As a founder member of Mystery Women in 1997, promoting Crime Fiction has always been my passion.
Following the closure of Mystery Women, a new group was formed on 30th January 2012 promoting crime fiction.
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The Book Guild, 28 February 2020. ISBN: 978-1-913208-30-1 (PB)
A book by an unfamiliar author is always something of a leap of faith –
but one of the great pleasures of reviewing fiction is the occasional
unexpected gem that falls into one's lap.
The premise of Evil River
was certainly intriguing: an Oxford academic as accidental sleuth, looking into
the apparent suicide of one of his students. And sure enough, the more I read,
the more promising the novel itself became, until before long I was completely
Creative writing manuals have
a great deal to say about 'voice': the author's unique style and way with
words. Keith Jacobsen has chosen first-person narration as a story-telling medium
and puts a different spin on the concept: he captures the 'voice' of Alan
Harris, the academic, to perfection. His measured, diffident, slightly formal
tone comes across loud and clear as he recounts the events surrounding the
tragic death of Simon Harvey, a student in whom, we discover, he was beginning
to see echoes of his own emotionally stilted youth.
Alan's own reserved
personality comes to life just as vividly as those of the people involved in
Simon's sad story. After the student's body is discovered in the river, close
to a punt in which are two empty bottles, one which contained whisky, the other
tranquillizers, he finds himself asking questions about the young man's life,
and seeking out his friends – one in particular – and members of his family.
What he finds is profoundly disturbing and leads the unsuspecting don down
paths he never expected to venture on, into mystery and danger, and friendships
he had never thought to find.
The action moves between
Oxford, suburban Liverpool and central London, and all three are portrayed with
a sure hand. Jacobsen clearly knows Oxford very well indeed and recreates the
unique 'bubble' atmosphere of academia in the early 1970s with a sure hand. He
reminds the reader that as well as the beautiful ancient stone dreaming spires
and picturesque quads and meadows, the city has its less salubrious side; the
river bend in which Simon's body gets caught is an unlovely and malodorous
tangle of weeds.
Evil River is clearly the work of a skilful and experienced
writer. A story which begins on a sad but quiet note rapidly escalates into
something darker, and eventually picks up and runs with the theme of families
and the harm they can inflict on each other. Read it, and perhaps, like me,
you'll feel you've had an unexpected treat.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Keith Jacobsen was born in Liverpool in 1948. He was educated at St
Catherine's College, Oxford. He worked as a private piano teacher after taking
early retirement from the civil service in 1999, having been a civil servant
for twenty-seven years, moving up through the ranks of what was then known as
the administrative class, taking a special interest in international health
relations. He now teaches on a voluntary basis, leading a piano group of his
local U3A (University of the third Age). He is the author of Place of a Skull (Thames
River Press, 2013) and Sisters of Fury (Book Guild, 2015).He now lives in North London with his wife,
Valerie, also a senior civil servant
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen,
and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but
never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher
for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now
burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half
of them crime fiction.