Published by Head of Zeus,
8 August 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-78954248-6 (HB)
“Knife wounds and smashed skulls were Cora’s bread and butter – she’d seen it all in this part of the city. Her part. But not this kind of mutilation. This was new.”
Widow’s Welcome is set in a fascinating alternative world, the Union of Realms, in which the inhabitants have enjoyed a thousand years of peace thanks to an extraordinary electoral system. How has this been achieved? Well, every five years a storyteller from each of the union’s six realms is sent to the administrative capital, Fenest, where the election is held. The representatives relate their stories in the presence of fifty gods known as the Audience. These fifty Listeners vote for or against each story they hear and the teller who receives the most overall votes wins the election for his or her realm. The entire event is co-ordinated and overseen by a powerful and somewhat clandestine collection of civil servants - the Commission.
The novel opens as an election is about to commence. Throngs of people from across the union have descended upon the capital to support their storyteller and to hear the stories for themselves. This influx of incomers swells the Fenest population and creates an unnerving carnival atmosphere of indulgence and excess. Then an unknown male is found dead in one of the city’s streets and events take an unpleasant turn. The man’s injuries suggest he died from strangulation, but why have his lips been sewn together by two pieces of string?
Enter Detective Cora Gorderheim, hard-boiled and tough as they come. Her first task is to discover the identity of the unfortunate victim. She and her superiors hope this information will suggest why he was killed in the first place and explain the significance of the disfigured mouth. Cora interrogates a series of witnesses and suspects as she tries to solve the case. This proves mightily difficult in a world where stories are prized for their emotional strength and the hidden truths they contain. Alongside the potency of myths, fables and stories that are so crucial within the Union of Realms, Cora and her sidekick Constable Jenkins must also negotiate the ‘real’ world which, like our own, boasts cultural, social and political narratives that are not always what they seem.
Widow’s Welcome is a detective story embedded within fantastic fiction; it is a stunning celebration of the power of stories. Two election tales are augmented by a series of shorter stories to create layers of narrative that revolve around the central crime mystery. Cora drives the plot with vigour and purpose as she delivers dry one-liners, challenges gender stereotypes and subverts politically correct behaviour. Her gritty personality is consistently entertaining whilst also arousing empathy. This is the first novel of the Fenest trilogy, and four election stories are still to be told; nevertheless, Widow’s Welcome achieves a satisfying dénouement as a stand-alone work. I found the novel thought-provoking and compelling. It surprised, delighted and left me wanting more!
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent
D.K. Fields is the pseudonym for the writing partnership of novelists David Towsey and Katherine Stansfield. The couple are originally from the south west of England, and now live in Cardiff.
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.