Saturday Sleuthing: Debuts, Sequels, Second Novels and Random Discoveries

My finds today range in time from the 14th century to World War I. Amongst them are eagerly awaited sequels and second novels, recently released or due out later this year, as well as debut novels. I also discovered some interesting titles that I'd missed when they were first released.

Plague Land by S. D. Sykes

This medieval mystery is Sarah Sykes' debut novel. It was first published in 2014 and received some great reviews. Plague Land is recommended to readers who enjoy C.C. Humphreys and Ellis Peters. I'm a fan of both, so added this novel to my reading pile without any hesitation.

Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by thePlague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants. Yet some things never change. Oswald's mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried. Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it - by finding the real murderer - is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife. And then the body of another girl is found. SD Sykes brilliantly evokes the landscape and people of medieval Kent in this thrillingly suspenseful debut.

The Butcher Bird by S. D. Sykes

To be released in October, 2015, comes the continuing story of Oswald de Lacy.

Oswald de Lacey is growing up fast in his new position as Lord of Somershill Manor. The Black Death changed many things, and just as it took away his father and elder brothers, leaving Oswald to be recalled from the monastery where he expected to spend his life, so it has taken many of his villagers and servants. However, there is still the same amount of work to be done in the farms and fields, and the few people left to do it think they should be paid more - something the King himself has forbidden. Just as anger begins to spread, the story of the Butcher Bird takes flight. People claim to have witnessed a huge creature in the skies. A new-born baby is found impaled on a thorn bush. And then more children disappear. Convinced the bird is just a superstitious rumour, Oswald must discover what is really happening. He can expect no help from his snobbish mother and his scheming sister Clemence, who is determined to protect her own child, but happy to neglect her step-daughters. From the plague-ruined villages of Kent to the thief-infested streets of London and the luxurious bedchamber of a bewitching lady, Oswald's journey is full of danger, dark intrigue and shocking revelations.

Dacre's War by Rosemary Goring

I loved Rosemary Goring's novel, After Flodden. So pleased there wasn't a long wait for her second. Dacre's War was released this month.

Dacre's War is a story of personal and political vengeance. Ten years after the battle of Flodden, Adam Crozier, head of his clan and of an increasingly powerful alliance of Borderers, learns for sure that it was Lord Thomas Dacre - now the most powerful man in the north of England - who ordered his father's murder. He determines to take his revenge. As a fighting man, Crozier would like nothing better than to bring Dacre down face to face but his wife Louise advises him that he must use more subtle methods. So he sets out to engineer Dacre's downfall by turning the machinery of the English court against him. A vivid and fast-moving tale of political intrigue and heartache, Dacre's War is set against the backdrop of the Scottish and English borders, a land where there is never any chance of peace.

The Last Confession of Tom Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

Antonia Hodgson is another author whose debut novel I loved. The Devil in the Marshalsea was a gripping story, well received by readers, and I have no doubt that her latest novel will be too.

Spring, 1728. A young, well-dressed man is dragged through the streets of London to the gallows at Tyburn. The crowds jeer and curse as he passes, calling him a murderer. He tries to remain calm. His name is Tom Hawkins and he is innocent. Somehow he has to prove it, before the rope squeezes the life out of him. It is, of course, all his own fault. He was happy with Kitty Sparks. Life was good. He should never have told the most dangerous criminal in London that he was 'bored and looking for adventure'. He should never have offered to help Henrietta Howard, the king's mistress, in her desperate struggles with a brutal husband. And most of all, he should never have trusted the witty, calculating Queen Caroline. She has promised him a royal pardon if he holds his tongue but then again, there is nothing more silent than a hanged man. Based loosely on actual events, Antonia Hodgson's new novel is both a sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea and a standalone historical mystery. From the gilded cage of the Court to the wicked freedoms of the slums, it reveals a world both seductive and deadly. And it continues the rake's progress of Tom Hawkins - assuming he can find a way to survive the noose...

Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

I've not read any of Elizabeth Fremantle's Tudor novels. This one caught my eye because it is the story of Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, a figure from history I know nothing about. Watch the Lady is out now in the U.S.A and the hardback edition will be released in the U.K. on June 18th.

The Queen's GodDaughter. Her Most Trusted Maid. Adultress. Enemy of The State. Who is The Real Penelope Devereux? Penelope Devereux is a legendary beauty in the court of Elizabeth I, with a smile that would light up the shadows of hell. But it's not just her looks which have won her favour with the Queen wing; her canny instinct for being in the right place at the right time, and her skilled political manoeuvrings under the guise of diplomacy, have rendered her a formidable adversary to anyone who stands in her path. Including Elizabeth. For Penelope must secure the future of the Devereux dynasty at whatever cost. Even treason. And the Queen, a woman she holds responsible for the death of her father, the exile of her mother and her failure to marry the one man she ever truly loved, is just one more pawn in a deadly game. Walking the knife-edge of court, whilst ensuring that her reckless brother Essex remains the only star in the Queen's firmament - and out of the Tower - Penelope must plan for the inevitable succession of an ailing monarch. But her secret letters of friendship to a foreign King - one who has a strong claim to the English throne - could see her illustrious family in the gutter and her own head on the block. It would only take a single mistake, a slip of the tongue, an intercepted message for Penelope to become the architect of her downfall. In a world where sister is turned against brother, husband against wife, courtier against queen, the rules of the game are forever changing. Discover the truth in Elizabeth Fremantle's stunning new novel about an extraordinary woman who helped change the course of England's history forever. 

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young

This is the sequel to My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You, a novel that has been sitting in my reading pile for a while. The Heroes' Welcome was released last year, with a new paperback edition out in April, 2015.

LONDON, 1919 Two couples, both in love, both in tatters, come home to a changed world. When childhood sweethearts Riley and Nadine marry, it is a blessing on the peace that now reigns. But the newlyweds and their old friends Peter and Julia Locke wear the ravages of the Great War in very different ways. Where Nadine and Riley do their best to forge ahead and muster hope, Peter retreats into drink and nightmares, unable to bear the domestic life for which Julia pines.

Havisham by Ronald Frame

I love the cover, but I'm in two minds about this novel even though I've added it to my reading pile. Charles Dickens' Great Expectations is one of my favourite novels. Will reading Miss Havisham's back story change my perception of her and ruin a favourite classic forever?

Before she became the immortal and haunting Miss Havisham of "Great Expectations," she was Catherine, a young woman with all of her dreams ahead of her. Spry, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall--HAVISHAM--a reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business.Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers elegant pastimes to remove the taint of her family's new money. But for all her growing sophistication, Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything--her heart, her future, the very Havisham name--is vulnerable.In "Havisham," Ronald Frame unfurls the psychological trauma that made young Catherine into Miss Havisham and cursed her to a life alone, roaming the halls of the mansion in the tatters of the dress she wore for the wedding she was never to have.

Knight by Ian Anderson

This debut novel from Ian Anderson was released in 2013. It is readily available as an ebook from Amazon where I read an excerpt.  Print copies are harder to find, though the author's website says they are available directly from Troubador U.K.

Ian Anderson is a mature and beautiful new voice on the literary scene. Knight is breathtaking in its scope, exquisite in its tenderness, and uplifting in its refusal to succumb to the despair which fate sometimes prepares for us. It is a story of love and valour; a story of one man’s refusal to capitulate, when all the world seemed to conspire against him. Set in the early fifteenth century, in the last days of the Age of Chivalry, this is the story of a king’s champion, who, robbed of the love and beauty of the woman who had made his life complete, and stripped of all he had worked for and achieved, still, somehow, found the will and the strength to pick himself up, and move forward again, and, in the process, carry a king to victory on the battlefields of France.

This gripping work of historical fiction, weaving together strands of romance, tragedy and drama, reflects the real pain and suffering associated with loss. It exemplifies the ongoing struggle of the grieving process; between the need to retreat into the memories of the world which has been lost, and the need to find a way to move forward again. It is ultimately a book of hope, written by an author who has made the journey.


  1. Of these, I'm especially looking forward to The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins, because he's a great character and I'm curious to see how Tom gets himself out of that dilemma.

    I have copies of Plague Land and After Flodden I've been waiting to read for a while, too.

    1. I'm looking forward to reading The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins for the same reasons. Tom Hawkins is such a lovable character despite his flaws.

  2. I want to read almost all of those books! I enjoyed Elizabeth Fremantle's previous two Tudor books so I'm looking forward to Watch the Lady, especially as I don't know anything about Penelope Devereux either. And I can't wait to read the new Thomas Hawkins book as The Devil in the Marshalsea was one of my favourite books of last year!

    1. I hope I get to read them all, but The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins and Watch the Lady are at the top of the list.