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Monday, 10 August 2020

Murder on the Downs By Julie Wassmer

Published by Constable,
7 May 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-3009-9 (PB)

Murder on the Downs is the seventh book in the series featuring restaurant owner Pearl Nolan, set in Whitstable. Pearl’s reputation for good quality food has ensured the success of her enterprise and provided a steady income for her and her son Charlie.  But Charlie has now left for university and Pearl’s old ambition to become a detective has resurfaced and so seeking a new challenge she has set up Nolan’s Detective Agency.  This endeavour has brought her to the attention of DCI Mike McGuire of the Canterbury Police.  Over time their association has developed in a somewhat on/off relationship, the off bit being Pearl’s involvement in crime investigations, which tends to infuriate McGuire. As the book opens, Pearl and McGuire have taken a few days to enjoy an ‘on’ period.  But can it last?

The proposal of a new property development on the edge of the green open space of the downs, has upset the residents. A campaign ‘Save Our Downs’ has been waged headed up by environmentalist Martha Laker. News given by Frederick Clark, chairman of the Whitstable Preservation Society that they have lost their case, causes outrage. But Martha vows, we will fight on.

Many of the residents are aware that the only people able to afford the new housing will be DFL’s (Down From Londoners) not local people, and so the tensions between the developers and the residents grow.  Soon Pearl’s mother Dolly, and her son Charlie have joined the protesters. Further complication arise when one of the developers seeks out Pearl to put his point of view and asks for her help for the sake of the town.

When the local people decide to hold a pageant to celebrate their local green space and its history, at the behest of Martha Laker, Pearl agrees to help. DCI Mike McGuire is concerned that matters could soon spiral out of control, and so once again he and Pearl are on different sides.

The book is rich in characters, one being Pearl’s mother, the spirited Dolly, who holds an antipathy towards the police in general which until recently had extended to Mike McGuire, but their entente is fragile. Also keen on
Pearl is her fruit and vegetable supplier, eligible bachelor Marty Smith.  His feelings for Pearl do rather influence his outlook and in this book have consequences. 

Later, while musing on the eventful day at the pageant, as Pearl searches on the downs for a missing earing which she assumes she had lost during the fracas at the pageant, she encounters Ben Tyler, a friend of Martha’s who had only recently appeared in Whitstable. Unfortunately, Ben isn't the only one she encounters as sitting at the observation table in the hide is a dead body.  As McGuire investigates both murders, the protesters set up camp.  With two people murdered,  Pearl is not unnaturally unhappy about Charlie and Dolly camping on the downs with the protest group.  Then there is a third murder that shocks the town.

Cleverly plotted, this is an intriguing mystery that had me perplexed right to the end. It has sharply defined characters, that leap off the page to you,  one of which is the lovely coastal town of Whitstable itself. After reading this book you will want to move there. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Lizzie Sirett

Julie Wassmer is a television drama writer who contributed for almost twenty years to the popular BBC series EastEnders. She published her autobiography More Than Just Coincidence in 2010, in which she describes finding her long-lost daughter after an astonishing twist of fate. It was voted Mumsnet book of the year. The Whitstable Pearl Mystery is the first in her series of crime novels, involving multi-tasking private detective-come-restauranteur, Pearl Nolan. Julie lives in Whitstable and is well known for her environmental campaigning.

Sister Agnes Returns

Between 1994  and 2009 Alison Joseph wrote a nine books in the series featuring Sister Agnes.
They are as follows.

   1. Sacred Hearts (1994)
   2. The Hour of Our Death (1995)
   3. The Quick and the Dead (1996)
   4. A Dark and Sinful Death (1997)
   5. The Dying Light (1999)
   6. The Night Watch (2000)
   7. The Darkening Sky (2004)
   8. Shadow of Death (2007)
   9. A Violent Act (2009)

Now Sister Agnes has, in a contradiction in terms, resurfaced during lockdown.

It is April 2020. Sister Agnes is confined to her flat on the estate in South London.
Her daily walk takes her past the old plague burial pits of Southwark, with their echoes of the past, of destitute women buried with their children.
She is concerned about a neighbour of hers, a vulnerable young woman - as she confides to her friends Athena and Father Julius, she feels helpless, unable to act because of the restrictions of lockdown. But the threat of violence causes another mystery to emerge, its revelation altogether closer to home, its roots in the bricks and mortar of the estate itself.

Alison Joseph was born and brought up in London. She studied French and Philosophy at Leeds University, and then worked in local radio in Leeds as a producer and presenter. She moved back to London in 1983 and worked for a Channel 4 production company, making short documentaries. In 1985 she set up her own company, Works on Screen. Productions included Through the Devil's Gateway, a series about women and religion presented by Helen Mirren, which was broadcast by Channel 4 in 1989. A book of the series was published by SPCK. Sister Agnes became a reality with the publication of Sacred Hearts in 1994. A further eight mysteries followed. All the Sister Agnes books are published by Headline in the UK, and the first two are published in the US by St. Martin's Press.

Alison has also written short stories for Radio 4, for YOU magazine, for Critical Quarterly and for various
women's magazines, as well as abridging novels for Radio 4's Book at Bedtime and The Late Book, including the award-winning production of Captain Corelli's Mandolin. She is the author of two radio plays, both broadcast on Radio 4,
Go For The Grail (1995) and Baby on Board (1996).  Alison has written about twenty works for radio, including The True Story and also dramatisations of Georges Simenon's Maigret novels.
Her latest series features Agatha Christie