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Friday 7 May 2021

‘Murder by The Canal’ by Judith Cutler

Published by Joffe Books.
16, June 2020.
Kindle Format.

Originally published in 1999 as Staying Power

Murder by The Canal opens with police officer Kate Power meeting a charming and confident businessman, Alan Grafton.  They are seated next to each other on a flight from Florence to Birmingham.  She’s returning from holiday to her new job as a detective sergeant with West Midlands Police, he’s just landed a deal that promises to make him rich.  Back on terra firma the pair exchange business cards with a vague arrangement to meet the following week.  Kate is somewhat ambivalent about their prospective date though.  She recently lost her partner, Robin, and is just beginning to find her feet back in Birmingham after transferring from the Metropolitan Police.  The policewoman lives in a house gifted to her by her generous but irascible Aunt Cassie, who has moved into a local nursing home.  Kate’s dwelling is spacious but in the process of having a much-needed makeover and doesn’t quite feel like home yet. 

Personal preoccupations, however, fall away, when she is called to an unexplained death and recognises the disfigured corpse.  It is Alan, the man she had met on the plane, the man she had agreed to meet for a drink, and the man whom she later suspects had attempted to contact her at the police station whilst she was out, although the message has been either lost or removed from her desk.  When the post-mortem determines that Alan appears to have committed suicide the loss of the note seems less important and other crimes vie for CID’s attention. 

To Kate’s annoyance, courtesy of the accelerated promotion scheme and the station’s new broom, Superintendent Neville, she is posted to the fraud squad and away from the action.  Despite being moved to the desk job Kate becomes embroiled in some unsavoury and dangerous situations.  The unfolding plot leads the DS inexorably back to her team – but there she is far from safe.

This is the second Kate Power novel and Judith Cutler’s protagonist is both likeable and realistic.  The detective’s experiences as a policewoman in the 1990s may raise some eyebrows amongst twenty-first century readers; the book details aspects of racism and misogyny that prevailed not only in the police force, but in British society generally at that time.  The author’s depiction of police officers who are as worried about their personal lives as they are about their working lives is both credible and refreshing.  The plot has pace and interest, and the final scene took me completely by surprise!

 A fascinating and unusual crime thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Judith Cutler was born in the Black Country, just outside Birmingham, later moving to the Birmingham suburb of Harborne. Judith started writing while she was at the then Oldbury Grammar School, winning the Critical Quarterly Short Story prize with the second story she wrote. She subsequently read English at university. It was an attack of chickenpox caught from her son that kick-started her writing career. One way of dealing with the itch was to hold a pencil in one hand, a block of paper in the other - and so she wrote her first novel. This eventually appeared in a much-revised version as Coming Alive, published by Severn House. Judith has seven series. The first two featured amateur sleuth Sophie Rivers (10 books) and Detective Sergeant Kate Power (6 Books). Then came Josie Wells, a middle-aged woman with a quick tongue, and a love of good food, there are two books, The Food Detective and The Chinese Takeout. The Lina Townsend books are set in the world of antiques and there are seven books in this series. There are three books featuring Tobias Campion set in the Regency period, and her series featuring Chief Superintendent Fran Harman (6 books), and Jodie Welsh, Rector’s wife and amateur sleuth. Her more recently a series feature a head teacher Jane Cowan (3 books). Judith has also written three standalone’s Staging Death, Scar Tissue, and Death In Elysium. Her new series is set in Victorian times featuring Matthew Rowsley. There are three books in this series.

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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