defence, Dr J Humphreys of Birmingham prison said Hirschberg considered herself a failure in her job in London and had a feeling of guilt that her friends were having to do things for her mother which she felt she should have been doing. She was suffering from an acute sense of chronic depression which was a mental disease. While in prison,said the doctor, Hirschberg swallowed five needles because she said she wanted to suffer physical pain instead of the anguish she was feeling.

She had told him she was an outcast and dare not approach God in prayer – which was born out by the fact that she refused to go to the prison chapel or see the chaplain.

When she committed the act she would not know that what she was doing was wrong. Evidence that she was suffering from a mental disease was also given by Dr. M. Sim, a psychiatrist at a Birmingham hospital.


The prosecution didn’t challenge the assertion that Gladys Hirschberg did murder her mother whie insane, and she was sentenced to be detained “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.”

There is a poignant postscript to this sad tale. A few years later, Messrs Falkner & Co, Solicitors, of 17 Cornmarket, Louth acted for Gladys Hirschberg as she applied to change her surname to King. This was of, course, in remembrance of Victor Algernon Robert King, her young husband who had perished in Flanders thirty seven years earlier. In this legal claim, her address was given as Crowthorne, Berkshire, which is home to the secure mental hospital known as Broadmoor.

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THE MURDER OF MINNIE MORRIS . . . The Walsoken Outrage (Part one)

HeaderThese days when Fenland fruit needs picking, the hands that do the work will belong to people who come from places like Vilnius. Klaipeda, Varna, Daugavpils, or Bucharest. Back in the day, however,the pickers came from less exotic places like Hackney, Hoxton or Haringey, and the temporary migration of Londoners to the Wisbech area was an established part of the early summer season. In the autumn, the same people – predominantly women and children, might head south to the hop fields of Kent, but in the July of 1912 the Londoners were here in Fenland.

One of the farms in the area which welcomed the London visitors was that of John Stanton Batterham, of Larkfield, Lynn Road, Walsoken. His house still stands:

Larkfield

He was to play no direct part in the tragedy that unfolded on the afternoon of 16th July, 1912, but some of the people who worked for him – and two in particular – were key players.

Minnie Morris has been hard to trace using public records. Her mother, Minnie Gertrude Morris had married (a re-marriage) John M Stringfield in the autumn of 1911, but the 1901 census has her living with a Henry Morris (who was almost twice her age) in Grays Inn Buildings, Roseberry Avenue, Holborn. Also listed is a daughter, also called Minnie, born in Hoxton in 1891.

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Minnie junior is hard to locate in 1911, but on the other side of town, in North Kensington, a young man named Robert Galloway was living with his large family in Angola Mews:

Galloway census

To call Robert and Minnie “star-crossed lovers” is probably pushing the Shakespeare analogy a step too far, but their paths crossed in the summer of 1912. Both turned up, from different parts of the country, to pick fruit for Mr Batterham. It seems that the hours were flexible, and there was money to be handed over the bar in The Black Bear, and the Bell Inn. The Black Bear still thrives, despite the curse of lock-down, but the Bell Inn is long gone. (below)

Old Bell

William Tucker, labourer, Old Walsoken, said he came from London in May last for fruit-picking. He knew Minnie Morris for a few months, and he met her in London. He saw her in the Bell Inn Walsoken, in June. He used to meet her about four times a week and was fond of her. He used to give her grub and spend evenings with her.”

Galloway was described as a seaman in contemporary reports, but there is no evidence to support this. Perhaps the term suggested something exotic and dangerous, and journalists at the time would be as aware of ‘clickbait’ as we are today, even though they might have used a different term. He was clearly violently jealous, and anyone paying court to Minnie Morris was regarded as a mortal enemy.

On 11th July there was a clashing of heads in the Black Bear inn.

Galloway saw William Tucker and Minnie Morris drinking together in the Black Bear inn. Galloway said: “Minnie. I want to speak to you.
She replied: “I’m all right where I am.”
Tucker and Minnie Morris then went out of the inn and stood talking. Galloway said the girl:

“If I don’t find you I’ll find him”, meaning William Tucker.

Over a century later, it is hard to come to any other conclusion other than that Robert Galloway was obsessed with Minnie Morris, and his feelings were that if he couldn’t have her, then no-one could.

IN PART TWO

A fateful stroll
A case for the police












THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Raya, Curtis & Williams

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POETIC JUSTICE: FAME by Fran Raya

This is the third book in Raya’s series featuring a shamanic criminal with telepathic gifts called Randal Forbes. He uses his dark talents to enrich himself and outwit the police. He is no amiable villain,however. In his wake he has left shattered lives, death and mayhem. In her preview, Raya writes:

“So, I’ll raise a glass to authors, artists and aspirations. My Characters are waiting in the wings, so sit back, kick off your shoes and let the drama unfold. It’s dark, but with chinks of light, together with Randal’s laconic wit.”

Poetic Justice is published by The Book Guild and is out on 28th August.

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KEEP HER QUIET by Emma Curtis

This nail-biting domestic psycho-drama begins with Jenny crying tears of joy as she cradles the new born child she thought she would never have. Her joy is countered by the despair of her husband Leo, whose desolation and betrayal stems from the bitter truth that he knows the child is not his.

In another place, Hannah weeps over her new born child, because it is lifeless.

Years down the line, the four lives become entangled in a fatal coming together that will be bring only tragedy to all involved. Keep Her Quiet is published by Black Swan and is out on 17th September.

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FATAL REVENGE by James L Williams

The action jumps between rural Canada and England as RCMP officer Sergeant Vic Holland finds family links to an unsolved series of brutal murders that took place in ‘the old country.’

Vic returns to his old beat to gather evidence, but he uncovers more than he was bargaining for. Someone is plotting revenge on several individuals, including Vic’s family back in Pine Creek Falls. But who is making these attacks and how is Vic connected to all of this? Fatal Revenge is published by The Book Guild and is out now in KIndle, and will be available in paperback on 28th August

THE WARTIME POSTMAN DELIVERS . . .

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In September 2019, to mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, IWM will launch a wonderful new series with four novels from their archives all set during the Second World War – Imperial War Museums Wartime Classics.

Originally published to considerable acclaim, these titles were written either during or just after the Second World War and are currently out of print. Each novel is written directly from the author’s own experience and takes the reader right into the heart of the conflict. They all capture the awful absurdity of war and the trauma and chaos of battle as well as some of the fierce loyalties and black humour that can emerge in extraordinary circumstances. Living through a time of great upheaval, as we are today, each wartime story brings the reality of war alive in a vivid and profoundly moving way and is a timely reminder of what the previous generations experienced.

Alan Jeffreys, (Senior Curator, Second World War, Imperial War Museums) searched the IWM library collection to come up with these four launch titles, all of which deserve a new and wider audience.   He has written an introduction to each novel that sets them in context and gives the wider historical background and says:

Researching the Wartime Classics has been one of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my years at IWM. It’s been very exciting rediscovering these fantastic novels and helping to bring them to the wider readership they so deserve”.

Each story reflects the IWM remit to tell the stories of those who experienced conflict first hand. Each author has a fascinating back story. These are Second World War novels about the truth of war written by those who were actually there.

FROM THE CITY, FROM THE PLOUGH by Alexander Baron

baronThis is a vivid and moving account of preparations for D- Day and the advance into Normandy. Published in the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings, this is based on the author’s first-hand experience of D-Day and has been described by Antony Beevor  as:

“u
ndoubtedly one of the very greatest British novels of the Second World War.”

Alexander Baron was a widely acclaimed author and screenwriter and his London novels have a wide following. This was his first novel.

TRIAL BY BATTLE by David Piper

PiperThis quietly shattering and searingly authentic depiction of the claustrophobia of jungle warfare in Malaya was described by William Boyd as:

A tremendous rediscovery of a brilliant novel. Extremely well-written, its effects are both sophisticated and visceral.”

VS Naipaul described the novel as:

“one of the most absorbing and painful books about jungle warfare that I have read”

David Piper was best known as director of the National Portrait Gallery, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The novel is based on his time serving with the Indian Army in Malaya where he was captured by the Japanese and spent three years as a POW. His son, Tom Piper, was the designer of the hugely successful Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London to commemorate the First World War Centenary.

EIGHT HOURS FROM ENGLAND by Anthony Quayle

Anthony-Quayle-848x1024-848x1024Anthony Quayle was a renowned Shakespearean actor, director and film star and this is his candid account of SOE operations in occupied Europe. Historian and journalist Andrew Roberts said:

As well as being one of our greatest actors, Anthony Quayle was an intrepid war hero and his autobiographical novel is one of the greatest adventure stories of the Second World War. Beautifully written and full of pathos and authenticity, it brings alive the terrible moral decisions that have to be taken by soldiers under unimaginable pressures in wartime.”

PLENTY UNDER THE COUNTER by Kathleen Hewitt

Kathleen Hewitt WC_01_AThis murder mystery about opportunism and the black market is set against the backdrop of London during the Blitz.

‘With a dead body on the first page and a debonair RAF pilot as the sleuth, this stylish whodunit takes you straight back to Blitzed London and murder most foul. Several plausible suspects, a femme fatale, witty dialogue, memorable scenes and unexpected twists – it boasts everything a great whodunit should have, and more.

Kathleen Hewitt was a British author and playwright who wrote more than 20 novels in her lifetime. She was part of an artistic set in 1930’s London which included Olga Lehman and the poet Roy Campbell.


A full review of each novel will appear on the Fully Booked site in September.

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ONE GOOD DEED . . . Between the covers

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Aloysius Archer has good cause to remember his parents for most things. Their decency, their love and their determination to do the best for him, certainly. For his Christian name, not so much. He finds that most folk can’t even pronounce it properly, so he is happiest with just Archer. This has not been a problem for the last few years, as residents of the State Penitentiary were not too precious about names. Put inside for a crime he didn’t commit, Archer has served his time, survived, and is out on parole. It is 1949, and he is on a bus heading for Poca City, a metropolis in name only. In reality, it is a parched and fly-blown settlement with a few bars, a handful of stores and diners – and a Probation Office.

Archer served his country with distinction in the war, fighting his way up the spine of Italy, watching his buddies die hard, and wondering about the ‘just cause’ that has trained him to shoot, throttle, stab and maim fellow human beings while, at the same time, preventing him from being at the deathbeds of both parents.

OGD coverWearing a cheap suit, regarded as trash by the local people, and with every cause to feel bitter, Archer checks into the Derby Hotel and contemplates the future. His immediate task is to check in with his Probation Officer, Ernestine Crabtree. Quietly impressed by her demeanour – and her physical charm – Archer goes, in spite of his parole restrictions, for a drink in a local bar, The Cat’s Meow

Propping up the bar is a middle-aged roué with a much younger woman on his arm. Hank Pittleman is clearly a big man in Poca City, and he offers Archer what appears to be a simple job – reclaim a fancy car that was held as collateral for a defaulted loan. The Cadillac is currently in the possession of Lucas Tuttle, another local man of property, but a man who seems to have fallen on hard times.

Archer accepts the job, takes an advance on the fee, and sets off on what seems to be a relatively straightforward mission. Truth be told, the Cadillac belongs to Pittleman and Tuttle has it. Archer is tough, capable of extreme violence, so what could be possibly go wrong? As Oscar Wilde wrote:

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Even before Lucas Tuttle answers the door to Archer’s knock by pointing a cocked Remington shotgun at his unwelcome visitor, Archer has learned that the floozie on Pittleman’s arm in the bar is none other than Jackie, Tuttle’s estranged daughter. Archer finds the coveted motor car hidden away on Tuttle’s ranch, but it has been deliberately torched. Cursing his involvement in this blood feud, Archer’s equilibrium and freedom both take a severe knock when Pittleman’s body is found in a bedroom just along the floor from Archer’s room in The Derby. Thrown into the cells as the obvious suspect, Archer is released when he meets up with Irving Shaw – a serious and competent detective – and convinces him of his innocence.

David BaldacciPretty much left on his own
to solve the case after a violent attempt to silence Jackie, Archer has to summon up very ounce of his military experience and his innate common sense to put himself beyond the reach of the hangman’s noose.

Implausible as it may sound, given the body count – stabbings, shootings, people devoured by hogs – One Good Deed is a wonderfully warm and feel-good kind of novel. Archer is a simple man; brave, thoughtful, compassionate, 99% honest and a convincing blend of frailty and decency. Baldacci (right) is such a skilled storyteller that the pages spin by, and anyone who loves a crime novel where goodness prevails would be mad to miss this. Mr B also gives us a rather unusual romance – for 1949, at least. One Good Deed is published by Macmillan and is available in all formats on 25th July.

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