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Saturday, 4 February 2017

'Head Start' by Judith Cutler

Published by Allison & Busby,
20 October 2016. ISBN: 978-0-7490-2070-5

The head teacher of the title has just begun work as head of a primary school in a Kentish village called Wrayford, near to Canterbury.  Ms Jane Cowan has divorced her highly abusive husband who has been sent to gaol as a result of his harassment of her.  She has courageously taken on this new job, beginning in a cold, snowy January.   The village and school are fairly typical for our times - the school is partly stern Victorian stone with an unsympathetic but useful 60s extension; the village has a pub and a church but has lost its village shop.

Within a very short time Jane has found an intruder in the school, an anonymous figure in jeans and hoodie, who runs off before she can catch him.  She reacts firmly to this by having locks changed and restricting access to keys.  More and more incidents of petty, and not so petty, vandalism occur but she doesn't know if the animus is against her personally, against her as an incomer, or against the school.   When the activities get more dangerous she has to involve the police.   Jane is a resourceful and appealing heroine who, amongst the unpleasantness’s, never forgets to put the interests of her pupils first.

The excitements of this story mount as we get to know other teachers, governors, pupils and villagers and as the puzzles about the perpetrators proliferate.   Judith Cutler is highly skilled at building tension and holding the reader's interest; I have enjoyed her previous books in modern settings featuring college lecturers, policewomen, antique sellers and pub landladies so this is a welcome addition to her oeuvre.

It is a very good read, indeed.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer 
The Josie Wilford, Lina Townend, Fran Harmon and Tobias Campion (historical) series are all in print and there are several standalones.  Previous series on Sophie Rivers and Kate Powers are worth searching out.

Judith Cutler was born in the Black Country, just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne. Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School, winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much revised version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend books are set in the world of antiques and there are five books in this series. There are two books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh, Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her most recent series features a head teacher. The first book is Head Start. Judith has also written two standalone’s Scar Tissue and Staging Death.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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