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Monday 31 August 2020

‘A Matter of Murder’ by Ann Granger

Published by Headline,
9 July 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-7059-7 (HB)

Two years ago, Matthew Ferguson (Miff) walked out of a well-paid but unsatisfying job in the City and has been living rough ever since. He is quite happy in his new life, wandering the countryside and observing how the homeless live, and has no desire to go back to a more settled existence. Then, one night, settling down in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the Cotswold market town of Bamford, he sees a man with what appears to be a body. He runs away, his terror increased by the knowledge that the man has seen his face. Eventually, he seeks refuge with his uncle and aunt in the little village of Weston St Ambrose. Here, he thinks, he should be safe.

Back in Bamford, however, the body in the abandoned warehouse has been discovered. It is that of a woman, clearly murdered. Inspector Trevor Barker and Sergeant Emma Johnson of the Bamford police are investigating but there is no clue as to her identity or of how she came to be in the warehouse, or as to her murderer. But then retired Superintendent Alan Markby receives a visit from one Harmony Button whose sister Amber has disappeared. Harmony has heard about the body but rather than go to the police herself – Harmony’s family includes a number of petty criminals, well-known to Markby from the past – she wants him to inform the police. Being now retired Markby tells Harmony that he cannot be involved; however, Markby’s wife Meredith offers to go with Harmony to the police station to support her, and the body is duly identified as being that of Amber.

Meanwhile, in Weston St Ambrose, life is continuing quietly. Miff, anxious not to impose on his aunt and uncle too long and wanting also to earn some money, takes a job as assistant manager at a local garden centre run by a young woman, Samantha French; here, he hopes, he can finally go to ground and not be found by whoever it was he encountered in that warehouse.

And then, in a field near Weston St Ambrose, a burned-out van is discovered, and in the van the incinerated remains of a human body. The van, however, belonged to another member of the Button family, Gary, brother of Amber and Harmony, and this draws the team of Mike Carter and Jess Campbell, along with fellow detectives Dave Nugent and Ben Paget, into a joint investigation with Inspector Barker and Emma Johnson. The two teams have to put aside any sense of rivalry before they can find answers to the two mysteries.

As with all this writer’s mysteries, it is the array of characters that makes this story particularly enjoyable. There is a whole of host of especially strong women, almost Dickensian in character, such as Harmony Button, Amazonian in defence of her family, and her antithesis, Amber’s landlady, the malevolent crone Mrs Myrtle Clack. There is the formidable Mrs Jenny Porter, former headmistress who ensures that Amber’s timid Rumanian fellow-lodger, Eva Florescu, does eventually tell the police what she knows about Amber. Not to mention stroppy Debbie Garley, ex-pupil of Mrs Porter, and just about the only person who dares to argue with her. And Debbie’s garrulous Aunt Glenys who runs the garden centre cafĂ©. Even Sam French, outwardly gentle, has the ability to get Miff to take over the administrative side of the garden centre and, despite his initial reluctance, to utilise the skills honed in his previous City life. And there is a splendid denouement with various people trying to escape a determined killer by cramming themselves into a cupboard too small for them all.
Very much recommended.
Reviewer: Radmila May

Ann Granger was born in Portsmouth where she was a pupil at the then Northern Grammar School for Girls and went from there to London University where she achieved a BA in Modern Languages (French with German). After a period spent first teaching English in France and then working in the Visa Section of British Embassies around the world. She met her husband, who was also working for the British Embassy, in Prague, and together they received postings to places as far apart as Munich and Lusaka. She is the author of the Mitchell and Markby Mysteries, the Fran Varady series and more recently the Lizzie Martin mystery series. She lives in Bicester, near Oxford.
Radmila May was 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.

‘Innocent’ by Erin Kinsley

Headline Publishing Group,
20 August 2020.
ISBN: 978-1472274281

The novel opens with a glimpse into the private life of Tristan and Izzy Hart as they prepare to attend a wedding at which their daughter, Flora, will be a bridesmaid.  The couple are portrayed as being deeply in love and enjoying family life in a home that provides nurture and safety for their little girl.  Tristan is a television host whose celebrity status has gone from strength to strength.  He is admired not only for his professional success but also for his personal integrity.  His good looks, charm and wealth have not turned his head and he clearly still adores his wife.  Friends and acquaintances who live near them in Sterndale attest to the Hart’s affability and appreciate their support for those in the local community. 

At the wedding reception the Harts meet up with two of their closest friends from the town, Aiden and Laura Ridley.  Aiden is an ex-police officer who retired from the West Mercia Constabulary on medical grounds after being injured on duty.  He now runs a cycling shop, indulging his passion for the sport.  As the evening draws on Tristan takes a sleepy Flora to the car park where her nanny, Bridget, is waiting to take his daughter home.  Izzy becomes anxious when Tristan doesn’t return after an hour so Aiden offers to look for his friend who is constantly being waylaid by adoring fans.  His search leads him to the hotel garden where he meets a police officer with the shocking news that Tristan has been violently assaulted and is being taken to hospital.

So begins a police investigation during which the lives of Izzy, Tristan, Laura and Aiden are turned upside down.  The certainties which they thought defined their respective marriages and their friendship are eroded as the investigating officers discover secret after secret buried not only in the past but in the present too.

Erin Kinsley writes beautifully and has produced a mystery novel that is both heart-breaking and hopeful.  Central to the narrative are the revelations that issue from an investigation that almost destroys Izzy as she keeps vigil at her stricken husband’s bedside.  The characters are complex and interesting, they invite empathy as well as suspicion.  The story’s resolution was unexpected and moving. 

Innocent is a super book that fuses police procedural with a forensic exploration of contemporary human relationships.  I was captivated by the lives of the protagonists and couldn’t put the novel down until I had reached the surprising and emotionally charged ending. 
Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Erin Kinsley is a full-time writer. She grew up in Yorkshire and currently lives in East Anglia.

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.