Publication Day!

Tomorrow is Publication Day for The Secret – here’s a bit more about it by the lovely Jane Bwye whose novels set in Africa are hugely popular

Jane Bwye

June 1st is Publication Day for “The Secret” by my fellow Crooked Cat author, Katharine Johnson! We have shared tables for many an hour at book festivals. She’s a lovely person, and I thoroughly enjoy reading her books.

This is the second book set at Villa Leonida, the house at the centre of The Silence which was published last year but it’s a standalone story.

In The Silence some bodies were discovered at Villa Leonida, an idyllic holiday home, during a children’s game of hide-and-seek on a family holiday. They  were found to relate back to the summer of 1992.

A year on, in The Secret, the villa has been put up for sale. Which for elderly resident Sonia can only mean one thing – that the renewed interest and gossip will lead to the discovery of her own secret which relates to that same evening at the villa…

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Thursday Themes – Katharine Johnson

With Publication Day for The Secret coming up tomorrow, I’m so thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on secrets in the first of Jo Fenton’s brilliant new blog series where authors talk about the main theme in their books

Jo Fenton

I’m delighted to be able to welcome Katharine Johnson to my blog today to start off the Thursday Themes series.

‘Secrets’ by Katharine Johnson

Tomorrow is publication Day for my novel The Secret.

It will come as no surprise that the key theme of this book is secrets!

How well do you really know anyone? How far can you trust the person you live with? Is it ever possible to keep a secret if someone else knows about it? Can you really say you love someone if you’re keeping them in the dark and accepting their love on false pretences?

These are all questions raised by the book.

Because everyone’s hiding something in the tiny Tuscan village of Santa Zita.

In my book The Silence which was published last year, some deaths at Villa Leonida had been covered up for 25 years because the people who knew about them had their…

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Meet the characters from The Secret – Martina


Martina’s born into a large, poor, noisy family living in a small terraced house just below the piazza in Santa Zita. Her best friend is Irena. They talk about everything together.  Martina’s beautiful, challenging, bold and competitive. She’ll never give up or resist a dare. But she’s also impatient and has a tendency to mock people weaker than herself. The only boy who can keep up with her is Gianni, the boy from Villa Leonida.

As a child Martina goes to the villa with her mother who makes clothes for Elena, the owner and is entranced by the house. She imagines herself living there and being part of that lifestyle.

But later when she’s married Gianni she finds she’s been deceived about many things and living at Villa Leonida is not what she thought it would be.

When war breaks out and Gianni goes to fight she finds herself living with people she doesn’t like and who never wanted her there but she can’t leave because she’s having a baby and where else could she go? She lives for those moments she can escape and chat to Irena who’s the only person she feels can keep her sane.

But Irena can be judgemental and sometimes says things Martina would rather not hear.


Meet the characters from The Secret: Irena


Continuing the introductions to the residents of Santa Zita, here’s Irena.

Irena is born on 28th October 1922, the same day as Martina, her best friend, and the day of Mussolini’s March on Rome.

The village in which Irena grew up is small but vibrant. There’s always something going on – processions, dances, festivals, a cinema under the stars in the piazza and meals to celebrate the olive, chestnut and grape harvests. On Santa Zita’s day in April the village is full of flowers to commemorate their saint.

(Santa Zita was a servant who stole bread from the kitchen to give the poor. When her Master accosted her and made her show him what she was hiding in her apron the bread turned into flowers.)

At the heart of the village is a restaurant run by two brothers with terrible tempers but whose cooking is sublime and draws people from miles around.

Irena spends her early years playing skipping rope games and hop scotch in the piazza or catching tiny frogs down at the river. One Christmas the Befana Fascista brings her and Martina identical dolls and they played with them for hours, pushing them around the village in their prams.

Her ambition as a child is to be a good wife and mother. As part of Mussolini’s Battle for Births women are encouraged to have at least four children and motherhood is seen as almost saintly.

Irena and Martina often talk lazily about Villa Leonida, the big house at the top of the village, and what it would be like to live there but never seriously imagine that either of them would. At least Irena never does.

But she begins to worry that she might not ever find anyone to marry her. She can’t hope to compete with Martina in terms of beauty, boldness or athleticism so she’d better have something to fall back on. She reads everything she can get her hands on and her friends called her the Encyclopaedia because of all the facts she’s able to come out with. Each book is like being given a key to a different world. If she never moves out of Santa Zita she thinks it wouldn’t matter because in books she’s been everywhere.

But when Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida Irena feels left as though she’s had a limb amputated. Becoming a teacher gives her a new focus – but she worries about the people Martina’s living with and the way her friend seems to be changing. And then those rumours start about Martina’s husband…

In later years Irena resents her son Carlo digging into the past. Why can’t he leave it where it belongs?

Meet the characters from The Secret – Carlo


With Publication Day for The Secret fast approaching this Friday 1st June, I’d like to introduce some of the characters.

Carlo was born in 1945.

He lives with his mother Irena, his father having been killed in the war. Irena’s always busy in the kitchen and Carlo helps her, listening to her stories and watching her as she works and stealing a taste when she’s not looking.

Irena uses herbs for healing and knows remedies for all sorts of ailments. Carlo sometimes listens in on her consultations although he’s not supposed to.

Carlo and his friends feel like shadows growing up in Santa Zita. They keep out of the way of adults who look like crows because they’re always dressed in black. The children are aware their presence is painful to these people.

He and his friends are frightened of Martina. They know she’s done something very bad and her scarred face sends chills down his spine. He feels sorry for Sonia, Martina’s daughter but how can he ask Sonia to join in their games when so many of the games involve dodging her mother?

He knows there was a time before the war when the village had been thriving. He’s heard the stories about the restaurant, how it used to attract people from miles around.

Throughout his childhood the restaurant, along with the shop, bar and gelateria are all boarded up ghosts of buildings. The population dwindles every year.

Many of the houses around are empty too. Some have been reclaimed by nature. Others make fabulous dens for Carlo and his teenage friends.

His favourite of these is Villa Leonida.

But at 20 years old he sees no future for the village. So he’s excited to be given the opportunity to get out of Santa Zita and join his uncle in America.

He makes a success of things, rising to be head of a news empire. And yet there’s one story he’s never got to the bottom of – one that draws him back to Santa Zita in old age. As a child he was too scared to ask about the terrible event that happened in the village during the war. But he’s made a living out of asking difficult questions. And now that his mother’s showing signs of dementia he fears there will soon be no one left who can give him the answers.

Why  did Martina betray the village, which led to the appalling incident? And why did his own mother, who’s never until now admitted to being Martina’s best friend, do nothing to stop her?


Publication Day review – The Angel Makers by Tessa Harris

It’s Publication Day for The Angel Makers, the second in the Constance Piper mystery series. If you love Victorian crime with a touch of paranormal you won’t want to miss this!


Tessa Harris’s 18th century Thomas Silkstone anatomist apprentice series has been hugely popular. Fans of Silkstone will love the Constance Piper stories too. Constance is a flower girl in the dark, dangerous streets of London where Jack the Ripper casts his shadow. She’s a strong, likeable character who’s determined to see justice done.

Constance links the mysterious death of her friend Catherine Mylett, a young prostitute, shortly after Cath gave up her baby for adoption, with baby farmer Mother Delaney.

The story’s told in two narrative viewpoints:  Constance’s and Emily’s, a murder victim who guides her from beyond the grave, which given the strong interest among Victorians in clairvoyance makes perfect sense.

This is a chilling, intriguing and atmospheric tale – and all the more so when you consider that baby farming really did go on and this story was inspired by real baby farmer, Amelia Dyer.

It captures the desperation many women must have felt at a time when no assistance was given to unmarried mothers and a terrible social stigma attached to them and the double standards that existed.

Although I’d recommend reading the first book which introduces Constance and Emily,  this story works fine as a standalone.

I was gripped to the end – where there’s a twist I bet you won’t see coming!

The Angel Makers is published by Kensington Books and is available in hardback £19.55 and Kindle £10.44

Click here to buy

About the author

4552976154_preTessa Harris is author of the acclaimed Thomas Silkstone Mysteries. An Oxford graduate with a History degree, she’s been a journalist and editor contributing to many national publications including The Times and The Telegraph.








Wartime Secrets in Tuscany: an Interview with Katharine Johnson

It was so lovely to be a guest of Vanessa Couchman today and chat about writing a wartime story

Vanessa Couchman


I’m delighted to welcome back Katharine Johnson, whose historical mysteries make engrossing reading. She’s already told us a little about her latest novel, The Secret, when it was a work in progress. Now, publication day is approaching on 1st June, and I’m looking forward to The Secret popping onto my Kindle that day. The book blurb tells you more about it below. In the meantime, Katy whets our appetite with some insights into the inspiration behind the book and the history on which it’s based.

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