Mrs Winchester's Gun Club

Douglas Bruton

Scotland Street Press, £9.99

One day in the early 20th Century, Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, meets a medium to try to contact her late husband and daughter. The medium gives Sarah instructions from the spiritual realm that she must travel as far west as she can and build a house with many rooms, where spirits who have been wronged can find rest. With purpose now restored to her life, Sarah throws herself into the task, building an ever-expanding mansion and making sure that each room meets her exacting requirements before it is permanently sealed up. The souls she wants to placate, of course, are people killed by the guns her company manufactures, and the book is interspersed with their accounts of their own deaths. Inspired by the true story of Sarah Winchester, Bruton has come up with a strong central idea, and he does it justice in this absorbing, well-written novel of a woman’s search for redemption.

A Rustle of Silk

Alys Clare

Blackthorn, £8.99

Already the author of two ongoing series, Hawkenlye and Aelf Fen, Alys Clare begins another, focusing on Gabriel Taverner, a former ship’s surgeon turned country physician, in the early part of the 17th Century. Called in to examine the partially decomposed body of a man stabbed through the heart, Taverner realises to his horror that the dead man is his brother-in-law, Jeromy Palfrey, who had been engaged in buying a shipment of silk for his employer, Nicholas Quinlie, provider of silk for the forthcoming coronation of James I. The murder is evidence that there’s something rotten in the silk trade, and the dashing, vaguely piratical Taverner is being drawn inexorably towards it. Figures in plague masks lurk ominously in the background, and a secondary plot emerges of someone trying to force Taverner to give up his practice. It’s a bit uneven, and the pace can get sluggish, but the setting is vividly imagined and Clare assembles a strong cast of characters.

The Dressmaker's Gift

Fiona Valpy

Lake Union, £8.99

It’s not by chance that Harriet gets a job as an intern with a Paris fashion firm. She’s yearned to make a pilgrimage there, ever since discovering a photo of her French grandmother, Claire, posing outside it with two friends in 1941. Conveniently, her new room-mate is a granddaughter of one of the other women in the photo, so she can tell Harriet about Claire’s wartime experiences, and we get to see the dangerous life she led under German occupation. Despite Valpy’s attempts to give her some depth, the character of young and self-important Harriet pales beside her much more interesting grandmother, who, her head full of dreams of Paris as a city of sophistication, champagne and style, finds herself a Nazi officer boyfriend while her colleague Mirielle is helping the Resistance. Valpy starts to draw parallels between resisting Nazism and facing up to terror in a post-Charlie Hebdo Paris, but not enough to rescue the present-day sequences, which fall comparatively flat.