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Friday 19 April 2019

‘Death on the River’ by Clare Chase

Published by Boukouture,
15 October 2018. 
ISBN: 978-1-78681-740-2 (PB)

Cambridge and a car, driven too fast, has left the road and plunged into the notorious Forty-Foot Drain which cuts through the heart of the Fen Country in East England. The body is that of famous writer Ralph Cairncross who had been driving back from a gathering of his fans, a group of young people known as ‘The Acolytes’. The death is taken to be an accident and the post-mortem shows that he was over the drink-driving limit although according to his sister Monica that would not have affected his driving ability. She accosts Detective Constable Tara Thorpe in her own home, telling her that she believes the police investigation by Tara’s boss, Detective Sergeant Paul Wilkins, was half-hearted at best. Tara is unwilling to become involved but when Wilkins, who is no fan of Tara’s, hears of Monica’s intervention, he is angry with Tara for wasting police time on what he says is a pointless investigation. But Tara has discovered that one of the Acolytes had apparently committed suicide by swimming out to sea and drowning in a manner foreshadowed in one of Cairncross’s novels, Detective Inspector Garstin Blake, senior to Tara and Wilkins, allows Tara to conduct a limited investigation into the two deaths. And then there is a third death, another of Cairncross’s Acolytes, this time by trying to leap from one tall building to another and falling. Apparently, he was also drunk. And another Acolyte has reported being narrowly run down by a car. Both the death and the narrow-escape parallel incidents in Cairncross’s novels. Is this as coincidental as Wilkins insists it must be?

Meanwhile Monica suspects that Cairncross’s wife Sadie and/or his daughter Philippa are not as innocent as they would like people to believe. Another complicating factor is the relationship between Tara and Garstin: there is a strong mutual attraction but that is all. Garstin is married, although unhappily, but with a deeply loved daughter whom he will not risking losing by leaving his wife. However, Tara, before joining the police, had been a journalist for the magazine Not Now and her previous colleagues, whose toes she had trodden on a number of times, are determined to smear her by exaggerating the relationship between Tara and Garstin by clever journalistic hints.

The story skilfully evokes the misty, damp environment of the Fens so as to create a claustrophobic atmosphere of fear and foreboding and menace while Cairncross’s malign influence on these who knew him adds further complexity to their tangled relationships. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Clare Chase writes fast-paced romantic mysteries, using London and Cambridge as settings. Her influences include JD Robb, Janet Evanovich, Mary Stewart and Sue Grafton. Brought up in the Midlands, she went on to read English at London University, then worked in book and author promotion in venues as diverse as schools, pubs and prisons. More recently she’s exercised her creative writing muscles in the world of PR, and worked for the University of Cambridge. Her current day job is at the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Her writing is inspired by what makes people tick, and how strong emotions can occasionally turn everyday incidents into the stuff of crime novels. It would be impossible not to mix these topics with romance and relationships; they’re central to life and drive all forms of drama.When she’s not reading or writing, Clare enjoys drawing, cooking and trips to the Lake District. Closer to home she loves wandering round the pubs, restaurants and galleries of Cambridge where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.

Radmila May was born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice. Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology – and is now concentrating on her own writing.

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