- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Creme de la Crime; First World Publication ed. edition (29 Sept. 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1780291027
- ISBN-13: 978-1780291024
- Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,349,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Island (A Grand & Batchelor Victorian Mystery) Hardcover – 29 Sep 2017
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About the Author
M J Trow is a military historian by training and the author of the long-running Inspector Lestrade and �Mad Max� Maxwell detective series, as well as the Kit Marlowe Tudor mystery series. He lives on the Isle of Wight.
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It is now the spring of 1873, and Grand is treating his colleague to a holiday in American, in the shape of an invitation to his sister’s wedding. Poor Batchelor, however is, at best, an indifferent sea voyager but, after eleven emetic days on board the Frisia, the pair eventually arrive safely in New York, having left their London house in the somewhat clumsy hands of their housekeeper, Mrs Rackstraw, who is somewhat less discreet and high minded than another lady fulfilling a similar function to another pair of gentlemen a mile or so across town in the busy thoroughfare of Baker Street.
On their journey north to New Hampshire, Grand and Batchelor pick up Edward Latham, a New York Times hack, who has blagged a wedding invitation in order to track down a participant in the recent financial corruption scandal known as the Tammany Hall affair – and Grand’s Uncle Josiah, who is disturbingly rich, but often – and equally disturbingly – drunk. The wedding guests duly reach the settlement of Rye and the palatial house causes Batchelor to gasp in admiration, despite being assured by Grand that it is little more than a weekend retreat compared to their main establishment.
A few words in praise of the author. Meiron Trow is one of the most erudite and entertaining writers in the land. Over thirty years ago he began his tongue in cheek series rehabilitating the much-put-upon Inspector Lestrade, and I loved every word. I then became hooked on his Maxwell series, featuring a very astute crime-solving history teacher who, while eschewing most things modern, manages to be hugely respected by the sixth-formers (Year 12 and 13 students in new money) in his charge, while managing to terrify and alarm the younger ‘teaching professionals’ who run his school. I was well into the Maxwell series before I realised that MJ Trow and I had two things (at least) in common. Firstly, he went to the same school as I did, although I have to confess he was a couple of years ‘below’ me and would have been dismissed at the time as a pesky ‘newbug’. Secondly, and much more relevant to my love of his Maxwell books, I discovered that we were both senior teachers in state secondary schools, and shared a disgust and contempt for the tick-box mentality characterising the so-called ‘leadership’ of high schools.
I digress, so back to New Hampshire in the early spring of 1873. The guests begin to arrive, and the ‘downstairs’ staff under the stern eye of the enigmatic butler, Waldo Hart, are emulating the proverbial blue-arsed fly. Trow, at this point, gleefully takes the template of the traditional country house mystery, and has his evil way with it. Despite the title of the book, we are not quite in Soldier Island (And Then There Were None) territory, but Rye is far enough from Boston to make sure that when the first murder happens, the real policemen are too far away and too engrossed with their city crime to pay much attention, even when when of the possible suspects is a certain Mr Samuel Langhorne Clemens. (left)
With Martha, Grand’s sister, well and truly hitched to a young man who may well be an utter bounder, and two hatchet-bludgeoned corpses lying in state in the stables, the Boston police eventually arrive in the shape of Chief Savage and Sergeant Roscoe. The amateurs and the professionals regard each other with ill-disguised suspicion, while Trow scatters a healthy basket of Rubrum Clupidae to keep us all guessing. Don’t be misled by Trow’s endless enthusiasm for verbal gags into thinking that this is a ‘cosy’ novel. Far from it. The finale is dark and bloody, and shadows real-life 1873 events on the remote and windswept Smuttynose Island.
I read quite a few books and these days prefer to use my Kindle Paperwhite. Regretfully, quite a few times I have found myself disappointed on looking at how much little progress I had made, to the point of actually giving up in some even though they were my favourite genre – crime thrillers. I, therefore, turned to one of my top ten authors in the hope he wouldn’t let me down. What on earth was I thinking! The first time I noticed my progress I was 82% through the book. Was I disappointed? Yes. But it was because I was sorry I was nearing the end.
Rob Stone has taken a break from guarding the President but is drawn into investigating some interesting facts by the friend of his which is when things start to get interesting. There seem to be plenty of people who are out to do him harm and they all seem to be a step ahead of him at all times.
There is a second timeline running alongside the first which involves the island of the title. It’s fascinating how the two subplots eventually merge into one. The action is non-stop with numerous twists and turns which surprise the reader on every page. There is hardly any time to draw breath as Stone tries to survive attack after attack.
Despite the violent storyline, A P Bateman’s heroes have very human qualities. They care about victims but are totally focussed on survival at all costs and Stone is no exception. The quality of writing is exceptional. The author combines situations from present-day life and interweaves these into the plot to give a sense of realism although the way it is done will mean that the story will never become stale.
I was sorry to have finished it. Superb.
Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Investigators Matthew Grand and James Batchelor have travelled from England to Grand’s extensive family home on the coast of Maine for the wedding Grand’s sister, Martha. Friends and family gather, including the surprise appearance of a cousin who hasn’t been seen for 14 years. A greater surprise is the dead body found in an upstairs bedroom which leads to the question of what the tie is into the family.
An interesting beginning informs one as to where the story is going; or does it? What it does, however, is provide introductions to the protagonists and their profession. One thing which is a bit rare, but is refreshing, is to show the vulnerable side of one of the men. The transition from Batchelor and Grand to their housekeeper, Mrs. Rackstraw, is nicely done. She is such a delightful character.
Trow’s style is subtle and often humorous. He slides in information, from location descriptions—“The docks at Southampton had not been conducive to chatting and Batchelor didn’t get a chance to share something the Grand until they were in their laughingly called stateroom, in which a cat would be totally safe from being swung.”—to family structures—“My mother comes from a family of eight girls, though I doubt they’ll all come to the wedding. Four of them are dead anyway, and one is in Wisconsin, so as good as. Auntie Mimi is as mad as a rattler and doesn’t travel.” The inclusion of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) as a character is a wonderful touch.
It’s also a nice touch that, despite having been introduced to a myriad of characters, the murder victim is unexpected. Which also means the motive is as much a mystery as is the killer
The truest sign of an author with an exceptional voice is that one has a desire to quote nearly every page. Trow is one of the few authors who can write parallel conversations—conversation held by two sets of characters at the same time in different places, without any confusion as to the speakers—and get away with it. He has a wonderful way of evoking the senses—“He had never known it before, not in London, but it really was possible, he realized to smell the spring. There was a green smell in the air, the smell of sap on the rise, along side the sound of buds creaking with the effort of bursting. He felt he could almost smell the warmth of the sun…”
“The Island” is filled with humor, and excellent characters, plus there are murders; violent ones. This is a rare instance when one can call a mystery a delightful read.
THE ISLAND (Hist Mys-Grand and Batchelor-Maine-1873) – VG
Trow, M.J. – 4th in series
Crème de la Crime – Jan 2018
As usual, MJ Trow has written a book that will keep you guessing at the heart of the mystery until the very last page, and has done so by telling a story with immaculate research and an understanding of the language of the period the book is set in. This one was particularly interesting because it takes place in both England and America during times of great upheaval and social unrest. It was the perfect setting for a book like this.
I loved the witty humour in this novel and look forward, as I always do, to seeing what this author comes up with next. If you like Victorian age stories, this one will do nicely.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.