Mystery Road

The photo of Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan is from a promotional site with the addition of a ‘film’ frame.

Some time ago I watched a film, Goldstone, which was meant to be a stand-alone. I was confused by much of it. The story, an ordinary thriller, set in the Australian outback, was clear enough, but I didn’t seem to grasp the character of the lead detective, Jay Swan.

I then gathered that it was in fact a spin-off from the TV series, Mystery Road, which I hadn’t seen. That explained things. I liked the setting and direction so when Mystery Road Season 2 appeared on our screens I went to iPlayer to download it. (I never seem to be able to watch things exactly when they’re aired.) I was pleased and surprised to find that the whole of Season 1 was also available. I’ve been binge watching!

I absolutely loved it. The series is made by Australians using Indigenous Australian actors, and the plot lines revolve around the treatment of Indigenous communities. Incidentally, I have never understood why the term ‘Indigenous’ is used when clearly the people came from elsewhere in the first place. However, it has to be better than the previous ‘Aborigine’.

The main detective is an Indigenous Australian. In the first season he works with a white police officer whose family have been involved in cheating communities out of water rights. The murder of a white boy is investigated, leading to all kinds of secrets being discovered, and also to drug running which then leads into Season 2.

In Season 2, the drugs case is ongoing, set against the background of a university archaeological dig on community property. Jay works with a local Indigenous police officer and the various threads of community feeling and responsibility are deftly woven together, as are the problems of racism, both overt and subtly patronising.

Knowing that the show was made with the full involvement of the Indigenous people gave the themes a gravitas that I think they would not have got if a less diverse team had made the programmes.

I’m aware that some viewers found the premise of the drug dealing preposterous. Perhaps, but drugs are a very real problem in rural Australia as well as in the cities, and as they form the basis of a lot of crime stories they were a good ‘hook’ on which to hang the real story, which is not a detective ‘thriller’ at all but that of a changing society. The drug dealing also led to some very violent scenes but those, and the car chases, might well have been inserted to attract viewers (especially in Australia) who would not otherwise watch a show about Indigenous problems.

The filming was excellent. The direction and photography were extremely good and the acting was at times superb and always competent. It was lovely to see some affirmative action for Indigenous actors and I really hope some of the actors find work in the wider film industry as a result of their performance here. It doesn’t hurt that Aaron Pedersen, who plays Jay Swan, is very easy on the eye!

The locations were well chosen and made me feel nostalgic for the time I spent in Australia. I didn’t in fact go to that specific area but the ‘outback’ was lovingly depicted and so were the small towns.

The music was gorgeous. There was a mix of Indigenous Australian music and classical religious song. I have created a short playlist for myself on Spotify – if anyone wants to listen, it’s called Mystery Road Favourites By Lizzie.  

As well as Goldstone, there’s another film, simply called Mystery Road and I am intending to watch it as it’s available on Amazon Prime. I understand it either follows Season 2 or very closely precedes it.

The TV series are available for about a year on BBC iPlayer so I would recommend them to anyone with an interest in Australia, a concern about racism in any form and a liking for police dramas. I certainly won’t remember the details of the drug busting, but the communities and individuals will stay with me for a long time.

October reviews

A cartoon from The Spectator. Brit readers will understand.

TV and films

The excellent – see if you can find them anywhere!

Vera Season 7***** Great, as usual. I really look forward to this show and will be sad when I catch up with myself. I know I’ve seen the whole of Season 10 but am not sure about Season 9. I’m currently watching Season 8 but ITV has a habit of ditching the show for a week or two to allow for other programmes.

Mystery Road Seasons 1 and 2 ***** I adored this entire series and will be writing a more in depth critique later in the month.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ***** A really well directed and acted film about a woman who finds herself pitted against the police who have failed to find whoever raped and murdered her daughter.

Honour  ***** A fictionalised account of the investigation of an ‘honour’ killing In South London. I recall the actual case but had forgotten the details. Keeley Hawes plays the detective well.

The good.

Lawrence of Arabia: Britain’s Great Adventurer**** I have seen both the film and a previous documentary, and read about Lawrence’s life. This programme summed it all up and added more glimpses into the life and times of a man whose legacy feeds into the problems the Middle East faces today.

Roadkill Season 1 **** A British political drama with some excellent acting by Hugh Laurie. It isn’t as good as the original House of Cards, but it does make the viewer think hard about politicians.


Adult Material. This drama centred round the porn industry sounded intriguing but managed to be boring.


The highly recommended:

The Sugared Game by KJ Charles***** The second book about Will Darling and his occasional lover. A really good period romance and thriller.

The Unkindest Tide by Seanan McGuire***** I think this was one of the best October Daye books yet, with a focus on the Selkie and the Merrow. It included a novella, Hope is Swift **** That was less gripping, probably because it was not told from October’s point of view so my sympathies were not altogether engaged.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini***** I cried more than once during this searing account of the experiences of women in modern Afghanistan. I will be looking at the novel in more depth later in the month.

Halloween Knight by K-lee Klein ***** A delightful Halloween themed story with all the angst and darkness associated with the night of Halloween but with a fairy tale ending. I read it on 31st and it was perfect!

The good

Physical Therapy by ZA Maxfield **** This is the second book in the St Nacho’s series. It’s a pleasant enough mm romance but it didn’t, for me, have the same impact as the first book. Good writing.

Where the Forest meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah**** This started out as a mystery with hints of sci fi, but although the story was satisfactorily resolved I found the ending disappointingly mundane after all the promise of the early chapters. A research student finds a young girl on the doorstep and needs to find out where she came from. Well written.

The merely readable

The Gift of Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May. *** Third in this chicklit series. I liked the first and then went and bought the other two. Unlikely characters, situations and resolutions led me to wish I hadn’t but lovers of the genre might find them entertaining.

Short stories

Chinatown by J Scott Coatsworth **** Clever sci fi in which 1984 meets Inception with the Chinese in charge. Well written.

Animal Control by Brumeier *****   A story in her After the Eclipse series, which is original work but archived with her fanfiction. After an eclipse, a town starts to have strange experiences. The characters and situations are incredibly well developed in very short pieces which are reminiscent (though not in any way related to) The Night Vale radio series.  If you haven’t read the earlier stories in the series already I suggest you follow the link then go back to the beginning!


Shield series by Anna Butler. I couldn’t get past the space battles at the start. Military fiction is not my scene and I suspect the role of the military was going to figure large in the books.

The Angel’s Mark by SW Perry (and the sequel) I borrowed these from the Amazon Prime library. Present tense mediaeval whodunnits. Just no. Returned swiftly.

Enchantress by James Maxwell (Evermen Saga Bk 1) A very derivative plot with strange name choices. I gave up.


I’ve read a lot this month. I contributed to an October MonsterFest and read the other entries. You can find them all at:

For some reason WordPress refuses to link to the collection but if you type the link in your search bar it should work.

I can recommend:

Monster Fest 2020: Astro Edition by InterstellarBlue in which K-pop meets the world of mermen.

The recs I followed up from the comm holding the fest led me to:

Either Side of the Surface by lavvyan***** wordcount 1616 which is Hawaii 5 O  but you don’t need to know the fandom

and I was reminded of the first fanfic I ever read (recced by my daughter)

The Water-Horse by Thamiris***** This is in the Arthurian legend fandom.

Other contributions and recs were too fandom specific to recommend here.

Then it was, of course, October, which always means The Professionals Big Bang. I have all the stories downloaded but have not so far had time to read many. Those of you who enjoyed Buen Camino, Bodie by Sharon Ray last year might want to read The Road to Finisterre which completes Bodie’s journey to the end of the pilgrim trail, but be warned, this is what the author calls a heartwarming death fic. My heart was not warmed but because of the content – the writing was excellent.

September Reviews

TV and films

The recommended if you can still find them anywhere.

Galaxy Quest***** (1999) I adore this film and was seriously happy to watch it yet again. A wonderful spoof of Star Trek but also a wonderful space adventure in its own right.

Manctopia**** BBC looking at the building boom in Manchester (where I live) and assessing the effects on various slices of the population.

Cyberbully**** Maisie Williams (think Arya in Game of Thrones) is alone on the screen for a riveting hour in a drama about cyber bullying.

Opioids Inc ****   Interesting look at the start of opioid addiction in US and the results, plus the influence of the big Pharmas.

Plague Fiction BBC4**** A look at literature written during and about plague, particularly the Black Death throughout the ages.

Des (and factual follow up) – with David Tennant****   The arrest, interrogation and trial of Desmond Nielson, who killed and dismembered at least fifteen young men. Gripping and gruesome. I quite like these docu-dramas that revisit crimes I was aware of at the time; somehow they put everything into context.

The Princess Spy **** Noor Inayat Khan was a young woman who was Indian royalty but died as a spy in occupied France, working on behalf of Britain, her adopted country. A blue plaque has recently been placed on her home in London.

The watchable but not highly recommended.

Secrets of Center Parcs*** How the holiday venues were founded and made popular.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 1*** I watched with intense concentration so that I could write a fanfic for an auction bidder who is thankfully pleased with the result. Plot and characters are interesting but I could do without all the space battles and special effects so might not get round to watching Season 2.

The Cult that Stole Children (Storyville) ***   The chilling story of a woman and her friends who got away with kidnap, child abuse, and a great deal of falsification of documents in Australia. They had friends in high places and although they were brought back from US to answer for their crimes, they were merely fined. The woman died recently in her nineties, in a care home for those suffering from dementia. I would have liked more detail and less drama.


The wonderful

Galaxies and Oceans by NR Walker***** An mm romantic mystery set on Kangaroo Island off the south coast of Australia. Gorgeous.

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin***** Siobhan, Malcom and Rebus are catapulted into a cold case when a body is found in an abandoned car. The usual vivid detail about Edinburgh, the characters, and modern policing.

Romancing the Undercover Millionaire by Clare London***** An exciting mm thriller set in the wine trade.

Alike as two bees by Elin Gregory***** Stonemasons, stone carvers and the people who employ them in Ancient Greece. Lovely romantic mm story that brought the period and place to life. I was reminded of Tom Holt’s The Walled Garden but this had a more delicate touch.

Dark/Darker by Paul L Arvidson***** Bks 1 and 2 of Dark Trilogy. What I want to know is when book 3 is coming. It was supposed to be published earlier this year. Fascinating sci fi with memorable characters. To say anything further would give spoilers; a lot of the pleasure stems from the gradual unfolding of the plot and the world. Warning: it could have used better proof reading but in spite of that I give it five stars.

The excellent

In the Middle of Somewhere and Better than People by Roan Parrish**** Two sweet and well written rural mm romances, neither quite gripping enough to make me buy the sequels.

A Vineyard in Andalusia by Maria Dueñas****  Great historical detail about nineteenth century life in Mexico, Cuba and Spain and excellent writing but I didn’t like the characters.

The readable

The Unspoken by Ian K Smith*** Too many gangsters in Chicago. I nearly abandoned this thriller but wanted to see what happened. I believe there are sequels but I won’t be buying them. (I didn’t buy this; it was a free read from Amazon Prime.) Well done, just not to my taste.  

The Brandy Trade under the Ancien Régime by L.M.Cullen.*** Some interesting information about the growth of the international trade in spirits but too much dry financial and legal detail so I skimmed.

The Layered Mask by Sue Brown*** Regency mm with rather stereotypical characters and a somewhat contrived ending. Well written.

My Anti-Marriage by DJ Jamison*** Too much sex and a very slight story though it’s a pleasant plot and well written.

Short Stories

Rain by Nick Thiwerspoon*** A nice ficlet on Nick’s blog.


Nothing abandoned this month! Is this a first?


Torchwood High by Pooky1234 **** Very clever and well done. Alexa has been promoting this on her author FB page and I can add my recommendation. A convoluted story about the staff (and a few kids) in a Welsh high school. However, I like Torchwood for the aliens and really missed them… It’s long: 290619 words so take a deep breath!

Riders of the Purring Sage by Edonohana **** A delightful very short story (2906 words) about cat herding in the old wild west. No romance, just lots of cats and a possible ghost. Could be a good Hallowe’en read.

August reviews

TV and films

The one I love:

Vera season 6*****

The watchable:

Woodstock: Three Days that defined a generation**** Interesting. My generation but I think we were on our honeymoon at the time – at any rate, we missed even mentions on the news!

George V: The Tyrant King**** Fascinating look at the life of a rarely mentioned monarch.

The Teacup Poisoner **** Another programme about Graham Young the psychopathic serial killer, or just possibly a re-watch

Teacher with Tourette’s**** Interesting and I hope her career goes well

True Lies *** (again) Once the novelty and suspense have worn off, the film loses its sparkle. Try telling my husband that.


The highly recommended:

Master Wolf by Joanna Chambers ***** (Capital wolves bk 2) Werewolves in historical Edinburgh. Delicious.

Nightvine/Shadebloom by Felicia Davin***** The Gardener’s Handbook 2 and 3. Gorgeous trilogy which mixes fantasy, politics and lgbtq themes.

Spellbound/Starcrossed by Allie Therin***** Rory and Ace with magic in 1920s Manhattan – look out for Wonderstruck in 2021!

Romantic Renovations by Blake Allwood **** a TV reality show plus skulduggery. Very readable.

Moonstone by K-lee Klein**** Stone Magic bk 1 Tattoos and magic. Nice story and I might buy the sequel.

Echoes of Blood by Fiona Glass**** Liverpool vampires. A slightly dark story, outside my normal reading. Very well done.

The readable:

Don’t make a sound by TR Ragan *** Unmemorable thriller centred round a disfunctional US family and their partial memories.

Paper Girls by Alex Smith*** Humdrum UK police procedural.

The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths*** Another humdrum UK thriller. Merely having a detective of colour is not enough…

Meet me in Cocklebury Bay by Nicola May*** Nowhere near as good as the first because it lacks the novelty and suspense but I’ve bought the third so will read it.

As Big as the Sky by Amy Aislin*** nicely written but ultimately unmemorable mm romance.

Summer with the country village vet by Zara Stoneley*** Basically boring romance (chicklit?) with a lot of repetition/padding.

Work for it by Talia Hibbert*** Another sweet but unmemorable mm romance set in a small English town during the elderflower harvest.

And the dire:

Edinburgh Twilight by Carole Lawrence
* Poor writing and research. It began to be obvious that this was an American author with a sketchy understanding of Scottish culture.

Short Stories:

None this month

Abandoned books:

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by LC Tyler – a boring whodunnit

A Light Amongst Shadows by Kelly York – it didn’t seem worth wading through present tense

Trust No-one by Debra Webb – a prologue that gives away part of the ending put me off

Stealing the Crown by TP Fielden – an odd concept with crime in Buckingham Palace.

Murder at Melrose Court by Karen Baugh Menuhin – too much forced humour


The Hawk and the Wolf by Fledhyris
***** Loosely based on Supernatural and Ladyhawk, with echoes of various mediaeval books and shows. Lovely writing though I would say that as she’s my daughter.

Perpetual Motion by esteefee***** SGA/Sentinel fusion in an alternate universe. Probably accessible to anyone with the faintest idea of the characters and the concept.

April reviews


TV and films

The excellent.

Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance***** Stunning animation series – homage to Jim Henson. Also watched fabulous episode about the making of the series. Available on Netflix. You don’t need to have watched the original film to make sense of this – I’m going to watch it again later. This is a prequel.

Pangolins: the World’s Most Wanted Animal*****
(BBC2) I love them and I’m so sad they are heading for extinction.

Witness***** – Harrison Ford in romantic thriller based around life in Amish community.

Vera Season2***** ITV seem to have temporarily given up treating us to the entire series, maybe because they hope we’ll pay for BritBox. (Not going to happen.)

The good.

A Monster Calls****
Rather frightening for kids and rather preachy for adults. Good animation etc.

Various SGA episodes – no stars because watched for fic I’m writing for Fandom Trumps Hate so more like work than entertainment… But overall I’d give the series 4 stars because the main characters hooked me.

Front Row Late Series 7 Ep 1 Mary B intros the Atwood puppet show ****
(See short stories) Interesting use of household props.

Norwegian drama with Kristofer Hlvju (GoT) playing both twins. Well acted in lovely scenery.

Holst and Vaughan Williams: Making Music English**** Interesting.

The annoying.

The Truth about Traveller Crime (Dispatches)*** Raised as many questions as it pretended to answer. I was annoyed because Ch 4 are usually more politically aware.


The excellent

Sporting Chance by Alexa Milne***** media problems beset a new relationship between a rugby star and a teacher in Wales.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire*****Vol 12 in the October Daye series. Perfect, as usual. No real spoilers but after the cliffhanger of the previous volume I was relieved to find the wedding is still going ahead.

Mysteries of the Human Brain. New Scientist Collection.*****
Some fascinating articles.

Trial by Impotence by Pierre Darmon*****Looks at ‘the legal procedures for the dissolution of marriage on grounds of impotence’, particularly in France, from the middle ages to the twentieth century. Fascinating, horrifying, hilarious and sad.

Mere Mortals by Erastes***** Sort of gothic horror thriller with mm twist – intriguing and extremely well written.

Narrow Dog To Carcassonnne by Terry Darlington.*****
What it says (with Monica, his wife and Jim, his dog). Must get sequel. Really funny and interesting.

The Making of the English Landscape by W.G. Hoskins***** fascinating and informative look at hedges, ditches, trees, etc. from pre-Roman times to just post-war Britain. Get the hardback if you can – nearly as cheap as the e-book and you’ll want to refer to the maps and study the b&w photos. Written just after WWII before motorways carved up the countryside.

Semper Fi by Keira Andrews.***** Jim and Cal – WWII then an Apple Farm in NY State. 1942-1945 interspersed with scenes from 1948 and an epilogue in 1957. Clever writing and structure.

The recommended

Nobody’s Groom by DJ Jamison**** Nice as part of the Marital Bliss series but not very memorable on its own account because the characters are less interesting once Colby has got his head round being possibly gay. Well written as usual.

The ones I didn’t enjoy much but you might.

Alice Teale is Missing by H A Linskey*** Poor editing (Penguin, so I feel entitled to complain) – very repetitive and also features a fictional town in my native county. It doesn’t really work and I kept being distracted by its unreality.

The Lost Ones by Ben Cheetham*** well written thriller/chiller (better editing than Penguin) but with an unbelievable plot and characters – another one with a strange fictional town sort of dumped in the wilds of Northumberland (my home county).

DS Billings Victorian Mysteries by Olivier Bosman*** (boxed set of three) – possibly realistic if depressing psychology but unlikely thriller plots.

New Year’s Resolutions by Crystel Greene*** an mm romance in Westminster… Weird view of British politics and especially Wales. If the queen is 100 how did Larry the Downing Street cat survive?? OK, it’s an AU but AUs need some supporting world building.

Thin Air by Lisa Gray*** (Jessica Shaw bk 1) Great concept – weird structure with flashbacks in victim pov. Didn’t like the style much though quite well written.

Short Stories

The highly recommended

Suffer a Sea Change by Seanan McGuire***** sequel and counterpoint to Night and Silence (see Books). One of the exceptions – I don’t often give a short story five stars.

The rest

Bear and Fred by Iris Argaman***
Children’s story about wartime teddy bear. Not as good as Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Maybe a younger target audience but not sure in that case that enough context is given.

Man Crush by Isobel Starling*** So short I was just getting into it when it was over.

Silken by Isobel Starling*** BDSM with too much explicit detail for me.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe*** Read prior to watching Margaret Atwood’s puppetry interpretation. (See TV) Too short, and the preaching distanced the horror.

The White Man’s Liberation Front by Bernadine Evaristo*** Present tense put me off. Clever but very aware of its cleverness. (Published in the New Statesman Spring Special.)

Murder by the Minster by Helen Cox. Lost me at redwoods by the Ouse in York. (Cornus or Dogwood doesn’t work, either…)

The City of Brass by S.A.Chakraborty (Daevabad trilogy bk 1) Djinns and demons and ghouls….


No stories to recommend this time, but I would like to mention some poetry. Please note that originally these were in the Sherlock fandom but have wandered off into their own delightful AU.
Five Poems from the Pen of Inky Quill by okapi ****

What are you reading at the moment?

What are you reading at the moment?

This, with variations, is a common question on social media. I suppose it’s due to the extra time some people are finding they have to read, during lockdown, working at home with no commute, etc.

The trouble is, I never know quite what to say. I usually have at least three books ‘on the go’ and sometimes more.

Let’s start upstairs.

The bathroom (with toilet) is dedicated as a rule to the week’s print magazines – at least New Statesman and New Scientist, with an occasional Private Eye (not at the moment because we’re random buyers and there’s a lockdown) or National Geographic (passed on by a friend and similarly absent). If those run out I have a carefully selected book: it must be something I can dip into and out of in between magazines. Not fiction, then. Mostly, books of art, poetry, etc. or perhaps things like Culpepper’s Herbal, or Harry Potter: A History of Magic (British Museum), a Dictionary of English Place Names. I’m sure you get the picture. I just finished The Making of the English Landscape and have given it five stars.

The bedroom has something non fiction but that nevertheless needs longer and more concentrated reading times. I don’t often read lying in bed – I find it uncomfortable and my glasses don’t quite cope – but I’ll sit propped up or on the edge. Currently I’m reading a fairly scholarly book about myth and gender. You’ll get a brief review eventually.

Downstairs next.

In the kitchen I often have two books. One will be recipes I have already read but need to re-read, finding and noting the ones I might actually follow rather than just enjoying in the abstract. The other might be fiction or non-fiction, in paperback. Something I can pick up while I’m waiting for things to cook, or take out into the yard with a cup of coffee. It should be something that can stand being abandoned when the potatoes boil or when the phone rings and I have to rush in. At the moment I’m alternating between Jamie Oliver’s Veg and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other. Both fascinating (both Christmas presents 2019) and I mustn’t let the pans boil dry. That happened with my previous kitchen book, Narrow Dog to Carcassonne.

Then there’s the lounge book which might be the one you’re asking about… It will almost certainly be fiction and equally almost certainly on my e-reader (though last week I had a Seanan McGuire urban fantasy paperback). It will stay in the lounge unless I’m going out (not likely just now) in which case it’s easy to slip into my bag if I remember. If I remember the book I will probably remember my mobile phone, and vice versa. I tend to ring the changes in my e-books. I like fantasy, crime, sci fi, mm romance, general romance, and some historical novels. If I find something that combines two or more of these, I’m really happy. Today I’m reading You Let Me In – a chiller that I’ve borrowed from the Amazon Prime Library. It’s very well written but I haven’t got far yet. I also keep dipping into an e-book about baking, written by one of those GBBO stars. I don’t really like reference books on e-readers because I worry about finding things again. I know there are bookmarks but somehow I’m not good at those till it’s too late. I just finished Keira Andrews’ Semper Fi which was a lovely mm historical novel. And I abandoned City of Brass even though it came highly recommended. It was another Amazon Library book so I had no qualms about giving up.

So there you have my reading habits. I should also say that I keep crosswords, sudoku and logic puzzles in the kitchen, bathroom and car, just in case…

And yes, I read the ingredients on sauce bottles, cereal packets, etc. In case you wondered.

Spoof bookmarks or reviews.

Once upon a time someone linked me to a post on Tumblr (I have now lost the link) which gave spoof AO3 reviews of famous authors as though they were current fanfiction writers. The ones I’ve chosen were not included in the post I read. The reviews are couched in commonly used fanfiction Fanlore or Bookmark terms.

(The screenshot is of my AO3 bookmark page and the first bookmark is a fic I have previously reviewed here, giving it five stars.)

Excellent world building and descriptive passages but unable to get to the point of the plot quickly. Stereotypical villains. A lack of female characters has led to some feminist rants in comments. An attempt to focus on non-fictional aspects such as timelines and alien languages has resulted in a warning for violation of the policy on non fanworks and an explanation that these must be appended to actual stories and not published as separate works.

G.R.R. Martin:
Not to be confused with other pseuds containing unnecessary Rs. Writes long WIPs and teases fans with promises that are not kept. Denigrates other fanworks as unimaginative. Works in series do not always contain adequate Archive warnings for major character death, rape/non con, incest, child abuse or graphic depictions of violence.

J.K. Rowling:
Another user who enjoys initials and has pseuds which are possibly intended to confuse her readers. Her early works were directed at younger fans and encouraged a lot of underage internet users to seek out the Archive (AO3 cannot allow under-13s to hold accounts because of data protection laws but they are welcome to read, preferably under adult supervision). Hints about the backstories of some characters have kept LGBT readers following her work. However, a lack of warnings for triggering situations regarding pets has meant the Policy and Abuse team has received a heavy volume of reports about which they can do nothing whatsoever.

Anthony Trollope:
Writes a great deal of mostly het fiction in which there is a fade-to-black as soon as sexual situations arise. His excellent detailed depictions of nineteenth century Brit society could serve to educate writers from elsewhere about the same period. Long series could be better numbered for smoother reading enjoyment.

Joanna Trollope:
Claims family links with Anthony. Similarly detailed social ‘world building’ with interesting characters but her works tend to lack plot which cannot be said of her illustrious ancestor.

Robert Jordan:
This user started a long series which lost itself in ever decreasing circles. The writer then died, but had fortunately designated a Fannish Next Of Kin who took over the account and finished the story to the relief of readers. The FNOK contribution is actually better in many respects than the last few original works by Robert.

Lewis Carroll:
A pseud under which a respected academic writes fantasy about little girls interacting with rabbits, queens, caterpillars and madmen. Much reported with allegations of paedophilia which are never sustained because of lack of evidence.

George Gordon Byron:
Sometimes known as Lord Byron due to his aristocratic breeding. Writes epic stories in verse but is frequently in violation of the Terms of Service due to wilful mistagging and rating of his work. Author of a poem which ends with a knight arriving at a dark tower, which gave rise to other works such as those of Stephen King. Frequently deserves, but does not always get, an ‘inspired by’ citation.

Stephen King:
Cleared of charges of plagiarism, King was still required to cite Byron as inspiration for his Dark Tower series, with a prominent link to the other writer’s work. (There has been recent debate as to whether citations are enforceable.) His other works are usually tagged ‘author chose not to use archive warnings’ and are not rated, because everyone knows that they have to beware when reading anything by this writer. He also writes meta, intended to encourage younger writers.

Dorothy Sayers:
A one-theme writer who relies too heavily on the college AU.

Agatha Christie:
This writer uses worn out tropes for her mysteries which involve stereotyped characters. She was forced (by her rather strident commenters) to re-title one work which was held to be racist and intended to harass or offend her audience.

March Reviews

TV and films

The highly recommended

A Very British History (series 2)***** looked at the Birmingham Irish, Bangladeshis, Vietnamese Boat People, and Chinese. Each episode is presented by a member of the community.

Vera Season 1***** Really good police series set in my native Northumberland, with a strong female lead.

The Great Pottery Throwdown***** Exciting, entertaining and educational. The final was nail-biting. I don’t usually follow reality shows but this fascinated me.

Ian Hislop’s Olden Days***** Hislop looked at the way people in UK throughout history have always looked back to, and often glorified, the past. Three episodes.

Contagion: BBC Four Pandemic***** Hannah Fry. Brilliant modelling of contagion using a mobile phone app.

Fisherman’s Friends***** Delightful story, based on true events, centred around a band of Cornish fishermen who are now well known folk singers.

Zoo***** The story of Buster the baby elephant, saved from a cull at Belfast Zoo during the war.

The good

Five Films For Freedom (British Council)**** Interesting mixture of short films. A girl comes out of closet; a boy’s parents accept his wish both to be a girl and to excel at dance; a rural town in Norway has its first Pride Parade which attracts not the expected 100 but 4000 participants and spectators; a boy discovers his dad is gay; a co-operative (predominantly but not exclusively run by people of colour) create an alternative nightclub, Pxssy Palace. Really interesting films but I caught them on their last night on YouTube and was annoyed I couldn’t recommend them to others. The short public showing is why they lost a star. YouTube is still showing interviews with the various directors, with clips of the films.

Dog with an IQ of 102**** 17 dogs and a raccoon competing for title of UK’s brightest pet. The raccoon came second…

The mediocre

The Girl on the Train*** half watched because it was on – nasty but interesting thriller.


The excellent.

Blood and Milk by NR Walker***** Heath/Damu. Set among the Maasai. Heath goes to Africa to immerse himself in another culture. He doesn’t expect to fall in love.

Fault Lines by Shane Morton***** LA stereotypes are turned into really interesting people in this story about a small community.

Salt Magic Skin Magic by Lee Welch***** Soren is a selkie and John is a magician. I loved the mix of legend and magic with well developed characters. Soren has been trapped on a Yorkshire estate by his father and John needs to break the curse.

The Two Faces of Religion by N.S.Xavier, M.D. ***** A psychiatrist’s view exploring the spectrum of healthy spirituality and sick religiosity. Fascinating and well written.

Dark Waters by Chris Quinton***** Flein and Donnchadh find each other in this dramatic retelling of the water horse legend. The story is a murder mystery which the protagonists must solve if the Highland villagers are not to blame the water horse. Beautiful writing, world building, and characterisation.

Bitter Pill by Jordan Castillo Price***** (Psycops 11). Vic and Jacob are fighting Kick, a new psyactive drug. Excellent writing, as usual, and it is interesting that even this far on in the series there is always something more to learn about Vic and Jacob.

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni***** This was a re-read and deals with the plague in 17th century Milan. I will review it in more depth in my next post.

Distorted Images by Anne Borrowdale***** (Christian attitudes to Women, Men and Sex.) The author was a Diocesan Social Responsibility Officer writing in 1991. However, her analysis of the attitudes she explores is relevant to all, not just Christians, and is still interesting and immediate today.

The Ghost Slept Over by Marshall Thornton***** Just what I needed immediately after reading The Plague (see below)! A love story with humour, a ghost who’s a stalker, and a happy ending for all (including the ghost). Cal is a struggling actor who meets Dewey, a lawyer, when he unexpectedly inherits an estate. Things keep going pear-shaped then getting back on track with bumps in the night and bumps in the road of romance.

The readable

In the absence of light by Adrienne Wilder *** Grant and Morgan are the subjects of a convoluted FBI investigation. The author has a weird view of autism which she seems to equate with Tourette’s syndrome. The proof reading is less than stellar. Having said that, the story is gripping and the couple are interesting personalities.

Last Day by Luanne Rice*** A murder mystery with a lot of recounting and flashbacks then a weird ending with the dead victim narrating. Also, the world building is poor; street names do not make the reader see a town unless the reader is also a native.

The Plague by Albert Camus***Dr Bernard Rieux works in Oran during an outbreak of plague. I will review this in greater depth alongside The Betrothed in my next post.

The poor

Death in the Lakes by Graham Smith** Beth Young investigates. And hands out advice to her superiors. And nearly gets killed. This all happens with a great deal of repetition, some odd grammar, some very gory descriptions that seem to glamourise nastiness and a not very credible serial killing. It is also set in Cumbria, rather than in the Lake District. Whilst the Lakes are in Cumbria, the story is not set among the Lakes…


The Last Dance (Near Earth Mysteries) by Martin L Shoemaker. Investigation in space (to justify a court martial) where by 20% way through the female investigator was still being told about the subject of the investigation by the captain’s colleagues. Boring.

The Visionary by Charli Coty. A paranormal investigation/romance (mm) which should have appealed but I didn’t like the style.

The Pinch of the Game by Charlie Descoteaux.
This started with a long explicit sex scene between strangers so I closed it.

The Wanderer by Dahlia Donovan (The Sin Bin Book 1). Graham and Boyce were intensely boring and I really didn’t care whether they ever got together. Also, do people ever really say ‘Judas Priest’ to themselves rather than ‘Jesus Christ’?

Short Stories

The very good

As usual with me, no five star recommendations for short stories but the following were all well written and worth reading.

Cookies by Clare London**** Parker, Otis and a computer. Pleasant and well written fluff. I’m not sure if this is published or just for her newsletter readers.

In the Doghouse by Chris Quinton****Mike and Jerry have to rescue a greyhound called Spot from the racing ‘mafia’.

Persistence Pays by Mara Ismine**** Asa, Tan and Asa’s parents (who steal the show)

Harrowing the Dragon by Patricia A McKilip**** An anthology of sci fi and fantasy stories. Some excellent, some impenetrable.

The poor

Strangers in the Night by LouisaMae** Dale and Kieron need to spice up their sex life. There was far too much sex for the length of the work. I found it very derivative – from a The West Wing fanfiction I read years ago, and I wondered whether the author wrote that and changed it to make an original piece, or whether she read the original when I did and felt inspired.


I read fanfic from SGA, Shetland, Bandom and Hansel and Gretel but all the fics, though good, with some extremely clever writing, needed either a good knowledge of canon or an enthusiasm for the original to make sense or hold the reader’s interest. So – no recommendations this month.

February Reviews

    Films and TV

A lot to enjoy and recommend this month – some are available on catch-up or on other sites.

The really really good:

Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State***** Thought provoking and timely

Scotland and the Klan with Neil Oliver
***** Interesting look at Scottish emigrants to US and their involvement in the politics of Southern states and especially the rise of the KKK.

Songs of the South with Reginald Hunter***** This was a re-watch and complemented the Neil Oliver programme. I loved the series, not least because I finally got a real idea of the southern USA landscape.

Death in Paradise: Season 9 ***** I really enjoy this series of ‘cosy’ police mysteries set in the Caribbean, though I do agree with some reviewers that it’s time to put either a woman or someone local in charge (and no, the Commissioner doesn’t quite count). They could promote Madeleine and bring in an outsider constable – that would deliver interesting dynamics.

Grandest Designs with Kevin McCloud***** Kevin went back over some of his favourites from past seasons. Delightful, especially his interactions with the people whose houses he features.

Rough Guide to the Future with Kevin McCloud***** Yes, I like this presenter, and I preferred his three episode look at the future to Click, which tends to be frenetic.

Vera***** Most of Season 10 though episode 3 was unaccountably missing from itvHub, plus Season 1 ep 1 and I believe there are more to come. Why had I never come across this? It’s set in ‘my’ part of the world where I was born and brought up, and I like the major character being a middle aged woman with no hints of glamour or sex – just competence.

And the merely good:

Britain’s Pompeii: A Village Lost in Time**** Interesting look at excavations in Cambridgeshire. Available on YouTube. Whilst the subject was intriguing, the presentation was less than stellar and I found my attention wandering.

Baby Chimp Rescue**** Gripping programme about chimp rescue in Liberia. I would have liked some kind of update information at the end.

Spy in the Wild**** (second series) I’m fascinated by the animal robo-cams used to film in the wild but must admit that by now the series is beginning to look a bit formulaic.

Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude**** Well presented look at the nude in art through the ages. Some reviewers suggest the presenter should hog less of the limelight but I thought her style would attract more people than that of traditional art critics.

STHLM Requiem**** A new Scandinavian drama which was good in many respects but I never quite empathised with any of the main cast.

Followed by the ones I abandoned, which might save you making the same mistake of watching them in the first place.

Baghdad Central – abandoned because I couldn’t read the subtitles against the backgrounds. They knew they were going to use both English and Arabic – couldn’t they have put the subtitles on a plain background band? Husband didn’t seem to mind and was glued to it.

Dr Who – abandoned because I got tired of being preached at every Sunday on subjects I already agreed about. I gather from some of my friends that the finale justified my decision.

Hidden – abandoned because I both know and like Wales and thought this police thriller was far too dark, depressing and predictable


The excellent:

Herculine Barbin intr. Michel Foucault*****(Being the recently discovered memoirs of a nineteenth century French hermaphrodite, with a dossier of the medical evidence plus a novella, A Scandal in the Convent by Oscar Panizza, based on the story). Fascinating. Now being lent out for reading far and wide.

The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire***** I adore the October Daye series (urban fantasy) and am looking forward to the next book, which I have, and the one that’s soon to be published.

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal by Nicolas Culpepper ***** This was a re-read or rather a re-skim though this copy, bought to replace the one I lost in the fire, had an addition with some modern herbs and their uses. (Presumably ones that had not reached England when Culpepper was writing.) I used the book for research when writing my fae saga and was interested to hear JK Rowling, in a BBC interview, say she had three different copies.

Truth and Lies by Caroline Mitchell ***** (DI Amy Winter Thriller Book 1). Excellent thriller by an ex-policewoman. I will buy sequels.

Amateur Sugar Maker by Noel Perrin***** fascinating account of building a sugar house in modern Vermont, trying to spend as little as possible, in accordance with principles adopted by Thoreau.

Perfect Remains by Helen Fields***** (DI Luc Callanach book 1) Great thriller set in Edinburgh. Another one with sequels to buy.

Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price
***** Stage magicians vie for top place in a TV reality show. Fascinating and gripping. The mm romance was almost an afterthought for me but was equally delightful! It was, actually, the device on which the plot hinged, but I was quickly distracted into wondering who would get voted out after each event. I don’t usually enjoy reality TV but this book was wonderful!

Caregiver by Rick Reed***** Dan becomes a ‘buddy’ to Adam who is dying of AIDS. Wonderful look at how AIDS impacted the gay community at the height of the ‘epidemic’.

The Corner Shop in Cockleberry Bay by Nicola May***** Lovely romance (Rosa and Josh) with a mystery to solve – who left Rosa the shop in a Devon village?

The good (I probably won’t re-read, though I may buy the sequels)

Puzzle Me This by Eli Easton**** nice mm romance involving a crossword setter who is in a wheelchair and a video game developer.

Promise by RJ Scott**** (Single dads 3) I will be buying the sequel because I now love the whole community/extended family.

A different light by Morningstar Ashley**** A property repairer meets a geek scientist and they teach each other to look at things differently.

Black Dog Blues by Rhys Ford **** Excellent and well written fantasy with fabulous world building but too violent for my tastes.

Thief River Falls by Brian Freeman**** gripping thriller with a strange twist.

Dying to Tell by Keri Beevis **** another gripping thriller but the ending was too violent for me.

The readable:

Strange Gospels by Ruth Tucker*** An interesting summary of the main offshoot sects of Christianity in America. I realised about half way through that the author was coming from the perspective of a mainstream committed Christian which at times made for some odd points of view involving a distinct lack of impartiality.

What You Did by Claire McGowan*** Murder and mystery involving six friends who had met at Oxford. Some had later married each other. Good thriller writing but I disliked all the characters.

And the poor:

Innocent Man by Louisa Mae* I was intrigued by the concept but irritated by the way the prologue told me part of the story then relied on flashbacks and retellings to deal with the rest. The ‘villain’ was predictable and so was the ending.

And three I abandoned, in each case because I couldn’t get on with the writing style. I have no idea whether the plots might appeal to people!

Ghosts of Timeless Cottage by TK Geering
Stephanie Steele: a futuristic sci fi thriller by Gary Moore
Quid Est Veritas: the Tynemouth Werewolves by Martin Clephane

    Short stories

Most of you will know by now that short stories almost never hit five stars for me.

Belling the Cat and other stories by JL Merrow**** Varied and quirky ff shorts.

Nothing Else Matters by Rhys Ford**** I was always going to read about Cole’s wedding to Jae but was seriously irritated by the way it appeared not only in daily instalments but in varied locations in a blog hop, so that I had to dive around all over the place to download and read it all in one piece. Nice story; annoying format. Altogether too reminiscent of a WIP on AO3 and although I trusted Rhys to finish the story I hated the way it was presented.

The Price is Right by Clare London**** Jez and Roman at the ice cream shop. Pleasant but too short. The ice cream shop is a ‘character’ in a number of her stories. A whole volume might be an idea.


Unstealable (you’ve got the key) by dishonestdreams*****
I confess to doing the beta/proof read for this (because the author is a RL friend) and I loved it! It’s a Bandom AU where Ryan and Spencer, two of the Bandom musicians, are placed in a world of petty crime. The descriptions of the cars are wonderful, as are the subtle but ‘hot’ references to leather. I think this story shows the value of writing rpf (real person fiction) – any knowledge about the carefully cultivated media personae/looks of the musicians adds immeasurably to the pleasure of the story. The plot is quite brief and apparently simple but has so many references that it involves a huge back story to make up for the lack of length. Needless to say, nobody is accusing any of the musicians (others have minor roles) of any of the behaviour in the tale, either criminal or erotic, just stealing or borrowing their looks and names for an excellent story.

Crime series – some longer reviews

Crime is one of my favourite genres and I tend to like series, both on the screen and in books, because they give me a chance to get to know the detectives and their world.

I’m always impressed by good world building that takes me to the place where the story happens and lets me see, hear, smell and almost touch the surroundings. Some crime writers manage that with flair. Others fail.

I enjoy getting to know characters who develop over the course of a series, giving the reader or viewer fascinating glimpses into their personality and their private life.

I’m also interested in justice – how it’s achieved, whether it’s achieved, etc.

I like mysteries approached in the order in which they are tackled by the detectives, with as few flashbacks as possible, and preferably nothing told from the criminal’s point of view.

I think the very best series, for me, are those in which the main character is perfectly suited to their location and while both develop slowly, each episode or book can focus on an appropriate plot. So: an overarching story of the investigators, and each crime with a beginning, middle and end. I want some depth to the characters, and am not fond of ‘cosy mysteries’ in which crimes fall into the laps of amateur sleuths who have no personality to speak of.

I want to say more, in this post, about some of the series and books I mentioned briefly in my January reviews. There will be spoilers here so if you’re intending to watch or read a series later, skim over the relevant paragraphs!

I watched Bancroft, and wished I hadn’t. On the surface, this was a police procedural but once it was clear that the main character was in fact a villain I lost interest. The story line took on a dull predictability and I didn’t much care what happened to the protagonist provided they were apprehended. I don’t like crime stories told from the point of view of the criminal and this series, with its focus on a rogue cop, was not to my taste. There was some good acting and direction but I didn’t enjoy the series. I rated it as three star and watchable but would not personally recommend it.

I also watched Wisting. I tend to make at least a start on any Scandinavian crime drama. I’m not sure why they are so appealing – or even whether they are. Maybe I was just so impressed by The Bridge that I keep hoping for more. Wisting is set in Norway and aspects of Norwegian life were interesting but the entire story line took place in winter and I came to the conclusion that Norway in winter was not a place that appealed to me. Given that I am told summer is full of biting insects, I have now crossed Norway off my list of places to visit – ever. Wisting is a cop and very good at his job. He is both helped and hindered by his journalist daughter. The crimes were those of a serial killer and the mix of police procedural and journalistic focus on headlines made for an interesting approach. However, I got annoyed with Wisting and daughter for their personal interactions and that, plus the instant dislike of the location lost a star for the series.

I fell in love with Happy Valley and hope season three will not be too long in making an appearance. Catherine is an excellent policewoman with personal flaws and an interesting family. The crimes she investigates centre round the drug trade in West Yorkshire, in an area I know quite well. I was, of course, fascinated to spot places I knew. The entire community came alive and I would almost expect to see some of the characters in those small towns if I visited. The entire thing seemed very real and yet at the same time satisfyingly full of stories with beginnings, middles and ends. For me, this was perfect television crime.

Deadwater Fell was a disappointment. David Tennant is an excellent actor, as is Cush Jumbo and the supporting cast did a valiant job. However, the story unfolded so slowly, with such predictability, and with no excitements after the first episode, that I was, frankly, bored. I think more could have been made of the Scottish location; this could have been anytown, anywhere. So much of the story was told in flashbacks that I got irritated. I dislike flashbacks as a story device unless they are absolutely essential. Perhaps this story could have been told in a different way, raising our hopes and fears. As it stood, it did neither.

I read The Picture on the Fridge by Ian W Sainsbury and was annoyed by the opening, which I felt was unnecessary. It foreshadowed an exciting bit of the story, and as such could have been left to its proper place. I think any sense of ‘thrill’ would have been built better for me if the threat had emerged gradually. The plot centres on the idea of mental communication between twins or people who share DNA and as such is interesting but not entirely believable. I certainly wouldn’t re-read it now that I know not only what happened but why. However, the writing was good, and I think a lot of people would find it really enjoyable.

In The Dark by Loreth Anne White was initially startling because I realised it was a kind of homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None but set in present day Canada. However, the characters within the story acknowledged the inspiration, and the work of uncovering the person pulling the strings was clever and at times very gripping. The book alternated between the victims trapped in a remote lodge and their would-be rescuers, a detective and a woman who led a search and rescue team. Both characters were well drawn and interesting and in fact I would like to read more about them, but the structure of the book meant that some of the claustrophobia and tension of the Christie novel were lost. Recommended.

Their Missing Daughters by Joy Ellis is set in Lincolnshire with very competent (but not very interesting) police detectives trying to find currently missing girls and at the same time investigate cold cases that might be linked. The fens are brought to life and the story is interesting so I enjoyed the book but would not feel inspired to go out looking for anything else featuring Jackman and Marie because I only cared about the case and not about them.

He Is Watching You by Charlie Gallagher suffers in much the same way. Maddie Ives goes to work in a fictional southern county where she teams up with DI Blaker. This is another story where missing women are at the heart of the mystery. The case was gripping, but the detectives were basically boring, and the fact that the county doesn’t exist (though Canterbury does…) was an irritation. I couldn’t think why the author was unwilling to name a real county in England.

Untouchable by Sibel Hodge was both exciting and interesting. The basic plot was built around a fictionalised version of Operation Midland, assuming, for the sake of story, that the fabrications of Carl Beech or rather, the accusations of the story’s characters, were true. In the same month, I watched Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret which explored cover-ups of abuse at the highest levels so the novel resonated with my viewing. However, I found a lot to criticise in the writing or rather, the research. The author had a limited grasp of the work of a coroner, the rules pertaining to church funerals, and the way caller ID works. I also felt annoyed by the constant switch to flashbacks which admittedly gave the accusations strength but made the novel’s structure clumsy, and detracted from the thrill of the ‘chase’. We know, now, that there was a great deal of abuse of children in the period covered by the story, and that there were both cover-ups and poor policing decisions. The timeliness of the story added an extra star despite the flaws.

I also wanted to mention The truth dressed up (in lies) by nagi_schwarz which can be found on AO3. This is SGA fanfic but it’s an AU where all the cast of SGA are placed in an earth based detective setting with no sci-fi elements at all. It’s an interesting way to write a completely new story about well known characters. Their ‘voices’ and basic characteristics must be maintained while the author does a great deal of world building to make us believe that Elizabeth Weir is running a police precinct rather than a space colony.