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Monday, 30 March 2020

‘Death Knell’ by Sally Spedding

Published by Sharpe Books,
7 January 2020. 
ISBN: 978-1-09097454-9. 

It is 1988 and John Lyon is driving to his new home in Colchester.  He wants to forget the traumatic events that have dogged him since his retirement from the police force.  After two disturbing cases in France, the most recent of which appears to have destroyed any possibility of a relationship with Detective Constable Alison McConnell, he tries to convince himself that it is time to move on.  His desire to make a new start, however, is quickly derailed when he receives a phone call from a former student friend Stephen Vickers. Vickers is a professor and Dean of History at the University of West Norfolk.  His research has uncovered some papers from 1920 that perturb him.  Vickers asks to meet with Lyon at his home in Longstanton to discuss the implications of the find. Lyon is intrigued and agrees to make the sixty-odd mile journey to Stephen’s home.  He has been an ex-Detective Inspector for some time now, but policing is in bones and he cannot shake off his instinct to solve a mystery.

A few hours later he arrives at the Cambridgeshire town, where a sign welcoming careful drivers is distinctly offset by the driving rain and dour architecture that greets him. 

“…I noticed a tall, mean spire looming above the trees.  Its tip seemed to pierce the baleful sky, almost as a warning…

A warning that, of course, Lyon fails to heed as he finds himself becoming enmeshed in a series of dreadful events that date back to 1920.  Professor Vickers’ discovery exposes a dreadful secret that has been hidden for sixty-eight years, a secret that still has the power to ruin lives, a secret that some are still prepared to kill for.

Death Knell is a terrifying tale of depravity and deception.  It probes those dark and disturbing aspects of human psychology and behaviour that we hope to avoid in real life but love reading about.  The story weaves together four different first-person narratives and alternates between 1920 and 1988.  From the 1920s Stanley Bulling relates his tale of living in poverty and squalor, whilst Sarah Parminter describes a life haunted by abuse and want.  Their compelling narratives explore the reality of life for poor families in the early part of the twentieth century.  They describe the paucity of jobs, appalling living conditions, ineffective sanitation and almost non-existent health care at the time.  In addition, the casual exploitation of women and children paints a very bleak picture of life little more than a generation ago.  The 1988 storylines are narrated by John Lyon and Reverend Nicholas Beecham.  Their world is undoubtedly one that materially richer for most people, but in which characters still deceive each other.  As past evils claw their way into the lives of later characters the plot races towards a final, gruesome resolution. 

Of course, one suspects that this is not a resolution at all - it is simply a pause before John Lyon is enticed by a futhur thrilling adventure.  I hope so, because Death Knell is another beautifully crafted, carefully researched and intricately plotted story by Sally Spedding.  A great read.
Reviewer: Dot 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.  

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