Blog Tour: The WitchFinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Today I’m thrilled to host the next stop on The WitchFinder’s Sister Blog Tour penned by Beth Underdown and published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. As part of the blog tour I was very fortunate to interview Alice Hopkins, the protagonist in the story. As always, don’t forget to check out all the other fab stops on this tour!

 

 

Blurb:

61kohm5qv7l-_sx309_bo1204203200_

1645.

When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

Based on the true story of the man known as the Witchfinder General, this exquisitely rendered novel transports you to a time and place almost unimaginable, where survival might mean betraying those closest to you, and danger lurks outside every door.

 

So without further ado, welcome Alice to the CKT blog.

You have had a tough time of it recently, after the death of your husband. What were your first thoughts when you knew you had to return home?

When my husband died, I was stunned. Knowing that I had to go back to Manningtree came to me only little by little, through a fog of grief. I had no wish to go back, but no way of supporting myself in London. I would even have stayed on as a servant – but by the time Joseph died, I knew I was pregnant, and nobody wants a servant with a child in tow.

 

Manningtree is an interesting place, full of colour, to have moved back to after recent events; is there anything you like particularly about the town?

I do love the docks, and the silver light on the estuary when the tide is out. But more than this, when I first came home, suddenly I felt as though people could see me again. In London, people’s eyes would skip past me in the street as though I wasn’t there, but when I came back to Manningtree, my brother being so respected in the town, men doffed their hats as I pass by.

 

 

How did you feel seeing your brother again, especially after your time apart?

I was anxious about seeing him, especially about telling him of my pregnancy. But at the same time, I felt that what had been keeping us apart was my choice of husband. Matthew had not liked my marrying Joseph, so I thought perhaps now I was a widow, we would be able to get along as we had as children. But I did not realise that Matthew had changed since I had gone away.

 

img_3741

Your tale is extraordinary, why did you decide to tell us the truth when you did?

When I wrote my tale down, there was nothing left to do but tell the truth.

 

Is there one thing you could’ve done differently, what would it have been?

There are many things I wish I had done, but I’m not sure what I could have done. Unless perhaps I could never have come back to Manningtree in the first place – perhaps I ought to have turned around and found someone to take me back to London that very first day.

 

And lastly, do you believe there is such a thing as a witch?

I think things happen that we cannot name the cause of. But I’m not sure they can be willed to happen by any person living. Such things that are God’s business, or else the devil’s.

I would like to say a big thanks to Alice for stopping by, I know how difficult it is at the moment after everything.

About the author:

91sxraebkzl-_ux250_

Beth Underdown was born in Rochdale in 1987. She studied at the University of York and then the University of Manchester, where she is now a Lecturer in Creative Writing.

The WitchhFinder’s Sister is her debut novel, and is based on the life of the 1640s witch finder Matthew Hopkins.

She first came across him while reading a book about seventeenth-century midwifery. As you do.

 

This fantastic novel is not out until 2nd March 2017 but is available to preorder from Amazon here.

To learn more about Beth Underdown follow her on Twitter @bethunderdown

witchfinder-blog-tour-banner-v2

 

 

 

Killer Review: A Death At Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson

A Death at Fountains Abbey (Hardback)

Blurb:

Late spring, 1728 and Thomas Hawkins has left London for the wild beauty of Yorkshire – forced on a mission he can’t refuse. John Aislabie, one of the wealthiest men in England, has been threatened with murder. Blackmailed into investigating, Tom must hunt down those responsible, or lose the woman he loves forever.

Since Aislabie is widely regarded as the architect of the greatest financial swindle ever seen, there is no shortage of suspects.

Far from the ragged comforts of home, Tom and his ward Sam Fleet enter a world of elegant surfaces and hidden danger. The great estate is haunted by family secrets and simmering unease. Someone is determined to punish John Aislabie – and anyone who stands in the way. As the violence escalates and shocking truths are revealed, Tom is dragged, inexorably, towards the darkest night of his life.

This is the third instalment which features Thomas Hawkins struggling to come to terms with the shocking events from the previous book which had him staring death in the face.

In the wild Yorkshire countryside John Aislabie discovers a dead fawn with a note pinned to its carcass which promises to burn him and his family. When John asks the royal family for help, Tom is commanded by the Queen to aid John Aislabie and find the culprits before they strike, but Tom has his work cut out as John is the most hated man in England and there are no shortage of suspects. As events at John Aislabie’s house escalates Tom and his ward Sam Fleet discover that in the world of the wealthy danger lurks behind every corner.

I adored this novel! It had everything I could have hoped for pace, engaging characters, humour, sharp witty dialogue and hair-raising twists.

One of the main things which really stood out while reading this novel was the characters.

Thomas Hawkins is not your stereotypical hero. He is a rogue who gambles, drinks and generally likes to keep his nose out of trouble, although that never happens for him! He is a lovable rogue whose unique ability to sit on the fringes of society means he can infiltrate into all levels of society within Georgian England.

Thomas’ ward, Sam Fleet is a fourteen year old boy who has a knack for thieving and violence which gets him into trouble a lot but his love of drawing and puzzling things out still made him a character you wanted to look after so I ended up sympathising a lot with him.

I think my favourite character of all was Kitty, Tom’s wife for all intent and purposes, is someone who ‘loves a tavern brawl,’ which for me really sums up her character. I loved her relationship with Tom which shone through and became the backbone of this novel and made me fall in love with both characters. I couldn’t wait to see how their relationship would be tested, and tested it really is!

I thought it was a really interesting period of history to set a crime novel in, one full of political intrigue, drama and deadly villains. It is also a period I have never really been able to delve into before which I really enjoyed. I could tell straight away the author had done a substantial piece of research which she managed to weave into the story to reflect the period without it getting in the way of the main plot.

I thought this novel was multi-layered and compelling which took me on a thrilling adventure along with the characters. I even had trouble working out who the culprit was which really highlights Antonia’s sneaky writing (which I loved).

I haven’t read any of the other novels in this series but after reading A Death At Fountains Abbey I certainly will.

With thanks to Kerry Hood and Hodder & Stoughton for my advanced review copy.

To buy this book from Amazon click here.

To buy this book from Waterstones click here.

To find out more about Antonia Hodgson follow her on Twitter @AntoniaHodgson.

Thriller Review: The Constant Soldier by William Ryan

The Constant Soldier (Hardback)

Blurb:

The pain woke him up. He was grateful for it. The train had stopped and somewhere, up above them, the drone of aircraft engines filled the night sky. He could almost remember her smile . . . It must be the morphine . . . He had managed not to think about her for months now.

1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.

When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.

But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.

And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .

 

This is such an emotive read!

Paul Brandt is a German soldier who has been seriously injured on the Eastern Front. So when he returns back to his village home to live with his father to convalesce he realises everything has changed and finds he is living next door to an SS rest hut where a number of female prisoners are forced to work ‘for the good of the camp.’ But when Brandt glimpses a female prisoner, behind the barbed wired fence, from his past he decides that he must gain access to the hut to help her. But Brandt faces danger from all directions both inside and outside of the camp.

I absolutely loved this novel which was littered with beautiful descriptions and historical facts with the author skillfully weaves into the story without it overpowering the narrative, making it feel both haunting and authentic.

The protagonist, Paul Brandt is an unlikely but lovable hero who loathes himself for the crimes he had to commit in the name of ‘the Fatherland.’ He is one of the many characters who still has a moral compass and wishes to atone for his sins by trying to rescue not only the prisoners but himself as well. I also loved Brandt’s bravery which really stood out for me as he risks his own life to fight for what is right.

This novel is told from the point of view of Brandt, Neumann an SS officer who runs the hut, Polya, a Russian tank engineer, and Agneta, the female prisoner who works in the hut and has a past with Brandt. I loved the different perspectives in this novel which reflected the persecution within Nazi Germany and the devastating affects the Second World War had on everyone.

This novel focuses on the last few months of the Second World War in a small remote village and the toll the war has had on humanity. The author doesn’t focus too much on the concentration camp which features in the novel but whose presence is always there lurking in the shadows. The story does showcase some of the atrocities which happened within this period of history as well as hinting at the darkness within each of the characters.

I did find I had my fist in my mouth for much of the novel which reflected a society torn apart by a fascist regime and a violent five year war and its devastating consequences.

This is an emotional and fascinating insight into a period of history which we know so much but at the same time so little about and is a heart-stopping gripping story of loss, love, resilience, guilt and above all hope – I cannot recommend this book enough!

To buy this book from Amazon click here.

To buy this book from Waterstones click here.

To find out more about William Ryan follow him on Twitter @WilliamRyan_  or check out his website here.

Killer Review: The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

First Line: ‘Through her left eye she could see nothing now.’

Blurb: Set in London in 1837, Anna Mazzola’s THE UNSEEING is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.

After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?

At the beginning of this story Sarah Gale is sentenced to hang and imprisoned at Newgate Prison to await the date of her execution and petitions the king for mercy. Edmund Fleetwood an idealistic lawyer is commissioned to investigate her petition but Sarah refuses to help at first until after much persuasion she finally starts to reveal her story but is she really telling the truth? And if not, why?

Gripping!

I really enjoyed this novel and loved spending time with both the main protagonists Sarah Gale and Edmund Fleetwood. The novel is told from both their points of view with much of the main action set in Newgate prison. As I was reading I found myself drawn to both characters and sympathetic to the situations they were both in making it hard to decide whether I truly believed Sarah’s story.

At the beginning of each chapter the author reveals an extract of a newspaper article or a book from the time of the murder which I enjoyed as it gave a slice into the life of Victorian London.

As soon as I started to read I was hooked from the very beginning. I could tell straight away that this was a very well researched novel featuring the language of the period through the dialogue and its beautiful and vivid descriptions which showed the tastes, sounds and smells of Victorian London – I felt like I was there with the characters making this an authentic and compelling read which really brought the period to life.

I spent most of the novel trying to figure out what Sarah was hiding and whether Edmund would discover this in time. I do have my own theory about what happened in real life but that was part of the joy of the story to discover what could’ve happened in this fictionalised account of the case and to make up my own theories as I was reading.

I thought this was a gripping page-turner full of beautiful imagery which really brought Victorian London to life. I still can’t believe this is a debut novel and would recommend this to anyone who likes a slice of crime mixed in with history.

Big thanks to Millie Seaward and Headline for my copy of The Unseeing.

To buy this book from Amazon click here.

To buy this book on Waterstones click here

To find out more about Anna Mazzola follow her on Twitter @Anna_Mazz

You can also check out my previous interview with the author here.

Author Interview: Anna Mazzola

Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Anna Mazzola join me for a Q&A about her new novel The Unseeing.

Welcome to the CKT blog Anna.

214B8446.jpg

Anna Mazzola (photo credit Lou Abercrombie)

To start off with, can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel The Unseeing?

Happy to. The Unseeing is a historical crime novel based on the life of a real woman called Sarah Gale who was convicted in 1837 of aiding and abetting her lover, James Greenacre, in the murder of another woman. Sarah was sentenced to death and petitioned the King for mercy. The Unseeing begins with the appointment of the lawyer who is to investigate her petition, and he – and the reader – has to determine whether Sarah Gale is indeed innocent or whether she is far more involved than she would have us believe.

You have mentioned before that your novel is based on the real-life case of Sarah Gale who was sentenced to hang for the murder of Hannah Brown in the Victorian era. How did you find out about her case and what sparked your interest as a writer to write about this?

I first read about James Greenacre in the Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. I was originally interested in the crime because it took place in Camberwell, not far from where I live. However, when I read through the Old Bailey transcript of the trial, it was Sarah who most interested me. Very little was said in her defence – she gave only a short statement denying being in Camberwell at the time of the murder. As she was facing the death sentence for her part in the horrific murder of another woman, I thought that was very strange. What was preventing Sarah from speaking out to defend herself? Was she guilty? Afraid of James Greenacre? Or something else?

Your novel is set in Victorian London, how did you research about this period and did you find anything new and fascinating which you had to include in your novel?

The research part was great fun. I loved visiting the British Library but, as I was mainly researching in the evening after work, I did a lot of my research online, for example on the  Harvard University website (which has many of the original pamphlets relating to Greenacre and Gale), in the British Newspaper Archives, and through a variety of other brilliant sites, including Lee Jasper’s Victorian London. Lots of nineteenth century texts are available via Gutenburg, Forgotten Books and Google books.

I discovered many astonishing and terrible things, particularly about child labour in Victorian London, the lives of the poor, the injustices of the justice system. A tiny fraction of my research became part of the story, but most of it is just stored way in the recesses of my mind and on my computer hard-drive. People go to fiction – even historical fiction – for the story. The facts can’t stand out or you’ll lose the reader.

Did you find it difficult to write about real people and weave them into a fictional story?

In short, yes. Although it was initially useful to have a ‘template’ – an idea of who the characters were, I then felt hampered by what they might have been and what they might have done. In a way, it was fortunate that I didn’t know more about Sarah. She remained an enigma.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process, do you plot the story out first or dive right in and see where it takes you? Or a mixture of the two?

For The Unseeing, I created a synopsis and worked from that, but I now know that I should have plotted it out in a far more detailed way. Every writer is different, but I think I work best when I know where I’m headed (even if the plot later changes). For my next novel, I’m working from a far more detailed plot structure. I’ll have to see how that works out!

Who was your favourite character to write about in the Unseeing and why?

It was Sarah. It took me a long time to get to know her, but – probably because of that – she’s stayed with me. I want to know what happens to her next.

Are you working on anything at the moment? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it without giving too much away?

I’m currently writing my second historical crime novel, which is set on the Isle of Skye in 1857. It’s about a young woman who goes to work for a collector of folklore and discovers that a young girl has gone missing, supposedly taken by spirits of the unforgiven dead, although of course that’s not what she believes. Again, the idea was sparked by a real case, but I haven’t tried to base it on the facts in the same way that I did with The Unseeing.

Who would you say is the biggest influence on your writing?

Margaret Atwood. She’s been a huge inspiration since I was quite young. I made the mistake of telling her this when I met her a signing. She didn’t seem impressed: presumably I was the ninth person in the queue to have told her the very same thing.

And finally, just for fun, if you could have a dinner party for three select guests, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

Nina Simone, Aung San Suu Kyi and Madonna. All terrifyingly powerful and talented women with fascinating stories. They would almost certainly have a fight.

A big thank you to Anna for taking the time to answer my questions! 

Don’t forget you can catch Anna Mazzola at the next First Monday Crime in July to grab a signed copy of The Unseeing.

To find out more about Anna Mazzola follow her on Twitter @Anna_Mazz. You can preorder your copy of The Unseeing from Amazon here.

Follow First Monday Crime at @1stMondayCrime for updates on their upcoming events.