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Thursday, 11 July 2019

‘The Murderer’s Apprentice’ by Ann Granger

Published by Headline,
11 July 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-4722 5269-2 (HB)

This is the seventh in this author’s highly popular set of Victorian mysteries, featuring Inspector Ben Ross of the comparatively recently established Criminal Investigation Department, and his wife Lizzie. It is now 1870 and, even in March, London is bitterly cold and even worse beset by heavy fog of the sort so memorably described by Charles Dickens in arguably his greatest novel, Bleak House. Even the gas lamps which should make the streets safer cannot penetrate the murky, polluted air while the streets themselves are thick with the slush from melting snowdrifts which have refrozen as the temperature drops. Beggars and vagrants have frozen to death, and reckless revellers who have over-indulged risk the same fate.

So, when the body of a young woman is found in the refuse bin of the kitchen of a restaurant in New Bond Street, although a post-mortem examination shows that she was killed by a blow to the head, there is no clue is to who she is, not even a name. Her clothes are good and she was a virgin, so not a prostitite. The only lead is that her boots had been made by a particular bootmaker in Saisbury, so Ben Ross travels to Salisbury where he establishes the girl's name as Emily Devray, who had been living with a wealthy elderly lady, Mrs Waterfield, herself also recently dead. Mrs Waterfield had been fond of Emily and it had been expected that she would be provided for in Mrs Waterfield’s will. But she was not, everything going to a relative who lived in Yorkshire, leaving Emily penniless. There are people in Salisbury who might know but they aren’t talking. So how was it that Emily ended up living and dying in London?

Meanwhile Lizzie and the Ross’s lively maidservant Bessie have a quest of their own. An elderly lady has reported to the police that she believes that another young woman is being confined in a house against her will. The police, however, short-staffed due to illnesses arising from the fog and cold weather and not believing that the girl is at risk, are not investigating so Lizzie and Bessie are making their own enquiries. Ben, on his return to London, is informed that a young woman, companion to a Lady Temple, is missing; his informant, Lady Temple’s nephew and heir George, tells Ben that she was Emily Devray and identifies her from a photograph of her body. Ben’s enquiries take him away again, to Yorkshire-, and then to a dramatic conclusion at Stonehenge.

As always with this writer, a well-plotted and compelling mystery with lively characters and a strong invocation of fog-bound Victorian England. Recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Ann Granger was born in Portsmouth where she was a pupil at the then Northern Grammar School for Girls and went from there to London University where she achieved a BA in Modern Languages (French with German). After a period spent first teaching English in France and then working in the Visa Section of British Embassies around the world. She met her husband, who was also working for the British Embassy, in Prague, and together they received postings to places as far apart as Munich and Lusaka. She is the author of the Mitchell and Markby Mysteries, the Fran Varady series and more recently the Lizzie Martin mystery series. She lives in Bicester, near Oxford.

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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