Florida Straits by Laurence Shames #bookreview (@LaurenceShames) #FictionCafeBookClubChallenge @PaigeToonAuthor @CarrieJoHowe

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“People go to Key West for lots of different reasons. Joey Goldman went there to become a gangster…”

So begins this classic Key West caper, the hilarious and touching book that launched a much-loved series and introduced the world to Bert the Shirt and his chihuahua Don Giovanni, two of the most unforgettable characters in contemporary fiction.

Joey, the illegitimate son of a major NY mafioso, decides to break away from a decidedly unpromising future in the old neighborhood of Queens. But will the old neighborhood and the Family let him go in peace? Not if knucklehead half-brother Gino has anything to say about it. As Joey is finally establishing his new life in sunny Florida, Gino involves him in a disastrous scam featuring a boatload of stolen emeralds and several squads of very nasty thugs. Finding within himself resources of smarts and courage he never knew he had, Joey beats long odds and muddles through to a brilliant solution to the problems dumped on him by Gino.”

The latest fortnightly challenge in my online book group (The Fiction Cafe Book Club – check it out, it is a great place for book lovers to hang out) was to read a book set in my favourite holiday destination. Where is that, Julie, I hear you ask? Well, it’s here:

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Key West!

There are a surprising amount of books set here. One of my favourites is Paige Toon’s The Longest Holiday. I am reading another for my classic of the month, which is Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and next month I will be reviewing another as part of the blog tour for Island Life Sentence by Carrie Jo Howe so come back on 4 June to check out that post. However, for this challenge I have stepped outside my usual genre choices and read Florida Straits by Laurence Shames.

This is the first book in Shames’s Key West Capers series which now stretches to thirteen books. I was initially drawn to it by the funky cartoonish cover. The gangster genre would not be one I would usually be drawn to but the promise of a humorous storyline intrigued me and I am always trying to stretch my reading outside my comfort zone so I decided to give it a try and I am very glad I did.

The main protagonist is Joey Goldman, the half-Jewish illegitimate son of a New York Mafia kingpin who is failing spectacularly in the family business. On the lowest rung of the gangland ladder and with no hope of getting ‘made’, he decides to swap being a tiddler in the huge pond of New York and travel to the sunnier climes of the Florida Keys to set up on his own. Dragging his reluctant girlfriend, Sandra, with him, he sets off with high hopes. Unfortunately, all does not go according to plan as you would expect and he has to battle Cubans, Colombians and his own half brother along the way.

This book is fantastic. The plot is smart and funny, the dialogue is snappy and the characters are diverse and colourful. My favourites are the staid Sandra and Bert the Shirt, a retired mafioso from New York who becomes a kind of mentor to Joey, and pretty much his only friend in Key West. Bert’s chihuahua, Don Giovanni steals the show without any lines.

What I enjoyed most about the book though was the way Shames really brought the setting and the inhabitants of Key West to life. His descriptions are spot on and very evocative – you can practically smell the sun cream and seaweed. The characters, especially the inhabitants of the condo community where Joey and Sandra end up living are so off-the-wall in the way that so many real inhabitants of Key West are (my favourite sighting there has been an elderly lady with two cats dressed in tutus on leads walking around a museum!), I particularly loved the naked landlord. This book really gave you a true flavour of Key West, which is what is what looking for when I picked it up.

I loved this book. It made me laugh, it kept me hooked and it took me back to one of my favourite places on earth. What more could you ask for, except maybe to be drinking a frozen strawberry daiquiri at Sloppy Joe’s as we speak. I wish I was there.

I enjoyed this book so much, I bought the next three in the series. If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Florida Straits yourself, you can buy it here.

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Now, here is a gratuitous picture of a pelican that I took in the Keys, just because why wouldn’t you want to see a photograph of a beautiful pelican?

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About the Author

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Laurence Shames has been a New York City taxi driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, lifeguard, dishwasher, gym teacher, and shoe salesman. Having failed to distinguish himself in any of those professions, he turned to writing full-time in 1976 and has not done an honest day’s work since.

His basic laziness notwithstanding, Shames has published twenty books and hundreds of magazine articles and essays. Best known for his critically acclaimed series of Key West novels, he has also authored non-fiction and enjoyed considerable though largely secret success as a collaborator and ghostwriter. Shames has penned four New York Times bestsellers. These have appeared on four different lists, under four different names, none of them his own. This might be a record.

Connect with Laurence:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurence.shames

Twitter: @LaurenceShames

Website: http://www.laurenceshames.com

#BlogTour The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley #bookreview (@ZaraStoneley) @HarperCollinsUK @HarperFiction @fictionpubteam @rararesources #TheWeddingDate #bookbloggers

The Wedding Date

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Zara Stoneley’s new book The Wedding Date. a big thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part.

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One ex.
One wedding.
One little white lie.

When Samantha Jenkins is asked to be the maid of honour at her best friend’s wedding, she couldn’t be happier. There are just three problems…

1) Sam’s ex-boyfriend, Liam, will be the best man.
2) His new girlfriend is pregnant.
3) Sam might have told people she has a new man when she doesn’t (see points 1 and 2 above)

So, Sam does the only sensible thing available to her… and hires a professional to do the job.

Actor Jake Porter is perfect for the role: single, gorgeous and cheap! Sam is certain it’s the perfect solution: no strings, no heartbreak and hopefully no chance of being found out.

But spending a week in the Scottish Highlands with Jake is harder than she imagined. He is the perfect boyfriend, charming, sexy and the hottest thing in a kilt since Outlander! And his dog Harry is quite possibly the cutest things Sam has ever seen!

As the wedding draws closer, Jake plays his part to perfection and everyone believes he is madly in love with Sam. The problem is, Sam’s not sure if Jake is acting anymore…”

Before we start, is anyone else salivating over the delicious-looking cake on the cover of this book? Honestly, I can taste it. Congratulations to whoever designed the cover, it is definitely enticing!

This is the first book I have read by Zara Stoneley, although I have a copy of Summer with the Country Village Vet sat on my TBR. Now that I have read this book by Zara, I will be moving that one up the pile to read soon.

The main character in this book is travel agent, Sam. Recently dumped by boyfriend, Liam, Sam is presented with an invitation from her best friend, Jess, to join her elaborate wedding party in Scotland. To Sam’s dismay, not only will she have to deal with celebrating romance whilst facing her own heartbreak, her ex, Liam will be the best man and Sam will come face to face with the physical evidence of his infidelity in the form of his very-pregnant girlfriend. Unable to face the ordeal alone and deal with the pity on the faces of her family and friends, Sam decides to hire actor Jake to pose as her handsome and charming new boyfriend for the week. As you do.

It was very easy to relate to Sam. She is a warm and slightly hapless character and we can all put ourselves in her shoes, feeling the humiliation of being cheated on and dumped and then having to face her ex in public. The ordeal has sapped her of all her self-confidence and she is at a very low ebb when she concocts the slightly crazy plan of hiring a fake boyfriend to take to her best friend’s wedding. I doubt most people would go that far but I could appreciate the impulse and Zara’s humorous and entertaining writing made the plan seem a lot more plausible than it probably would be in real life.

Jake, the impoverished actor that Sam manages to bag as her fake date is almost too good to be true. Handsome, charming and kind, he is the kind of man that every woman wishes to have on her arm, but Sam struggles at times to work out how much of his behaviour is an act and how much is genuine, which becomes a problem when she finds herself falling for him, despite her best efforts to keep him at arms length. Jake is no cardboard cut-out romantic lead though, he has a complicated past of his own which stops him being as one-dimensional as is sometimes the case with romantic leads of this ilk.

This book is written in the first person from Sam’s point of view and I really enjoyed being in her head and seeing everything from her slightly-neurotic point of view. Her inner monologue was completely authentic – somewhat reminiscent of Bridget Jones – as she worries about her weight, wanting to look amazing when she first sees her ex, whether anyone will find out that she and Jake are faking it. She is so likeable, it really carries the story along and had us rooting for her and a positive outcome.

The story is filled with humour, which made it a really easy read. There are some scenes that will have you howling with laughter and wondering how anyone can get themselves into such scrapes. I loved the character of Sam’s mother, who just added to the cringe-factor of some of the scenes, and there was a nicely rounded cast of friends and family to fill out the story. I did feel like the character of Ruby, who was set up to be a bit of a villainess, was slightly wasted and could have been used to throw a bit more of a spanner in the works and I wondered if that was a plot point that was in the original draft but then tailed off. It felt like a bit of an unfinished thread. However, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the book. The mystery of Jake’s past also went in a different direction than the one I had imagined, but it has given me an idea for a story twist that I might use in the future since it didn’t turn out to be the solution I had imagined in this book, so that was a bonus from my reading. Thanks, Zara, for sparking my imagination!

This was a lovely, light and funny read and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading romantic fiction. You won’t be disappointed. Now I’m off to track down that piece of chocolate cake.

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley is out now on Kindle and you can buy a copy here.  The paperback version will be published on the 28th of June and you can pre-order it here.

Follow the blog tour and see what other readers are saying about The Wedding Date:

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About the Author

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Born in a small village in Staffordshire, Zara Stoneley wanted to be James Herriot, a spy, or an author when she grew up. Writing novels means she can imagine she is all these things, and more!

Zara’s bestselling novels include ‘The Holiday Swap’, ‘Summer with the Country Village Vet’, ‘Blackberry Picking at Jasmine Cottage’ and the popular Tippermere series – ‘Stable Mates’, ‘Country Affairs’ and ‘Country Rivals’.
She lives in a Cheshire village with her family, a naughty cockapoo, and a very bossy cat, and loves spending time in sunny Spain.

Connect with Zara:

Website: http://www.zarastoneley.com
Twitter: @ZaraStoneley
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ZaraStoneley

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/zarastoneley/ 

#BlogTour A Clean Sweep by Audrey Davis (@audbyname) @rararesources #ACleanSweep #retroreview #miniblitz #bookbloggers

Clean Sweep

Today I’m delighted to bring you my stop on the Mini Blitz Retro Review Blog Tour for Audrey Davis’ book A Clean Sweep. Thank you to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part.

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“A CLEAN SWEEP is a laugh-out-loud tale of love, lies and second chances.
Love comes around when you least expect it. Fifty-something widow Emily isn’t expecting romance. Nor is she expecting a hunky twenty-something chimney sweep on her doorstep.
Daughter Tabitha knows something isn’t quite right with her relationship, while her boss – Abba-loving Meryl – thinks she’s found the real deal. Are they both right, or pursuing Mr Wrong?
Emily’s sister, Celeste, has the perfect marriage … or does she? Can a fitness tracker lead her down the path to happiness or heartbreak?
Susan is single, overweight and resigned to a life of loneliness. There was the one who got away but you don’t get another try, do you?
Prepare for a rollercoaster ride of emotions in a book that will grab your heart, make you smile and wish you had a chimney to sweep.”

Chimney sweeps, are they even a thing any more? I’ve lived in this house for thirteen years and I’ve never had my chimney swept. I may have to remedy that situation now that I’ve read this book as it can obviously lead to interesting encounters!

This is the story of a group of women – ordinary women with ordinary lives – and the not-very-extraordinary things that happen to them. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? Well, do you know what, there is drama and passion and tension and heartbreak and joy in the not-very-extraordinary lives of these women and the genius of this book is making a funny, page-turning and heart-warming story out of the ordinary things that happen to ordinary people like you and I.

Emily is a middle-aged woman, widowed from a mundane marriage and just happy trundling along day to day, not expecting much until a chance encounter with hunky Joe who comes to sweep her chimney (not a euphemism to begin with but it soon turns into one, and this book is full of them!) turns her life on its head. There is an instant attraction, but is the substantial age gap a stumbling block to a proper relationship?

“He is a twenty-something hunk who wouldn’t look twice at someone old enough to be his mother. Cougars, wasn’t that what they were called these days? Except Emily felt she was about as predatory as an ancient feline who craved nothing more than a saucer of milk and a good ear scratch.”

Emily’s daughter Tabitha has problems of her own. Stuck in a job she doesn’t want and a relationship that could best be described as ‘tepid’, her life is not at all what she imagined. Does she have the courage to make drastic decisions to change it all? And what will she say when she finds out about her mum’s toy boy?

“One old crone – who really should only have been let out at Halloween – had spent almost half an hour slathering “try me” samples of organically produced hand creams on her wizened claws. Then complained that the smells were ‘quite obnoxious’. As she scuttled off back to her broomstick, Tabitha resisted shouting after her that six different fragrances mixed together didn’t necessarily make for olfactory heaven. Maybe eye of newt and tongue of bat would have been more up her street. Up yours, Endora.”

Tabitha’s boss, Meryl, is searching for love online and thinks she may finally have found it in charming suitor, Miroslaw. But can you really know someone you meet online?

Emily’s sister, Celeste, is married to the love of her life, Martin. But ghosts from Martin’s past are threatening to upset the stability of Celeste’s seemingly charmed life, and she only has herself to blame.

Lonely Susan is battling life’s problems solo. When faced with the biggest challenge of her life, she wonders if things would have been different if she hadn’t thrown away her one chance at love twenty years ago. But there is no point is wishing she had made a different decision now, is there?

This book is set in an ordinary town that could be anywhere, it is not relying on a picturesque or exotic location for colour. These are women that you know, that you meet in every day life, that could be you. The things that happen to them are the things that happen to all of us, every day, everywhere. There are no shocking twists or outlandish escapades. The drama is the small drama that happens to all of us all of the time. The kind of thing that isn’t going to make ripples for anyone else in the wider world, it isn’t going to make the front page of the paper but that can change an individual’s life forever in an instant. The author very cleverly makes us care about the characters in this book so much that these ordinary things become as important to us as they are to the individuals involved and you become very invested in a positive outcome very quickly. Honestly, I was so impressed by how she has managed to draw such a poignant story out of things that, on the face of it, seem fairly undramatic.

This book is carried along by the author’s warm and engaging voice and the strong vein of humour that runs through the book. I was laughing out loud one minute and then my heart was breaking for one of the characters the next. I completely bought in to everything that was happening and really wanted everything to turn out well for them all. I read this book in one sitting, and the time just flew by. It is utterly charming and I would highly recommend it. It is refreshing to see such a fantastic story made out of ordinary lives, featuring real people. I loved it.

A Clean Sweep is available now and you can buy a copy here.

Follow the blog tour and find out what other readers thought of this book

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About the Author

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Audrey Davis survived secondary school on the West coast of Scotland. Rubbish at science but not too bad at English, she originally wanted to be an actress but was persuaded that journalism was a safer option. Probably wise. She studied at Napier College in Edinburgh, the only place in Scotland at that time to offer a journalism course.
Her first foray into the hard-nosed newspaper world was as a junior reporter in Dumfriesshire. Duties included interviewing farmers about the prize-winning heifers to reporting on family tragedies. She persuaded her editor to let her launch an entertainment column which meant meeting the odd celebrity – or just the downright odd. From there, she moved to the loftier rank of senior reporter back in her home patch. Slightly more money, less farm animals but a higher crime rate. As Taggart would say: ‘There’s been a murrrrder!’
After a stint in London on a video magazine – yes, she is that old – Audrey moved to Singapore with her fiancé. She tried valiantly to embrace the stinking heat, humidity and lack of jobs, although she did work briefly on a magazine which was banned by the government for ‘artistic’ use of naked men’s bottoms.
Next on her adventures was a land Down Under where her main focus was raising Cost Centre One (aka firstborn) and coming to terms with the imminent arrival of Number Two. Still, she loved the Aussie way of life – BBQs, beaches and bring your own booze to restaurants – so it came as a blow when OH announced a move back to the UK. Not a job between them, the climate a possible deal breaker and an Exorcist-style vomiting infant on the flight home didn’t bode well …
Always a survivor, Audrey sought out similar-minded friends (i.e. slightly bonkers), got the children into a good school and thought about taking up writing again. Sadly, thinking about it was as far as she got, unless you count shopping lists. Then, hubby drops another bombshell. Switzerland. As in – it’s packing time again. Off to the land of cheese, chocolate, scarily efficient trains and a couple of teeny, tiny issues. Like driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and speaking a foreign language (French). The former was conquered fairly quickly (we’ll skip over the wall demolition in week two), the latter remains an ongoing battle of the hopeful against the hopeless. At least she provides amusement for the local workforce.

It wasn’t until 2016 that Audrey rediscovered her writing mojo with an online Writing Fiction course. From there, her first novel – A Clean Sweep – was born, although it took a bit longer than nine months from conception. A short, darker prequel – A Clean Break – followed, and in November 2017 she published the first in a novella trilogy, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings Part One. Part Two is published on 21 March 2018, with the conclusion following in May/June. After which she might have a wee lie down …

Connect with Audrey:

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/audreydavisbooks

Twitter- https://twitter.com/audbyname

The Runaway Wife by Dee MacDonald #bookreview (@DMacDonaldAuth) @bookouture #TheRunawayWife #NetGalley

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“One evening in early August, while mashing the potatoes for dinner, Connie McColl decides she’s had enough…

Connie McColl is tired of solving one family crisis after another – usually involving her unruly grandchildren – while her husband Roger spends all day at his beloved golf course. Surely it must be time for her to shake off her apron and start living again?

So Connie packs a bag, gets in her little green car and drives off…

On her journey from England to Scotland, Connie stops in on long-lost friends and makes all sorts of colourful new companions along the way. As Connie has the time of her life, sleeping under the stars and skinny dipping in the sea, she finally begins to rediscover herself. And she starts to wonder, will she ever be ready to return home? 

Or will this summer change her life forever?”

It was the front cover that initially drew me to request this book. Its cartoon-like illustration made me think I was going to get a light, humorous and uplifting read that wouldn’t be too taxing and it definitely lived up to those expectations, but it was oh so much more on top.

I fell in love with Connie immediately. Any woman who has run a family (and let’s face it, that’s most of us) for any length of time are going to recognise aspects of themselves in Connie. Completely taken for granted by her neglectful husband, Roger and three grown up children, she finally snaps and takes off in her battered old car heading for who knows where in search of respite and excitement – who hasn’t dreamed of doing that from time to time? (Go on, admit it, the thought has crossed your mind!) You have to admire Connie for having the guts to do it and we are rooting for her from the start.

With no plan in mind, Connie goes where the whim takes her and, by a series of fortuitous accidents plus as a result of her warm and approachable nature, she makes some great new friends along the way, has some mild adventures and generally enjoys herself. Seeing her discovering herself as a individual along her journey and watching her blossom is heart-warming and you can’t help but privately cheer her on.

Meanwhile, back at home, her self-absorbed husband and spoilt children start to realise how much Connie has done for them in the past and how lost they are without her. However, they are still more concerned about the inconvenience to themselves that how she must have been feeling and this just made me feel even happier that Connie had left the selfish bunch behind and was finally having some fun. Consequently, whatever naughtiness Connie gets up to on her trip (and there is some, she is a feisty woman), you can’t possibly blame her, given what she has put up with over the years!

The one aspect of this book I was not expecting, and where I totally under-estimated it, was the real depth and poignancy that the storyline took on towards the end. This novel deals with some really serious issues in a way that was very unexpected from the cover. I don’t want to include any spoilers in the review so I can’t really say too much but I can say that the author has managed to weave these into an otherwise humorous story very deftly and it did not feel at all unbalanced or off kilter. I was really surprised and impressed with the subtlety of how this was done and, in my opinion, it took the book to a level I was not expecting when I started it.

Connie, of course, finally returns home – a new woman and ready to confront the issues she has with her husband and family. I thought I knew where this was going but, just when I was complacently settled in for my predicted ending, the author blew me out of the water again with a twist I did not see coming at all.

This book is a delight. It is really refreshing to see a book with a main character over the age of 40 and I enjoyed every minute of it. Pick it up, I promise you it delivers more than you might expect.

The Runaway Wife is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Thank you to Bookouture and NetGalley for my copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Goodreads/Amazon

About the Author

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The Runaway Wife is Dee’s first (published) novel but in fact she wrote her very first book – at around seven years of age! This was a love story which she duly illustrated before sewing all the pages together up one side. Writing was what she ‘was good at’ in school and she won several essay competitions, but then life got in the way and she didn’t pick up a pen again until after retirement.

Dee left Scotland and headed for London at the beginning of the swinging sixties. After typing her way round the West End she became an air stewardess on long haul routes with BA (then BOAC) for eight years. After that she did market research at Heathrow for both the government statistics and for BA, she became a sales rep., and was the receptionist at the Thames Television Studios in Teddington when they had the franchise.

She then ran a small B&B for ten years in Cornwall, where she lives with her husband. Dee has one son and two grandsons who live locally.

Connect with Dee:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorDeeMacDonald/

Twitter: @DMacDonaldAuth

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star by Vaseem Khan #bookreview (@VaseemKhanUK) @HodderBooks

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“Mumbai thrives on extravagant spectacles and larger-than-life characters.

But even in the city of dreams, there is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Rising star and incorrigible playboy Vikram Verma has disappeared, leaving his latest film in jeopardy. Hired by Verma’s formidable mother to find him, Inspector Chopra and his sidekick, baby elephant Ganesha, embark on a journey deep into the world’s most flamboyant movie industry.

As they uncover feuding stars, failed investments and death threats, it seems that many people have a motive for wanting Verma out of the picture.

And yet, as Chopra has long suspected, in Bollywood the truth is often stranger than fiction…”

This is the third book in the Baby Ganesh Agency series by Vaseem Khan, but the first one I have read (I’d like to say it’s because I’m a maverick, but really it’s just because of my self-imposed book-buying moratorium and the fact that I was given this as a birthday gift!). It doesn’t appear to matter that I am reading them out of sequence, this book functions perfectly as a standalone novel, but I will definitely be going back to read the first two.

The central character of the novel is Inspector Chopra, a retired police officer-turned-private detective in Mumbai and the plot follows him as he tries to unravel the mystery of the kidnapping of a famous but wayward Bollywood actor. He is helped, and sometimes amusingly hindered, in his efforts by a colourful cast of supporting characters, including his cute little elephant sidekick, Ganesha, about whom there is more than a whiff of the supernatural – he appears to have attributes not bestowed on your average baby elephant.

This book is a light-hearted detective story, along the lines of Alistair McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series or the Agatha Raisin books by M.C. Beaton and I believe fans of those series would enjoy Vaseem Khan’s work. The main kidnapping plot is fun and frenzied, with enough twists and turns to keep the grey matter occupied, but the main joys of the book are the characters and the fabulous, exotic setting of Mumbai. The author truly does a wonderful job of bringing all the life and flavour of Mumbai alive in this book, and anyone who likes their stories set in an far-flung location, that is really captured as if it were an additional character in the tale, will not be disappointed.

Inspector Chopra is a character who is very easy to warm to, which is important for the central protagonist in a book of this nature – we need to be rooting for the hero. He is honest, unassuming, moral but very pragmatic and a with a healthy dose of impatience for his old colleagues in the police force and their rules and regulations when they get in the way of his pursuing the case – I really liked that about him. His wife, Poppy, I think perhaps was my favourite character. Not the subservient Indian housewife in a supporting role that you might expect to find, but an independent and feisty woman who is a true partner and support to Chopra, a woman after my own heart. I love writers who include strong and equal female characters in their work.

There is a lovely sub-plot in the book involving flamboyant eunuchs, a long-buried secret and Chopra’s ex-policeman colleague in a ‘fish-out-of-water’ situation that had me grinning from ear to ear. Fantastic fun.

This is a sweet, easy and amusing read with characters you will love, and imbued throughout with all the spice and spectacle of India. If you are looking for a book to warm your cockles and cheer you up, you couldn’t do much better.

The Strange Disappearance of a Bollywood Star is out now and you can buy it here.

About the Author

Vaseem Khan first saw an elephant lumbering down the middle of the road in 1997 when he arrived in India to work as a management consultant. It was the most unusual thing he had ever encountered and served as the inspiration behind his series of crime novels.

He returned to the UK in 2006 and now works at University College London for the Department of Security and Crime Science where he is astonished on a daily basis by the way modern science is being employed to tackle crime. Elephants are third on his list of passions, first and second being great literature and cricket, not always in that order.