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Thursday 6 November 2014

‘The Quick and the Dead’ by Alison Joseph

 Published by Headline
July 1996.

This year I gave up the day job to write full time. It's a leap into the dark, giving up the security of a regular salary, hoping that my success as an author will continue. Along with my newfound free time, came the inevitable decision to read more. I'm not only interested in the new books everyone is talking about, I want to discover all sorts of books, including some that may have been around for a while. The book I have just finished reading is one such. I've been aware of Alison Joseph's sleuthing nun, Sister Agnes, for several years. The series has been on my 'To Read List' for ages. So long, in fact, that I was afraid The Quick and the Dead might have dated. My concerns were groundless; books that explore human nature are timeless. 

From the opening pages I was involved in the troubles facing Joseph's disadvantaged characters. Choosing a nun as her investigator was a brilliant idea. I wish I'd thought of it! Sister Agnes is a complex woman, with an engaging curiosity about the people she meets. And of course, like Father Brown and Cadfael before her, and Sidney Chambers who has recently appeared, she is able to move freely among different echelons of society, and people confide in her. Sister Agnes mixes with the homeless and disenfranchised members of society who mistrust the police, and are unlikely to talk to them. It's a clever set up for a detective working outside the strictures of the police procedural. 

The further interest in this narrative is the character of Sister Agnes herself, and the deep questions raised by her narrative. Confounding stereotypes, Sister Agnes is a complex and feisty woman, with an admirable inner strength. Throughout the twists and turns of the investigation she never really loses her own way. In The Quick and the Dead Joseph explores the question: 'How do we continue to believe in good when confronted with evil?' We may not share Sister Agnes' religious faith, but she is a credible character who leads us on an enjoyable journey through her world of murder and mystery. 

I would recommend this book, and am looking forward to reading my way through the series. It may not be the latest book out there, but it's a real find! 
Reviewer: Leigh Russell

Alison Joseph is a London-based crime writer and radio dramatist. She started her career in local radio, and then in television as a documentary director. She is the author of the series of novels featuring SISTER AGNES, a contemporary detective nun based in South London. Alison has written about twenty works for radio, including THE TRUE STORY and also dramatisations of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels. Her new novel is 'Dying to Know', a crime novel about faith, evidence and particle physics. Alison is currently Chair of the Crime Writers' Association.

Leigh Russell studied at the University of Kent gaining a Masters degree in English and American literature. A secondary school teacher, specialising in supporting pupils with Specific Learning Difficulties as well as teaching English, Her first novel, Cut Short, was published in 2009, followed by Road Closed in 2010, Dead End in 2011, Death Bed in 2012 and Stop Dead in 2013, all featuring Detective Geraldine Steel. Cold Sacrifice the first in a new series featuring Ian was published in 2013. Leigh Russell is married with two daughters and lives in Middlesex.

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