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Wednesday 25 July 2018

‘Russian Roulette’ by Sara Sheridan

Published by Constable,
6 July 2018.
ISBN:978-1-47212-237-7 (PBO)

It's not always easy to start reading a series part way through, when characters and background are already well established. For instance, in this sixth volume of Mirabelle Bevan mysteries, I was a few chapters in before I realized the protagonist's sidekick was black – which, in 1950s Brighton, was a rather bigger deal than it would be today.

No doubt if I'd encountered Mirabelle Bevan and her partners in crimefighting earlier in her career, I would also have discovered that Brighton had as dark an underbelly as any other city, but that was something that became plain in the opening chapter. There is strong evidence of society's less pleasant side, including race discrimination and class distinction, as well as the criminal element which forms the core of the narrative.

Mirabelle is a feisty forty-something with a past that goes back to the Second World War and includes the undercover Special Operations Executive and a relationship with a now-dead married man. By 1956 she has moved on, to another relationship, this time with a police superintendent, and a job in a debt recovery firm which seems to be a cover for a private detective agency.

When Superintendent McGregor's old friend's wife is murdered, he is not given the case because of possible conflict of interests, and soon the old friend is in the frame, wrongly, of course. McGregor has no qualms about asking Mirabelle to look into the matter, and she quickly finds herself embroiled in a quagmire of high-end prostitution, illegal gambling and black-market trading.

Mirabelle herself is that staple of Golden Age crime fiction, the strong, courageous woman past youth's first blush, who is capable of using both feminine wiles and sheer determination to get where she needs to be. McGregor the honest copper reveals a shady side: not corrupt, but with a tendency to keep secrets. Vesta, Mirabelle's assistant, was my favourite character: intelligent and plucky, but with a vulnerable streak exacerbated by being newly pregnant and concerned for the future.

Mirabelle Bevan is an interesting heroine, and both Brighton and post-war London come across loud and clear. And if Russian Roulette is perhaps a little too dark and gory to qualify as true nouveau Golden Age, it certainly has some of the hallmarks.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Sara Sheridan was born in Edinburgh and studied at Trinity College, Dublin. She works in a wide range of media and genres. Tipped in Company and GQ magazines, she has been nominated for a Young Achiever Award. She has also received a Scottish Library Award and was shortlisted for the Saltire Book Prize. She sits on the committee for the Society of Authors in Scotland (where she lives) and on the board of '26' the campaign for the importance of words. She's taken part in 3 '26 Treasures' exhibitions at the V&A, London, The National Museum of Scotland and the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. She occasionally blogs on the Guardian site about her writing life and puts her hand up to being a 'twitter evangelist'. From time to time she appears on radio, most recently reporting for BBC Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent. Sara is a member of the Historical Writers Association and the Crime Writers Association. A self-confessed 'word nerd' her favourite book is 'Water Music' by TC Boyle.

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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