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Wednesday 20 November 2019

‘Downfall’ by Sally Spedding

Published by Death Watch Books,
11 June 2019. 

ISBN: 978-1-07217792-0 (PB)

Delphine Rougier is a twenty-year-old chambermaid working long hours for poor pay at the Hôtel les Palmiers near Le Mans.  She is obsessed with ‘le nouveau DETECTIVE’ magazine but can only fantasise about becoming a police officer and escaping her dreary work and home life.  All this changes one Monday morning when Delphine is making up Room 56 and, to her horror, finds the body of a tiny new-born baby abandoned in the bathroom.  

Captain Serge Valon of the Labradelle gendarmerie and his team are called to investigate the death which is now being treated as murder.  Delphine is interviewed and remembers seeing a man leave Room 45 just before she made her gruesome discovery.  The guest had deliberately avoided walking past her and made his way downstairs via the fire exit.  At the time she had dismissed his behaviour as rudeness, but she now wonders whether there was a more sinister reason for his swift exit from the building.

The hotel, now a scene of crime, is likely to be closed for some time and the loss of income this will entail adds to Delphine’s worries.  However, when she is asked to assist Valon and his assistant, Lieutenant Lise Confrère, with the case she is delighted.  Here is Rougier’s opportunity to prove that she has what it takes to become a real gendarme, an ambition that persists even when she finds out that she is dealing with heartless criminals who are prepared to kill without hesitation.  With family and friends also placed in jeopardy because of her exploits, Delphine gradually realises she does not know who she can trust, a dilemma that could prove fatal.

Downfall is a spine-tingling thriller in which two parallel narratives are skilfully woven together as they move relentlessly towards a tense and unpredictable dénouement.  The action takes place mainly in and around the Pays de la Loire region of France.  The fabulous setting with its medieval and early modern buildings, famous vineyards and the rural countryside of Sarthe may sound divine, but this is a Sally Spedding novel, so expect surprises!  Evil lurks amidst historic châteaux, and the magnificent Loire landscape frequently proves at best inhospitable and sometimes deadly.  The novel is rooted in past acts of brutality and betrayal including World War II, which still looms large in the memories of some of the older characters.  The central plot relates horrors from more recent times; depraved atrocities that started thirty years earlier reach into the present and continue to claim new victims.  Characters are vividly portrayed and are often flawed, compromised and unreliable which adds to the intrigue of the narrative.  No one can be trusted, with the exception of Delphine.  The protagonist’s transformation from discontented chambermaid to courageous sleuth whose strong moral compass compels her to seek for truth and bring criminals to justice, is fascinating as well as entertaining.  If you like your detection dark and moody you will love Downfall – I did! 

This is the first book in which Delphine Rougier appears, the excellent news is that a second book in the series has just been published.  Details of other Sally Spedding novels can be found on her deliciously spooky website.
Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

Sally Spedding was born by the sea near Porthcawl in Wales and trained in sculpture in Manchester and at St Martin's, London. My work was detailed, accurate and in demand, but I began to realise words can deliver so much more than any narrative sculpture or painting. Sally’s first crime mystery, Wringland, has a strong historical thread and is set in the bleak fenland around Sutton Bridge. Cloven also invokes the past while in A Night With No Stars, published in January 2005, it's a fourteen year old murder which destabilises the present. Prey Silence, set in SW France, featuring an animal rights activist, was published in July 2006. Come and be Killed, set in the Malvern Hills, came out in January 2007. Her strong familial connections with the Pyrenees, Germany and Holland have provided her with themes of loss and exclusion. The dark side of people, and landscape. The deceptive exterior, the snake in the grass are all themes which recur in her writing.  

 Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, Dot, and to Lizzie who notified me. You don't know how much this means to me right now. Onwards and upwards!