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Wednesday, 5 February 2020

‘Silent Crimes’ by Michael Hambling

Published by Joffe Books,
30 October 2019. 
ISBN 978-1-78931-244-7  (PB)

Silent Crimes is the eighth book in the Detective Superintendent Sophie Allen series.  It is the first one I have read, and despite a couple of references to some undisclosed mystery in DS Allen’s past I had no difficulty following the current tale.  DS Allen is married and has a husband and two daughters.  The elder daughter is away at university. We never meet her or the husband.  We do however meet the younger daughter, Jade, who has just completed her A levels, and has only a few days left before she leaves school.

Jade, who has a strong social conscience, has been keeping an eye on a tramp and his dog Algy. When she realizes that she hasn’t seen her adopted protégés in their usual haunts for a while she gathers up some food and sets off to look for them. She finds them in the local woods. Algy is badly injured and the tramp is dead having been hit over the head with something hard.  Her mother is called in to handle the case, and is aided by DS Barry Marsh and DC Rae Gregson who has an interesting background 

The tramp’s name is Paul Prentice.  He is in his mid- thirties and was formally a well-heeled and well-educated chap with a senior judge for a father.  More than a decade previously Paul had abandoned his life as a merchant banker to become a leading member of a commune in the Quantock Hills in Somerset.  The commune had been set up as a trust on farmland owned by Kate Templar who was also a member of the commune.

The detectives travel hither and thither and although they eventually find several of the original members of the commune, none of them are willing to talk freely about what went on all those years ago, or why the commune broke up.  Tim Brotherton the original leader of the group, Trent Baker who has just spent ten years in prison for assaulting Catherine Templeton - another member of the commune - and Andrew Atkins all seem to be hiding something. Alarm bells start ringing when it looks as though Paul isn’t the only one of their number who might have come to a sticky end.  Kate Templar, Paul’s girlfriend, has also disappeared.  Enquiries revealed that although Kate was not involved in making decisions about the daily running of the commune she had, contrary to what those in charge may have believed, kept ultimate control over the ownership of the land they used. 

Silent Crimes is an intriguing mystery with an interesting and varied collection of characters. Amongst other things it makes you wonder why people would choose to give up their comfortable lives to go and live in relative poverty and hardship, only to spend their time squabbling with their comrades once they get there, and then still feel so aggrieved about what went on that they start killing each other years afterwards. The commune failed for many reasons. Some of them are easier to guess than others: some we will never know.  I’m not going to spoil the plot by hinting at any more of them.

One excellent feature of the story is that the dog Algy was adopted by Jade – not sure her parents were consulted about that, but then Jade is a very sparky young lady. When last heard of Algy had made a good recovery.  In Silent Crimes we were given a few tantalizing glimpses of Sophie Allen and her family and friends. I would enjoy hearing more about them and how they interact with one another, possibly from book nine in the series?
Reviewer Angela Crowther

Michael Hambling is the author of eight books featuring Detective Superintendent Sophie Allen. Michael lives in the West of England , and his books are set in thsi region.

Angela Crowther is a retired scientist.  She has published many scientific papers but, as yet, no crime fiction.  In her spare time Angela belongs to a Handbell Ringing group, goes country dancing and enjoys listening to music, particularly the operas of Verdi and Wagner.

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