Reviews by L. J. Roberts

DEBORAH GRABIEN – Cruel Sister. St. Martin’s Press, hardcover, October 2006.

Genre:  Paranormal/Mystery. Leading characters:  Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes and Ringan Laine (4th in series). Setting:   England.

First Sentence:   Under a choking black fog, in which the air itself seemed composed of ash from the winter coal fires, a battered ten-year-old Austin Tilley lorry rumbled and bounced along Westferry Road on the south-eastern edge of London’s Isle of Dogs.


   Folklorist, singer and restoration consultant Ringan Laine has been hired by his partner Penny’s brother and sister-in-law. They are building a large Elizabethan-style home on the Isle of Dogs next to the Thames.

   Ringan’s first visit to the site makes him uncomfortable and second visit progresses to voices and visions. From there, things become rapidly worse as Penny fears she may lose Ringan forever to the past.

   Having enjoyed the previous three books in this series, I selected this as my Halloween read last year, and am so glad I did. Grabien seamlessly blends the real and the paranormal; what is with what might be, and it works.

   This isn’t icky, creepy stuff, but scary in the anticipation of what might happen. It is also not formulaic. I so appreciate that each book in the series handles the paranormal aspect in a different manner. That, alone, adds to the suspense.

   One need not worry about starting this series at the beginning. Grabien establishes the background and history of previous paranormal experiences easily within the plot without slowing down the story. The dialogue is a little stiff at times, but the stories really are plot driven.

   And a good plot it is. It’s not silly, fluffy or over the top. It starts out innocently enough and then builds. It is also the perfect balance of music, history, mystery and the paranormal; each of which I love and sent me to the internet after finishing the book. It delights me to learn new things and when I can’t easily tell what is factual and what is fictional because the story is so well done, it all seems true.

   I found Cruel Sister completely engrossing; as in I read it straight through in four hours because I couldn’t bear to put it down. There is one more book in the “Haunted
Ballad” series, which I shall definitely read. Hopefully one day, there will be more.

Rating:   Very Good.

PostScript:   This is a clip of the ballad “Cruel Sister”:

      The “Haunted Ballad” mystery series

1. The Weaver and the Factory Maid (2003)


2. The Famous Flower of Serving Men (2004)
3. Matty Groves (2005)
4. Cruel Sister (2006)
5. New Slain Knight (2007)

      The JP Kinkaid mystery series —

1. Rock & Roll Never Forgets (2008)


2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (2009)
3. London Calling (2010)
4. Graceland (2011)