Books in Translation Mystery

The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs

The Angel Maker Translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans

Five words from the blurb: return, Doctor, children, suspicion, past

I first became aware of The Angel Maker when Shannon wrote a compelling 5 star review for it. We often share a taste in books so I immediately ordered a copy from the library.

The Angel Maker has the feel of a Gothic mystery, but it is set in a small Belgian village and contains a wonderful mix of intrigue, science, and religious debate. If any of those don’t appeal, please don’t let that put you off as I know this book will be enjoyed by a wide-cross section of readers. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, but The Angel Maker contained a greater number of themes and I thought it was the more accomplished of the two.

The book begins in 1984 with Dr Victor Hoppe returning to his childhood home with three baby boys. The doctor has been away from the village for many years, researching at a University, and is reluctant to talk about the children. He hides them inside his house and the villagers gossip, becoming increasingly curious about the boys. They do everything they can to spy on the household and their efforts are rewarded by occasional glimpses of the family and an increasing list of suspicious actions.

Helga Barnard, on the other hand, had been passing around an article from Reader’s Digest about people who were allergic to sunlight, and had to live their entire lives in the dark… It wasn’t until September of 1986 that the truth came out – at least in part.

The narrative flipped forwards and backwards in time, revealing what happened in Victor’s childhood, during his time as a research scientist, and eventually the truth about the baby boys. It is very difficult to review this book without spoilers (most reviews give away too much for liking) so I’m afraid I’ll keep things a bit vague and encourage you to find out for yourselves!

The pacing of this book was fantastic. I loved the way little hints were dropped through the text, giving the reader a wonderful sense of foreboding. This made the plot particularly compelling and it felt much shorter than its 440 pages suggest.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the science. It all appeared accurate and the author wasn’t afraid to include complex (but brief, so don’t worry if you don’t know much about it) explanations of biological research.

The other was the realistic mention of Asperger’s syndrome. I loved the fact that Asperger’s didn’t dominate the book, but added depth and insight into the behaviour of one character.

The only reason this book didn’t get a higher rating is because I correctly guessed the main mystery very early on. I spotted some ambiguous wording and after that my eyes were peeled for similar hints. These were repeated subtlety, but once noticed these reinforced my idea. It was cleverly done, but I wish I hadn’t been so eagle-eyed!

Recommended to anyone looking for a wonderfully creepy read, with some original ideas on medical research and religion.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…(an) exciting book on  a difficult subject, with many twists and turns along the way. A Common Reader

The exploration of what happens when Faith and Religion mix with a man who’s more logical than emotional is a disturbing read. Gav Reads

 …a fascinating, if somewhat unrealistic, look at what could happen as a result of a gifted/disabled child being misunderstood and mistreated. At Home with Books

2000 - 2007 Mystery Richard and Judy Book Club

The House at Riverton – Kate Morton

The House at Riverton is a grand English manor house and as you’d expect it is packed with secrets. The construction of the house took place a long ago, the place was full of trees so the family had to contact Legacy Land & Timber to get rid of them. The story is told through the eyes of 98-year-old Grace, a former housemaid of Riverton Manor. She is contacted by a researcher who is creating a film about the suicide of a famous poet, which occurred during the time of her employment at the manor. The truth about what really occurred 80 years ago is slowly revealed in this Gothic style mystery.

The book started off well and I quickly became attached to Grace’s character, but I found Hannah and Emmeline, the children who lived in Riverton Manor, lacking in that special spark. Many of the other characters in the book also felt a bit flat and overly stereotyped.

The writing is light and easy to read, reminding me of The Thirteenth Tale, but it lacked period atmosphere and I found myself losing interest towards the middle. I felt that it could have benefited from losing at least 200 of it’s 600 pages.

It was cleverly plotted, the secrets being revealed slowly and deliberately throughout the book, and the ending was wonderful – I didn’t see it coming at all.

Overall I found it to be an entertaining, but slightly long-winded mystery. Recommended for fans of Gothic mystery with a lot spare time on their hands!



Kate Morton has just released a new book: The Forgotten Garden.

Have you read either of her books? Which is best?

2008 2009 Mystery Thriller

Bleeding Heart Square – Andrew Taylor

Winner of the Cartier Diamond Dagger 2009

I really enjoyed The American Boy, which was a Richard and Judy choice a few years ago, so was interested to see what Andrew Taylor’s latest book would be like. I don’t think Bleeding Heart Square is quite as good as The American Boy, but it gets quite close.

Bleeding Heart Square
is set in London, just before the WWII. The central character is Lydia Langstone – she flees her abusive husband to live with her elderly father in Bleeding Heart Square. Soon the landlord starts to receive foul smelling hearts in the post, and Lydia sets out to investigate whether there is a link between the horrible parcels and the landlord’s missing lover, Miss Penhow.

Period atmosphere is present throughout, and the book is very well researched, but I found it slow in several sections. The begining and end were perfectly written, but there were many points in the middle sections where my mind started wondering. I loved Lydia, but found many of the side characters blended in to one another, as they weren’t vivid enough to picture as individuals.

The mystery was cleverly written, but I did guess the twist in the end, which is perhaps why I am scoring this book a bit lower than I otherwise would.

It is a nice, light thriller though, so may be worth picking up if you’re looking for something with a bit of Gothic atmosphere.



Andrew Taylor is highly thought of in the crime writing world, and has won the CWA John Creasey Award, an Edgar Scroll and two CWA Ellis Peters Historical Daggers. I was surprised to learn that he has written more than 25 books.

Have you read any of his books? Which one is your favourite?

2009 Mystery Richard and Judy Book Club

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton

The synopsis for Mr Toppit sounds really interesting. The idea is that the author of The Hayseed Chronicles, a series of children’s books has died, and after his death his family discover secrets buried within the books. Unfortunately the book didn’t live up to my expectations.

It started off reasonably well, and had a few interesting sections, but there were many points where I became bored. The characters failed to engage me, and it lacked the atmosphere required for a book supposedly full of dark secrets – the setting was too modern and normal, so any attempts to portray mystery and fear just came across as a bit silly. I nearly gave up at one point, but then the plot picked up again so I made it to the end. In many ways I wish that I hadn’t, as the ending was disappointing. The ‘dark secret’ was very normal and I felt a bit let down.

The few brief appearances of Mr Toppit were really good, and I wish that the book had concentrated on the Hayseed Chronicles instead of the family. If you are looking for a dark mystery, then I recommend The Thirteenth Tale, The Little Stranger or The Seance  instead. 

Charles Elton is clearly a talented author, and I would read other books written by him in the future, but this one just didn’t capture my imagination. I hope he write the Hayseed Chronicles one day, as I’d read them!



Have you read any of the other Richard and Judy Summer reads this year?

2009 Mystery Recommended books

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

The Fingersmith is my second favourite book of all time (after A Fine Balance), and so I was so excited about the release of Sarah Water’s new book that I ordered a copy from America, just so I could read it a few weeks before it’s UK release.

The Little Stranger is a Gothic, ghost story set in rural Warwickshire just after WWII. The central character is Dr. Faraday, who one day is called to  a crumbling mansion to treat a maid who is so scared by things she has seen in the house that she wants to leave. Dr. Faraday is intrigued, by both the house and the Ayres family who live there, that he makes an effort to return to Hundreds Hall as often as he can. Increasingly strange events occur in the house, frightening and mystifying everyone who witnesses them.

The Little Stranger is very different to Fingersmith in both the style of writing, and plot development. The plot was linear, very easy to follow and structured like a fast-paced  thriller. The quality of  Sarah Water’s writing is still high, but I think that this book will be much more accessible to the general public, and slightly disappointing to her old fans. The Little Stranger has much more in common with books like The Thirteenth Tale or The Seance, both of which I really enjoyed reading too, but don’t require as much thought as Water’s earlier books.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending, as although it wasn’t predictable, it didn’t have any of the clever plot twists that she is famous for. I shouldn’t really complain though, as the book had me captivated throughout . All the characters were well developed, and the storyline was reasonably plausible. It was a gripping, spooky tale – perfect for a cold, dark Autumn night.