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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

‘The Ghosts of Mayfield Court’ by Norman Russell

Published by Robert Hale,
31 July 2013. ISBN:

Although Catherine Paget's uncle, Maximilian Paget, has become increasingly irascible over the years, he is the only living relation she has ever known and the person who took her in and cared for her when she was orphaned as a young child, and she loves him dearly. However, now that Catherine is a grown woman she wishes that her uncle would respect her viewpoint and take her into his confidence. Max is particularly disapproving of Catherine's friendship with Marguerite Danvers, who encourages Catherine's interest in spiritualism, but he approves of Marguerite's brother, Michael Danvers, who is courting Catherine. When Uncle Max tells Catherine that he has inherited a dilapidated property called Mayfield Court, she is eager to know more and concerned about Uncle Max's strange manner when speaking of the bequest but she knows he will not tell her anything about the past.

Catherine and Uncle Max go to Mayfield Court to inspect the property, although it seems to Catherine that her uncle's main purpose is to go through all the old papers left at the house; whether to preserve or destroy them is unclear. The woman employed in the village to help at the house tells Catherine the story of little Helen, a child who visited, stayed for one night at Mayfield Court and was never seen again. During the thirty years since Helen's disappearance many people have claimed to see the ghost of a young girl. Catherine believes in spiritualism and is sure that she herself has received messages from the dead. She twice sees what she believes to be a ghost and the second time it leads her to the discovery of the skeleton of a child.

This leads to the arrival of the local police, led by Detective Inspector Saul Jackson and his subordinate, Detective Sergeant Herbert Bottomley. The first thing they need to do is discover the identity of the victim, for there is evidence that the child called Helen survived and is now respectably married with children of her own.

Uncle Max takes Catherine back to London, but tragedy follows them, as does danger and treachery. It takes all of Jackson and Bottomley's skill and determination to discover the truth behind the covetousness and evil that lay at the heart of the crimes, as they strive for justice for the dead child and to prevent harm coming to another innocent victim.

The Ghosts of Mayfield Court has a very interesting structure, with just over one-third of the book told in Catherine's First Person viewpoint, as if, some years later she is writing an account of what had happened. The rest of the book is a Third Person account of the investigation carried out by Jackson and Bottomley. This structure works very well and the move from one viewpoint to another progresses smoothly. Catherine is an appealing heroine and the police, both rural and in London, are well portrayed, especially the wonderful Sergeant Bottomley. Although he will never gain promotion because he is 'too fond of the bottle,' Bottomley is a shrewd, hardworking policeman, and a generous, kind-hearted man; the father of eight daughters, 'all living,' he is deeply affected by the discovery of the child's skeleton, and it is he who forms the main link between Catherine's narrative and the description of the official investigation.

The Ghosts of Mayfield Court has a complex plot because of its multi-stranded back story but it is also a compelling and very enjoyable read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
Norman Russell was born in Whitson, Lancashire, but has lived most of his life in Liverpool.  After graduating from Jesus College, Oxford, where he studied English, he served in the army in the Bahamas and Jamaica.  He returned to Oxford to study for a diploma in education and later was awarded the degree of Doctor of Philosophy from the University of London.  He now writes full time.


Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013

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