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Monday 12 December 2016

‘The Art of Murder’ by Nicola Slade

Published by Endeavour Press,
12 September 2016.

Retired headmistress Harriet Quigley is happily settled in the village of Locksley, near Winchester, and her cousin Sam Hathaway lives in the cottage adjoining hers. Sam and Harriet have been like brother and sister all their lives, but this does not mean that Sam is going to accept without protest when Harriet signs him up for a weekend away with a newly-established local art group. Fiona, the secretary of the art group, is an old friend of Harriet and has told her how worried she is that the chairman, Linzi Bray, has put the group in debt by arranging this weekend at a newly opened B&B. Many of the members cannot afford to attend and the club will be liable to pay for any unfilled places. Harriet wants to help Fiona and thinks a weekend away in comfort will be good for both of them. Despite his protests, Sam soon agrees, motivated by his strong sense of community and the promise of Full English breakfasts.

The more Harriet hears about Linzi Bray the more intrigued she feels. From what she is told, at first meeting Linzi appears to be charming, sweet and vulnerable, but as soon as she gets her claws into a victim she is demanding, selfish and manipulative. As well as this, Linzi is beautiful, elegant and seductive and many women suspect her of trying to ensnare their husbands, and in some cases succeeding. Fiona resents the way she charmed Fiona’s teenage son, but he is now away at university and out of Linzi’s clutches, and Fiona is a kind, conscientious woman who has remained Linzi’s confidante. Fiona confides in Harriet that Linzi has told her that she is being stalked, although Fiona is uncertain whether this true or Linzi’s imagination, or even her desire to dramatise herself.

The people who gather for the art weekend are a mixed bunch, several of whom are damaged and vulnerable. When Linzi arrives she is just as superficially charming and manipulative as she had been portrayed, but Harriet is a very shrewd woman and, as soon as she meets Linzi, she is sure that Linzi is afraid.
The weekend progresses and Harriet and Sam actually enjoy the art classes they had been so doubtful about attending. Many of the people attending forge new friendships, gain self-confidence and make positive decisions about their future, but Linzi grows more out-of-control and vicious. It is then that death strikes and it seems almost certain the killer is somebody sharing the art weekend.
This is the third book in the series featuring Harriet Quigley and Sam Hathaway. It is an engaging series with likeable protagonists. I particularly like the way Harriet uses her headmistress skills to deal with bad behaviour, but at times she feels guilty as she realises she has inadvertently slipped into the ‘bossy schoolmarm’ role. The plot is skilfully unfolded, with a gentle but persistent growth of tension. This is not a ‘body on the first page’ book, it is a study of how one person’s determination to control and manipulate leads, inevitably, to a violent outcome. The art class background was both interesting and authentic. Above all, both Harriet and Sam, and many of the other characters were engaging, so that the reader cared what happened to them. The Art of Murder is an easy-to-read and enjoyable book and one that I would recommend.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Nicola Slade was brought up in Poole, Dorset. She wrote children’s stories when her three children were growing up, moving onto short stories for several national magazines. Winning a story competition in Family Circle galvanised her into writing seriously and since then her stories and articles have been commissioned regularly. Scuba Dancin, a romantic comedy was her first published novel. After that she wrote a series of Victorian mysteries: Murder Most Welcome  published by Robert Hale Ltd, 2008, featuring Charlotte Richmond, a young widow in the 1850s. Nicola has a second series featuring former headmistress, Harriet Quigley, and her sidekick and cousin, Rev Sam Hathaway.  Nicola, her husband and their cat live near Winchester in Hampshire.
Find out more about Nicola at

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. Her latest book The Fragility of Poppies was published 10 June 2016.

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