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Tuesday 17 August 2021

‘Murder on the Job’ by Judith Cutler

Published by Joffe Books,
7, September 2020.

(Originally published  September 2003 as
‘Power Shift’.)

 Murder on the Job opens as the recently promoted Kate Power takes up her new post of inspector in charge of a tough Birmingham police station.  She walks into her office feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension and knows that this is not going to be easy.  Her staff are aware that she is in a relationship with Rod Neville, a superintendent in the same force and, inevitably, some members of her team choose to believe that such a high-ranking partner must have pulled strings to secure her promotion.  Kate realises this and works hard, sometimes too hard, to prove them wrong.  The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that one of the sergeants in Kate’s team was previously involved with Rod and that Kate’s own ex-lover, DCI Graham Harvey, is making a pest of himself. 

Kate soon realises that life as an inspector at a busy inner-city police station comes with red tape and risks.  After receiving a tip off that people traffickers are operating on her patch, she is determined to expose them even though she knows that the investigation will be complicated and sensitive.  The cruel reality of life for those trafficked is highlighted when a young woman literally throws herself onto the bonnet of Kate’s car.  The eastern European victim has escaped from her sordid world of servitude but, perhaps fearing reprisals, proves to be a reluctant witness. 

To tackle those who exploit illegal immigrants Kate needs a united team of strong officers who work with integrity and tenacity either alone or together.  Instead, she discovers that animosities have developed within her staff and several of them display cynicism towards their colleagues and the job.  The gaffer must exert her authority and inspire a sense of camaraderie in the disparate and disaffected group of officers she has inherited.

The character of Kate, which has developed throughout the series of novels in which she appears, is an intriguing and interesting protagonist who inspires empathy as she negotiates her new responsibilities.  The main plot and subplots are carefully woven together, and the story offers thrills and puzzles that tease as well as please.  Characters’ private and professional lives become increasingly blurred as the narrative accelerates towards its dénouement.

Murder on the Job, previously published as Power Shift, depicts how the rapid changes that took place in British society during and after the 1960s and 70s were percolating, rather than sweeping through this police service in the 1990s.  It is evident that not all officers embrace the modern, diverse community they serve and, twenty years after policewomen were given equality with their male counterparts, the narrative exposes a stubbornly patriarchal thread at the heart of the institution.  Nowhere is this more obvious than when the male Assistant Chief Constable casually refers to Kate as a good girl! Even more telling is that whatever she feels about it, the woman police inspector accepts this without a murmur.

Murder on the Job is a police procedural that is as exciting as it is entertaining. A super read and highly recommended.

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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