Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon


Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

First Review of 2018.

I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of Joanna Cannon’s writing and loved her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, one of those books that left an indelible mark on me. I lost count of how many copies I ended giving away to family, friends and also prize giveaways on my blog.



Joanna Cannon returns with her second novel Three Things About Elsie which is officially released into bookshops on the 11th January (The Borough Press). The first thing that will strike you when you go and buy a copy is the fabulous Battenberg themed cover. It is one of the most striking of covers. A cake themed cover. This could really catch on.

I am deeply humbled to have been mentioned in the Acknowledgements. I never thought that when I started talking about books that one day I would end up seeing my name in print. Thank you Joanna.

There are books that come into your life and move you in a way that makes you look at life in a new way some books make you appreciate not only yourself but others around you. I felt this in Joanna’s debut novel but in Three Things About Elsie this is much more evident. Joanna Cannon has a way with words that when she writes she writes from the heart and is telling YOU the reader a story with a message contained within that she would like you to connect with. This story is tender, warm and humane. I personally think it is better than The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and I never thought I would say that.


The story opens with Florence Claybourne lying on the floor after a fall at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. There Florence lies waiting to be found. Imagine for a moment an elderly person falling and lying just waiting and hoping to be found. What goes through their minds during this time? Scared and frightened and alone. For Florence as she lies on the floor of her flat she is thinking of recent days and trying to make sense of her memories. How has the past returned is it at all possible?

Florence has a best friend and her name is Elsie and it is Elsie who helps Florence remember things. They have known each other for sixty years. But Flo has a secret from the past. Literally a ghost has appeared at Cherry Tree in the form of a man who died all those years ago. What is going on? So now it is down to Florence and her best Friend Elsie to solve the mystery. How I really enjoyed reading how they go about proving something they believe is not right. At times I laughed at what they got up to. Thanks to Joanna’s wonderful vivid writing you are there with them.

There is a problem though for Florence the manager at the home thinks that Florence is causing problems at the home and is threatening to move Florence to Greenbank. This she believes is where you go to die and she does not want to be sent there. ‘You can’t make me’ she exclaims early into the book.

Elsie is always there for Florence as she always has been through the last sixty years. Now more than ever and this is the true meaning of friendship. There are so many wonderful characters there is Handy Simon and Miss Bissell and of course Miss Ambrose. Characters make novels and the people you meet here in Three Things About Elsie are real and they help make this such a wonderful humane book and really enjoyed meeting them.

Over recent weeks I have spoken a lot about hope and here Joanna Cannon gives us all hope. The real hope of friendship, tolerance and understanding of the things we hold dear and of course love. This is a book of sheer tenderness and an understanding of age and how memory can play tricks with us as the years move on. There are books that are like a warm duvet on a cold winters night. Three Things About Elsie is that duvet. As we enter a New Year full of hope this is a novel that acts as a beacon of humanity and so many facets of this book that I just loved. Heart-warming and sympathetic.

When I first left School I worked in care home for the elderly I was the Handyman (John) and shared some moments that were funny but also those that are tender and humane. Let us not forget the people who live there are real people with lives and still are living.

Grab some Battenberg and settle down with a book that you will read and then read again. A book to be loved and shared. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

464 Pages.

My thanks to Ann Bissell (Harper Collins) for the Advanced Review Copy of Three Things About Elsie.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon is published by The Borough Press and is published on 11th January 2018 and is available to Pre-order through Waterstones, also Amazon and all good bookshops.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon (Special Summer edition) Competition


Many who love the writing of Joanna Cannon have been very excited over recent days with the news of her second book Three Things About Elsie due for release in early January 2018. The first copies of the proofs were issued late last week and the early news is that this is going to be a much loved book and will touch all who read it. It will be one of the books of next year that is without doubt.


Joanna’s debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep went on to become a bestseller and today is still selling extremely well and was even selected to be on the Richard and Judy Book Club for WH Smith. It is a remarkable debut novel about two ten-year-old girls Grace and Tilly who set about trying to solve a mystery. Mrs Creasy is missing and there are whispers. A beautiful written novel about secrets behind every front door but it is more than just that.

It came to my attention that there are still some (yes hard to believe) that have not yet discovered The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and as Joanna’s forthcoming second novel is already talk of social media with a cover that is just pure Battenberg,  I thought it would be a good time to a competition to win not just one copy but I have two to give away. But that is not all. These editions are the special copies produced in the yellow paperback cover as issued by Sainsbury’s to celebrate Summer as this wonderful novel is set in a long hot Summer that some of us still recall. Sadly, I am not offering free Battenberg as I am keeping that for myself. Sorry!

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To enter the competition all you have to do is head over to my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 and answer one simple question:

In what year is the novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep based in. Then follow and RT the main pinned Tweet and you are in with a chance. There I told it was easy. It is easy honest.

Just to recap:

  1. In what year is the novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep based?
  2. Follow and Re-Tweet the pinned Tweet

The completion will close at 7pm on Thursday 17th August 2018 and two lucky winners will be selected at random on Friday morning. The Winners will receive a Direct Message from me on Twitter that morning. All being well prizes will be sent out within a few days. Good luck.


To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

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To Kill the President by Sam Bourne

Many will know how much I enjoy reading and writing about thrillers so it will come as a surprise that I have not read any of Sam Bourne’s thrillers before now and what a way to start. Just imagine the United States elects to power a President that is disliked by the majority of the world and whom they see as impulsive to say the least. Well in Sam Bourne’s latest blockbuster To Kill the President that is exactly what has happened.


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Many who pick up this thriller will very quickly come to the idea that this is really a novel based on the current ‘real’ Commander in Chief and it is not difficult to understand why. Here in this fast paced thriller the President of the United States is in a war of words with the North Korean regime and the world is plunged into fear that the President will launch a nuclear attack on North Korea. The world is on a knife edge and at any moment the world could be plunged into WWIII. What’s more this tyrannical president is backed by his chief strategist Crawford McNamara.

He we have a president that feels he can do anything he wants and is liable to react without thinking through the consequences for the world. Something must be done to stop him. Enter Maggie Costello she served the previous president and she is wise and soon discovers that there is a plot to assassinate the President. Now here is the dilemma. She serves the president so does she do something to raise the alarm or bearing in mind the lunatic in the oval office does she keep quiet and hope the plot succeeds.

I soon realised after just a few pages just how close to reality this novel is based. The world has held its breath a number of times with Donald Trump as president and here in To Kill the President a novel that is just a little to scarily real. The characters are believable and have egos to match their inflated personalities.  Gripping thriller that lasts from the first page through to the last and will keep the ardent thriller fan entertained. A thumping good read with a little twist and if you are following the current ‘real’ Commander in Chief’ then you may want to read this sinister page turner.

416 Pages

Thank you to Emilie Chambeyron for the advanced review copy of To Kill the President.

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne is published by Harper Collins and is now available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

How to follow the To Kill the President Official Blog Tour

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I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke


I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke

I Know My Name (Harper) is the debut psychological thriller from the pen of C.J. Cooke. This is a thriller with more than just the usual twists and turns. It could well be described as dark and disturbing. Just what goes on in the minds of some people. If you like your thrillers like this, then you are in for a treat.

A woman wakes up on a Greek Island she does not know how she got there, she does not recall anything. Luckily there are a group of people on the island that want to help her. But who is this woman? Meanwhile in London Lochlan’ wife Eloise has just vanished without trace and no-one knows where she is her two young children have been left without their mother.

So now we see the story told from both Eloise and Lochlan. The real stories lie behind each character, Eloise is just desperate to find out who she is and how and what is she doing on a Greek Island. She wants to know were home is and to return. Imagine waking up on a strange island not knowing even what your name is and not recalling anything. Frightening thought. Meanwhile for Lochlan he too is looking for answers what has happened to his wife, why did she just walk out on her two young children while they slept with no warning.

Now you have to try and get inside the minds of some of the characters and try and find out who they really are and also what they are really like. Cooke really plays with the reader throughout the book as she tries to play on the suspicions of people and then keeps them guessing and this moves the story along at great pace. With each new chapter you are not sure of anyone.

A deeply thought provoking story I know My Name is a page turner of a thriller being compulsive and compelling.

 Thank you to Harper Collins for the advanced review copy.

I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke is published by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

How to follow the I Know My Name Blog Tour


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I am going to say this now the debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins) is a leading contender for book of the year 2017. That is quite a statement. But read on and you will have a taste of why this is THE book of the year.


Be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions through this novel but there is a message of hope written through the pages and this will resonate to every reader. Meet Eleanor Oliphant she is a real character; she lives each day at a time, never straying too far and avoiding straying from a carefully straight line that each day brings. She will wear the same clothes to work, even eats the same lunch every day. Then there are the crosswords every lunchtime. Eleanor believes she has everything in her life she needs, but actually when you get to know Eleanor everything seems to be missing.

Every weekend it is the same two bottles of vodka, no-one comes to call at her home and her phone never rings. At first you may not like Eleanor that much, but I promise you one thing that by the time you come towards the end, you are going to care a lot about her. Some may think that Eleanor Oliphant is a lost soul, but there is much more to this story and the journey you are going to take with her. Prepare to live in her world and the rollercoaster will take you to places that at times is very funny to just utter heartbreak. Eleanor Oliphant lives a life of isolation.

The story of Eleanor evolves throughout the story, and it just takes a moment an act of pure simple kindness to change Eleanor’s perfect world. There is so much in the story it would be wrong of me to give it away but there is a crush on a singer that does not go well, which leads to a whole series of events that in turn lead us to getting to know Eleanor’s life and how she got to where she is at the present. There is so much emotion throughout the story, yet it is a real joy to read. There are so many twists that at times you just never knew what or where it was leading you to. But that is one of the beauties of this story. There are some moments in the story that will make you laugh out loud so if you are going to read this on a journey be prepared.

If I could buy one novel this year for everyone I know it would be Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is it just staggeringly brilliant in every aspect from the storyline to the writing which flows easily and captures the reader from page one to the ending. One book that will stay with me for a long time to come. This is one book that I am delighted to HIGHLY RECOMMEND.

400 Pages.

Thank you to Jaime Frost for the advanced review copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is published  today 18th May by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Fragile Lives by Stephen Westaby


Fragile Lives by Stephen Westaby

The balance between life and death is so fine, something we take for granted as we go about our busy lives every day. Professor Stephen Westaby a Heart Surgeon has dedicated his life in the pursuit of saving people’s lives. This is his life story in his own words a truly remarkable memoir of an outstanding career. When I was approached my Harper Collins if I would review Fragile Lives I have to admit to being concerned as I have been through heart surgery over recent years and the concern and worry this has brought not only to my but family and friends.


Stephen Westaby is not just a renowned heart surgeon but he is a pioneer of new heart surgery techniques that have saved many lives. He is a no-nonsense surgeon and this really comes through in his own words through the pages of Fragile Lives. For Stephen Westaby this is his story in his own words on how ‘the back-street boy’ from Scunthorpe decided he wanted to be a Cardiac surgeon all this at the very young age of 7 years.

This is a no-holds barred memoir that tells it straight it life and death. Sadly, it really is as simple as that. My emotions were shot by the time I finished reading, every life is precious as he describes some of the cases he has treated and not just in the UK either. At times I found my emotions just got to me having been through heart surgery and knowing what was involved. Fragile Lives may not be for everyone as it can be quite graphic in detail at times but it really gives an insight to the inner workings of the heart and also at the same time the strain that Stephen Westaby was under. Every life matters. Sadly, not all make it through. There is also a price to be paid for a life devoted to saving others and Westaby’s own private life especially with his first wife and children suffered as a direct consequence.

It is incredible the amount of progress that has been made since the 1960’s when so many died from a heart attack now so many are saved and this is because of the dedication of Cardiac surgeons like Stephen Westaby and he is also a flag waver for the NHS and is not afraid of taking a swing at those running the NHS as he clearly states ‘The rise and fall of the NHS’ We owe so much to surgeons like Westaby and many owe their lives to them that is why we must do everything in our power from allowing The Grim Reaper to take the NHS. It must survive for future generations.

Fragile Lives is an outstanding memoir from an outstanding man who we should all be extremely grateful to. There is humility mixed with some dry humour. Life and Death in their hands it is but one book that should not be missed. I for one will always be more grateful than I can put into words for Cardiac Surgeons like Professor Stephen Westaby. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Thank you to Caroline Saramowicz for the advanced review copy.

Fragile Lives by Professor Stephen Westaby is published by Harper Collins       and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Meet the Author -Sarah Pinborough & Behind Her Eyes



In the latest in a series of Meet the Author Interviews I am delighted to welcome Sarah Pinborough to talk about her latest novel  Behind Her Eyes which has just been released through Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

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Congratulations on Behind Her Eyes, can you tell you tell us a little of what the novel is about?

Behind Her Eyes is the story of a woman who becomes embroiled in a dysfunctional marriage. She has an affair with the husband and then is befriended by the wife and becomes fascinated by them and their past. It’s really about obsession and addiction and just how far someone will go to keep the person they love. All the unhealthy emotional things!;-)

How did you come up with such a compelling psychological suspense / supernatural thriller?

I really wanted to write about affairs, because they’re such a part of modern life and we all fear infidelity and that betrayal of trust, and yet we’ve all experienced it or been part of it in some way. It’s rare that a relationship ends without another one having begun, or someone cheating, but we all start out promising that we’ll never do anything like that even though the odds are one that at least one side will. I also wanted to write about the fascination women have with each other. We all think we’re the only ones ‘faking’ being good at femininity while every other women is a natural at it, and the strongest situation in which women obsess about each other is during an infidelity. If a husband cheats the wife invariably becomes fascinated by the other woman and vice versa. The man becomes almost just a pawn in a game of ‘what does she have that I don’t?’ I’ve seen it time and time again during personal experiences or the experiences of people I know. I don’t think men obsess about the ‘other man’ in the same way. So I wanted to make a friendship out of that fascination for Adele and Louise.

How difficult was it writing such a dramatic novel knowing that you wanted to make that ending such a dramatic part of the storyline?

Well, I was always working towards that ending so everything is structured to hit that. I’m really pleased with the ending, but I know that it might be marmite for some people! However, the clues are all there. I’m very much against cheating the reader, so I don’t mind if people don’t like it, but if they say it’s a cheat then they need to read it again more carefully because it’s all seeded there through the pages. Plus, I think that aside from the ending it’s a pretty interesting read with the shifting dynamics of the three of them, and not knowing who to trust. I hope it’s that way anyway!

You are known for also writing YA, horror and fantasy as well as adult novelist as well as a screenwriter, is it difficult to switch from style of genre to another?

Ha, to be honest, for me it’s harder to stay in one genre rather than switching. I like to mix genres up a bit and pick a bit from here and a bit from there and blend them. I don’t consider writing YA to be any different to writing for adult to be honest. I try and make the stories as complex as I would for adults. Screenwriting is great for a change of pace and telling stories in a different way and is also really good for improving your dialogue in novels. I find, since doing some screenwriting, I’m tighter with my book scenes. In a script each scene has to ‘do’ something, whereas in a book you can often waffle a bit! I haven’t entirely kicked the waffling yet but I do think about what’s in each chapter more when planning now.

I am always interested in authors typical writing process from start to finish. What is your typical writing day and do you have a ‘special’ place that you call your own were you write your novels? How long did it take to write Behind Her Eyes?

I don’t have a place per se, but I prefer morning writing to evening writing. I used to wake up at 7, get a cup of tea and go back to bed and write for a couple of hours before doing anything else. However, a few weeks ago I adopted a dog and now that routine has changed. There’s a dog walk first and then some writing before the next walk! It’s also hard to say how long a book takes to write because sometimes you’re working on more than one thing (like an edit for a previous book, a short story, a novella, a screenplay etc) at the same time, but on average I’d say six months for a book. I’m slower at the start where a lot of thinking is going on, and then I speed up.

I really enjoyed Behind Her Eyes and I think it will be one of this year’s biggest thrillers, how excited are you about your latest novel?

Oh gosh, that’s such a kind thing to say. If I’m honest I’m somewhere between really excited and really nervous. I was going to do dry January but I think I’d have driven myself and everyone else mad if I had because I’m getting very jittery! I need the odd glass of wine to relax! I’ve been at this game a while now and when at last it looks like something might take off and do well, it feels like such a long wait, and I keep trying to prepare myself for if it doesn’t. But hey ho, I really hope people enjoy it, and my part is done. Whether it’s a success or not is out of my hands now. But I have a US tour in February and I know HarperFiction are all behind it, and I’m really proud of it, so I can’t ask for more than that. Now just to find some hypnotherapy to deal with my fear of flying by February! Ha!

Where do you get your inspiration for your novels?

That’s such a hard question to answer. I tend to keep newspaper articles and stuff to start ideas rolling but they never end up in the final outline. I really don’t know where they come from but I do think that you can train your brain to look for ideas in the world around you so you have stuff filed away to draw on later.

Do you have a favourite author? And what are you reading at present?

I grew up on Stephen King as so many of my age did, but I also loved Wyndham and Du Maurier and I read so much as a teenager in such a wide variety of genres that it’s hard to pinpoint big favourites. I love John Connolly, I also love historical fiction, and I’m lucky enough to get to read a lot of books before they are released, and I’m reading one that arrived on my doormat yesterday called ‘The One’ by John Marrs. It comes out in May and I’m thoroughly enjoying it and not quite sure how it’s going to play out. The premise is that scientist discover we each have a gene that pairs us uniquely with one other person on the planet and it follows five people who ‘meet their match.’ However, it is a thriller and they all have secrets.

Looking back over your writing to career to-date is there one novel that stands out to you as one that you are so proud of you?

Again, that’s hard to answer. They’re all so different. There are books like The Language of Dying and The Death House which are perhaps the most meaningful, but I love the fun of the Fairy Tales, and the complex story of The Dog-Faced Gods etc etc. So, basically – no. I’m pretty proud of all of them in one way or another. Right now, I’m pretty proud of Behind Her Eyes, and also the one that follows that I’m hoping to have finished in the next six weeks or so.

Final question would have to be what advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a writer?

I don’t think anyone really needs advice to become a writer. You just start writing. That’s all it takes. I think some people really like the idea of being a writer, but you have to love writing, or at least be compelled to write and tell stories. You either are a writer or you aren’t. Writers write. That’s all it takes.

My thanks to Sarah Pinborough for taking the time to take part in Meet the Author. My review of Behind Her Eyes is below. 

The Last Word Review


‘Do not trust this book.’ ‘Don’t trust this story.’ ‘Don’t trust yourself’ When this is all over the front cover the ‘proof’ copy of Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough then you know there is going to be a major promotional push on this book also coming with the Hashtag #WTFthatending you know you are onto something rather special. Does Behind Her Eyes deliver beyond the hype. You bet it delivers.

Having been avid thriller reader since my younger days (much younger) I have always loved a good tense twisting thriller that leaves you guessing until the very end but also being the reader you are always trying to guess who it was. Now the award winning author Sarah Pinborough has given us a thriller that really will keep you guessing until the very last moment.

The plot is a real twister. Louise meets a guy called David in a bar and she believes this could be the man both having drank one too many and it takes just one fatal lingering kiss and then a few days later find out that this very man is her new boss and also married to Adele. Something about David and Adele is just not right and you along with Louise are being drawn into their married world and slowly the puzzling questions come but for Louise she has no real idea of what she is getting into. For Adele though her love for David is not in question they were desperate for a new start somewhere new. But the cracks in their marriage are there and that is not all as you will want to find out for yourself.

This was one of the most taught and twisting thrillers I have read in a many a year, totally unforgiving. I could not put the book down it slowly burns on you it is not only Louise who is asking herself many questions. My oh my Adele is one character that you must discover for yourself as her past is slowly drip fed to you. So then that Hashtag #WTFthatending indeed it is and that is where I will leave it. Just for you to find out for yourself. I promise you will not guess this one.

Thank you to Jaime Frost for the advanced review copy.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is published by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Chaos – Patricia Cornwell


Chaos – Patricia Cornwell

The Last Word Review

The twenty-fourth thriller starring Dr Kay Scarpetta from the pen of the bestselling Patricia Cornwell has arrived and fans of the million selling author will be delighted with the latest offering Chaos.

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I recall reading the very first in the series Postmortem all those years ago that stars the super forensic expert Dr Kay Scarpetta and all these years later book number 24 landed with on my desk. And so it was to a weekend of reading Cornwell’s latest that snared me from page one.

The story is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts it is her home and the place of her work. It is an early autumn and the heat is intense so much so a twenty-six- year old woman Elisa Vandersteel is found dead alongside her bicycle. At first it is believed she was struck by lightning. For Dr Scarpetta she was talking with the very same young woman just a few hours before. And so the investigation begins but there is more to this story that you believe. Scarpetta’s husband has been receiving strange telephone calls that apparently are from Interpol. Dr Kay Scarpetta is being targeted but by who and why? Who is behind this and just wanted happened to the young woman cycling along the river, it was a clear sunny day and lighting could not have struck her, but then again what caused the smell of burning coming from the body?

The story is engrossing and moves quickly along at a pace and the way the characters are drawn into the storyline. This is a crime that needs to be solved and quickly as Scarpetta is being harassed by someone calling himself Tailend Charlie and there are a series of poems that arrive it is time to call for reinforcements and this includes her niece Lucy but this Tailend Charlie is one slippery fish of a character Scarpetta just cannot get close enough to him. Adding to drama Scarpetta’s Dorothy has arrived to hear her give a talk. The two have a frosty relationship. But why has she chosen to come to the lecture of all times now?

Chaos may not be Cornwell’s best of the twenty-four thrillers but it still had me hooked and there are a number of twists to keep you in suspense to the very end.

Put the cat our, lock the doors and switch off your phone pour a large glass of wine settle down with the ultimate crime writer.

Thank you to Hayley Camis at Harper Collins for the advanced review copy.

Chaos by Patricia Cornwell is published by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.

CHAOS – The Official Blog Tour 2016

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Meet the Author – Ruth Downie

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As part of the Vita Brevis Official Blog Tour I am delighted to welcome to the latest in a series of Meet the Author interviews Ruth Downie to talk about her latest novel Vita Brevis which is has just been released by Bloomsbury and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.

 Ruth Downie is the author of the New York Times bestselling Medicus, as well as Terra Incognitta, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis and Tabula Rasa. She is married with two sons and lives in Devon.


Congratulations on the release of Vita Brevis just released now out in hardback the 7th book in the Medicus series, can you tell you tell us a little of what Vita Brevis is about?

Thank you! It’s a story featuring the regular characters of the series, Roman legionary doctor Ruso and his British partner Tilla. Most of the other books have been set in Britain but this time they’re in Rome, where Ruso takes over what he thinks is a reputable medical practice only to find a dead man in a barrel on the doorstep and a message saying, “Be careful who you trust.”

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Vita Brevis – A Gaius Ruso Mystery (Out now)

I guess the question you must have been asked many times why a series of crime novels set in the Roman Empire?

To my shame, even though I went to school in Colchester—which was the first Roman town Boudica burned down—I never realised how fascinating the Roman Empire was until we took our children to visit Hadrian’s Wall. Right on the line of this stark barrier between Roman and Barbarian, there’s a caption in the Housesteads museum that reads, “Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry, but they were allowed to have relationships with local women”.

I felt this raised rather more questions than it answered, and since the only record we have of any of these ‘local women’ is the occasional name on a tombstone or a curse, there were plenty of tempting gaps to fill with fiction.    

As for the crime element—I have to admit that when my agent looked at my proposal for a rambling tale of passion and conflict, she handed it back with, “Much too much plot, and put a crime in it.” She was absolutely right: crime fiction gives a writer the chance to explore all sorts of interesting things while providing a structure that means you can’t ramble on indefinitely. At least, I hope not.

The two leading characters are Ruso and Tilla now have a baby daughter. How have you managed to keep the couple so engaging with your readers?

Good question! Having been largely brought up on a diet of “and they got married and lived happily ever after” I was afraid that once characters became a couple, they’d be less interesting. Then I realised that there’s always going to be at least one other party causing tension in their relationship: there’s Ruso’s commitment to his duty, and for Tilla there’s the tension of not wanting to betray her own people while feeling herself sliding into collusion with the occupiers. I was also worried that once they had a baby, one of them would end up doing all the detecting while the other one had to stay at home and babysit. So that’s one of the issues they tackle in the book.

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How difficult is it to write a series of crime novels set against the backdrop of ancient Rome? What would you say are the main challenges you face as far as research goes?

The good thing about it is that Rome had no police force in the sense that we understand it, so nobody’s going to be asking “why don’t they fetch the police?” when things get a bit tricky—always a problem when you’re writing about an amateur sleuth.  It’s also a relief to know there are no present-day police officers out there clutching their heads in despair at my inept grasp of their procedures. (Although there may be a few classicists, of course.) With no mobile phones to call for help, it’s relatively easy to get your characters into trouble.

On the other hand, it takes ages to get anybody anywhere and when you need to send a complicated message, you have work out how fast the ship/horse/runner can travel, and then allow for the weather. This used to be a nightmare until some kind souls at Stanford produced an interactive website showing exactly that –  I’m sure they have no idea of the joy they’ve given to a lot of writers.

The real challenge of research, I think, is that in order to create a world that you—and hopefully some readers—can believe in, you need to check out all sorts of things that don’t go in the book, but are necessary to underpin what does. Who’s in charge? Where does everyone’s food come from? Who’s really in charge? What language are they speaking? Who are they afraid of? How are the houses built? What do the door-latches look like? Are there sheets on the beds? (You’d be amazed at how much time I wasted on that one.)

In fact, please can I rescind the start of that last paragraph and put it here instead? The real challenge of research is knowing when to stop playing about with it and get on with the writing

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Where do you carry out your research and then write your books, would it be that you spend time in libraries and museums to get the inspiration for your next historical crime novel?

I did all of my early research through libraries and museums and visiting sites—basically anything that didn’t cost a lot of money or involve talking to people, because I was too embarrassed. Since then I’ve learned that people who have expertise are often incredibly generous and helpful. There are also some excelllent courses available online now, many of them free. Anything Ruso knows about the abdomen or the upper limb has been learned from anatomy lectures on the internet—although he’d be amazed at some of what’s in my notes, because he’s restricted to the knowledge that was around in the second century. Luckily we still have many of the textbooks that would have been available to him, so there’s plenty of information to draw on.

Another great resource is experimental archaeology and re-enactment groups. The best of them are meticulous in their research and it’s always inspiring to walk into ‘real’ houses and to meet people who make and wear the kit, use the weapons (carefully!) and cook the food.

Ideas for new stories, though, usually come from a place. The third book, where Ruso and Tilla visit his family in Gaul, started out with a visit to the amphitheatre at Nimes. I couldn’t think of anything new to put in the arena but the maze of corridors and stairs below the seating was just crying out for a chase scene.

I talk to a lot of writers about their writing process and the one question I have to ask is are they a night or a day writer. Do you have a quiet place to write?

Well I’m definitely not an early morning writer! As a deadline approaches the work carries on later and later into the evening and when things are really desperate I sometimes decamp to the library during the day to get away from distractions. At home, though, I’ve progressed from a desk and a noticeboard in the bedroom to a whole room full of books and stuff that isn’t really junk. Honestly. 


Do you have a favourite part of the history of Roman empire? do you have a favourite Roman?

I seem to have burrowed down into the reign of Hadrian without ever really intending to, but it’s a good time to write about because so much was happening. He was a man of wide interests and vast energy who travelled about the empire inspecting and improving things. (Whether people wanted them improved, or not.) There are also tantalising scraps of evidence about a crushed rebellion in Britain at the start of his reign—just enough to make my Britons very resentful but not so much that I have to write battle scenes, which I couldn’t do at all.

As for my favourite Roman—Hadrian was a gifted emperor, but he comes across as a bit of a know-it-all. I’d go for his wife, Sabina. We don’t know much about her, but around about the time he was visiting Britannia, she was involved in some sort of scandal with his top men.  This was great news for me because Ruso and Tilla could get involved in it.  Apparently he told people she was moody and difficult and she said she refused to give him children because any child of his would harm the human race. Despite this bracing honesty, they were together for decades and the marriage only ended with her death. I’d love to have met her and asked how they did it.



I was reading through your website and you have taken part in some archaeological digs. How important is this to you and is there one site dig that has been important to you?

The fascination of Roman Britain for me is that it isn’t some ‘other place’. It’s here, under our feet, shaping the roads we drive along and the cities where lots of us live. For many years I was privileged to be part of a community group excavating a Roman villa site in Northamptonshire—you can see more at I’ll never be a classicist or an historian but I know what substantial chunks of Roman Britain feel like when you pick them up and scrape the mud off them. And that, for me, is priceless.

What are you reading at present and do you have a favourite writer?

I’m currently enjoying Tony Dixon’s Bristol Channel Gypsies – the story of the lifeboats that used to patrol the waters near where I live – and Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair.

Favourite writer? It varies, but I’m awfully fond of Martin Cruz Smith’s Detective Renko.  A total hero.

 With Vita Brevis now out in the shops have you started to plan your next writing project?

Oh yes. It’s the eighth book in the Medicus series, it’ll be set in Aquae Sulis (modern Bath) and my editor is expecting it on 1 November. So I may be spending a lot of time in the library this month!

My thanks to Ruth Downie for joining me on Meet the Author. For those wishing to learn more about Ruth’s novels you can visit her website Ruth and you can follow Ruth on Twitter @ruthdownie

Vita Brevis and all of Ruth’s previous novels are available at

You can follow the Official Vita Brevis Blog Tour:


The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor


The Ashes of London – Andrew Taylor

The Last Word Review

Andrew Taylor is a British crime and historical writer, best known for the international bestseller The American Boy and The Fallen Angel Trilogy. But in his latest novel Andrew Taylor turns his attention to a part of London’s history. In The Ashes of London this could well be one his best yet. A murder mystery like no other that I can remember. It is September 1666 The Great Fire of London has been burning for a number of days nothing can stop the flames it consumes everything it its way even St Pauls Cathedral which has been London’s landmark is burning. The immense heat from the flames, the chocking smoke and the crackling of the fire as it consumes the wooden structures. Just a year after the Black Death now London is being destroyed and nothing can be done to stop it. Treasures are going up in smoke. And the people can only stand and stare as their homes are destroyed.

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The Great Fire is key to the latest work from Andrew Taylor. As crowds gather to watch St Pauls burning to the ground a young boy breaks through the crowd and wants to run into the burning cathedral as if he is being pulled into the flames but a young man manages to grab the boy at the last moment his name is James Marwood. The boy however is not a boy but a young girl. But before he can find out more she flees from Marwoods grasp and disappears into the crowd of people.

Marwood is now the centre of the story, his elderly father was a supporter of Cromwell and the civil war that saw the execution of Charles I. Marwood has a role albeit a rather junior role within Whitehall but here Marwood seems to spend a lot of time hiding information from his peers. But now a body has been found in the ruins of the cathedral and Marwood has been called in to look at the body but the man did not die in the fire. This was murder. Was the body left there so the fire would conceal the truth?

The character Marwood now goes on to tell his story and the investigation in his own words, which I found I was so well told being at a time when both politics and religion seem to drive the passions throughout the land. The Monarchy is back but the divisions are still present in society and as Marwood finds out there is much at stake.

We meet another character Cat, she has dreams and passions for the future but she is a young lady with intelligence and desire. But now she is in dire trouble and her life is in peril. She has no choice but to run.

The Ashes of London turns out to be a first rate read from start to finish. There is so much detail on every page at times it seems hard to keep up but that is down to the research by Andrew Taylor it is part history and part crime novel of sheer brilliance. The stories of the leading characters and other players involved tell a tale of truths and lies and the detail of London at this time from the buildings to the social times of the seventeenth century. One of my favourite periods in English history so reading this was something I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end. This is one book I am delighted to recommend if you are a lover of historical fiction.

One question is will Andrew Taylor be writing more historical fiction from this time in history?

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor is published by Harper Collins and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.