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Sunday, 3 January 2016

‘Suspicion at Seven’ by Ann Purser

Published by Berkley Prime Crime,
3 December 2015.
ISBN: 978 0 425 26179 8 (PB)

I’m often amazed to discover how dangerous it is to live in a small rural village in England; they can’t possibly be the comfortable, easy-going places which the term ‘cosy crime’ implies, since murder seems to happen on a regular basis in the most idyllic location.

Fortunately there is usually a feisty lady of a certain age on hand to delve into the mystery and discover whodunit, often ahead of the police and sometimes with the help of a friendly detective who has no qualms about bypassing the rules and involving a member of the public who was probably a useful witness if not actually a suspect.

So it is with Ann Purser’s series set in and around the village of Long Farnden and featuring Lois Meade and her idiosyncratic family and friends. Suspicion at Seven is the latest adventure which brings Lois together with semi-retired detective Hunter Cowgill, whose courtly advances she has been fending off since book one.

Suspicion at Seven involves a shady jewellery salesman with an eye for the ladies, a couple of local organized crime gangs and a village bakery. First up a body is discovered in a bedroom at an upmarket hotel; then the chief suspect is found, rather gruesomely, apparently drowned, and sprawled across a mill wheel.

And they call this cosy crime? 

I firmly believe that it’s the characters who keep readers coming back to a series, and Ann Purser has created a quirky, engaging bunch of them. There’s Lois’s family, especially Gran, who has a mind of her own and an enviable determination to use it, and doesn’t really approve of what she calls her daughter’s ‘ferretin’’. And not far in the background are the crew of cleaners Lois employs in her domestic help agency – especially Dot, who has connections in the dark underworld of village life.

Hunter Cowgill, resident cop, is as benign as he is perceptive, and no doubt fans of the series have long since forgiven his total disregard for aspects of police procedure such as recording interviews and not allowing important documents to leave the office.

One by one the suspects are eliminated, and eventually we are left with the only person who could possibly have committed either murder. By the end, Lois is half-resolved to give up ferretin’ - but my money is on another in the series before too long. 

Since the series seems to be aimed at an American audience, can I be the first to reassure readers that English villages aren’t really hotbeds of murder and gang violence? At least, I don’t think so...
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Ann Purser lives in the East Midlands, in a small and attractive village which still has a village shop, a garage, pub and church. Here she finds her inspiration for her novels about country life. She has only to do her daily shopping down the High Street to listen to the real life of the village going on around her. Before turning to fiction, she had a number of different careers, including journalism – she was for six years a columnist in SHE magazine – and art gallery proprietor. Running her own gallery in a 400-year-old barn behind the house, she gained fascinating insights into the characters and relationships of customers wandering around. She had no compunction about eavesdropping, and sharpened up her writer’s skills in weaving plots around strangers who spent sometimes more than an hour in her gallery. Working in a village school added more grist to the mill, as does singing in the church choir and membership of the Women’s Guild. She reminds herself humbly that Virginia Woolf was President of her local WI…
Six years hard study won her an Open University degree. , During this period, she wrote two non-fiction books, one for parents of handicapped children (she has a daughter with cerebral palsy) and the other a lighthearted book for schools, on the explosion of popular entertainment in the first forty years of the twentieth century.
Round Ringford became Ann’s village in a series of six novels, each with a separate story, but featuring the same cast of characters with a few newcomers each time, Next: the Lois Meade Mysteries, each title reflecting a day of the week. Ann has always loved detective fiction, and determined to make it her next series. So Murder on Monday was born, followed by Terror on Tuesday, and Weeping on Wednesday. The rest of the week follows!
Mornings are set aside for writing, and the rest of the day Ann spends walking the dog, retrieving bantams’ eggs from around the garden, gossiping and taking part in the life of the village.

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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