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Tuesday 10 April 2018

‘One Fight at a Time’ by Jeff Dowson

Published by Williams and Whiting,
1st March 2018.
ISBN: 978-1-91258200-6 (PB)

American GI Ed Grover had been one of the first Americans to come to Britain and fight in the Second World War and, in 1950, back in England after liberating Europe and peace-keeping in Germany, he has one last thing he wishes to do before he is shipped back to the US and is demobbed. In 1941, while briefly visiting Bristol, Grover had been caught up in a bombing raid, which occurred during heavy rain. He took refuge in Ellie Morrison’s small corner shop and she and her husband, Arthur, showed him warmth and spontaneous kindness, drying him off and feeding him, even though food was rationed and scarce. When Grover headed back to Temple Meads station, their eleven-year-old son, Harry, guided him there. For many years, as Grover fought his way across Europe, Ellie’s letters helped to keep him sane, and he is determined to visit her, her husband and Harry to see how they are doing and to say goodbye.

When Grover gets leave and visits Bristol, he finds a city almost destroyed by German bombs and still struggling with rationing, poverty and deprivation. The small shopkeepers and businessmen are being bled dry by vicious racketeers who demand Protection money to prevent premises being wrecked and the owners beaten up. Although this has not yet befallen Ellie, Grover finds her worried and distressed because Harry has gone missing. Although Harry is not directly involved with the racketeers, a close friend of his, Nick Hope does work for them. Grover goes to look for Harry but instead discovers Nick, murdered, his throat cut.

It soon becomes clear that Harry is the police officers’ main suspect. They have a lot of circumstantial evidence against him but can discover no motive. Grover is determined to help Bernard and Ellie and save Harry, her only child and the centre of her world. He is well fitted for his self-imposed task, being both intuitive and logical and, after his experiences in the war, a killing machine, capable of taking on the ruthless racketeers. As Grover fights to save Harry, he makes some useful allies, a few of the whom are as dangerous as his many enemies, but when Harry’s alibi proves to be almost as destructive to his future as being convicted of murder, Grover has only one option, he must find the real murderer before Harry comes to trial.

One Fight at a Time is the first of the books featuring Ed Grover and it is a superb opening to the series. The plot is well paced and involving, and the setting is well-drawn. Grim descriptions of bombed out areas contrast with a delightfully fresh description of an early Pontins’ holiday camp and mention of several entertainers who have since become household names. The characterisation is excellent. Ed Grover is a man who has been immersed in violence and has not emerged unscathed, but his moral compass is still intact as is his ability to care for others. He is both likeable and believable. The author shows Bristol as a divided city, with working class people struggling to lead decent lives, despite poverty and the daily grind of rationing; the respectable wealthy can still obtain smoked salmon and champagne, and the racketeers own nightclubs and their own ‘stables’ of boxers. I found especially interesting the skill with which the author shows how the decent police officers, who are doing their best to investigate the murder, can become the enemies of ordinary, hard-working people, who have never before fallen foul of the law.

One Fight at a Time is a page-turner. I recommend it and I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
Reviewer: Carol Westron
Jeff Dowson began his career working in the theatre as an actor and a director.  From there he moved into television as an independent writer/producer/director. Screen credits include arts series, entertainment features, drama documentaries, drama series and TV films. Turning crime novelist in 2014, he introduced Bristol private eye Jack Shepherd in Closing the Distance.  The second thriller, Changing the Odds, was published the following year.  Cloning the Hate is the latest in the series. He is a member of BAFTA and the Crime Writers Association.

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. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

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