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Thursday, 3 April 2014

‘Gold Digger’ by Frances Fyfield

Published by Sphere,
12 December 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-7515-4968-3

It’s been a while since I read a book by Frances Fyfield, but after Gold Digger I’ll be making sure it’s not so long before the next one. If you’re fond of quirky characters that jump off the page, a setting that lives and breathes and a plot which is unlike any other, this book is definitely for you.

It starts with the kind of scene that makes you hold your breath as you wonder exactly what’s going on – and you keep on wondering until the final chapters. The build-up is slow but not without drama; Fyfield clearly wants to introduce the main characters and fix them in the reader’s mind before getting down to the meat of the matter – except that it soon becomes plain that the characters and the way they connect with each other is the meat of the matter.

Fix them in the reader’s mind is what she does. At the centre of it all is Di, ex-thief, ex-convict, now educated by Thomas, her adored, much older husband to be an art lover, connoisseur and appreciator of true beauty. She is grieving for Thomas, her whose legacy of a houseful of exquisite pictures she is determined to preserve.

Thomas’s daughters, poisoned against him by their vicious, money-grabbing mother, are equally determined, but only to claw as much as possible from his estate and destroy whatever can’t be turned into hard cash. Neo-hippy Beatrice is openly savage; sophisticated Gayle is on the surface more subtle, but has an uncertain hold on her emotions.

Both sides gather their supporters, all portrayed just as acutely. On Di’s side are Jones the foul-mouthed, slightly bent ex-copper; Peg the runaway; Saul the maverick art dealer; Patrick, Thomas’s young grandson who has inherited his genes. Raymond the lawyer tries to be even-handed but is never boring. Even the local hairdresser comes across in full technicolor, and Di’s small-time criminal father lurks like Nemesis in the background.

The novel is more battle of wits than mystery. There is no murder; the only deaths are through an accident and natural causes. The crime lies in the daughters’ attitude and behaviour, and their comeuppance is assured when Di and her champions set a trap to make them expose their  malevolence.

Gold Digger certainly qualifies as crime fiction, but it isn’t only the crime element that keeps you reading. It is a masterclass in character building; Fyfield creates a thoroughly engaging cast: reprobates who make you root for them, twisted minds which make you hate them. She places them in an environment you can touch, taste and smell. And then she adds enough narrative drive to keep the pages turning and the reader’s attention fully focused. Isn’t that what writing fiction is all about?
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Frances Fyfield   is the pseudonym of Frances Hegarty, a lawyer and crime-writer. Born 18th November 1948 in Derbyshire, she was mostly educated in convent schools before reading English at Newcastle University. She then went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand.  Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels. She has been the recipient of both the Gold and Silver Crime Writers'Association Daggers. She is also a regular broadcaster on Radio 4, most recently as the presenter of the series 'Tales from the Stave'. She lives in London and in Deal, overlooking the sea which is her passion.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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