Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Review: The Foundlings by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

The Foundlings is the ninth novel in the Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist series of books by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. And I promise no spoilers in this review. Suffice it to say if you read the book you’re in for a treat!

Once more genealogist Morton Farrier’s latest investigation is a fast-paced enjoyable read with plenty of plot twists and turns along the way, keeping you guessing right to the end. Farrier’s own family history is woven into the case, which proves all the more emotionally challenging for him because it is close to home.

It’s a case in which Farrier combines traditional family history research with DNA and genetic genealogy in order to find out the parentage of three women abandoned as babies. There’s real creative skill in how the author draws together all the various strands in this multi-layered story, with shades of darkness, to build to a credible ending. And for me it’s a sign of a good book when I’m compelled to flick back through the pages once I’ve finished, to re-read those “Aha” moments whose significance I’d not realised in my first run through.

As a family historian I really appreciate this series of books because I love following Farrier’s research processes. I can relate to the various records used, both online and in archives. And I do try to guess what steps he will take. This tale introduced an ethical dimension too. That being said, you certainly do not need to be a genealogist to become immersed in the story. If you like a satisfying mystery or crime novel, especially with some history thrown in too, The Foundlings – and the previous Forensic Genealogist books – will be right up your street.

I must confess I’m already an avid fan of the Morton Farrier Forensic Genealogist series of books, so his character was not new to me. I had just finished reading The Spyglass File. It meant The Foundlings was a few jumps ahead from where I’d got to in the series. And yes, I can confirm it can be read as a stand-alone novel, though I did quickly skip the few references to his previous case so as not to give away any clues to that story. I can also confirm it is up there with the previous books in the series, which goes from strength to strength.

In summary, if you’re in to family history, crime mysteries or historical thrillers I can highly recommend this book, along with all the others I’ve read in the series.

If you’ve not read any of the previous books in the Forensic Genealogist series and want to start at the beginning to sequentially see how the character’s back story evolves, here’s the full list:

  • The Asylum – A Morton Farrier short story;
  • Hiding the Past;
  • The Lost Ancestor;
  • The Orange Lilies – A Morton Farrier novella;
  • The America Ground;
  • The Spyglass File;
  • The Missing Man – A Morton Farrier novella;
  • The Suffragette’s Secret – A Morton Farrier short story;
  • The Wicked Trade;
  • The Sterling Affair;
  • The Foundlings.

Finally, here’s the all-important purchase information for The Foundlings. I read the paperback version, ISBN-13: ‎979-8481041421, price £8.99. There is also a kindle edition. Full purchase details for this, and all the previous books in the series, can be found on Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s website.

Footnote: I was given a copy of this book by the author to preview. But if I hadn’t received a copy I would have certainly bought it – as I have all the earlier ones

Book Review: Titanic Survivor – The Memoirs of Violet Jessop – Stewardess

Titanic Survivor – The Memoirs of Violet Jessop are the recollections of the life of a stewardess who survived the sinking of both the Titanic and Britannic (‘sister ship’ of the Titanic). This written narrative is interspersed with commentary and explanations by editor John Maxtone-Graham.

Whilst not a literary masterpiece, Violet’s memoirs have a charming appeal, and capture an era of ocean travel from the perspective of a working-class woman on board a ship – a voice that is not often heard. For anyone with ancestors employed in a ship’s victualling department in the first part of the 20th century, particularly as a first class cabin steward, these memoirs give an authentic insight into their life and work.

Violet, born in Buenos Aires on 2 October 1887, was the daughter of Irish immigrants William Katherine Jessop (née Kelly). Suffering serious bouts of ill-health in childhood, in 1903 following the death of her father, she came to England with her mother, brothers and sister.

In October 1908 she made her first sailing as a stewardess with the Royal Mail on the West Indies route, the start of her 42-year career at sea. Her final sailing, in 1950, was in the employ of the same company she started with.

In between, she had employment with White Star (a company she only joined with reluctance), P&O (very briefly) and Red Star. As well as working as a stewardess for first class passengers on transatlantic crossings with the White Star Line, she undertook World Cruises, hedonistic “booze cruises” during the US prohibition era, and had a stint as a VAD nurse in World War One on board the Britannic, which was converted to a hospital ship. All this was punctuated by periods on shore undertaking a variety of clerical work. The Titanic and Britannic therefore only formed a short period in what was a career spanning decades.

So do not expect a book purely focused on Titanic.

In fact the Titanic forms only three of the 34 chapters. And many of the names of crew and passengers are disguised, perhaps with the discretion of an employee still working on ships (the memoir dates from the mid-1930s whilst Violet was still working). Of those identified and identifiable, she does mention ship designer Thomas Andrews, and clearly had great affection for him. And violinist Jock Hulme is also referred to by name, one of the bandmen who also perished in the early hours of 15 April 1912.

Her Great War VAD experience on board the Britannic, which struck a mine on 21 November 1916 and sank off the coast of the Greek island of Kea, fills another three chapters. These also cover her repatriation as a Distressed British Seaman. From her Titanic shipwreck experience she made sure she abandoned the Britannic with her toothbrush!

And there are intriguing gaps too. Although her White Star Line career included time on the Olympic starting from its maiden voyage in June 1911, it also covered the ship’s fifth voyage when she collided with British warship HMS Hawke. This event is not mentioned. Again it illustrates that there is so much which Violet’s memoirs have skimmed over or omitted – events which would have interested readers.

That being said, Violet’s memoirs are well worth reading for the additional first hand perspective she gives of historic events.

More that this, her memoirs give a broader insight into the work of life with a ships’s victualling department generally, and the lot of cabin stewards in particular, in that golden era of sea travel of the early 20th century. They give a flavour of difficulties of a young girl getting such work in the first place (it was normally a job for more mature women), the job insecurity, the hard work, long hours, short breaks, and the difficult conditions under which they lived on board. There are anecdotes about the foibles and demands of passengers, the job offers, and the marriage proposals. Violet frequently analyses the character and behaviours of those serving alongside her in a ship’s victualling department – from their tippling, to the drive to earn tips to supplement their meagre wages.

And, on a human level, there are the tantalising snippets leaving you wondering who she was referring to – for example on the Titanic; what became of Ned – the love of her life; who was the man she had a brief and unsuccessful marriage with – never referred to in her memoirs; and what was in, and became of, the missing chapter.

To conclude, I really enjoyed this easy to read, conversational-style book. A perfect weekend indulgence.