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A New Police Procedural Series set in present-day Oxford
Detective Inspector Bridget Hart
by M S Morris
to Die’ Published 27 November 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-69576126-1 (PB)
by 27 February 2020. ISBN:979-8603176367 (PB)
Both titles independently published
In Aspire to
Die, the first in this new series, Bridget Hart has only just attained the
rank of Detective Inspector in the Thames Valley Police. On the day of her
daughter Chloe’s fifteenth birthday Bridget has taken the first day of her
annual holiday off to bake Chloe a large (and calorie-laden) chocolate cake to
be followed that evening by a meal at an Italian restaurant in North Oxford.
But then there is a call from Bridget’s boss, Chief Superintendent Alec Grayson
who tells her of the suspicious death of a female student at Christchurch
College and orders her to get down there straightaway to lead the investigation
with her team. Bridget has no choice but to obey: this promotion has taken long
enough because when the breakup of her marriage resulted in her being left as
the sole carer of her daughter, her progress up the career ladder had been
The murdered girl is Zoe
Hamilton, daughter of the media tycoon Sir Richard Hamilton, and everybody, it
seemed, loved her. She was beautiful, kind and intelligent, a favourite with
academics and fellow undergraduates alike. But investigation into her private
life reveals a rather more complicated picture. She recently parted company
with her boyfriend Adam Brady who had been upset and angry by the break. She had
a twin brother Zac and they had been as close as only twins can be, but there
were strong political differences between them, Zac who has political ambitions
being very much on the right, Zoe on the other very much on the left and into
all sorts of causes. However, Zac’s girlfriend Verity insists that he would
never have harmed her. Then there is her tutor Dr Anthony Claiborne, and the
Dean (principal) of Christchurch: Bridget senses something evasive about both
of them. Examination of CCTV by members of Bridget’s team, particularly
Detective Sergeant Jake Derwent, determinedly Northern working class and
feeling distinctly awkward in the socially exclusive atmosphere of Oxford’s
most famous college, and Detective Constable Ffion Hughes, equally determinedly
Welsh and determinedly bi-sexual (much to the chagrin of some of her colleagues
in the Oxford police), reveals that the alibis of many of those who could have
had a motive to kill Zoe are not as strong as was first thought. Meanwhile DS
Grayson is pressuring Bridget to get on with the investigation, and Bridget’s
sister Vanessa keeps trying to set Bridget up with new men. Eventually,
however, the mystery of Zoe’s murder is solved with a highly dramatic
conclusion in Christchurch itself.
In Killing by
Numbers, the second in this series, the victim is the gentle and
reclusiveGabriel Quinn, a talented
young artist, just about to achieve recognition, who is shot by a man in a car while
cycling along Oxford’s High Street. He had come from the art gallery where his
paintings were being displayed and was on his way to call on someone else when
the shooting occurred in front of a crowd of tourists. They rush to assist him,
but too late although before he finally loses consciousness, he is able to gasp
a long number, important to him but meaningless to his would-be rescuers. It
looks like a gangland killing, but is it?
D.I. Bridget Hart is
assigned by her boss, Superintendent Grayson to the investigation along with
her team, DS Jake Derwent and DC Ffion Hughes, the office tech wizard, Vikram
(Vik) Vijayaraghaven, the chief scene of crime officer, and two other
sergeants, the macho Ryan Hooper and the stolid Andy Cartwright. They set about
establishing Gabriel’s contacts to see if anyone, no matter how apparently
blameless, could have possible links to gangs. There is Amber Morgan, his
girlfriend although she was also shared by fellow-artist, Hunter Reed; the arrogant
Melissa Price, Gabriel’s tutor at the Ruskin School of Art; Todd Lee who runs an
artists’ materials supply shop in the Turl (was that where Gabriel was headed
when he was shot?); the businessman Lawrence Taylor who had bought Gabriel’s
paintings (the value of which would increase dramatically after his death; the
middle-aged hippy, Harriet Watson who had the next canal boat along from
Gabriel’s own canal boat; Michael Henderson, Professor of Mathematics, who
might just be able to cast light on the number gasped out by Gabriel with his
dying breath: Gabriel, it seems, was obsessed by numbers and obscure
mathematical formulae. And, awkwardly for Bridget, Jonathan Wright, owner of
the art gallery where Gabriel’s paintings were displayed, with whom Bridget is
just beginning to start a relationship engineered by her sister Vanessa.
Then, the last thing
Bridget wants, is the appearance of her ex-husband Ben as leader of a team sent
by the Metropolitan Police to investigate the possible drugs connection.
Relations between them, never good, are made more difficult by Ben deciding he
will take an interest in their daughter, after years of neglect. And during the
course of his investigation he never fails to belittle Bridget in public
although doing so with all the charm which is his greatest weapon.
And then there is
Both these books are
good straightforward police procedurals with entertaining and realistic
characters and plots that are intricate and yet entirely logical. At the same
time they convey an accurate picture of Oxford today, not just the dreaming
spires and ancient colleges that we so very strongly connect with the city but
also the traffic-choked streets, the homeless men and women who crouch in shop
doorways asking for handouts (who can occasionally provide useful information),
the sprawling council estates that ring the city, and the vibrant ethnic
communities which throng the parts of Oxford to which tourists never venture.
Two more titles in the series are forthcoming: Do No Evil and In Love and
Murder. No doubt there will be others,
Morris is the pseudonym for the writing
partnership of Margarita and Steve Morris. They both studied at Oxford
University, where they first met in 1990. Together they write psychological
thrillers and crime novels. They are married and live in Oxfordshire.
born in the U.S. but has lived in the U.K. since she was seven apart from seven
years in The Hague. She read law at university but did not go into practice.
Instead she worked for many years for a firm of law publishers and still does occasional
work for them including taking part in a substantial revision and updating of
her late husband’s legal practitioners’ work on Criminal Evidence published
late 2015. She has also contributed short stories with a distinctly criminal
flavour to two of the Oxford Stories anthologies published by Oxpens Press – a
third story is to be published shortly in another Oxford Stories anthology –
and is now concentrating on her own writing.