The Strings of Murder – Edinburgh 1888 – Oscar de Muriel

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Why a booktrail?

A story of murder, mystery and an apparently cursed violin….

Story in a nutshell

Edinburgh, 1888. A violinist is murdered in his home. In his locked practice room whilst the sound of several musicians played in the night. Who could have got in the room whilst it was locked? And who would want to kill a violinist?

Meanwhile in London, the city is awash with panic over the Ripper murders and so Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss, Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray, actually believes in such supernatural nonsense.

Just who or what is crawling the dark dank streets of Edinburgh?

Place and setting

Moray Place where Frey stays with McGray on his arrival in Edinburgh Calton Cemetery where McGray wanders and researches on will-o - the wisps City chambers, The Royal Mile The police station and morgue are located here Dublin Street - New Town  The Ardglass house is located here. The Ardglass family are well known in the city and own many properties Princes Street where he goes in the search for ‘decent food he can actually eat’ Edinburgh conservatoire of music Fictional yet we imagine the grand and majestic Usher Hall on Lothian Road could be it. this is what we imagined when reading the book. Its a very gothic looking and imposing building Connections to the violinist and music
Moray Place
where Frey stays with McGray on his arrival in Edinburgh
Calton Cemetery
where McGray wanders and researches on will-o – the wisps. Calton Hill overlooks it
The City Chambers, The Royal Mile
The police station and morgue are located here
Dublin Street – New Town
The Ardglass house is located here. The Ardglass family are well known in the city and own many properties
Princes Street
where he goes in the search for ‘decent food he can actually eat’
Edinburgh Conservatoire of Music
Fictional yet we imagine the grand and majestic Usher Hall on Lothian Road could be it. This is what we imagined when reading the book. Its a very gothic looking and imposing building and has connections to the violinist and his music

Whoah – this side of Edinburgh is not one you’ll have seen before. It’s not the bustling bright city it is now but one of darkness, the occult, violins played by the devil, a devils sonata and if Inspector Frey is to be believed, bad bad food and even worse weather…

Imagine a person from the south having gone up to Edinburgh for the first time and not liking anything he sees, tastes, feels or imagines in the Scottish capital. On a murder hunt, perhaps it’s to be expected but a rather reluctant visitor to Scotland, as suspicious about things like haggis as much as he is the people he questions makes for some funny South v North moment –

From all directions came cries in that Scottish accent that rolls the R in an even more disgusting way than the Irish.

When he sees McGray tucking into haggis – and his reaction to is must be the funniest reaction we’ve ever read about. McGray thinks of Frey as a soft Southerner however and proceeds to call him ‘ lassie’ throughout the novel.

First impressions are hardly conducive to the rest of his trip when he takes a boat to Leith –

Walking from the dock I found that Leith Dock was a din of seagulls seamen, steamers and coaches.

The city was being lashed by torrential rain than turned everything into blurry splodges.

His home in Edinburgh is to be with McCray himself at his house at 27 Moray Place. Calton Hill Cemetery is his place of interest for it’s here that he roams and indulges his interest in the occult –

On my left hand side I saw an entrance to Old Calton Cemetery, and wondered whether McGray would make me go there at night to hunt will-o’the wisps

The occult and the mystery of the murdered violinist then ramps up with a vengeance – every street, cobbled alleyway, and evening a visit to an asylum in Morningside presents the two policemen with more warped impression s of the world of music and Edinburgh than they could ever have imagined.

And what is this world of the Devil’s sonata and the violin which appears to have been cursed? This locked room mystery seems as bizarre as it first appears and the crime has both fantastical and eerie explanations. Has the occult really got explanations for the murder of a violinist? is his the only murder that can be linked to a the work of the devil in musical form?

The infamous cursed violin. I must admit that the little violin has enough history to make one’s mind wonder

Oscar really captures Edinburgh. You feel you are there, especially in the sewers!. Anybody who likes to read books set in Edinburgh, would love this. There are plenty of nods to the city, e.g. bodysnatching.

Bookish musings

This has to be one of the most fascinating and brilliantly written historical novels and I for one really hope that this is the start of a brilliant series. can we have this on TV please? I want to hear that North/South banter and the jibes between the two police officers for real. See Princes street shrouded in mist, go to Calton Hill and imagine the mysteries there, visit Usher HAll /the Music consevatoire and hear that violin…ok maybe not the last one for reasons clear if you’v read the book but a booktrail here really takes you to the heart of the story. Edinburgh is such a spooky place at night and the writer captures the smallest details amazingly all adding to the overall atmosphere and chills.

Maybe I’m soft but the idea of a spooky violin gave me the chills. Used to play the violin myself and always thought it sounded like someone scratching their nails on a window – but then again maybe that was just me.

Whatever it was – those childhood memories really made this novel stand out. A locked room killing, a violin with occult tendencies and a story and city shrouded in mystery. For any music fans, the way in which the author lovingly describes the intricacies of the violin is fascinating.

Utterly spellbinding

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The Devil’s Workshop – London 1890 – Alex Grecian

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The third in the series brings a mass prison breakout to London 1890 and sees the return of Jack the Ripper

Story in a nutshell

London, 1890. Some of the city’s elite are fed up with a growing sense of danger and murder in the capital and so decided to fix the problem themselves. They spring 4 murderers to escape prison after a trash crash is engineered to free them. But that’s when things go wrong.

The criminals have a plan of their own and it’s up to Walter Day, Nevil Hammersmith, and the rest of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to hunt the convicts down. But one of the killers won’t stop for anyone  – least of all a member of the Murder Squad who he vowed retribution on for years. Now it seems, he may have his bloody chance,

Place and setting

The tangled web of London streets where killers are on the loose and Jack is back
The tangled web of London streets where killers are on the loose and Jack is back

Scotland Yard – where the police HQ is

Regent’s Park Road, Primrose hill where Walter day lives with his family

Victoria Road, near New Hampstead where they go to find a lead in the case

University college hospital – where Kingsley works

Whitechapel – where Jack The Ripper was known to kill several women

From the dark dank cells of HM Prison Bridewell to the more upmarket but dimly lit streets such as Regent’s Park road and Scotland Yard where the police station is, this is a London still reeling from the horrific crimes of Jack the Ripper. Little do the people know that he has not disappeared from the shadows and is in fact binding his time to emerge once again.

This is London at its most dangerous – before dawn, the nation’s fledging police force must try and round up the prisoners who have escaped before they run off under cloak of darkness once the night returns to protect them in the city’s underbelly.

From the descriptions of the rank prison cells, to the underground world of Jack the Ripper and scenes of torture, to the dirty, cobbled streets, this is like stepping back into the horror and raw darkness of that time.

Now You See Me- London – Sharon Bolton

Think you’ve read every Jack the ripper inspired novel?

You’ve not read Sharon Bolton

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The story in a nutshell –

Lacey Flint – now there’s a character I want to get to know better.

DC Lacey Flint interviews a witness who is reluctant to talk to her and after coming out of her building stumbles onto a woman brutally stabbed in the  car park.

The investigation kicks up a pace when a news reporter receives a letter suggesting that the murder may be a copy cat of the first Jack the Ripper Murder. Chillingly it also mentions Lacey…

If the letter is true, the it would seem that Lacey and the police have only five days to get to the truth before the next victim is killed.

Lacey doesn’t know what to make of the letters taunting her specifically. As she looks into the case more, she has unpleasant flashbacks to things she’d rather forget. But she’s going to have to bring everything from the deepest recesses of her mind if she is going to stop this killer in his tracks.

The setting  

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A – Hanbury Street, B- Durward Street, C – Henriques Street, D – Mitre Square, E Dorset Street Spitallfields

London of course but if the mystery of Jack the Ripper was thrilling in the days before CCTV and DNA etc then what could be made of it in  a new and modern light?

Well everything so don’t go thinking this is any less chilling. It isn’t and takes us around the sites, sounds and smells of Whitechapel and London that you both fascinate and shock in equal measure –

She’d been attacked moments ago. Whoever had done it would be close.

My bag had fallen a few feet away. I fumbled inside and found my mobile, summoning police and ambulance to the carp park outside Vitoria House on the Brendon Estate in Kennington

But what about the link with Jack the Ripper? Lacey’s monologues which help us to not only think as she does but see things through her eyes..

I sat back a while, thinking, trying to make a connection between what had taken place in Victorian london and the murder I’d come close to witnessing twenty-four hours ago.

The original Jack the Ripper, a sadistic serial killer known for his brutality and keeping London’s population in complete terror for several years, has never been found.

A drawing of Jack the Ripper
A drawing of Jack the Ripper

SJ Bolton has certainly done her research can see how much work went into just looking up facts and theories about Jack the Ripper. Lacey’s monologues give us a very detailed picture of Jack himself and of the theories theories surrounding the case,making this for a real back to the past but mired in the present state of affairs.
She even mentions the wealth of tours that tourists are still keen to go on –

Tourists go on guide walks around Whitehall, looking at the sites of the murders and hearing someone describe what happened.

The theories behind who the killer is are very gripping too, but no spoilers here!
In fact, I don’t want to mention the plot other to say that the atmosphere is as chilling and as taunting as I imagine the original murders must have been.

The nature of the killings and therefore the descriptions of each is as gory as you would imagine and so maybe not for the faint hearted but you can’t say it’s not authentic!

Take the scene of someone drowning in the Thames –

I surface again. The huge wheel of the London Eye is already small in the distance. I’ve travelled so far already. The tide is hurrying away with me. Then I’m dragged under again.

I’ll be found, days from now, probably in the U-bend around the Isle of Dogs because that’s where most bodies get trapped

Then there is Camden – a nice place for a market or the scene of someone of the scariest and probably dangerous catacombs in London –

Camden Town has long been one of the  trendiest place in North London and especially so since the development of the Camden Stables market. Once an extensive network of tunnels, arches viaducts and passageways….

Camden - who would have thought of what lay underneath?
Camden – who would have thought of what lay underneath?

Sadly this is not a tourist site as its too dangerous apparently but I would love go there – at least I can in the book.

All in all, a great booktrail to the seediest and smelliest parts of London  – the blood and violence are all too realistic but to see regular and modern haunts mixed with a victorian flavour of one of the world’s most infamous mysteries then this makes for quite an explosive mix.

 

Letters from a Murderer – The writing process

 

 

John left me a letter
John left me a letter..what would it reveal?

 

Dear Booktrailer,

 

I was in fact first approached about this book by my agent, Robert Kirby. A documentary film-maker he represented had made a programme for the ‘Discovery Channel’ which explored whether Jack the Ripper might indeed have continued his killing spree 18 months later in New York. Since the murders in London had all stopped abruptly in 1890, it was always assumed that the ‘Ripper’ had either been imprisoned for other crimes or was dead. 

 

This alternate theory of a murder spree continuing in 1891 New York my agent thought might be fertile ground for a fictional series. My first thought was that the Ripper had been done many times before, even Patricia Cornwell had had a ‘stab’ at it (if you’ll excuse the pun). But the fresh ground of New York certainly hadn’t been done before and intrigued me. Also, given the success of recent Sherlock Holmes dramas in both TV and film, bringing the character to an entirely new audience 100 years on, I felt Americans in particular would ‘die’ to have their own ‘Holmes’ style crime-fighting duo – albeit that one of them is a transposed English pathologist in the form of Finley Jameson and the other a young, tough non-nonsense anti-corruption cop, Joseph Argenti (a model for the later ‘untouchables’ if you will). And this was in fact a trio with Lawrence, Jameson’s memory-man Asperger’s syndrome assistant. 

 

Once the die was cast on these main characters, the rest fell swiftly into place. The decision was made with my agent that they were far too strong to have just one crime-fighting adventure, they warranted a series, and so I started looking at other areas I wanted that series to make its mark. 

 

The first thing to strike me was that books with the tag ‘historical thriller’ were often slow and pedantic, as if the pace of that bygone age had to also be reflected in prose. However, in the course of research I discovered that there was a harder, grittier edge to many aspects of life in the late 1900s, particularly in a fast-changing city like New York, and this should be reflected too. 

 

Also a key factor with past ‘Ripper’ books had been that his victims were described remotely. We learned little about them, and certainly not their inner thoughts or what drove them. The main interest was built purely around the gore and sensation of the murders and the inability of the police to capture the Ripper. Worse still was the factor that their trade was looked down upon at the time, so this somewhat lessened sympathy for them, almost as if they were ‘asking for it’ given their line of work, or made them of lesser importance. I wanted to redress that balance, particularly given that at the time there was no social welfare net. For many women it therefore might have been the only option to feed their children. 

 

In ‘Letters’, we get closer to the victims and understand their plight. Many scenes are in fact seen from their POV, and we also get deeper inside Ellie Cullen’s little commune. This not only helps build reader sympathy, but gives a sharper edge when others might become potential victims. This therefore plumbs a somewhat fresh woman’s angle in this genre (certainly from past Ripper books), and that theme would also be developed further in the series, through Ellie Cullen and others. 

 

The gangland aspects of New York in 1891 was something I felt could not ignored. Set slap-bang between ‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ eras, you’d hardly expect crime investigations to be taking place ‘cosy-style’ in drawing rooms over tea meanwhile. So a lot of the action is set in the meaner back alleys, sewers and run-down tenement blocks of the east side, either in confrontations with the city’s leading gangster, Michael Tierney, or in pursuit of the Ripper.

 

So those looking for a ‘cosy’ style mystery might be disappointed, might find their tea tipping in their laps in the opening chapters – but those seeking something darker and harder-edged, would hopefully find their thirst quenched.

 

With kindest regards,

John Matthews

I held the piece of paper in my hand for a while after reading the words on it,  honoured in the knowledge that he who had written Letters from a Murderer had written me a letter of my very own.

A letter to treasure

About a book to devour

Murders in New York

Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews
Letters from a Murderer by John Matthews

Enjoy Sherlock Holmes? Read The Yard by Alex Grecian? Love a good old Victorian Murder mystery? Then this is the book for you.

Finley Jameson and Joseph Argenti are the Sherlock and Watson of Letters from a Murderer and in certain situations reminded me of one of my favourite television series WhiteChapel – especially since its subject is the aftermath of the Ripper killings and the possibility that the Ripper himself has ended up in New York to continue his killing spree.

The chemistry between Argenti and Jameson is a key and integral part of the book and both are well developed and interesting characters in their own right. They share distant and troubled pasts but they have a good solid relationship.

As the Ripper has apparently travelled across the pond to a sleazy and gritty New York, the action of the book centres here and although I love a good book trail to the actual places in the novel, I can honestly say I would not like to travel to THIS version of New York for the city is a wild savage boar and the novel lives on its underbelly.

Gangs, murders, red herrings, chases across the docks, ‘ladies of the night’….I could hear the muddy water trickling down the sides of the buildings, the rustle of a corset, the scrapping of a knife exiting a body, and the hurried footsteps on the wet, bloody cobbles.

Has the ripper travelled across to New York?
Has the ripper travelled across to New York from here in London?

I read this with my heart in my mouth for much of the action – I became so vocal that I found anyone near me gave me a funny stare – Come on! He’s around the corner – hurry!! I said, I think to myself.  A particular scene in the Opera house made me race through those chapters only to have a palpitation at the end result – no spoilers here though!

This is not just a crime or detective novel however – it is much more than that.  The depth and layers of the action was a real highlight and completely threw in  many red herrings for the readers enjoyment.

Corruption within the police force was a theme as was the insight into the type of girls that the Ripper targeted. The victims were much more than victims.

A novel with so many ingredients can only result in a fully baked Victorian drama. I am already looking towards the second installment and will certainly travel back to wherever the next book takes me.

Interview with John Mathews tomorrow! He’s popping by for some victoria sponge and a cup of tea.  Got to get baking. See you tomorrow!