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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

‘The Hawkshead Hostage’ by Rebecca Tope

Published by Allison & Busby,
19 May 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7490-1989-1(HB)

Rebecca Tope has built an entire writing career or the premise that extraordinary things happen to ordinary people, and her Simmy Brown series set in the Lake District is just one of several series along those lines.

The Hawkshead Hostage is the fifth in this series, and before too many pages have elapsed it’s plain that florist Simmy and her friends and family have already been involved in several police investigations.

This time Simmy and her former shop assistant Melanie discover a body at the edge of a lake near the hotel where Melanie now works. To add to the mystery, Ben Harkness, boyfriend of Simmy’s current shop assistant, has gone missing after alerting Simmy to the presence of the body.

The dead man the deputy manager of the hotel, with whom Melanie was in a budding relationship.  Melanie goes to pieces, the police are out of their depth, and it’s left to Simmy and Bonnie to delve into both the murder and Ben’s disappearance.

Simmy has personal issues to deal with, and most of the book focuses on Bonnie’s search for Ben; in fact, if Rebecca Tope ever chose to turn her attention to the Young Adult genre, on this showing she’d make a decent fist of it. Bonnie is seventeen, a recovering anorexic, uneducated but bright, and utterly determined to unearth the truth, using powers of deduction she and Ben have been practising as they evolve a computer game. She is one of the sparkiest characters I’ve encountered in a crime novel for some time. In fact, bringing characters to life is clearly one of the author’s great strengths; even minor players like bratty hotel guest Gentian spring fully-formed off the page.

The novel falls squarely into the ‘cosy’ sub-genre: no on-the-page violence, beautiful and well-evoked surroundings, emphasis on solving a puzzle, characters it’s easy to warm to. I did have a few issues. The motive for the murder proves a tad improbable; it’s hard to imagine that this is the fifth murdered body to turning up in the Lakes in the course of a few months (fifth in the series,  remember); and the police would surely have called in reinforcements.  But Rebecca Tope is good at what she does; if you’re a fan of ‘cosies’ and can suspend disbelief far enough, these quibbles will disappear and you’ll be in for a cracking good read.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Rebecca Tope is the author of four popular murder mystery series, featuring Den Cooper, Devon police detective, Drew Slocombe, Undertaker, Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds, and more recently Persimmon (Simmy) Brown, a florist. Rebecca grew up on farms, first in Cheshire then in Devon, and now lives in rural Herefordshire on a smallholding situated close to the beautiful Black Mountains.
Besides "ghost writer" of the novels based on the ITV series Rosemary and Thyme. Rebecca is also the proprietor of a small press - Praxis Books. This was established in 1992

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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