Almanack, The

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 01 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Martine Bailey in The Almanack has Tabitha Hart hasten home to her village at her mother's plea, only to find out that her mother has drowned. Her money has been stolen.  She tries to find out how her mother died, to make a poor living, and develop relations with a young man.  Village politics and other suspicious deaths bring Nat, her beloved, under the constable's eye as a suspect.  Her mother's almanack predicts a bloody end to the year;  all signs point to this.  Whodunit?
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From the moment Tabitha wakes at an inn on her journey to Netherlea, finding that she has been robbed by her companion for the night, left with nothing other than the underclothes she’s wearing and a purloined watch shaped as a silver skull, this wonderful book drew me into its vividly created world and refused to let me go until the very last page. It’s 1752, an era of social change but still largely ruled by superstition and the changing seasons – and a year rather more unsettled than many by the fact that eleven days are due to be “lost” by the synchronisation of the calendars.

And it’s the calendars of the time that provide the framework for the story, each chapter following the structure of the almanack by which people plan and live their lives, each chapter opening with a riddle to solve (you’ll be pleased to hear solutions are provided!), astronomical notes and an enigmatic prediction. And it works exceptionally well, the fairly short chapters taking the suspense filled story inexorably forward, the tension steadily building, the secrets revealed.

When I reviewed the author’s earlier books, I mentioned her exceptional ability to recreate the writing style of the time: it never makes the reading difficult or inaccessible, but gives her characters a distinctive and authentic “voice”, despite the fact that the book is written in the third person. Add to that the obvious depth of her research, her love for her subject, and the way the book appeals to the full range of your senses – well, it’s really quite a heady and intoxicating mix.

But it’s also quite a story, and incredibly well told. Tabitha might be an unlikely heroine, returning home from her life of debauchery in London, to find her mother dead, apparently drowned. You might not take to her at that first encounter – I know I didn’t – but by the book’s end I’d entirely taken her to my heart. While dealing with her bereavement and concealing her family secrets, she takes on her mother’s role as “searcher” (I found this simply fascinating…), laying out the dead and recording the cause in the Book of Mortalities. And she then begins to investigate her mother’s death – with the support of the besotted Nat Starling, another quite wonderful character – and it takes them into a world of threat and danger every bit as terrifying and gripping as that of a modern psychological thriller.

While you’ll grow to love both flawed characters at the book’s centre, there’s also a large cast of supporting characters for you to get your teeth into – every one perfectly drawn, every one three dimensional, the villains and the good, and those whose true character might lie somewhere between the two. There’s tension and mystery, darkness, a wider superstitious and celestial dimension, a romance, some lovely touches of humour – and it all moves at a perfect pace, making you read another chapter, then maybe just one more, until you decide to read to the end because you can’t bear to put it down.

I was totally enchanted by this book – a compulsive read that I think so many readers would enjoy, regardless of any preconceptions about historical fiction. Highly recommended to all – and a definite contender for my books of the year list.

(Review copied to Amazon, but link not yet available)
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On the whole, I really like this book. It’s the first time that I read a novel set in the 1700s. It isn’t a time which is much frequented by modern storytellers, especially of murder mysteries. One might also think the 1700s countryside is no place for convincing murders, but this story proves this is not the case.

The setting is actually very intriguing. Tabitha, the main character, was born in Netherlea, but she lived for a long spell in London and aches to go back. Life in the countryside feels a century old and stale to her. She’s a woman of the world, and she certainly shows it.
One of the things that really intrigued me about the story is that it is built on an almanac, which apparently were very popular at the time. Almanacs were not mere calendars, but they offered  stories, advice pertinent to the season, time of performing task especially in a countryside setting. And people further used them as diaries, where they wrote down their thoughts and everyday happenings. This story sots off with an entry in Tabitha’s mother’s almanac, in which the woman recorder what looks at first as a very unassuming, although unusual, event: the poisoning of a dog.

The characters are all very relatable and I especially loved the sense of community that transpires in the first half of the book. It is really like being in among those people. I got a very strong sense of the life of that kind of community. This went a bit lost in the second half that focuses more on Tabitha’s relationship with Nat.

The story is set in a very peculiar moment of British history, when the calendar was updated to atone to the continental calendar and roughly two weeks were lost in September. This gives the opportunity to ponder time, the way people perceives it, how real it is. All though the book, we gets impressions of time (the chiming of the bells, clocks, the shifting of the season, the movements of the stars, the almanac itself) which lends a very peculiar soul to this story and is probably the thing I liked the most.

As much as I liked the story, I was very little impressed by the resolution. After building a strong case, following logical steps and realistic events, the ending relies to a very tired cliché. There are, indeed, quite a few sleeps in the ending that ruined a bit of the enjoyment for me. Characters don’t act as themselves, motives become lame, the chain of events questionable. It’s a huge pity, since the story itself was everything but.
Shame. But it was still an enjoyable story.
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A slow burn and then the heat turns up!

The philosophy of time, destiny and the stars pervade this intricate historical mystery in which a young woman determines to avenge her mother’s death. 1752, Midsummer. 
Britain is changing from the Julian to the Georgian Calendar. Eleven days were cut from the calendar. A sense of confusion is abroad. Following a desperate summons from her mother, Tabitha Hart departs London for her home village of Netherlea – only to discover that her mother has drowned. Determined to discover the truth about the Widow Hart’s death, Tabitha consults her mother's almanack and uncovers a series of cryptic notes describing her mother’s terror of someone she names only as ‘D’. Teaming up with young writer Nat Starling, Tabitha begins a race against time to unmask ‘D’ before more deaths follow. But as the summer draws to a close and the snow sets in, cutting off Netherlea from the outside world, Tabitha and Nat are forced to face the darkest hours of their lives. With the year predicted by the Almanack to meet a ‘violent, bloody end’’ will Tabitha survive long enough to bring her mother’s killer to justice?
Both Tabitha and Nat have a chequered past, which explains much as the story goes on, including some stunning revelations.
This story crept up on me, and with its fascinating look into social behaviours of the times guided, as they were by perceived truths. Half way through I was well and truly caught. I was wondering whether to make this a four star novel because of the slow start but upon reflection I realized that this method is an important tool that draw the reader in.
I found myself feverishly reading the Almanck heading for each chapter, wondering if I could guess at what might follow, or rather how things might follow. Of course, only after reading the chapter would I know what the Almanack referred to, if at all. The mystery element flowed thick and fast. It was like looking at the stars to give you answers, without interpretation. What could be seen as a generality becomes more and more pointed and deadly.
The use of the Almanack as a constant to the action sets this Georgian historical mystery apart from others of its ilk. Well played!

A Severn ARC via NetGalley
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1752 was the year England changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian and in doing so the country lost eleven days, going overnight from Wednesday 2nd September, to Thursday 14th September. It was a time of great change, especially for those who studied prophesies and portents in the ever popular almanacs.

Tabitha Hart has been earning a riotous living in London, taking her pleasure with which ever gentleman had enough coinage to pay for her body, and to keep her in gin, but in the summer of 1752, she is summoned home to the village of Netherlea only to make a chilling discovery. Her mother has been found dead in disturbing circumstances, and with only her wits to guide her, Tabitha sets out to discover the truth about her mother's death. Naturally superstitious, the villagers are at first wary of Tabitha, with her hoity-toity London ways, but at heart she's a country girl, and her natural exuberance ,whilst tempered by her mother's death, eventually shines through in her association with the enigmatic, Nat Starling.

In her investigation, Tabitha encounters a series of mysterious clues which are somehow connected to the cryptic contents of a series of notes her mother has left behind. The deadly mystery at the heart of the novel is really cleverly controlled, with all the cunning and characteristics of a suspenseful whodunit. The story is eerily reminiscent of a bygone time and beautifully associated with the way the country lived in 1752. Each chapter is headed by a cunningly worded riddle, a clever conundrum of words, along with an astronomical observation, which, not only adds a genuine sense of doom, but which also give an insight into the way old superstitions played such an important role in Georgian England.

Beautifully written with all the trademark characteristics of this author's talented writing, The Almanack takes us on a journey into rural England and back to a time of superstition and great social change.There is no doubt that The Almanack is this author doing what she does best, weaving together mystery, superstition and romance in a story which stays with you long after the last page is turned.
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Really enjoyed this. Brilliant depiction of 18th century England, and highly sympathetic characters. Will now be reading more Martine Bailey.
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"The Almanack" by Martine Bailey is set in 1752.  It wasn’t a happy time, apparently.  You could be accused of terrible things, and it wasn’t easy to be considered innocent.

The book starts with a riddle.  I’m not a fan of riddles.  Luckily the solutions are at the end of the book.  Each chapter begins with a horoscope for the day, the almanack of the title.  There are clues here, for those who like to follow along.

Tabitha Hart is “no better than she should be.”  Actually, she’s worse.  Robbed of her money from a “gentleman,” she’s forced to stay at her mother’s house in Netherlea, only to find out her mother has died suddenly, drowned.  Foully murdered, as far as Tabitha is concerned.  Others in the village aren’t as concerned.  Tabitha is pretty much forced to take over her mother’s job as “seeker” – one who takes care of dead bodies and writes down the cause of death.  She finds evidence of the murderer -- but how to prove who and how to prove why -- hard for someone such as herself, penniless, less than perfect even in this imperfect village society.

Her mother knew things -- and that got her killed.  Very soon, the son of the lord of the manor is killed in a terrible manner, mocked by a poem, in the same hand as one her mother received.  Since no one seems inclined, Tabitha undertakes the task of discovering the killer, added by Nathaniel Starling, who’s staying nearby.  He’s studying astronomy -- and studying Tabitha.  He’s also a poet.  There’s also Joshua Saxton is the village constable, who covets Tabitha and is convinced that Nat’s done the terrible deed.  Nathaniel holds a fascination for her -- he’s more of a gentleman, one who can take her back to London, to her easy life there.  Nathaniel and Tabitha spend time telling each other of their hopes and dreams, in between trying to keep out of trouble and solve the murders.  She is rather good at ferreting out clues and discovering alibis -- the author does a good job with this.  As "The Almanack" might say, a “Prognostication” is that this book will catch and delight many a reader.  Others may find it a bit slow-going. I am one of the latter. 

There’s a clue – the letter “D.”   “De Angelo” – pseudonym for the killer – also the name of the almanack writer.  So, Parsons Dilks is a suspect.  So is Lady Daphne, the dead man’s mother.  The thuggish Darius looks good for it, but that’s taken care of early, but not before telling Tabitha something that might have been overlooked.  
Red herrings and mysteries abound – about the village, the murders, the murderer, and especially the people.  The author takes great care with all of this.  Building up, exposing, creating more.  Motivations are questioned most of all, it seems.  Dangerous secrets, certainly things the murderer cannot allow to be exposed. There’s a child, who Tabitha has to have a care for.  There’s a twist to that, too.

Nat writes a lurid tale about the murders – a pamphlet that will “tell all” or at least as much as he can make up without too much trouble. This work comes back to bite him, of course; it’s what happens when you write something so scurrilous to earn a penny.  Everyone’s very angry with him, including Tabitha, which doesn’t help his case when he’s accused of the murder of the squire’s son.  The only one who can do anything about that is Tabitha, of course.  Eventually, given a couple of good thinks and some clues, they figure everything out.  Even Joshua helps, despite himself.  

All’s well that ends well.  The murderer is exposed, the author explains the popularity of puzzles and riddles, and our intrepid couple look forward to a better life.  They’ll have to do it without me.

Thanks to the publisher and to Net Galley for a copy of this book, in exchange for this review.
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Saturated with beautiful images of the natural world in mid-18th century rural England, Bailey’s third mystery evokes a time when people regulated their lives according to the change of seasons and were fascinated by mechanisms, scientific and not, used to predict future events. It takes place during a pivotal period rarely seen in fiction: the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, when eleven days were “lost.”

A young woman named Tabitha Hart is robbed by her latest bedmate while traveling from London to her home village of Netherlea at her ailing mother’s request. Alas, she arrives too late: the Widow Hart lies cold in her bed, presumably having drowned in the river. Although she is shamed for her loose behavior, and for leaving behind an infant girl for her mother to raise, Tabitha is well-educated, and she takes up her mother’s former post as village searcher. She also picks up her mother’s favorite Almanack, and the scribbled marginalia in the little book, along with a threatening note, convinces Tabitha she was murdered. Nat Starling, a poet newly arrived in town, helps Tabitha in her search to avenge her mother’s death, and the main clue is the purported killer’s initial, “D.” Although at first Tabitha suspects Nat is “all verse and no purse”—one of many fun expressions—she soon grows as beguiled by him as he is by her. Meanwhile, some dire predictions in the Almanack appear to be coming true.

Adding to the intellectual puzzle, each chapter begins with a riddle from the era (the answers can be found at the end). The writing has an authentic period richness, and while the mystery unfolds slowly, there are moments of fast-paced excitement and several real surprises on the way to the big reveal.
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Perfect for fans of complex historical mysteries!  Set in Georgian England, this is the twisty tale of Tabitha, who is searching for the murderer of her mother in the village of Netherlea.  Who is the D who frightened her mother?  Tabitha is not one to be easily put down- she lived an, ahem, lively life in London until she was robbed and she always comes out on top.  She joins up with Nat Sterling, a writer, to try to find D but things get worse in Netherlea before they get better.  This unique mystery is framed by an Almanack-which I've not seen before in a novel- which only adds to the entertainment value of the read.  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  This is fun!
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I loved this well written and well researched historical mystery, it was engaging and entertaining.
The mystery, the characters, and the setting were interesting and well developed.
I look forward to reading other books by this author.
Many thanks to Severn House and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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"The philosophy of time, destiny and the stars pervade this intricate historical mystery in which a young woman determines to avenge her mother’s death. 1752, Midsummer. Following a desperate summons from her mother, Tabitha Hart departs London for her home village of Netherlea - only to discover that her mother has drowned. Determined to discover the truth about the Widow Hart’s death, Tabitha consults her almanack and uncovers a series of cryptic notes describing her mother’s terror of someone she names only as ‘D’. Teaming up with young writer Nat Starling, Tabitha begins a race against time to unmask ‘D’ before more deaths follow. But as the summer draws to a close and the snow sets in, cutting off Netherlea from the outside world, Tabitha and Nat are forced to face the darkest hours of their lives. With the year predicted to meet a ‘violent, bloody end’’ will Tabitha survive long enough to bring her mother’s killer to justice?"

I wish that we still lived in a time when almanacks ruled how we viewed the world and how we passed on information.
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Started off a little slow but once it got going it was a good read. Part murder mystery, part romance, set in historical England.
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This book was a delight from start to finish, weaving folklore, romance, family tensions and murder alongside descriptions of bucolic splendour and also the harsh realities of village life in the mid 18th century. It is a well researched book and preceding each chapter was an authentic riddle (with answers at the back of the book) that linked to the contents of the chapter and I really enjoyed trying to solve the little mysteries. The characters were all brought to life in the most evocative way, even those that were primarily to move the plot along , and I could practically see the village of Netherlea and all its inhabitants in front of me as I read further on. The writing flows  at a good pace and the clever tying up of all the loose threads reminded me a little of Dickens crossed with Hardy, but brought bang up to date.  

My thanks go to the publishers and Net Galley for the advanced copy in return for an honest review.
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Tabitha is hurrying home because her mother needs her.  She's devastated to find that she died before she got there.  The worst part is that when she examines her body, she finds it was not a natural death, it was murder.  The doctor disagrees and says she drowned, but Tabitha knows better.  She intends to find her murderer.  But the people in their town aren't very willing to work with her.  She had been a prostitute to make enough money to stay alive while she was in London and they've heard about it...

Severn House and Net Galley let me read this book for review (thank you).  It will be published May 1st.

She visits those who will talk to her, searching for the truth.  She finds out more than she wanted to know and now has to fear for her own life and the lives of those she loves.  She told everyone Bess was her baby, but she wasn't.  Her new love is a special man but she doesn't know him that well and wonders about what he isn't telling her.  When he becomes a target for vengeance, she is determined to save him.

Set back in 1752, everyone believes in superstitions.  Gossip is rampant, reputations are shattered easily, and with people dying, Tabitha begins to think that someone is poisoning them.  She and her new love are the only ones that believe that.  Everyone just blows her off.  Can she solve the murders soon enough to save her own life?  Can she save her love from hanging?

Tabitha is fighting an uphill battle but she doesn't give up.  She's been independent for some time, so she can take care of herself.  But she's not as strong as her opponent.  You don't know who is going to win until the last pages of the book...

You really feel like you're living in that era as you read this; it sounds authentic.  It's an intriguing mystery.
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Set in the Georgian era, Tabitha tries to solve her mother’s murder. This novel is very well written. However, I really dislike Tabitha. She was selfish and impulsive. There were some scenes that made me uncomfortable. There was also not much of a mystery. Still, I recommend this for those that love romances with a dash of mystery.
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Don't miss the exceptional adventure of Tabitha and Nat--two strong, flawed characters planted solidly in the 18th century English countryside--as they seek a murderer, discover truths, and  find love.  There's text from a lovely almanack and the opportunity to solve riddles if you're inclined.  Loved it!
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1752 and whore Tabitha Hart has been called urgently home by her mother. Unfortunately for her she is robbed on her journey home and so can only make a poor entrance to her home village of Netherlea. She arrives only to find her mother dead and she has now been assigned her mother's role as searcher of the dead. Joining writer Nat Starling they seek the truth of her mother's death.
Just couldn't take to the main characters of what really turned out to be more of a romance story and less of the mystery that I wanted to read.
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The Almanack is a unique 1750's historical mystery set in England. I really a noted the riders and the characters. I will have to read this author's other books.
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Eventually, I came to like this book, but it wasn't until I was a good way through it before my opinion changed. The problem was, I thought the main character was an unrelatable, spoiled brat and it made it hard to follow her portions of the storyline when I wasn't exactly concerned with what happened to her. 

Later on, as the mysteries continued to build and the main character did some maturing and growing, I came to appreciate this author and how the story was being told. This is one of those books that is highly atmospheric and will make you see every page that you read. I definitely appreciate that in a book. 

The mysteries weren't overly easy to solve and the result could have gone many ways at the end. Now that I have finished it, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical mysteries. 

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher, Provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
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In 1751, eleven days were lost as Britain aligned with the Gregorian calendar and this is the year in which Martine Bailey sets her third novel, ‘The Almanack’. An original mixture of historical mystery, detective novel and romance, it has time as its theme throughout. The passing of time and the fixedness of the past, the slippery unpredictability of the future, and the way our choices made today can impact on the time to come.
Tabitha Hart is travelling north from London, home to a village near Chester, summoned by a plea from her mother. On route she is robbed and arrives at Netherlea in shredded clothing to find her mother recently drowned. Tabitha left Netherlea in disgrace and her return is not welcomed by village gossips and officials but she refuses to ignore worries about the nature of her mother’s death. Consulting her mother’s ‘Vox Stellarum’, the Chester almanack, she discovers handwritten notes outlining her fears of someone called ‘D’. A childhood friend now village constable, widower Joshua Saxton, offers solid, reliable support as Tabitha struggles to stay in the village, caring for Bess, the baby daughter she left behind with her mother. It is clear Joshua is fond of Tabitha but she does not return his affections; awkwardness complicated when she meets Nat Starling, lodger at Eglantine Hall, a writer of ‘penny oracles, horoscopes and dream lore.’ Tabitha starts to make connections between her mother’s suspicions and the predictions in the printed almanac, written by De Angelo. Could this be the ‘D’ who threatened her mother? But there are many people in the village with the initial ‘D’. Who can she trust?
Almanacks, or printed yearbooks, not only contained a calendar, festival dates, seasonal notes, sunrise and sunset times, planetary alignments, historical facts and other country lore but also riddles, predictions and horoscopes. Exactly the sort of thing hack Nat Starling writes to scratch a living. The theme of time breathes in every chapter, together with the lost eleven days in 1751 that confused the established seasonal calendar. Although the past cannot be changed, memories of the past may vary between people and written records can be amended to tell a different version of the truth. Lies told in the past may in the future be deemed historical fact. And so Starling thinks on the river of time: ‘If he was standing here in the now, then to the left, downriver, the past was disappearing away into the night. Time past could never be changed: what was done was done. If only the past did not stay fixed like dead flies in amber. If only he could live his life again.’
A thoroughly enjoyable historical mystery, there is so much detail in this book it will repay reading. I did not fully engage with the riddles – one precedes each chapter – based on original riddles, with the answers written at the back of the book. Bailey manages the twists and turns of the plot, efficiently hiding the identity of ‘D’ until I finally guessed correctly just before the end. This is Bailey’s third novel and another brilliant read, evidence of her mastery of her period and intricate plotting.
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