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Tuesday 12 December 2017

‘Sitting Murder’ by A J Wright

Published by Endeavour Ink,
16 November 2017.
ISBN: 978-1-911445-50-0 (PB)

What makes a good historical murder mystery? Is there a secret ingredient which makes some stand out from the crowd? For me, that ingredient is atmosphere. Each period of history has its own, and each is unique. Some authors of historical fiction have the knack of capturing the spirit of the time, of making that world and its inhabitants feel real.

And atmosphere is something A J Wright creates by the bucket load in this well researched and cleverly plotted slice of Victorian working class life. Foggy nights in industrial Lancashire, grim slum dwellings, gossipy corner shops and candlelit kitchens all contribute to the ambience and are brought vividly to life, along with a large cast to people inhabit these and plenty more locations.

The theme is one which seemed to pervade Victorian England: the perils and rewards of seeking communion with the dead. It was something that intrigued such luminaries as Sr Arthur Conan Doyle; small wonder it held such sway over ordinary working folk. Young widow Alice Goodway is making a scanty living by offering solace to her bereaved neighbours, contacting their loved ones beyond the grave. It all appears harmless, even reassuring, until murder is done in Alice's own house. Someone unknown is quick to point the finger at her dark doings with an anonymous letter, and the suggestion is planted that interfering with things we don't understand always ends in tears.

Constable Jaggery and his more perceptive senior officer Sergeant Brennan start to investigate – and that's when skeletons begin to tumble out of every closet on the street, not least that of the victim, Alice's sharp-tongued and unpopular aunt.

Each character is an individual, from leading players such as flat-footed but soft-hearted Constable Jaggery and fragile would-be medium Alice Goodway right down to bit parts like the slightly sleazy Mayor and an irascible bank manager. The author weaves them all into an intricate storyline which twists and turns in so many directions that the final curve-ball is the biggest surprise of all.

There's also a gentle lacing of humour, albeit of the dark kind, which leavens the tone and relieves what could become a picture of the unremitting gloom of life in the northern back streets in the 1890s.

The result is a satisfying, highly readable mystery with a strong sense that the historical context was something that might easily have happened in reality. Definitely one for the reading list if you're a fan of historical crime.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

A. J. Wright was born in Wigan in 1951. A graduate of Leeds University [1972], he taught in two high schools for a total of 36 years, also working as an O Level and GCSE English Literature examiner for over 20 years.  In 2010, he won the prestigious Dundee International Fiction Prize, with his Victorian murder mystery novel, Act of Murder, a whodunit set in Wigan. Elementary Murder next in the Lancashire Detective series featuring Detective Sergeant Michael Brennan of the Wigan Borough Police, was published in January 2017. His latest novel, Sitting Murder, was published November 2017.Alan is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.  

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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