Some quick reviews:
Speaking of Love by Angela Young
I had seen some good reviews of this about the blogosphere so I was prepared to admire this book but not necessarily to enjoy it. The subject matter, schizophrenia, did not seem something that would be great entertainment. It wasn't long however before I fell totally for main character Iris. Though her journey is terribly painful Angela Young pulls off the trick of convincing you it was traumatic without actually making the process of reading about her mental illness at all distressing. Iris's story is utterly engaging. It is also an important story that needs to be told. You will have read this on other blogs I am sure, but Speaking of Love is wonderful stuff. Don't let any preconceptions about novels on mental illness put you off, just read it.
Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom
Whilst lacking the page-turning pace of the Shardlake books Winter in Madrid is still an intriguing piece of historical fiction. Set during the Winter of 1940, Spain is in the aftermath of the Civil War and the rest of Europe is engaged with Hitler. We follow Dunkirk veteran turned reluctant spy Harry Brett as he returns to Madrid to work for the secret service, the delightfully nick-named 'sneaky beakies'. Also in Madrid is Barbara, a British Red Cross worker whose boyfriend Bernie Piper fought with the International Brigade on the losing side and is missing presumed dead. Harry's previous trips to Madrid were with Bernie, his old school friend, or looking for Bernie after he went missing. Back in 1940 for very different reasons he runs into Barbara again. Characterised by detailed historical research and with the same convincing creation of time and place as the Shardlake books, this is a fascinating read. I recently read The Return by Victoria Hislop which covers much of the same historical ground. Where Hislop's work relies entirely on its (undoubtedly very good) historical research to pull it through, in Winter in Madrid we have the enjoyable benefit of believable plot and characters set against the well worked historical back drop. Bernie, Barbara and other characters are nothing out of the psychological ordinary but remain convincing throughout and it is worth spending time getting to know their story. If you find the Spanish Civil war interesting and enjoyed The Shadow of the Wind or even The Return then this is a must read.
The Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson
This a Dandy Gilver mystery and I wish I had discovered this series early. One of a trend of historical crime fiction, The Winter Ground is set in the 1920s. Dandy Gilver, bored housewife and somewhat disengaged mother, is a wonderful creation combining that combination of luck and perception that characterized all good fictional detectives. She is great fun and it makes a refreshing change to have a lead detective who is female with a male side-kick who is her junior in the narrative. The series starts with After the Armistice Ball and the next installment, the fifth of the series, Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains is released in hardback in December.
The Winter Ground is set around Christmas. Dandy has a peculiar friendship with a woman cocooned by her husband. Ina survived the flu epidemic and her husband now keeps her isolated, with few visitors who must always keep their distance. Everyone is surprised therefore when Albert Wilson invites a circus to over-winter in his grounds in return for a private performance for his wife. All is not well amongst the circus folk however. Dandy is already engaged to discover who is playing tricks amongst them when in front of an audience one of the performers is murdered.
Very much reminiscent of Margery Allingham but without the potentially annoying Albert Campion, The Winter Ground is a lovely, lovely read. There are some very intelligent psychological portrayals most notably the local police inspector who far from being a plod seems bright enough to want someone else better placed to do the work for him. Gilver's poor marriage is neatly portrayed without fuss or cliche and the inevitable slight frisson with her male side-kick is handled very gently and believably. Great stuff.
Catriona McPherson has her own site here and it smacks of lots of author input not the gibberings of the marketing departments, especially as she spends a good part of the FAQ explaining how to pronounce Kirkcudbrightshire and McPherson.