I am happy to receive constructively critical reviews of all persuasions via e-mail ( ), and will add them to this page for other readers to look at.
To set the ball rolling I have posted below a review of Shillingstone Station (its first) which appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2015 issue of Platform magazine, the journal of the Shillingstone Railway Project.
Dave Hurst of Marnhull wrote:
“I don’t read much, & picked it up at home out of curiosity as I know the area. By the end of the first page I was hooked. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole story, and knowing the area so well made me feel so in contact with the story. Sorry it had to finish. Might even find another book to read now!”
Margaret Smail of Melcombe Bingham wrote:
“I could not put 'Shillingstone Station' down. Once begun, it had to be read almost at a sitting, meaning lots of things did not get done once I had got into the first chapter.”
Kathleen Karystinos of Athens wrote:
“Well done on your book, Brent. A real good read, certainly unpredictable and the end leaves hints of a sequel?”
Steve Cooper of Bere Regis wrote:
“I really enjoyed it. It’s a cracking story and so ambitious…geographically, historically. It has amazing sweep and in the week of the Litvinenko report and all those Cold War echoes, feels astonishingly relevant. Bowie gets a mention as well. You have a real gift for dialogue and the unspoken words, occasionally italicised, really work in suggesting Andris’s passivity. Your characters really come alive and even the minor ones feel real. In fact, Mary, Leons, Erasmus… feel like they deserve their own novels. Even the old couple of the opening pages who would have been bunged into lesser novels for the purpose of exposition only, have their own story and introduce the idea of loving grandparenthood which is so moving at the end of the novel. The detail – of Intelligence Service procedures, of an astonishing variety of locations (Latvia, Southampton, station gardens…) – feels really well researched/imagined and convincingly authentic. The switches in time, place and point-of-view are so confidently handled. The violent termination of the central character on page 15 undermined all my expectations and had real impact – though he remains the central character in lots of ways. It was great to have strong women (Mary, Erika, Lady Angela…) at the heart (and at the climax) of the novel. Spy thrillers (though this book is more than that) – apart from William Boyd, maybe, don’t have a great record with women. I’m sure the rest of the Shore family approves heartily. My only reservation is that some of the early descriptive flourishes didn’t work for me (my problem, not yours, I’m sure) – but I was happier when the momentum of the story and Andris’s narration really took hold. Smaller narrative touches like the buried gun, Gorky, the redacted pronouns (that’s brilliant!) …and concise descriptive phrases (“the whaleback hill” – perfect) work better for me than that record-breaking sentence delineating Mary’s first sexual experience, for instance. Thanks so much for a great read – and congratulations! It’s a terrific achievement. I look forward to the next one – and to getting my copy signed.”
Gail Bennett of Mullaloo, Western Australia wrote:
“The detailed description of the characters were really vivid and I had pictures in my mind of what I thought they looked and behaved like. The description of the places almost made me feel like I was there and in one part in the country I felt I could smell it! You also had me guessing what would happen at the end and who was involved. Can’t wait for the next one!”
Jennifer Steele of Luton wrote:
“The mystery starts in the dark depths of both a Dorset night and the Cold War, then expands across a lifetime as the sins of the father are visited on the son. We follow the fortunes of the sympathetic character of Andris, as he struggles to come to terms with the lifelong effects of that night. Brent skilfully weaves a mystery that’s local but also crosses international borders as Andris searches for the truth of what happened to his father. A very gripping read.”
“Steam Railway” magazine (issue no. 452) wrote:
“The peace and tranquillity of the Somerset & Dorset Railway might seem the last possible setting for a Cold War spy thriller – but the restoration of Shillingstone station has inspired a plot starting in October 1960, with the murder of a suspected Russian spy on a Bath-Bournemouth ‘stopper’. Thirty years later, a visit to the surviving station sets his son on a search for the truth. Anyone who picks it up hoping for a nostalgic tale involving the ‘Pines Express’ or ‘7Fs’ will probably end up disappointed, for the railway action is a fairly short opening to the story – which then moves on quite rapidly into modern times. In that respect, the cover is a fairly accurate barometer to judge it by – with a very striking ‘murder mystery’ design, but a locomotive that looks like it came from Clipart rather than Derby. Purely as a novel, however, it hits its target, with well-drawn protagonists in a fast-paced story set amid contrasting settings in Dorset and Latvia, and a gradually unfolding mystery as the main character unravels a web of deceit spun in the name of national security. Like all good spy stories, there are quite a few twists along the way – not least right at the end. A good read and an appropriate one in this S&D anniversary year.”
(TJ) Adrian Ford of Blandford Forum wrote:
“A thoroughly good read. Great story line, with suspense and atmosphere right to the end and set in our beautiful part of Dorset.”
Charles Morris of London wrote:
“At last I have read your book and immediately wanted to write and congratulate you. I found it a real page turner (which ultimately is the crucial thing for any book), your writing was wonderful (every scene was beautifully and vividly set) and I loved the twists and turns.
I had hoped to read it earlier, but 'When Saturday Comes' asked me to review a book, so I had to delay diving into 'Shillingstone Station', but it was well worth the wait.”
Alan Winston of Seattle, USA wrote:
"Well worth a read, May 1, 2016
This hard-to-find book surprised me by being better-written and with more non-railway interest than I had hoped for.
Revolving around the long-term after-effects of the death of a British spy in 1960, there is quite a bit of appeal here for old cold-warriors, or those intrigued by the era and its echoes into the present day. For most of my Cold-Warrior years, I had a postcard with the flags of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, advocating their freedom from Soviet occupation, thumbtacked over my various Army desks, so I particularly enjoyed the Latvian connection in this book.A key element of the book is the old Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway, a line once extending South across the Mendips from Bath, and East to Bournemouth, with regular through trains from Bristol and holiday specials from the Midlands. Early scenes take place on, under, and around that railway, and we return to its abandonment-surviving small station at the village of Shillingstone again and again. It was while indulging my interest in that railway that I first came across a reference for this book, which led me to read the sample on the author’s web site, and then to look for a copy. It’s not impossible to find, but postage from England was daunting, so I didn’t pursue it at the time, but simply kept an eye out for a used copy with more modest postage, which eventually did turn up. It arrived two days ago, and I finished it two hours ago, with only the slightest of disappointments, far outweighed by the pleasures – only a few of which came from the S&DJR associations. The author’s kind, sensitive, and obviously caring depiction of young men whose limitations put them on alternate paths touched me, and were no small part of my sense of satisfaction with the book. One need not have an intense interest in the Cold War, espionage, trains, or regional Britain, to enjoy this book, and it might encourage one to develop more of an interest in some or all of those. I recommend it.”
Geoff Willis of Dawlish wrote:
“I have just finished reading your novel 'Shillingstone Station', and I thought I would write to tell you that I really enjoyed it. I have never written a letter of appreciation to an author before, but as you are a self-publisher, I thought you might appreciate the feedback. I enjoyed the substance of the plot, the background, and, looking back on it as a whole, the rather unusual structure of the narrative. Thank you again for crafting such a fine novel.”
Andy Elvin of Bath wrote:
“I thoroughly enjoyed your book, and feel it should reach a wider audience. It was pacy, descriptive, and with a twist that I didn’t see coming. It stands up against works by well known authors in this genre.”
Paul Tolchard of Umborne wrote:
“What a ride! I could not put it down until I had finished. It is my intention to pay the station a visit.”
Eleanor Wood of Umborne wrote:
“For someone like me who finds it really difficult to get into and stay with a book, 'Shillingstone Station' certainly hit the mark. I found it pacey and absorbing, written with a skilful and cleverly descriptive style, easy to read, drawing you into a very pleasing page turner. I very much look forward to the next book.”
S. Arnold of Bournemouth wrote:
“ 'Shillingstone Station' is one of the best story books I have ever read, and it is absolutely amazing that this is Brent’s first novel.
I actually met the author in Christchurch library, which is not far from where I live in Bournemouth. I was a little sceptical when I took the chance to buy a copy from him, but I’m so glad I did. There were several local authors there promoting their work.
It was a few months before I picked it up again to read, but as soon as I started it became obvious just how well, intelligently and sensitively it is written. I wondered at the very beginning whether it would feature steam trains too much, but to my delight this story has a wide appeal. It covers a time span of about 55 years, and although basically about spies, it also brings in personal relationships with well etched characters and beautifully described locations. It held my interest to the very end, and like most good yarns has a gripping ending.
I hope this author is writing a second book, and it is a shame that this one is competitively little known. A brilliant, page turning read!”
Charles Morris of London wrote:
“I saved 'Bailing Out' for the nearly 5-hour train journey home. It was great reading, I did not want to put it down. I read more than half of it and was so keen to find out what happened in the story that I finished it off over the next couple of days or so. I think the strength of the characters was crucial. Don, Gabe, Geena etc were all full, complex, credible and well-drawn characters, and you made me care about them. This, together with the plot twists and turns, kept me turning the pages eagerly.”
David Lane of Christchurch wrote:
“ 'Bailing Out' is a very entertaining read because although the mystery seems to unfold gradually, as it is only 213 pages the secret is revealed relatively quickly. I found it the perfect way to spend the time on a wet afternoon whilst on holiday in Cornwall and read it all in one sitting. I would recommend reading the book in this way because it allows you to get used to the way the story shifts between the narrative and the recollections of the main character who is lying in hospital and gradually trying to piece together the sequence of events that led him there.
I found the characters to be genuine and so I cared about what happened to them. I just really bought into Don Percey and what he was trying to achieve. However the main reason why I would recommend this book to anyone is that it shows how human beings are never straightforward ! A simple desire to help someone can lead to serious complications and that gave me a great deal of food for thought.”
Suzanne White of Aspet, France wrote:
“Excellent writing and characterisation. A story not too simple and makes you think. Also a bit different both in style and topic. 'Bailing Out' is so much better than some of the junk that tops the ‘bestseller’ lists. I really liked it.“
Jennifer Steele of Luton wrote:
“In his second novel, Brent Shore explores a very different aspect of life in the south-west to that depicted in ‘Shillingstone Station’. In ‘Bailing Out’, the world of Don Percey, a newly retired detective, is turned upside down by the sudden death of his wife. Grieving and vulnerable, Don steps out of his comfort zone, a decision which eventually crystallises the desire he developed on the force, to ‘do something good’ and which he now has the means to act upon.
The evolution of this desire to help – and the brutal consequences that ensue – unfolds skilfully as a ‘two-hander’ – the first-person thoughts of a badly beaten Don as he lies in his hospital bed trying to remember and make sense of what has happened to him, playing against the third-person ‘mirrors’ to these events. The local dialogue is accurately captured and descriptions are needle-sharp, bringing to life the down-but-not-beaten characters of The Pavilions in a way that is reminiscent of the small-town class struggle of J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’. Events and characters are brought to their shocking conclusion with a ‘twist to the tale’ that I for one did not see coming.”
A review in the magazine “The Good Life France”:
“French Book Worm” wrote:
"A trip to France as a teenager by this talented author, awakened a lifelong love of France, its culture, food, and people. This love resulted in the beautiful Dordogne area, and in particular the village of Frettignac, becoming the setting for an intriguing mystery story.
However, the tale actually begins in Manchester in the UK, where the main character, Trevor John Penny was born into an ordinary family.
However from a young age, ‘ordinary’ doesn’t sit well with Penny. So, when he earns a scholarship to Oxford University, he uses his wit, charm, and uncanny ability to mimic people to become popular, and ‘reinvent’ himself, including changing his name to John Penny.
The graduating ‘new man,’ leaving his roots behind forever, and with the world his oyster soon discovers that he has charm in abundance and uses it in ways which eventually result in him needing to leave the UK. Undaunted he accepts a post teaching at the AULA University in the Dordogne region of France.
No teacher’s quarters for Penny though, he rents a lovely old house just outside Frettignac called Puybonieux, a house with secrets of its own!
The village has connection to the famous English writer Jonathan Steeples, and Penny enthusiastically set up an exhibition about the writer and his works in the library. Settled, with no lack of female attention, doors opening and social ladders to climb, things can only get better for the ambitious Penny, that is, until he discovers that sometimes even the cleverest of people can become blasé, and too trusting.
To the wonderful backdrop of this beautiful region of France with its breath-taking landscapes and majestic castles, the author has written an outstanding mystery story. It has a very clever plot involving the discovery of artwork which gives the book its double-edged name – but we won’t tell you any more as we don’t want to spoil it! There are great twists and turns right throughout – right to the very last page.
David Lane of Christchurch wrote:
“ 'An English Impressionist'… WOW! – what a brilliant read!”
David Jack of Mottram wrote:
“As a rule I hardly read novels but am glad I made the exception. Well done on producing a damned good read.”
Charles Morris of London wrote:
“I enjoyed 'An English Impressionist' very much. Penny is a wonderful character creation, a fascinating sociopath!”
John Bann of Sheffield wrote:
“I certainly enjoyed reading 'An English Impressionist'. I was perversely rooting for Penny to create a successful gallery. Very impressed with the breadth of the book. I keep feeling it’s a pity that the Steeples brothers did not exist!”
Johnathon Murray of Sydney, Australia wrote:
“I have to say how much I loved your book 'An English Impressionist' and I would love my Book Club friends in Sydney to read it. I think I will give your book as Christmas Presents to them. Can I order eight copies, please?”
Jennifer Steele of Luton wrote:
“In his third novel, Brent Shore explores different territories, both geographical and psychological. In ‘Bailing Out’, we followed the path of events that ensued from one man’s desire to ‘do good’. In ‘An English Impressionist’, protagonist John Penny is driven only by the desire to do good for one person – himself. Brent’s skilful depiction of the nuances of Penny’s character succeeds in keeping us on side with an essentially unsympathetic character, to wish for his redemption rather than his downfall. We are taken with Penny to southern France and accompany him on his quest to seek reflected glory through the life of the author Jonathan Steeples – so realistically depicted that at first I couldn’t understand why he didn’t come up on Google when I tried to find out more about him! – and his brother and to discover whether that glory will enlighten or blind Penny …”
Susanne Russell of Gloucester wrote:
"I enjoyed 'Blessed are the Meek' very much. The story of James Shore will stay with me for quite a while. I am from Germany and must say to my shame that I did not know anything about the Plug Riots. You educated me! And I will make sure that I will visit Hyde when I next go to see my daughter in Manchester."
Anita Pegorini of Dorchester wrote:
"Another brilliant story, ‘Blessed are the Meek’. I thought I would just read a few chapters, a big mistake, once I started I couldn’t put the book down. I almost felt I was amongst these people, sharing their daily lives through hardship and poverty."
Tony Whitehead of Norwich wrote:
"'Blessed are the Meek' is a great read. I found the book to be a richly entertaining, incredibly well researched and such an easy read.... one that I read in installments because I didn't want it to end. After thirty years away from the village I knew, the author took me back there functioning in a period 100 years plus back in time. His use of well researched geographical and historical backgrounds had me tasting, smelling, hearing and actually touching the countryside I grew up in, it was that good.
The author expertly captures the local accents and manner of speech, and depicts the attitude of Hyde people then (and now) in accepting 'outside folks' into their community. As James Shore readily embraced the small Irish community in the book so did generations after him with other immigrants as the cotton industry expanded during the following decades."