Published by Allison & Busby,
1st December 2005.
Mike (despite the name, a woman) Brodie has a busy life. She runs a music shop, does voice-overs and plays the saxophone in a variety of bands ranging from 50’s tea-dance music to ultra-cool jazz to raunchy blues and soul. She also keeps an eye on her god-daughter Raffi and copes with her ebullient manager Paul who can never resist signing Mike up for ‘just one more gig’. So, when Mick’s friend Maggie invites her to Bewick Grange, a stately home just about to open to the public, where Maggie is General Manager, Mick jumps at the chance of restful respite.
Naturally, Mike’s hopes of peace and quiet are dashed. On her arrival at the Grange, she is ambushed by a group of armed men. They turn out to be a group of battle re-creationists calling themselves ‘The Companions of the Crooked Staff’. The ambush arises from a misunderstanding: nonetheless, an inauspicious start to Mike’s stay. The owners, an American called Warren Myatt and his upper-class English wife Elynore, are manipulative and slightly creepy. There is an enigmatic gardener, Edward Fairfield, a leading light in the Companions; and an abrasive black-haired blue-eyed American, Jake, manager of the Grange’s conference Centre, who intervened when Mick was ambushed and got a flea in his ear for his pains. The house is old with one known priest’s hole and rumours of another. And the Companions do seem to be particularly omnipresent.
Then the body of an elderly man is found floating in an ornamental pool at the Grange – apparently an accident – but is it? And then in Cheltenham where Raffi is a student there is another death, this time in a house fire, possibly arson: Raffi’s friend Tim, member of a band called Beanie and the Boys. Is this death as unrelated to the earlier death as at first seems? And is it really Tim who is dead? Mike has reason to think not. But then her house is burgled and trashed – why?
There is a serious undertone to the book: Mike’s husband Duncan died 14 years before and from time-to-time events bring back sad memories. But overall the tone is light-hearted and the story rattles along at speed rather like the Rock Island Line, driven by crackling dialogue and a galaxy of characters: in addition to Mike, Maggie, Jake, Edward, Raffi, Warren and Elynore, there is a vicar called Alison, a chef/guitarist known as Gaffer, a host of (mostly) drunken Irishmen in Cheltenham for the Gold Cup, and many, many others.
Like Mike Susan does voice-overs and plays
the saxophone, and her obvious knowledge and experience enrich the story. I am
not sure if all the gigs she describes are strictly relevant to the plot: but
they are all entertaining and illuminate the world in which Mike lives and
Reviewer: Radmila May
Susan Hepburn has written two earlier books, Missing and Voices in the Dark.
Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015.